What makes the NHL Draft so marvelous is the fact that history will change. Whether teams draft a superstar or a complete bust, the fortunes of a franchise forever change. We've yet to see the Ottawa Senators recover from passing on Chris Pronger in 1993. The Toronto Maple Leafs were a very porous drafting team for much of the '80s and '90s, ensuring their Stanley Cup drought went on.
Many NHL teams became powerhouses because every other team somehow passed on a superstar, leaving that player to join a club that became a dominant squad. Take a look at the Detroit Red Wings - what if someone else had drafted Steve Yzerman, Nicklas Lidstrom, Pavel Datsyuk or Henrik Zetteberg before the Wings got their hands on these future Hall of Famers?
Looking back, some of the worst teams over the years could have been some of the greatest if they got one certain draft pick right. Here is a look at how 15 draft mulligans could have changed these 15 NHL teams.
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15 Tampa Bay Lightning Draft Paul Kariya (1993)
Paul Kariya was one of the flashiest NHL players during the '90s and 2000s, single-handedly carrying a struggling Mighty Ducks of Anaheim franchise to the Stanley Cup Final in 2003. He had a 50-goal season with Anaheim in 1996-97 and when healthy, was able to score 70-plus points a season.
The Lightning could have used the likes of Kariya, considering they drafted Vincent Lecavalier first-overall in 1998. That could have been a duo for the ages. Instead, they took Chris Gatton with the third pick in 1993. He was never a star for the Lightning, with the exception of his 30-goal, 62-point season in 1996-97.
The Lightning were among the NHL's worst teams after taking Gratton, until they finally won the Stanley Cup in 2004. They could have definitely won more if they had Kariya, though.
14 Columbus Blue Jackets Draft Erik Karlsson (2008)
To be fair, many teams made the mistake of passing up on Erik Karlsson, who wasn't taken until the 15th pick in the 2008 Draft. The Blue Jackets used the sixth-overall pick to draft Nikita Filatov, who played 53 NHL games before heading over to the KHL. Columbus, up until 2016-17, was among the NHL's worst teams. They've made the playoffs twice in franchise history and haven't even won a series.
Seeing how great they finally are now, can you imagine if they had Karlsson skating with rising star blueliner, Seth Jones? Karlsson is this generation's Bobby Orr, changing the game with his breakaway speed, slick puck movement and reliable defensive play. He's coming off a career-high 82-point season, and has a pair of 70-point campaigns to go along with it.
And hey, maybe the Blue Jackets would have beaten the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs. You never know with a guy like Karlsson on your team.
13 Detroit Red Wings Draft Brian Leetch (1986)
It's probably safe to say the Red Wings don't regret any draft misses in the '80s or '90s. Since 1991, this team has made it six trips to the Stanley Cup Final - winning four of them, and they've made the playoffs every year! That being said, imagine the legitimate dynasty they could have built with a defensive pairing of Brian Leetch and Nicklas Lidstrom.
Leetch was a two-time Norris Trophy winner and was among the most dominant blueliners in the '90s. He was the backbone of the New York Rangers 1994 Stanley Cup Championship and posted a remarkable 1,028 points in 1,205 career games. Ah, he and Lidstrom...could you imagine?
Instead, the Red Wings drafted Joe Murphy with the first pick. Now, he was a star with the Edmonton Oilers and Chicago Blackhawks, but he only played 90 games through four seasons with the Red Wings. They missed out on the chance to add another franchise-changer, especially in Brian Leetch.
12 Vancouver Canucks Draft Joe Nieuwendyk (1985)
If you've read my articles before, then you're basically familiar with the Vancouver Canucks probably being the worst team in drafting I have seen, like ever. The 1985 NHL Entry Draft is a primary example of that.
They drafted Jim Sandlak with the fourth-overall pick, and he managed to score just 229 points in 549 points. As for Joe Nieuwendyk? That would be a bonafide superstar that could have made a huge difference in Vancouver. Nieuwendyk wasn't taken until the 27th selection by the Calgary Flames, so there's that.
He won a trio of Stanley Cups, helped Team Canada win gold at the 2002 Olympics, scored 564 goals and 1,126 points, and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. We can't help but wonder if he would have been the difference maker in helping the Canucks win the 1994 Stanley Cup over the Rangers. Maybe, maybe not. But he surely would have changed the fortunes around for a team that was generally awful in the '80s and '90s.
11 Montreal Canadiens Draft Patrice Bergeron (2003)
The 2003 NHL Entry Draft is the greatest class in NHL history. The likes of Marc-Andre Fleury, Nathan Horton, Thomas Vanek, Zach Parise, Ryan Suter, Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and Patrice Bergeron, among others.
The Canadians drafted Andrei Kostitsyn 10th-overall, who put up a trio of 20-goal seasons in Montreal, only to fall out of favor and leave the NHL after the 2011-12 season. But Patrice Bergeron fell to the Boston Bruins in the second round, and that selection shifted the power between both clubs for nearly a decade.
