Since its inception in 1963, the National Hockey League Entry Draft has been the foremost and most critical tool for teams to build the foundation of their franchises for the years that lay ahead.
Between Garry Monahan, the first ever NHL draft pick, and Auston Matthews, to the most recent first overall pick, we’ve seen the first-round selections of electrifying forwards, stalwart defenseman and practically impenetrable goaltenders. We’ve seen some of the highly-touted players of all-time become total flops, unheralded talents evolve into legends, and everything in between.
Each draft pick injects a dose of hope into an organization and its fan-base, whether you’re selecting the league’s next generational talent at the top of the draft or taking a chance on a long-term project during the final third of the first round. Ultimately, it is how management teams and their staffs mold and shape the player over his formative years that will, in part, dictate a prospect’s career trajectory.
While scouts will spend weeks, months, and sometimes years tracking and dissecting a player’s game, charting intangibles and projecting his ceiling, the unavoidable “luck factor” will always creep into the conversation. You’ll read some of the names on this list and think – “how did that guy fall that far?!”
The answer to that question is much clearer than some of the other’s posed on the topic: your draft slot isn’t what counts – it’s what you do during your career that the hockey world will remember.
30. Brock Nelson / Rickard Rakell
The NHL Entry Draft has only included thirty draft slots since the start of the new millennium, when the Minnesota Wild and Columbus Blue Jackets entered the fold. We’ll call this one a tie for now, though we’ll expect one of these guys to take the lead in the near future.
Forwards Brock Nelson and Rickard Rakell of the New York Islanders and Anaheim Ducks, respectively, both have a twenty-goal season under the belts (Nelson has two), solid possession numbers and are under 25 years old. Both have excellent careers ahead of them and will hope to have monster years as they’re eligible to be RFAs over the next couple of years – Simon Despres might get some looks at this spot in a few years, though.
29. Mike Green
Again, not a lot to choose from in this batch of players, but Mike Green does have some tough competition at this spot in the form of current Detroit Red Wings teammate Niklas Kronwall.
While Kronwall may be the more valuable player today, Green has put up better numbers across the board throughout his career. Green has more goals, points, powerplay points, a much higher plus/minus, and while the possession numbers are extremely similar, Green has the same or higher number in Corsi For %, Fenwick For %, and PDO.
Kronwall also spent most of his career insulated by the presence of the legendary Nicklas Lidstrom on the Red Wings roster – not to take away anything from Kronwall, who is a fine defenseman in his own right. Green, meanwhile, spent many years in Washington with a revolving door of defensive partners by his side, all the while putting up incredible offensive statistics for the high-octane Capitals.
28. Corey Perry
This one was easy. Corey Perry is without a doubt the greatest 28th overall pick of all-time. Quite the claim to fame, isn’t it?
Perry was one of the best players to come out of what is arguably the greatest first-round crop of all-time. The opening night of the 2003 Entry Draft was highlighted by the likes of Marc-André Fleury, Eric Staal, Thomas Vanek, Ryan Suter, Jeff Carter, Brent Seabrook, Ryan Getzlaf, Brent Burns, Zach Parise, Ryan Kesler and Mike Richards. Perry sits third in points (664) and first in goals (330) among all players selected in that fruitful draft year.
In his 11-year career, Perry has already won a Stanley Cup, a Hart Trophy, a Rocket Richard trophy and two Olympic Gold medals. Not bad Mr. Perry, not bad at all.
27. Scott Gomez
We can already hear plenty of groans coming from Montreal, but we can’t discount an otherwise solid NHL Career. To us, this is another easy one, based on a lack of selections. John Carlson could ultimately claim this spot, but for now it will remain one of Scott Gomez’s claims to fame.
While Gomez’s career took a steep nosedive halfway through his tenure with the Montreal Canadiens, there is no denying his talent and the overall body of work. A championship in New Jersey and 756 points in 1,079 career games is nothing to scoff at. Gomez was one of the more exciting players to watch on the dominant Devils teams of the early 2000s, who were infamous for their stifling defensive style.
26. Cory Schneider
Martin Havlat came close to getting this spot, but Cory Schneider’s career numbers and projected ceiling were too much to ignore.
Schneider gets knocked down a peg when discussing the best goaltenders in the NHL thanks to his low win totals (per season and throughout his career), but it’s hard to argue any goaltender would have done much better behind some of the punch-less Devils rosters he’s been on the past few seasons.
That said, Schneider’s goaltending statistics are fantastic. He’s currently the proud owner of a 2.16 career goals against average, good for seventh all-time, and a .925 career save percentage, the highest in NHL history.
