When the NHL first started, you had trades and/or you signed players to build your team. Then in 1963, NHL teams began to build their teams through the draft, where new players came out of junior and had their names called to the podium. Drafting has since become the primary way for teams to build players.
The Chicago Blackhawks, Los Angeles Kings and Pittsburgh Penguins have combined for seven of the eight Stanley Cups won since 2009, thanks in large part to drafting stars like Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Marc-Andre Fleury.
But throughout the past decades, some first-overall picks were major busts. Some of them never played in the NHL, some did but never panned out. Others were average, others were good, others were great and others changed the landscape of the NHL. 53 years later, and we have 54 first-overall picks.
Before you start my list, the criteria was mixed. I tried to do it based on career stats. But for ranking current players, I tried to project how their careers would finish. For example, Sidney Crosby is probably going to be much higher than many of you expect. So sit back and enjoy.
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54 Rick Pagnutti, 1967
The brand-new Los Angeles Kings had the desired first-overall pick in 1967 and took the talented defenceman who shined in the AHL. However, Rick Pagnutti, despite a marvelous AHL career, never played in an NHL game. He's ranked the lowest here because he was more hyped up than any of the other draft selections that didn't play in an NHL game. He was supposed to be better.
The 1967 Draft as a whole was a disappointment, with only three of the 18 selections playing in an NHL game. Still, Pagnutti was supposed to bring excitement to the city of Los Angeles, which was never much of a hockey market to begin with. He enjoyed time in the AHL and IHL, where he was named the league's top defenceman one year, but that was about it for Pagnutti and a promising career that never took place.
53 Andre Veilleux, 1965
There really aren't that many stats available out there for the man who was taken by the New York Rangers to open up the 1965 NHL Draft. Andre Veilleux scored three goals for Trois Rivieres of the QJAHL. The Canadian right winger had a chance to help the Rangers return to prominence, but he also failed to appear in an NHL game.
To be fair to Veilleux, there were only 11 selections in the 1965 NHL Draft, and none of them necessarily stood out in the NHL. Pierre Bouchard did play in 595 games and scored 106 points, but nine of the selections never appeared in the NHL.
During those teams, the draft wasn't a huge success for teams. The draft was fairly new, and guys like Veilleux weren't given much of a chance to prove themselves. As a result, he never played an NHL game.
52 Claude Gauthier, 1964
The second first overall selection in NHL history went to the Detroit Red Wings, with a chance to follow the footsteps of the greats like Gordie Howe, Alex Delvecchio and Ted Lindsay. But that wasn't the case for Claude Gauthier, who was one of the first true draft busts in the history of the NHL.
Gauthier never played an NHL game. There were only 24 draft selections from 1964. Ken Dryden ended up being one of them, as he went on to win six Stanley Cups with the Montreal Canadiens. Tim Ecclestone was the only other standout from the draft, as he played in an NHL All-Star Game.
As you see here, most NHL selections in the '60s weren't supposed to be automatic superstars like they are today. Gauthier was taken first but wasn't able to live up to the hype.
51 Barry Gibbs, 1966
The native of Lloydminster, Saskatchewan was supposed to be the new icon of the Boston Bruins. The superstar defenceman was going to lead the B's to greatness and have a statue of him put out infront of the Bruins' arena.
Well, those honours ended up going to number four, Bobby Orr. Barry Gibbs' inability to emerge as a top-flight defenceman set the stage for Bobby Orr to be the greatest NHL defenceman of all-time. Gibbs played just 24 games with the Bruins and didn't score a point with them. As a result, he went to the Minnesota North Stars to try and fix things.
Gibbs should more flashes, posting a pair of 30-point seasons in Minnesota, but was never able to establish himself as a star blueliner.
50 Michel Plasse, 1968
The first goalie to be taken with the first-overall selection, Michel Plasse went to the Montreal Canadiens, who were well past the Jacques Plante days. With a dynasty in the works and another one on the way, Plasse had his chance to be the team's top goalie. But Plasse never reached his stardom, and it ended up being a young man named Ken Dryden who led the Canadiens to greatness during the '70s.
Plasse couldn't get it going with the Habs and eventually found himself with the Pittsburgh Penguins. He posted 24 wins in 1975-76, showing that perhaps he did have a future in the NHL. Plasse would never win more than 12 games in a season after that. Plasse played his last NHL game with the Quebec Nordiques in 1981-82.
