With the NHL Draft just weeks away, it's a popular time for us fans to look back on the past. It's the time of the season where we look back on some of the biggest draft mistakes and steals in history. We also get to wonder just what could have been for teams that changed their draft selection.
For example, what if the Ottawa Senators took future Hall of Fame defenceman Chris Pronger instead of Alexandre Daigle, who turned out to be a total bust? Maybe Pronger wouldn't have had a helping hand in the Anaheim Ducks defeating the Ottawa Senators in the 2007 Stanley Cup Final? Maybe Ottawa would have won a championship or two if they selected Pronger?
Though the Pittsburgh Penguins won a Stanley Cup with Jordan Staal, there's another giant winner that could have lined up behind Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. You'll have to read on to find out who it is. But spoiler alert: Maybe the Penguins would be the model NHL organization.
The Edmonton Oilers have had four first-overall picks since 2010 and the story has been the same: They are nowhere near the playoffs and keep contending for the lottery pick. What if some of their draft selections over the last few seasons were different? Would they finally be out of the rebuilding stage?
Well, there's nothing any of these teams can do now. They'll have to live with their past picks and just wonder what could have been different. Here is a look at 10 of the greatest draft picks in NHL history, but how they also could have been different if the team opted to take someone else.
20 New York Islanders Select Pat LaFontaine (1983)
After Brian Lawton and Sylvain Turgeon, Pat LaFontaine was taken third-overall by the Isles in 1983. Nobody at the time would have questioned it. Few would today, given how successful his run with the Islanders was.
19 New York Islanders Select Steve Yzerman Instead
Mention Steve Yzerman's name and now it gets a lot easier to see why some would think that the Islanders made the wrong decision. Yzerman became arguably the greatest captain in league history, turning a perennially disappointing Detroit Red Wings franchise into a three-time Stanley Cup champion.
Stevie Y made it to 10 All-Star Games and is in the Hall of Fame. If the Islanders took Yzerman, perhaps their '80s dynasty could have continued. Imagine him with Mike Bossy, Denis Potvin, Bryan Trottier, and Billy Smith.
18 Washington Capitals Select Alex Ovechkin (2004)
Alex Ovechkin has emerged as arguably the top player of his generation. He and Sidney Crosby emerged as the faces of the NHL when the league needed it most. This came after a season-killing 2004-05 lockout.
17 Washington Capitals Select Evgeni Malkin Instead
Evgeni Malkin went second-overall to the Pittsburgh Penguins. He won the 2009 Conn Smythe Trophy and Stanley Cup , and the fact he's had more overall playoff success than Ovechkin makes us wonder if the Caps took the right guy.
Assuming the Capitals took Malkin, chances are he wouldn't be able to bring much playoff success over. Ovechkin is heads-and-shoulder better than Malkin, but if Ovi fell to the Penguins and skated with Sidney Crosby...Well we're talking dynasty here.
16 Edmonton Oilers Select Taylor Hall (2010)
The 2010 Draft was hyped as "Taylor versus Tyler," though many seemed to know that it was going to be Taylor Hall going to Edmonton and Tyler Seguin going to the Boston Bruins.
Hall's career has been ravaged by injuries: This 2015-16 season was his first where he suited up for every game. Even then, his 26 goals (second best total of his career) and 65 points don't necessarily scream superstar, though he's still an incredibly talented forward.
15 Edmonton Oilers Select Tyler Seguin Instead
Tyler Seguin played three seasons with the Boston Bruins, winning a Stanley Cup in his rookie year. However, he wasn't by any means a core part of that Cup crew. He played two more years in Beantown before being traded to the Dallas Stars, where he's posted three-straight 30-goal and 70-point seasons.
If the Oilers had taken Seguin, they'd be a lot closer to the playoffs, but wouldn't be there just yet. Seeing how Seguin has emerged with Jamie Benn, he'd be pretty good with Jordan Eberle too.
14 Pittsburgh Penguins Select Jordan Staal (2006)
After Erik Johnson went first overall to the St. Louis Blues, the Penguins couldn't resist adding another potential franchise-changing centre in Jordan Staal, the younger brother of Eric. He would slot in nicely behind Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
13 Pittsburgh Penguins Select Jonathan Toews Instead
Now you have without a doubt the top three centres in the game in, say, the last five years. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin each have scoring titles and Hart Trophies to their names, while Jonathan Toews himself has three Stanley Cups and two Olympic Gold Medals (same with Crosby for the medals).
Without a doubt, Pittsburgh would have won another Cup before reaching the Final again in 2016. Defenses were able to focus solely on shutting down Crosby and Malkin in the playoffs, but Toews' ability to rise in the clutch would have surely given the Pens at least one more championship. It's unlikely they'd be able to keep all three, but the package they'd receive for one of these three Superstars would be enormous.