For many goaltenders, those numbers would be more likely to dip than rise as they hit their 30s, but the time spent backing up Roberto Luongo in Vancouver has Schneider sitting on only 270 career games played, meaning there is plenty of tread on the tires as he enters his prime.
25. Brenden Morrow
Another easy selection at the 25th slot with Brenden Morrow as the clear-cut choice. Morrow accumulated 575 points in just over 900 NHL career games, while carving out a niche as a rugged leader for some of the best Dallas Stars rosters in the franchise’s history (that’s including the Minnesota years). He was such a leader for the team that they even asked Mike Modano to step down as captain so Morrow could take the role. Another underrated aspect of his game was his work in his own zone and he finished his career with a +107 rating, which is quite impressive.
Morrow closed out his career as a gun-for-hire, of sorts, moving from playoff contender to playoff contender to provide some toughness and experience on the bottom lines of the Penguins, Blues and Lightning.
24. Daniel Briere
Playing in an era of hockey that emphasized size and toughness, Daniel Briere was able to make his mark as a shifty, creative offensive force, despite his diminutive frame. Briere was drafted by the then-Phoenix Coyoyes and would make an impact there before moving on to be an All Star in Buffalo, where he had the best season of his career, finishing 95 points in 2006/07.
The Gatineau, Quebec native was not only able to pile up 696 points over his 973 regular season games – he earned himself a reputation as one of the greatest playoff performers of the modern era, a clutch scorer and point-producer who was racked up 116 points in 124 playoff games.
23. Todd Bertuzzi
Despite forever tarnishing his reputation with the Steve Moore incident, Todd Bertuzzi easily comes out on top at the 23rd selection. Before the infamous event, Bertuzzi was considered the best power forward in the league and even got some votes for the Hart in 2002/03.
With 770 points in 1,159 career games, Bertuzzi has easily outperformed everyone selected in his draft slot. A physical power-forward and a menacing presence every time he stepped on the ice, Bertuzzi was one of the catalysts of the Vancouver Canucks’ high-powered offense during the early 2000s. His contributions late in his career were also quite effective playing on the same line as former Red Wings star Pavel Datsyuk.
22. Claude Giroux
While former teammate Simon Gagné currently has the most points all-time by a player selected 22nd overall, Claude Giroux is a close second and, with a good season, could surpass his former mentor as soon as the end of the 2016-2017 season.
Giroux is the more dynamic offensive player, the leader of the Philadelphia Flyers and one of the all-around best players in the game today. Passed on by 21 teams in the 2006 Draft, Giroux has proven year after year what a mistake those teams made a decade ago and, at only 28 years old, there is still plenty of time for Giroux to solidify his legacy as one of the greatest Flyers of all-time. Heading into the 2016/17 season, Giroux has scored 166 goals and 517 points thus far in 574 games. He’s also already been a finalist for the Hart Trophy.
21. Saku Koivu
The first true “tough call” occurs at the 21st overall pick, as Saku Koivu and Tuukka Rask – like many Canadiens and Bruins before them – go head-to-head.
Sometime down the road, Tuukka Rask will likely own this spot without dispute. As it stands, though, Rask is only 330 games into his NHL career and has only been the Bruins full-time starter for four seasons. Rask is among the NHL’s elite, but his career numbers haven’t piled up enough just yet.
Koivu, one of the longest-tenured and revered captains in the storied history of the Montreal Canadiens, would have easily eclipsed 1,000 points had he not dealt with several season-ending injuries – not to mention his 2001-2002 season lost to cancer. His 832 career points put him at the top for players drafted in the same slot, but it’s the intangibles and longevity, despite a career of misfortune on and off the ice, that will define Koivu’s legacy in the years to come.
20. Martin Brodeur
Do we really need to explain this one?
Most wins all-time. Most shutouts all-time. Most games played by a goaltender all-time (some will argue that the latter is part of the reason for the former).
Martin Brodeur is the standard all goaltenders will be measured against, likely for the rest of time, as it will be hard for anyone to accumulate the numbers Brodeur put up in this era of hockey.
A four-time Vezina trophy winner, five-time Jennings winner, a Calder trophy winner and a whopping eight-time 40-plus game winner throughout his career, Brodeur is the epitome of goaltending greatness and was the priceless jewel in a collection of gems that marked a golden age of goaltending during the 90s and 2000s, alongside Patrick Roy and Dominik Hasek.