49 Greg Joly, 1974
Everyone knows how bad the Washington Capitals were in the '70s and weren't a relevant team until they reached the 1998 Stanley Cup Final against the Detroit Red Wings. But if guys like Greg Joly had turned out the way they had hoped, perhaps things could have been much different.
Joly was a standout blueliner on the Regina Pats of the WCHL, scoring 88 and 92 points in 1972-73 and 1973-74, respectively. Joly went to the Capitals with the top pick, but wasn't able to get on track at any point. He only had eight points in 44 games to open his rookie season. Promise was shown in year two with eight goals and 25 points. Joly never worked out in Washington and tried restarting his career with the Detroit Red Wings.
That to went nowhere; as he couldn't secure full-time roster spots and couldn't contribute much to the scoresheet. Joly played his last NHL game in the 1982-83 season.
48 Patrik Stefan, 1999
Unfortunately for Patrick Stefan, the man is best remembered for two things:
A) Being the guy who had an empty net on a breakaway before slipping and missing the net, while the Oilers went down the other way and tied the game with less than a second left.
B) Going first-overall in 1999 while Vancouver Canucks GM Brian Burke selected Daniel and Henrik Sedin with the second and third picks, respectively.
The Sedins have gone on to become two of hockey's most powerful stars, while Stefan was out of the NHL by 2007. Stefan scored just 64 goals and 188 points in 455 NHL games. Despite playing with stars like Dany Heatley and Ilya Kovalchuk in Atlanta, Stefan never reached his full potential. He didn't score more than 41 points in a season.
47 Gord Kluzak, 1982
So the Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito dominant days were gone. The Boston Bruins saw Gord Kluzak as their guy to run the new engine in Beantown. Hey, the Boston Red Sox and New England Patriots championship droughts hadn't ended, so Kluzak had the chance to shine in Boston the way Larry Bird was.
Kluzak's rookie year was one to forget; he only had seven points in 70 NHL games. He showed a lot more promise in his second year when he scored 10 goals and 37 points. However, he had knee injuries that ruined his career. He missed all of 1984-85 and 1986-87. Things looked promising when he returned from injury to score 37 points in 1987-88, but that was all Kluzak really had left in him.
He would play in just three games in 1988-89 and 10 more games after that, not getting the chance to be the superstar Boston had hoped.
46 Brian Lawton, 1983
Easily one of the biggest draft busts of all-time, Brian Lawton failed to do much with the Minnesota North Stars. This draft is famous in being how much Minnesota missed out. Sylvain Turgeon, Pat LaFontaine, Steve Yzerman, Tom Barrasso, John MacLean, Russ Courtnall and Cam Neely were other guys selected in the top-nine, showing just how much the North Stars messed this one up.
Lawton showed minor flashes in his rookie year, scoring 10 goals and 31 points in 1983-84. It looked like he was coming together as he posted 18, 21 and 17 goals in his third, fourth and fifth seasons, respectively. However, the 21 goals and 44 points in 1986-87 were the best any NHL team would get from Lawton. He had just 112 goals and 266 points in 483 NL games.
45 Rick Green, 1976
After dominating with the London Knights in the OHA, the Washington Capitals took the promising defenceman with the first-overall pick. This young NHL franchise hoped he could blossom and lead the team to greatness. Rick Green's career wasn't bad by any means, but it wasn't specifically great considering he was a top pick.
Green lacked the scoring ability in the NHL, scoring no more than eight goals and 41 points in a season. But even in his own end, Green struggled. He posted a minus-35 rating in his second NHL season and followed it up with a minus-45 the next. Green wasn't able to blossom into the reliable defenceman. He played in 845 NHL games but scored just 43 goals and 263 points with a career plus/minus rating of minus-91.
44 Doug Wickenheiser, 1980
With the Canadiens dynasty of the '70s gone and a new era beginning, Doug Wickenheiser (yes, cousin of Hayley) appeared to be the perfect fit to transition the Habs into a new era. They took the promising centre with the first pick. Unfortunately, Wickenheiser wasn't able to live up to expectations.
His first two seasons weren't anything that drew attention, but Wickenheiser scored 25 goals and 55 points in year three as a pro. The Canadiens never saw improvement after that and Wickenheiser went to the St. Louis Blues. In his first full season there, Wickenheiser scored 23 goals and 43 points, but wasn't able to put up numbers like that again. He finished with 111 goals and 276 points in 556 games.
Tragically, he'd pass away from cancer in 1999.