12 Chicago Blackhawks Select Patrick Kane (2007)
11 Chicago Blackhawks Select James van Riemsdyk Instead
James van Riemsdyk was unquestionably going to be the next pick by the Philadelphia Flyers. Despite playing on some awful Toronto Maple Leafs and mediocre Flyers squads, he's managed three 2o-goal seasons.
He scored 30 in 2013-14 and 27 the following season. If he was on a line with Toews, we're confident Chicago would be able to win at least one Cup with him, but we have our doubts they'd still be a dynasty if they took JVR over Kane.
10 Pittsburgh Penguins Select Sidney Crosby (2005)
What else is there to say other than the Penguins made arguably the greatest draft selection of all-time?
All Sidney Crosby has done is become the best player since Wayne Gretzky was in his prime. Two Stanley Cups, two Olympic Gold Medals, a Conn Smythe, two scoring titles, and two Hart Trophies. There isn't much else to say that hasn't already been said.
9 Pittsburgh Penguins Select Anze Kopitar Instead
So the Penguins could have had one of the league's best two-way centres ever to complement Evgeni Malkin. But would the Pens still have captured two Cups with Anze Kopitar?
Unlikely. Kopitar's two-way game is a better fit for the Los Angeles Kings, where he's also won two Stanley Cups. Kopitar would not be a fit for the Pens, who've traditionally developed their system around the offense of Crosby, Malkin, and Kris Letang.
8 Boston Bruins Select Joe Thornton (1997)
Joe Thornton has been, without a doubt, one of the top-five players of his generation. Unfortunately for the Bruins, the bulk of his career and his legacy will best be remembered with the San Jose Sharks, where he's flourished in 11 seasons.
7 Boston Bruins Select Roberto Luongo Instead
One of the reasons the Bruins spent years trying to eventually build up a 2011 Stanley Cup team was their problem with finding a consistent goalie. They went from Byron Dafoe to Andrew Raycroft to Tim Thomas to Tuukka Rask.
Selecting Roberto Luongo, who masked an awful Florida Panthers team for a number of years (before starring in Vancouver) could have given them everything they needed to contend right away.
6 Quebec Nordiques Select Eric Lindros (1991)
The Nordiques selection of Eric Lindros obviously wasn't great, as he refused to play for them. But the return they got when they traded him to the Philadelphia Flyers was a fancy one: They got Ron Hextall, Mike Ricci, and Peter Forsberg, among others.
5 Quebec Nordiques Select Scott Niedermayer Instead
Alright, so let's assume that Scott Niedermayer doesn't demand a trade out of Quebec. Now, this team has a guy who won literally everything: A Memorial Cup, four Stanley Cups, two Olympic Gold Medals, the World Cup of Hockey, the World Hockey Championship, and the World Junior Championship.
A smooth-skating and elite two-way defenceman, he'd have eight Norris Trophies if it weren't for Nicklas Lidstrom.
The Nordiques moved to the Mile High City for 1995-96. If they had Niedermayer, along with Joe Sakic, Mats Sundin, and Owen Nolan together, we can assume that the Nordiques would have never left.
4 Minnesota North Stars Select Mike Modano (1998)
Though the drafting of Mike Modano ended up benefitting the folks in Big D, Modano wasn't quite enough to keep the North Stars in The State of Hockey.
3 Minnesota North Stars Select Trevor Linden Instead
Trevor Linden was the second overall pick and instantly made an impact on a perennially-struggling Vancouver Canucks team. Linden scored 30 goals in five of his first six seasons in Vancouver and led them to the 1994 Stanley Cup before losing to the New York Rangers.
So what if the North Stars selected Linden? Well...The Stars franchise probably wouldn't have been as great. Linden was a star during the '90s, but couldn't sustain that level of play once the millennium turned.
2 Pittsburgh Penguins Select Mario Lemieux (1984)
If you were to ask me what was the smartest and greatest draft pick ever, no doubt it was Mario Lemieux. After Wayne Gretzky, Bobby Orr, and Gordie Howe, he's without a doubt the greatest hockey player of all-time.
Those three weren't drafted, so yeah, Lemieux's the best pick ever.
He led the Penguins to a pair of Stanley Cups, registering 690 goals and 1,723 points even though he battled cancer and injuries and was limited to 915 games in 17 seasons with Pittsburgh.
1 Pittsburgh Penguins Select Kirk Muller Instead
Kirk Muller fell second to the New Jersey Devils and he also had a terrific career. He scored 357 goals and 959 points, including five 20-goal seasons.
Though most people expected Lemieux to go first in 1984, we can't help but wonder what would happen if the Pens went elsewhere? Muller was great, but if they went with him, we can't see them winning those Cups.
Also, perhaps the Penguins fail to stay in Pittsburgh, as chances are no one else in the world could run the Pens like Lemieux did.
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