19. Keith Tkachuk
Ryan Getzlaf, who already owns a Stanley Cup ring and an Olympic Gold medal, may take over this spot in a few years from now, but as it stands Keith Tkachuk is the top 19th overall selection of all-time.
Tkachuk was the prototypical power-forward, as a big, strong winger with a ton of talent and scoring ability to go along with his imposing frame. With 538 goals (sixth all-time among left wingers) and 1,065 points (seventh all-time among left wingers) in 1,201 games, Tkachuk is among the greatest the game has ever seen at his position. Though he never managed to win a Stanley Cup, he was solid in the playoffs, with 28 goals and 56 points in 89 games.
Tkachuk was also not one to be trifled with, with plenty of scraps on his fight card and 2,219 career penalty minutes.
18. Ken Daneyko
While most of the players on this list earned their spot thanks to their offensive prowess and consistent point production, Ken Daneyko gets the nod as the top eighteenth overall pick of all-time thanks to his strong defensive play and robust style. Playing alongside the likes of Scott Stevens and Scott Niedermayer, Daneyko carved out a reputation as one of the toughest players to play against throughout his 20-year career. He only had 178 points in 1,283 games played, but that’s not a good way to measure what Daneyko gave to the Devils’ organization. He had 2,519 penalty minutes as a player you wouldn’t mess with and finished with a +80 rating.
His number 3 was retired without as much as a second thought in 2006. To this day, Mr. Devil remains one of the most appreciated players in New Jersey Devils history.
17. Zach Parise
The old guard will clamor for a member of one of hockey’s royal families in this spot, but the numbers titled in favor of former Devil (make that four New Jersey selections so far – we’re not even halfway through yet).
While Brent Sutter has better career numbers, Zach Parise’s current pace will likely see him surpass all of the former Islander and Blackhawk’s totals within the next few seasons. Thus far, Parise has averaged more goals, assists, and points per game, has been a better playoff performer and has accumulated excellent possession numbers in his eleven NHL seasons. After 761 games, Zach Parise has 299 goals and 619 points and, at only 31 years old, there’s plenty of time for him to add to those numbers.
16. Dave Andreychuk
After a few debatable selections, number sixteen gives us all a chance to unanimously agree again.
Dave Andreychuk’s 1,639 games played puts him at sixth all-time in that category – his 640 career goals (good for 14th all-time) are nothing to scoff at either. Most impressive, perhaps, are his 274 powerplay goals, the most by any player in NHL history.
While his reputation for “collecting the trash” and scoring garbage goals in bunches may have drawn the ire of some throughout his NHL career, there is no doubt that Andreychuk was among the best to suit up in the 1990s and the storybook ending to his career only reinforces his legacy as not only one of the best goalscorers of all-time, but the best number sixteen pick in Draft history (you know, just until Vladimir Tarasenko catches up to him).
15. Mike Bossy
Up to this point, the number fifteen pick was, by quite a bit, the toughest call to make. A case could have easily been made for Al MacInnis or Joe Sakic. It’s hard to go wrong with any of the three – and maybe if Alex Kovalev had applied himself a bit more earlier in his career, he’d be in the conversation as well. We may as well throw Erik Karlsson in the mix, while we’re at it.
When you’re picking in the first round, you’re looking for top-end, productive NHL talent. No one is NHL history was as productive a goalscorer as Mike Bossy.
Despite only playing ten seasons, Bossy managed to bulge the twine a mind-blowing 573 times in just 752 games. His 0.76 goals per game ranks first all-time and he sits third in career points per game behind only Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux.
While many will point to the shorter body of work, the era in which he played and the incredible talent he was surrounded with (en route to four straight Stanley Cups), it’s hard to argue against a guy who scored over 50 goals an incredible nine times in just ten years – a record Bossy shares with The Great One, who played for double the amount of years Bossy did.
14. Sergei Gonchar
It was was hard to go against Brian Propp at this spot, but Sergei Gonchar’s body of work simply couldn’t be ignored.
Besides the fact that Gonchar was one of the first players to make the trek from the then recently dissolved Soviet Union to North America, Gonchar established himself as top-end offensive defenseman while still being able to care of his own end. He should rightfully be mentioned among the top offensive defenseman of all-time, a statement buoyed by 811 career points, good for 17th all-time. Though Gonchar never managed to win the Norris Trophy, he received votes for the award on several occasions and was named to four All-Star games. He was also a solid performer, scoring 90 points in 141 games and winning the Stanley Cup in 2009/09 as a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
13. Craig Janney
Not exactly the most inspiring list of selections and number thirteen, but Craig Janney gets the nod over the likes of Dan Quinn, Ron Duguay and Jean-Sebastien Giguere.