43 Nail Yakupov, 2012
The 2012 NHL Entry Draft has been a major letdown so far, and the top pick has been a reason for that. There were early concerns about the Edmonton Oilers drafting Nail Yakupov, because of his attitude and desire to perhaps play in Russia some day. They went for it anyway and got totally duped.
He showed promise in the 2013 48-game season, scoring 17 goals and 31 points. 2013-14 was a major disappointment, as Yakupov scored just 11 goals and 24 points in 63 games. In 2014-15, he scored just 14 goals and 33 points. In his final season with the Oilers, he had eight goals and 23 points in 63 games. With Yakupov clashing with coaches and struggling to find his potential, the Oilers gave him away to the St. Louis Blues before the 2016-17 season started.
There's a chance that he moves up, goes down or stays here when his NHL career ends.
42 Dale McCourt, 1977
The Detroit Red Wings entered the 1977 Draft desperate for a new franchise face. Gordie Howe's playing days in the Motor City were long gone, and the club struggled for much of the '70s. They were going on 22 years without a Stanley Cup, but held out hope that Dale McCourt was the guy to turn things around.
That didn't exactly happen, and Detroit would have to wait 20 years later to win the Stanley Cup. But McCourt showed signs of being a star early, scoring 33 goals and 72 points in his rookie season. He had 71 points the next season and followed it up with 81 and 86 points in 1979-80 and 1980-81, respectively.
After that, McCourt's career in the NHL went downhill, as he scored no more than 52 points in a season before heading to National League A. Had he kept up those stats, he could have been a Hall of Famer, but he peaked early and never recovered his true skills in the NHL.
41 Garry Monahan, 1963
Luckily for Garry Monahan, his disappointing NHL career was easily overshadowed by the success of the team who drafted him, the Montreal Canadiens. They won five Stanley Cups in a row during the '60s and added six more in the '70s. But he did make history: It was the first-ever NHL Entry Draft and he was the first player selected. So yeah, the first pick in NHL history. Think about that.
Monahan did show some flashes in the NHL, but the promising centre never lived up to expectations. He did score double-digit goals seven times in the NHL, but Monahan never topped 44 points in a season. He finished his career with 116 goals and 285 points in 748 NHL games, making him a not-so-great but not-so-bad first-overall pick.
40 Alexandre Daigle, 1993
Alexandre Daigle is considered by many to be the biggest NHL Draft bust of all-time. Though we don't disagree about him failing to meet up to such unlimited potential, he was a useful player for parts of his career. He at least spent plenty of time in the NHL, whereas some first-overall picks never played a game.
The Ottawa Senators won the sweepstakes of Daigle, who was to be the face of a new franchise. In fact, some people believe the Senators tanked on purpose back in 1992-93 to ensure they got the first pick.
Daigle showed promise right away, scoring 20 goals and 51 points in his rookie season. However, he managed just 54 points combined over the next two seasons. He rebounded in 1996-97, with 26 goals and 51 points. But Daigle's production trailed off from there, while the pick after him (Chris Pronger) is a future Hall of Famer with a Stanley Cup and two Olympic gold medals. Paul Kariya, Viktor Kozlov, Jason Arnott, Jason Allison, Saku Koivu and Todd Bertuzzi were just some of many taken after Daigle, who finished with 129 goals and 327 points and was out of the NHL by 2005-06.
39 Rejean Houle, 1969
The Canadiens were beginning a new era after winning five Stanley Cup in a row. The Maurice Richard days were gone, the Jean Beliveau times were coming to an end and they needed fresh guys to replace some of the aging stars. The Habs formed another dynasty in the '70s with six Stanley Cup championships, and Rejean Houle finished his career as a five-time Stanley Cup champion.
Houle was a solid forward for much of his career, but he wasn't the ice-breaker on the Canadiens. It wasn't until he went to the Quebec Nordiques where his career took off, when that franchise was playing in the World Hockey Association. Prior to that, he didn't score more than 48 points in a season with the Canadiens.
Once he returned to the NHL with the Canadiens, it all took off from there. Houle scored 22 goals and 52 points in 1976-77. He followed it up with a career season, scoring 30 goals and 58 points. He had 45 points the following season, 58 the next and 43 in 1981-82. Houle finished with 161 goals and 408 points in 635 career NHL games.
38 Rick DiPietro, 2000
Unfortunately for Rick DiPietro, a solid career was overlooked because of the albatross 15-year contract the New York Islanders gave him for $67.5 million. That was a lot of money who had 58 career wins under his belt. DiPietro posted a 30-24-5 record with the Isles in 2005-06 despite a porous 3.00 goals against average and .900 save percentage. After he signed that contract, he began to struggle with injuries and was never the same player again.