It was Bergeron who helped his Bruins beat the Canadiens in the 2009 and 2011 playoffs, with Boston winning the Stanley Cup in the latter year. Bergeron also helped Boston reach the 2013 Stanley Cup Final and win the Presidents' Trophy in 2014.
If the Canadiens had Bergeron, Boston probably doesn't have any Stanley Cups. Montreal would probably have at least one. That's how much of a difference maker the perennial Selke Trophy winner has been.
10 San Jose Sharks Draft Scott Niedermayer (1991)
The Sharks drafted Pat Falloon with the second-overall pick in the 1991 Draft. He showed promise in his early years, but only wound up playing 575 NHL games, scoring 143 goals and 322 points. The Sharks then saw the New Jersey Devils draft Scott Niedermayer with the next pick.
He became one of the NHL's elite defenceman, leading New Jersey to the Stanley Cup championship in 1995, 2000 and 2003. He also won the Norris Trophy in 2003-04, but would have easily won far more if it weren't for Nicklas Lidstrom. Niedermayer also helped the Anaheim Ducks win a Stanley Cup in 2007, was a two-time Olympic gold medalist and his Ducks even beat San Jose in the opening round of the 2009 playoffs.
If the Sharks drafted Niedermayer? Perhaps that was the final piece in a team that couldn't win the Stanley Cup in the early Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton, Dan Boyle and Jonathan Cheechoo days. They could have had a Norris caliber defenceman, but wound up with a bust.
9 Minnesota Wild Draft Carey Price (2005)
Carey Price has been far-and-away the NHL's best goalie for about three years now. He won the Hart and Vezina Trophies in 2015 because we saw just how valuable he is to the Montreal Canadiens. They went from the NHL's best team early on in 2015-16 to one of the worst when he missed the final five months of the regular season.
The Minnesota Wild passed on Price, who went fifth-overall to the Montreal Canadiens. With the selection before Price, they took forward Benoit Pouliot, who played just 54 games with their franchise.
Besides a nice couple of seasons from netminder Niklas Backstrom (in 2007 and 2008), the Wild lacked a superstar goalie until landing Devan Dubnyk in 2015. Now, imagine if this team had Carey Price all that time. Perhaps he would have helped them get through Chicago in the 2013, 2014 and/or 2015 playoffs. Price is in a league of his own, but the Wild lost out on multiple championship opportunities for passing up on him.
8 Boston Bruins Draft Scott Stevens (1982)
The Boston Bruins held the top pick in the 1982 Draft, but opted to select Gord Kluzak. In 299 NHL games, Kluzak scored 25 goals and 123 points and played his final NHL game in 1991. Boston could have instead selected defenceman Scott Stevens, who became a huge part of New Jersey's three Stanley Cups (along with Scott Niedermayer, of course).
Stevens never scored much, but was by far the greatest pure shutdown defenceman of his time. He and Niedermayer shut down the Detroit Red Wings' high-powered offence in the 1995 Final, led by Steve Yzerman, Sergei Fedorov and Nicklas Lidstrom. They shut down the Dallas Stars prolific offence led by Mike Modano, Jere Lehtinen, Joe Nieuwendyk and others.
The Bruins had many dominant teams in the '80s and '90s, led by defenceman Ray Bourque. If he and Stevens were on the same team, you have to think Boston could have won a Stanley Cup, or more.
7 Anaheim Ducks Select Jarome Iginla (1995)
The Ducks had Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne in the '90s. If they had Jarome Iginla, that's trio of superstar snipers that could have propelled the Anaheim Ducks to new heights, taking into account how Selanne and Kariya carried an otherwise mediocre Ducks team to the 1997 and 1999 NHL playoffs.
Anaheim actually wound up taking Chad Kilger with the fourth-overall pick, and he never scored more than 28 points in a season. Kilger played just 45 games with the Ducks in his rookie season and never wore that jersey again. Meanwhile, Iginla went 11th-overall and has enjoyed quite a career.
Iginla scored at least 30 goals every year from 2000-01 to 2011-12. He's part of the exclusive 600-goal and 1,200 point club. Can you imagine the Ducks having Iginla on a line with Ryan Getzlaf a decade after being selected by Anaheim? We could be talking a dynasty, here.
6 Ottawa Senators Select Chris Pronger (1993)
In one of the most infamous draft mistakes in NHL history, the Ottawa Senators took Alexandre Daigle with the top pick. He did have some 20-goal seasons, but never developed into the superstar he was supposed to be. As for Chris Pronger, he only became one of the most dominant blueliners ever, and was selected right after Daigle.
Pronger was always a force, and I remember my father pointing out to me that he went to the Stanley Cup Final in each of his first seasons with Edmonton, Anaheim and Philadelphia. Pronger won two Olympic gold medals with Canada, the Stanley Cup with Anaheim in 2007 (shutting down the line of Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley), and won both the Hart and Norris Trophy in 2000.
Ottawa had some other great blueliners throughout the years in Wade Redden, Chris Phillips and Zdeno Chara. If they had Pronger for the 2007 run to the Stanley Cup, one has to imagine Ottawa would have won the championship over Anaheim that year. But he made them pay 14 years later.