While Janney didn’t necessarily pile up massive career totals, he was still able to post an impressive 0.99 point per game clip through 760 career games. He also sits 14th all-time in assists per game (0.74), a number that has him ahead of the likes of Joe Sakic, Mike Bossy, Ray Bourque, Joe Thornton and numerous other Hall of Famers. Janney also bounced around quite a bit during his “short” NHL career, put still managed to put up impressive numbers on several different rosters throughout the 80s and 90s.
He was also a scoring machine in the playoffs, managing 110 points in 120 career playoff games, giving him 0.92 points per playoff game.
12. Marian Hossa
Marian Hossa is, without a doubt, the best player ever selected at the twelfth overall in the NHL Draft.
An offensive force during his heyday with the Ottawa Senators and the Atlanta Thrashers, Hossa has since earned a reputation as one of the best two-way players of this generation. He is still capable of putting up excellent scoring numbers, while remaining defensively sound in his own zone. He’s finished as a minus player only once in his NHL career, owns strong possession numbers and has been an instrumental part of the Blackhawks recent success. While a member of the Blackhawks, he’s won a total of three Stanley Cup and has been instrumental in each win, finishing with 15, 16, and 17 points in those playoff years.
11. Jarome Iginla
Prolific goalscorers with a nasty streak and unchartable leadership qualities don’t come around very often, but that’s exactly what the Calgary Flames got when they traded for Jarome Iginla back in 1995. He was drafted 11th overall by the Dallas Stars in 1995 but never found his footing down in Texas. In December of 1995, he was traded to Calgary for Joe Nieuwendyk, who managed to win a Stanley Cup with the Stars in 1999.
Iginla currently sits 16th on the all-time goals list and he looks like he still has enough gas left in the tank to leap over a few of the names in front of him before he calls it a career. Anze Kopitar might find a way to steal this spot from Iginla down the road, but for now the former Flames captain is the undisputed choice.
10. Teemu Selanne
Bobby Holik is currently the second most prolific scorer to be selected with the tenth overall pick.
Holik sits 710 points behind no one other than The Finnish Flash, who tops the list with an astounding 1,457 points. 684 of those points were goals as Selanne was one of the top snipers in NHL history and won a Rocket Richard trophy in 1998/99, which was the first year that the award was handed out.
Selanne will forever be remembered as one of the most beloved and exciting players to ever grace an NHL rink. His 76 goals as a rookie is a record that like likely stand the test of time, and his career totals put him at 6th and 15th all-time in goals and points, respectively. He is undoubtedly the greatest player Finland has ever produced – not a small feat considering the talent that has come from the small Scandinavian country.
9. Brian Leetch
Rob Brind’Amour may have more career points, but Brian Leetch is easily the best player ever taken at ninth overall.
Leetch is, with good reason, considered one of the best offensive defenseman of all-time. His 1,028 career points is good for 7th all-time among defenseman,and while his plus/minus left something to be desired during several years of his long NHL career, his ability to eat minutes and control a game, especially on the attack and on the powerplay, were a sight to behold during his prime.
Also, come playoff time, you knew that Leetch would up his game, scoring 97 points in 95 career playoff games. While many remember Marc Messier’s guarantee from the Rangers’ Stanley Cup run in 1994, it was Brian Leetch who won the Conn Smythe trophy that year.
8. Ray Bourque
Like Brian Leetch, Ray Bourque was an offensive force patrolling the point for the Boston Bruins during the 80s and 90s.
It was a tall task to step into the shoes (and essentially the role) once occupied by none other than Bobby Orr, but Bourque was able to do exactly that – and then some. He retired as the league’s all-time points leader among defensemen – it will take something special to even come close to his 1,579 points (accumulated over 1,612 career games) in this era of hockey.
Bourque won the Norris Trophy five times during his 22-year NHL career, behind only Doug Harvey, Nicklas Lidstrom and Orr. In a happy moment, Bourque was also able to win a Stanley Cup with the Colorado Avalanche, before riding into the sunset as one of the top defenseman in NHL history.
7. Bill Barber
As compared to other top ten picks on this list, the 7th overall pick in the draft hasn’t produced a bevy of big names. The other two options for this list were Bernie Federko and Jason Arnott, but they couldn’t match Bill Barber’s ability in important moments.