Hip and knee injuries derailed what had originally been a promising career. The Islanders were beneficiaries of the new CBA in 2013, which gave each team a pair of amnesty buyouts. This allowed teams to buy out a player's contract without having to suffer salary cap penalties. DiPietro went 130-136-36 in his career with a 2.87 goals against average and .902 save percentage. Not what you want from a first-overall pick, but his career was solid nonetheless.
37 Erik Johnson, 2006
Erik Johnson hasn't been a disappointment in the NHL by any means, but considering some of the guys taken after him, he definitely hasn't been a home run selection. If Jonathan Toews was the first pick, we'd have a 28-year-old Chicago Blackhawks captain as the top guy on our list.
You see, Johnson was really a can't-miss star on the US National Development Team, playing on the 2007 American World Junior team. Johnson went first-overall to the St. Louis Blues and took a few seasons to land on his feet. He was traded to the Colorado Avalanche in 2011, and has since turned into a solid top-pairing defenceman.
Johnson has scored 23 goals and 50 points over his last two seasons and has been reliable in his own end. But the 2006 draft also has Toews, Jordan Staal, Nicklas Backstrom, Phil Kessel, Claude Giroux and others. If one of them went first, the representation from this draft class is much higher.
36 Auston Matthews, 2016
Auston Matthews missed eligibility in the 2015 NHL Draft by just days. Some scouts say Matthews could have gone first over Connor McDavid, but that's another story. All that mattered for the Toronto Maple Leafs was that the prized American that dominated the pros in Switzerland fell into their hands. And they got him.
We haven't seen a ton of Matthews yet, except for scoring four goals in his debut against the Ottawa Senators. This is coming from a 19-year-old kid who is on the NHL's worst team and he hasn't reached his prime yet. Neither have the guys around him. But the Leafs will be one of the NHL's top squads soon enough, and Matthews will be the face of it all.
Like McDavid, Matthews will be much higher on these rankings down the road. It's a matter of when, not if. The Leafs have themselves a true superstar and he could challenge Mats Sundin and Dave Keon as the greatest Leaf ever.
35 Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, 2011
Oh, how lucky the Oilers are to have had so many first-overall picks throughout the years. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins hasn't quite lived up to his full potential as he's failed to stay healthy and earn points from an Oilers team that's been loaded with young stars.
Nugent-Hopkins' 2011-12 rookie season wasn't all that bad; he had 18 goals and 52 points in 62 games. The 2013 lockout-shortened season was a disappointment; he had just four goals and 24 points. The next year was a bounce-back, with 19 goals and 56 points. 2014-15 looked even better with 24 goals and 56 points.
Then 2015-16 came, and he scored just 12 goals and 34 points in 55 games. Edmonton probably isn't seeing much of a superstar in Nugent-Hopkins at this point of his career, but he can be relied upon as a second-line centre. But chances are he won't move up or down much in this ranking.
34 Connor McDavid, 2015
Yeah, so Connor McDavid has only played one full NHL season but he's already better than a large amount of the first-overall picks in history. But in 10 years from now, anyone who reads this will think McDavid should be much higher. No doubt he'll be in the top-five by then. For now, he's at 34.
The Edmonton Oilers were the lucky winners of the top pick in the 2015 draft, even though the Buffalo Sabres and Arizona Coyotes were actually the worst teams in the NHL that season. McDavid managed to score 16 goals and 48 points in his rookie season despite playing in only 45 games. McDavid's Oilers were the NHL's second-worst team, but he made the most of it.
Before 2016-17 kicked off, many pegged McDavid as their Art Ross Trophy winner. It doesn't matter if he wins it this year or not. He easily has at least five in him and will be this generation's Sidney Crosby.
33 Nathan MacKinnon, 2013
You probably think McDavid should be higher, but Nathan MacKinnon does have three seasons in the books compared to the former's short 2015-16 campaign. MacKinnon has been a superstar with a lowly Colorado Avalanche team. At 21 years of age, you figure we haven't even seen his best yet.
The Avalanche won the first pick in 2013, and became Central Division champions the next with 112 points. MacKinnon easily won the Calder Trophy with 24 goals and 63 points in 2013-14, but the Avalanche were eliminated in the first round by the Minnesota Wild. MacKinnon struggled the following season with 14 goals and 38 points. He rebounded in year three with 21 goals and 52 points.
MacKinnon hasn't been the dominant superstar we have expected, but he's a game-changer and will be in his prime before you know it.
