In any professional sport, a draft for entry-level rookies can be a game of chance. There are true superstars to be found as general managers and supporting front office staff try to find through evaluations. In the National Hockey League, professionals come into the league as young as 18.
Some do go through the collegiate ranks or spend an extra year in junior, but even then, the sample size can be small. Big numbers here and there could be a sign of the next NHL superstar. But there are times when the big fish in a small pond is unable to swim with the sharks at the NHL level. Since 2000, there has been quite a range of talent that has been selected with the first overall selection in the NHL Entry Draft.
There are some players who were able to exceed expectations like Alex Ovechkin, Patrick Kane and Sidney Crosby. Some players were able to do well and fall under a second-tier. However, not every player chosen first in the draft has found success. It makes hockey analysts look back to who was second overall to see if the wrong player was chosen first. But even the second pick can have the same risk and reward.
The following is a list that ranks all of the first and second overall selections in the annual NHL Entry Draft since 2000. Some players have established their spot in this time period while others who have joined the league since 2015 may still be on the rise or fall, depending on what happens down the road.
34. 2000 First – Rick DiPietro (NY Islanders)
After having quite a collegiate career at Boston University, goaltender Rick DiPietro was the first overall selection in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft. His first stint at the NHL level made some fans worry he was a bust – a 3-15-1 record with a 3.49 goals against average. But over time, those numbers improved. He had a much better performance in the 2003-04 season with a 2.36 GAA and a .911 save percentage.
He put up his best overall numbers during the 2007-08 season with 63 starts. With a 32-19-9 record, DiPietro had a .919 save percentage. However the indictment on his career was the ridiculous 15-year contract the Islanders gave him and he could never live up to those expectations. His performance fell in the later years of his career before deciding his last NHL season in 2012-13. DiPietro finished his career with an overall save percentage of .902.
33. 2006 First – Erik Johnson (St. Louis)
It originally looked like the St. Louis Blues made a good decision by drafting defenseman Erik Johnson first overall in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft. He’s been known for delivering a good number of hits and blocks throughout his career. But his best numbers came after he was traded from the Blues to the Colorado Avalanche during the 2010-11 season. Johnson’s best season was 2013-14 with 136 hits and 130 blocks at even strength.
He was selected to the 2015 NHL All-Star game as the leading goal scorer among defensemen. He had nine in 2013-14, another 12 goals in the 2014-15 season and 11 in the 2015-16 season. Overall, Johnson has 231 points, but he has a minus-45 career rating on the ice. His numbers aren’t among the worst at his position, but they could be better for someone who was a first overall pick.
32. 2012 First – Nail Yakupov (Edmonton)
The one thing that’s worth noting is that Nail Yakupov could have one of the coolest names of anyone playing in the NHL. That’s probably one of the most positive things that can be said about Yakupov. He was the first overall selection in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. As a right winger, one would assume he would provide some offense to a struggling franchise. So far in a young career, that has not been the case.
In the 2013-14 season, Yakupov scored only 24 points while he earned a minus-33 rating for the year. While his scoring improved in 2014-15 with 14 goals and 19 assists, he still got tagged with a minus-35 rating. Last season saw a big dip with eight goals and 15 assists. He was traded before this season to the St. Louis Blues. But after 111 points in 252 games with Edmonton, expectations are not that high.
31. 2005 Second – Bobby Ryan (Anaheim)
When coming out of the same draft class as Sidney Crosby in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, there might be some unfair comparisons. Crosby is not your typical center. However, Bobby Ryan doesn’t have the kind of numbers that would have been expected when he was selected second overall in 2005 by the Anaheim Ducks. Two years after being drafted, Ryan played 23 games in the 2007-08 season; scoring just five goals.
Ryan still has respectable numbers overall with more than 450 career points. But with the players who come out of the first and second overall selections during this time, Ryan’s career numbers do look very small in comparison. His best season came in the 2010-11 season with 34 goals and 37 assists for 71 points.
30. 2006 Second – Jordan Staal (Pittsburgh)
Jordan Staal is the younger brother who followed his older brother into the NHL. His brother Eric, was selected second overall in 2003. Jordan Staal was the second overall pick in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft. Considering his older brother was successful through his career, there were some high expectations for Jordan when Pittsburgh chose him at the draft. However, he hasn’t put up the same kind of numbers with a little more than 400 points in more than 700 career games.
He had a promising start with 29 goals in his rookie season in 2006-07. But he never got above 25 goals after that. His best individual season was in the 2011-12 season, his last with Pittsburgh, where he had 25 goals and 25 assists. He would make the jump to the Carolina Hurricanes in 2012 and he’s done okay, but has never able to meet the level of his brother.