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Top Five: Detroit Draft Steals

It's almost July, and that means we're all done with the annual amateur drafts. Travel back in time with us as we look at some of the best draft steals in Detroit history.

The 'draft season' officially ended Saturday with the conclusion of the NHL Entry Draft in Los Angeles. All four major sports have now held their drafts for 2010, and with most now in the off-season, I thought we'd take a gander into the past at the best draft steals in Detroit history. These are players that were overlooked when initially drafted, but have come back to haunt all the teams that passed on them (several times in some cases).

In order to qualify for this list, the players must meet certain criteria. First, the player must have played for a Detroit team for at least three seasons. For example, one might consider red-hot Tigers rookie Brennan Boesch a steal, but he has yet to play an entire season for the club. 

Secondly, the player must have been selected outside the first round of his sport's respective draft, except for the NBA, which only has two rounds. For the NBA, the player must have been selected 20th or lower.

As you might expect, the Detroit Red Wings dominate this list, as their recent success has left them with very few high draft choices. They've been forced to find diamonds in the rough for the past 15 years or so, and they've found some dandies. The Red Wings have the luxury of sending draftees to the minor leagues to develop for four to five years, something many franchises are unable to do. There are a couple outsiders, however, that have broken up a Red Wings sweep.

That's enough talk, here are your top five Detroit draft steals of all time.

No. 5: DENNIS RODMAN, Detroit Pistons (1986-1993)

Drafted: Second round of 1986 NBA Draft, 27th overall
Vital Statistics: 11,954 total rebounds, 13.1 career rebounds per game

Awards:
Seven-time NBA rebounding champion, two-time Defensive Player of the Year, seven-time NBA All-Defensive First Team

The man known as "The Worm" was once the most feared defensive player in the entire NBA. Drafted by the Pistons in the second round of the 1986 draft, Rodman was lauded right away for his hustle and tenacity on the defensive side of the ball. Rodman helped the Pistons to two NBA titles in his time in Detroit, forming the the core of the "Bad Boys" teams of the late 1980s. Rodman was one of the top rebounders of his time, both offensively and defensively, grabbing a mind blowing 11,954 total rebounds in his career. He did this despite standing 6-foot-7, hardly the ideal height of a premier boarder. Rodman would later win three more NBA titles with the Chicago Bulls, becoming an integral asset to Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen.

Unfortunately, most will remember Rodman for his wild off-court antics. His radical hair colors and attire (he once wore a wedding dress to promote his autobiography) will instead be the part of Rodman's legacy that the casual fan remembers. In Detroit however, he'll always be known as the mean kid from New Jersey who didn't take abuse from anyone.

 

No. 4: TOMAS HOLMSTROM, Detroit Red Wings (1996-present)

Drafted: 10th round of 1994 NHL Entry Draft
Vital Statistics: 189 goals, 235 assists, 424 points (regular season); 42 playoff goals
Awards: Gold medalist (Sweden) at 2006 Winter Olympics, four-time Stanley Cup champion

All you have to do to tell how long Holmstrom has been around is look at the round in which he was drafted way back in 1994. Holmstrom was taken 257th overall in the 10th round, before the NHL shrank the format to the current seven rounds. For a 10th round pick, the Red Wings got the best net-front player of the past 15 years. Even at 37, Holmstrom isn't slowing down, potting 25 goals in an injury-plagued season last year, the second-highest total of his career.

Holmstrom's game is simple: Stand in front of the opposing goaltender and make his life miserable. Holmstrom takes nightly punishment from defensmen and goalies trying to move his posterior out of the way, but the man known as Homer is a tough nut to crack. No matter how many times you cross-check him in the back, he gets up every time, ready to do it all over again. On top of that, he hustles back on defense despite the abuse, and is one of the team's best players when it comes to battles along the boards. He doesn't have the greatest hands when it comes to stick handling, but when a puck is careening at his face at 95 mph, he always somehow manages to get his stick on it.

Homer recently signed a two year deal to stay in Detroit, ensuring he'll end his career as a Red Wing. Not bad for a guy that literally no one wanted.

 

No. 3: JACK MORRIS, Detroit Tigers (1977-1990)

Drafted: Fifth round of 1976 MLB Draft, 98th overall
Vital Statistics: 254 career victories, 2,478 strikeouts, 3.90 ERA
Awards: Five-time MLB All-Star, four-time World Series champion, 1991 World Series MVP

Perhaps no player has had more of an impact on the Detroit Tigers in the last 30 years than Jack Morris. Morris was drafted in 1976, but didn't crack the Tigers' rotation until 1979, and the results were almost immediate. Morris posted a 17-7 record and 3.29 ERA in his first full big league season, quickly establishing himself as the ace of the Detroit staff. 