32 Aaron Ekblad, 2014
Aaron Ekblad has only completed two NHL seasons, but if there's a second coming of Nicklas Lidstrom in this generation, it'll be the Florida Panthers franchise player. Ekblad, the towering 6-feet-6 blueliner posted 27 goals and 75 points in his first two NHL seasons. His efforts helped the Panthers win the Atlantic Division in 2015-16, thanks to his 15 goals and 36 points that season.
The scary thing is that Ekblad's stats are only going to get better. He's just 20 years of age and other Florida youngsters like Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau haven't reached their primes yet. We like Ekblad high because out of the most recent first-overall picks, he's established himself the best. And we have zero doubt he'll be the NHL's top defenceman in three years time. Maybe even next year.
31 Roman Hamrlik, 1992
Roman Hamrlik didn't quite have a career that you'd hope for from a first-overall pick in this generation, but top guys selected weren't a sure thing back in the '90s. Hamrlik had to begin his career on a brand new Tampa Bay Lightning squad that took years and years to build into a contender.
Hamrlik made the most from playing on a lot of mediocre teams. The three-time All-Star was on Czech Republic's 1998 Olympic gold medal team at Nagano. He shut down Canada's dream team and helped his country shut out the powerhouse Russians in the gold medal game.
He wasn't much of a scorer, save for his 16 goals and 65 points in 1995-96, but Hamrlik was a reliable top-pairing defenceman and also helped the Montreal Canadiens shut down Alex Ovechkin's President's Trophy Washington Capitals in the 2010 playoffs. He was as reliable as it came.
30 Rob Ramage, 1979
Unfortunately for Rob Ramage, a solid career is often overlooked because most people remember him as simply the guy who was part of the Brett Hull trade. While the St. Louis Blues ended up with the man who's third all-time in goals, the Flames got Ramage who was well past-his-prime and failed to do much of anything in Calgary.
But we're not going to reminisce on his Flames career, but his hockey career in general. Ramage, a two-way blueliner, scored 20 goals and 62 points in his second year with the Colorado Rockies. Two seasons later with St. Louis, he'd score 16 goals and 51 points, following it up with 15 goals and 60 points.
Ramage also had 10 goals and 66 points in 1985-86, but had just 23 points in 80 games with Calgary. But Ramage did finish with 139 goals and 564 points in 1,044 NHL games, so he avoided the bust label without a question.
29 Billy Harris, 1972
The New York Islanders needed a handful of superstars to compete with dominant teams like the Montreal Canadiens, Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers of the '70s. Billy Harris was up for the task as the Isles took him first in 1972. Harris helped grow hockey on Long Island, scoring 28 goals in his rookie year while posting 50-point seasons in his first two years.
He got better with time, scoring 62 points in his third year, 32 goals and 70 points the next and becoming a consistent 50-point guy. The Islanders would become a dominant team, but Harris was traded to the Los Angeles Kings in 1980, where New York went on to win its first of four consecutive Stanley Cups. Harris undoubtedly deserved one of those titles for turning the Islanders into a juggernaut, but it wasn't mean to be. But what a career it was for the Toronto-born kid.
28 Bryan Berard, 1995
The Senators had a handful of first-round selections in the '90s, and they took a shot at the talented American defenceman who dominated in the OHL. However, Bryan Berard refused to play for them and was traded to the New York Islanders. Had Berard avoided a serious injury that nearly made him lose an eye, he probably would have been a superstar for a long time.
The injury slowed down Berard's production after five dominant seasons with the New York Islanders and Toronto Maple Leafs. He made the 1998 American Olympic team at Nagano and was the 1997 Calder Trophy winner. He had a memorable season 1997-98, scoring 14 goals and 46 points with the Islanders. Sadly, Berard was out of the NHL by 2007-08 as he never regained the superstar play he displayed early in his career. But for the short time he played healthy, he was a game-changer at that.
27 Chris Phillips, 1996
Chris Phillips did not play in an NHL All-Star Game and never scored more than 26 points in a season. But that doesn't mean that he was a draft bust. He was a leader and focal point in bringing back the revived Ottawa Senators hockey during the '90s and 2000s. He played 17 seasons with the Senators, taking them to the Stanley Cup Final in 2007 before falling to the Anaheim Ducks.
Phillips was the heart-and-soul leader of the Senators, and refused to be traded during a disastrous 2010-11 season when the Senators were selling off a vast amount of their veterans. Phillips was the ideal shutdown defenceman during his 1,179 games played with Ottawa, shutting down Pittsburgh and Buffalo's offense in the 2007 playoffs. Don't look at the stats, this man was a crucial part of the team's success for a decade or so.