When you think of the Broad Street Bullies, Bill Barber’s name isn’t always the first that comes to mind (unless you’re a diehard Flyers fan with a deep appreciation and understanding of the team’s history).
Barber was a key cog in some of the best teams in the franchise’s history, as he played a major role in the Flyers back-to-back championships in 1974 and 1975. In 129 playoff games he racked up an impressive 108 points, and produced at a 0.98 point per game clip throughout his 903 career regular season games.
6. Paul Coffey
The number sixth overall pick has produced some of the greatest players in league history – Phil Housley and Peter Forsberg, to name a few – but there’s no denying the impact and talent Paul Coffey brought to the ice.
A four-time Stanley Cup champion, three with the Oilers dynasty of the late 80s and the final one with the loaded 1990-1991 Pittsburgh Penguins, Coffey’s incredible skating ability and scoring talent is largely unmatched by any other defensemen in NHL history. A fourteen-time All-Star, Coffey sits fifth all-time in career assists (1,135) and that’s not just among defenseman.
He’s also a three-time Norris winner and was named to 14 All-Star teams. In any conversation discussing the best defenseman of all time, Paul Coffey better be mentioned.
5. Jaromir Jagr
Absolutely no contest at the number five pick, as Jaromir Jagr easily takes this spot thanks to, well…do we really need to break it down for you?
Jagr is currently third all-time in goals (749) and points (1,868). First all-time in game-winning goals (133). A total of 201 points in 208 playoff games – all that while taking a hiatus from the NHL to play a few seasons in Russia. He’ll finish his career second overall in points and would have likely already surpassed 2,000 career points if he hadn’t left, though there was no way for him to catch up to The Great One. He’s a five-time Art Ross trophy winner, one-time Hart Trophy winner and three-time Ted Lindsay award winner.
To top it all off, Jagr is still producing like a first-line player at the age of 43, with no signs of slowing down – and seemingly having a ton of fun doing it.
4. Steve Yzerman
The number four pick has churned out some of the game’s most revered players, but there’s no denying that this spot belongs to Steve Yzerman.
Yzerman earned a reputation as one of the most dominant players of all-time during his 22-year career, all spent with the Detroit Red Wings. A prototypical leader and point-producing machine, Yzerman carried the torch handed down by the iconic Gordie Howe like few others could have. His point totals aside, Yzerman solidified himself in hockey lore with one of the greatest careers in the history of sport. His leadership qualities put him ahead of the class during his prime. He managed to win three Stanley Cups as the captain of the Detroit Red Wings and had 185 points in 196 career playoff games. He wasn’t too shabby in the regular season either, scoring 1,755 points in 1,514 games.
3. Scott Niedermayer
While many of the players on this list earned their spot through production, it’s not always the point total that tells the entire story.
Scott Niedermayer is nowhere near the top of any point total categories, but he is one of the more decorated players of the modern era. A leader and lynchpin on four Stanley Cup winning teams, Niedermayer also boasts a Conn Smythe and a Norris on his resumé – that’s without mentioning the several other championships and medals won outside of NHL competition.
Niedermayer’s reputation as one of the best of all-time is well deserved and it’s backed up by the overall success of his career – winning followed him, no matter what jersey he was wearing.
2. Brendan Shanahan
Marcel Dionne might be the most prolific scorer to be drafted second overall, but no player taken at number two had quite an impact on the game – and the team he played for – than Brendan Shanahan.
A menacing force throughout his career, Shanahan carved out a niche as a high-end offensive talent with a ton of snarl and grit. He was also a proven playoff performer, an area where Dionne falls short. He finished with 60 goals and 134 points in 184 career playoff games and won three Stanley Cups as a member of the Detroit Red Wings.
The Shanahan name has a more resounding impact and he’s worthy of this spot thanks to his overall impact over the course of his twenty-plus years in the league.
1. Mario Lemieux
We’ve ran through twenty-nine excellent players – and while some were tough calls, you would think that the first overall pick would have been the hardest one to sift through thanks to the sheer amount of incredible talent on the list.
Names like Hawerchuk, Modano, Lafleur, Sundin, Thornton, Ovechkin, and Crosby are all worthy of a mention – in no other scenario, though, would these names ever be dismissed so easily.
Easily one of the greatest of all-time (top 10 for sure, very likely top five, and in some minds, the greatest to ever lace them up), Mario Lemieux easily topped the list of first overall picks – almost as easily as he was able to weave through a pack of defenders and undress a goaltender.
There’s no need to justify the decision – it’s Mario. Le Magnifique – The Magnificent. That’s all the reason we’ll ever need.
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