Morris had a magical season in 1984, along with the rest of the "Bless You Boys" team that started the season an incredible 35-5. Morris no-hit the Chicago White Sox on April 7 of that year, and went on to win 19 games, posting a 3.60 ERA. No Tigers pitcher would throw a no-hitter for another 23 years, until Justin Verlander did it in 2007.

Morris won three playoff games in the 1984 post season: one over Kansas City in the ALCS and two against San Diego in the World Series. Morris finished his Tigers career with 198 victories, fifth all-time in franchise history. While Morris had plenty of success with other squads after his time in Detroit ended, he certainly accomplished enough in Motown to score recognition on this list.

 

No. 2: PAVEL DATSYUK, Detroit Red Wings (2001-present)

Drafted: Sixth round of 1998 NHL Entry Draft, 171st overall
Vital Statistics: 198 goals, 392 assists, 592 points
Awards: Three-time Selke winner, four-time Lady Byng winner, two-time Stanley Cup champion, three-time NHL-All Star, Bronze medalist (Russia) at 2002 Winter Olympics

It's hard to imagine a guy who can downright embarrass other players with his slick defensive takeaways and jaw dropping stick-handling was passed over 170 times. The Red Wings took a chance on the somewhat undersized Datsyuk and have been reaping the benefits ever since. 

Datsyuk has established himself as one of the elite players in the game, and has been the anchor of Detroit's top forward line for the past several years. Datsyuk has adapted to the two-way system that Detroit employs, a system he first learned under the legendary Scotty Bowman. While his scoring numbers aren't nearly what they could be with another club, Datsyuk is annually among the league leaders in takeaways, and is a perennial finalist for the Selke Trophy as the league's top defensive forward. Datsyuk won the Selke for the third straight time this year, a feat only surpassed by Bob Gainey's four consecutive Selke's from 1977-81.

Many teams also underestimated Datsyuk's power when they overlooked him in that 1998 draft. At 5-foot-11, he's not very big, but Datysuk doesn't play like it; he's uncannily strong for his size. Much bigger players will often try to run him into the boards, only to have Datsyuk stand his ground and bounce off him. Datsyuk is a prime example of a non-North American player adapting his play to the NHL game. Datysuk plays a very physical game, but still retains his flashy moves that often leaves opposing goaltenders shaking their heads. 

There are a lot of general managers that are still shaking their heads about Datsyuk too.

 

No. 1 HENRIK ZETTERBERG, Detroit Red Wings (2002-present)

Drafted: Seventh round of 1999 NHL Entry Draft, 210th overall
Vital Statistics: 206 goals, 269 assists, 475 points
Awards: 2008 Conn Smythe Trophy, Gold medalist (Sweden) at 2006 Winter Olympics, Calder Trophy runner-up in 2002, 2007 NHL All-Star, 2008 Stanley Cup champion

Two hundred nine times. That's the number of times the future captain of the Detroit Red Wings was passed over in the 1999 NHL Draft. Zetterberg is still making teams kick themselves for not taking him, and has been burying goals for the Red Wings for the last seven years.

Unlike many rookies in the Red Wings system, Zetterberg made an immediate impact upon his arrival in 2002-03. He netted 44 points that season, the highest total for any rookie in the league, en route to a Calder Trophy nomination as the league's top rookie which he lost to Barret Jackman. People are still wondering how Jackman managed to pull that one off, considering the route their two careers have taken. Zetterberg went on to become the lowest drafted player ever to win the Conn Smythe as the MVP of the playoffs, leading the Red Wings to a Stanley Cup victory in 2008.

Like his "Euro-twin" counterpart Datsyuk, Zetterberg is a key defender and penalty killer as well. In 2008, he garnered his first nomination for the Selke Trophy, which he lost ... to Datsyuk. 

As is the case with many of his predecessors, Zetterberg is loyal. He signed a 12-year, $73 million deal with Detroit in 2009, which will keep him in Hockeytown until he is 40. Those are the kinds of traits that win over fanbases, and Zetterberg has done that and then some. Zetterberg is not just the best draft steal in Detroit history, he's likely the best draft steal ever.