5 St. Louis Blues Draft Nicklas Lidstrom (1989)
The Blues made the playoffs every year from 1980 to 2004. They were divisional rivals with the Detroit Red Wings for two decades, and lost to them in the 1996, 1997, 1998 and 2002 playoffs. St. Louis had great years with the likes of Brett Hull, Chris Pronger, Al MacInnis, Brendan Shanahan and Phil Housley, among others.
But why weren't they ever able to get through the Detroit Red Wings, who won the Stanley Cup in 1997, 1998, 2002 and 2008? There are multiple reasons, but having Nicklas Lidstrom play in red instead of in blue was a huge reason why.
In the 1989 draft, the Blues took Jason Marshall with the ninth pick. He finished with just 67 points in 526 NHL games, playing just two contests for the Blues. And what must we say about Lidstrom? Arguably the greatest defenceman ever? If St. Louis drafts him, no way Detroit's a dynasty. But perhaps the Blues would have been with Pronger, MacInnis and Lidstrom on their defence.
4 Toronto Maple Leafs Draft Joe Sakic (1987)
Somehow, the great Joe Sakic fell to the Quebec Nordiques with the 15th pick in the 1987 Draft. The Maple Leafs (among other teams), passed on Burnaby Joe and took Luke Richardson with the fourth pick.
Now, Richardson wasn't a bust by any means. He was an ideal and reliable stay-at-home defenceman, playing in the NHL from 1987 to 2008. But he wasn't exactly a franchise player, and the Maple Leafs would have benefited more with Sakic, who is among the greatest centres ever.
Sakic guided the Colorado Avalanche to a pair of Stanley Cup championships - in 1996 and 2001. He won the Conn Smythe in 1996 and the Hart Trophy in 2001. Sakic scored 625 goals and 1,641 points in his career, and scored two clutch goals for Canada in the gold medal game during the 2002 Winter Olympics.
The Leafs haven't won a Stanley Cup since 1967. We feel like it would have been different if they had Joe Sakic and Mats Sundin as their top two centres.
3 Quebec Nordiques Draft Teemu Selanne (1988)
Ever hear of Daniel Dore?
He was the guy the Quebec Nordiques took with the fifth-overall pick in the 1998 NHL Draft. Dore wound up playing just 17 games in the NHL, scoring two goals and five points. Teemu Selanne, on the other hand, went 10th-overall to the Winnipeg Jets that same year.
Selanne showed the Nordiques how big their mistake was by setting a record for goals in a season by a rookie (76). The Finnish Flash scored 40 goals in six different seasons and wound up scoring 684 goals and 1,457 points. He won the Stanley Cup with Anaheim in 2007 as well.
The Nordiques had plenty of talent before bolting to Colorado - Joe Sakic, Owen Nolan, Peter Forsberg and Peter Stastny. Having Selanne on their team may have led to championships, hence a prevented move to Colorado.
2 Philadelphia Flyers Draft Jaromir Jagr (1990)
Thing is, Mike Ricci (whom the Flyers took with the second-overall pick), didn't exactly have a bad career. He had super long hair (which he pulled off well), and scored a respectable 253 goals and 605 points in 1,099 NHL games. However, he only played two seasons with the Flyers, though he scored 41 goals and 97 points.
But Jaromir Jagr? Where to go with this guy? 27 years later and the 45-year-old is still terrorizing NHL teams. Jagr was a key part of the Pittsburgh Penguins '90s team that absolutely dominated the NHL, leading them to the Stanley Cup in 1991 and 1992. He's a five-time scoring champion and won the Hart Trophy in 1999. Jagr has also scored 30-plus goals on 14 occasions.
Did we mention he's second all-time in career points, even though he played in the KHL from 2008-09 to 2010-11? This man could actually score 2,000 points if he manages his goal of playing until he's 50. It's just amazing.
If the Flyers had Jagr, it's safe to assume they, not Pittsburgh, would have multiple Stanley Cups. If it's any consolation, Jagr did play with Philadelphia during the 2011-12 season, but no championship cameo out of it.
1 Minnesota North Stars Draft Steve Yzerman (1983)
The North Stars made one of the biggest draft mistakes in NHL history by taking Brian Lawton with the first-overall pick in the 1983 NHL Entry Draft. His "career" season in 1986-87, scoring 21 goals and 44 points. He finished with 112 goals and 266 points in 483 career games.
Meanwhile, the next six selections became superstars, but none of them stood out as much as Steve Yzerman. The long-time Detroit Red Wings captain was a centerpiece in their 1997, 1998 and 2002 Stanley Cup championships. Yzerman took a Wings team that was awful for much of the '70s and '80s, and helped them transition into hockey's model organization.
Yzerman scored 692 goals and 1,755 points in 1,514 career games. The North Stars moved to Dallas for the 1993-94 season. If Yzerman went to the North Stars, you have to believe he could have turned them into a powerhouse the way he did with Detroit. But the North Stars made a terrible draft choice, which eventually led to the franchise's departure.
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