26 Taylor Hall, 2010
The Edmonton Oilers won the Taylor Hall sweepstakes and made the tough choice of selecting him over flashy playmaker Tyler Seguin, who's had the better career up to this point. Hall struggled to live up to his full potential in Edmonton, however. Years of rebuilding and stockpiling on young forwards (and other first-overall picks) like Nail Yakupov, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Connor McDavid prevented Hall from being a bonafide star.
Hall does have four 2o-goal seasons under his belt and did appear to break out in 2013-14 with 27 goals and 80 points, but he followed it up with 38 points in 53 games the following year. In his last season with the Oilers, he had 26 goals and 65 points. Good, not but spectacular numbers.
Now with the New Jersey Devils, Hall has the chance to be a real superstar once and for all. Given how well he's been so far and our confidence he'll blossom into a consistent 3o-goal man, Hall already earns this spot on our list, with room to go up.
25 Mel Bridgman, 1975
The native of Trenton, Ontario dominated with the Victoria Cougars in the WCHL, leaving the Philadelphia Flyers an easy choice to take Mel Bridgman first-overall. 1975 was one of the most disappointing draft classes in NHL history, but Bridgman was one of the few players that managed to stand out in it.
In his rookie season with the Philadelphia Flyers, Bridgman scored 23 goals and 50 points, guiding the team back to the Stanley Cup Final to the Montreal Canadiens. Bridgman would go on to score 19 goals and 57 points the following season, forming a star-studded team with Bobby Clarke. Bridgman would go on to score 20-plus goals five more times while posting a 75-point season with Calgary and a trio of 60-point seasons with New Jersey.
He scored 252 goals and 701 points to close out a remarkable career.
24 Ed Jovanovski, 1994
One of the smoothest puck-moving defenceman of his generation, Ed Jovanovski had the misfortunes of playing with the lowly Florida Panthers for the first four seasons of his career. Once he became a Vancouver Canuck, his career had changed for the better. He scored 12 goals and 47 points in 2000-01 then set a career-high in goals with 17 in 2001-02, finishing with 48 points.
The Canucks were one of the NHL's worst teams during the late '90s, but guys like Jovanovski, Todd Bertuzzi and Markus Naslund rejuvenated a frustrated fanbase and turned them into a consistent playoff team. After missing half of 2005-06, Jovanovski would spend five seasons with the Coyotes, setting a career-high 51 points in 2007-08.
Jovanovski would go back to the Florida Panthers and finish out his career there, retiring with 137 goals and 500 points as one of the top defenceman of the 2000s.
23 Joe Murphy, 1986
For any of you born in the '90s, 2000s or 2010s reading this, it's hard to imagine the Detroit Red Wings being awful and struggling for three decades. Joe Murphy joined Steve Yzerman as a high draft pick in the '80s and was a guy that Detroit relied upon to turn their fortunes around. Murphy wasn't on the Wings' resurgence squads in 1994 and beyond, but he still have a marvelous career.
Once he joined the Edmonton Oilers in 1990, his fortunes changed for the better. The Oilers won the Stanley Cup and Murphy broke out in 1990-91, scoring 27 goals and 62 points. The next season, he scored 35 goals and 82 points. Murphy helped the struggling Chicago Blackhawks return to relevance, scoring 162 points in just three seasons there.
He would finish his career with 233 goals and 528 points.
22 Wendel Clark, 1985
As the Toronto Maple Leafs struggled in much of the '80s and '90s, the passionate fanbase was running out of faith in seeing the glory days return. Wendel Clark was up for the task when he became the top pick in 1985.
Clark scored 34 goals and 45 points in his rookie season, turning the Leafs into one of the NHL's top franchises during the '90s, even though it didn't result in a Stanley Cup. He scored 37 goals and 60 points in his second season, until back injuries trailed off his production for some seasons. He rebounded in 1993-94, scoring a career-high 46 goals and 76 points, as the Leafs fell just one series short of reaching the Stanley Cup Final.
Clark scored 30 goals and 49 points in his second stint with the Leafs in 1996-97. Clark wouldn't come close to those totals again, but the Leafs' fan favorite had already cemented his legacy in the NHL, finishing with 330 goals as he brought back excitement into Toronto hockey once again.
21 Marc-Andre Fleury, 2003
Marc-Andre Fleury could have been a Florida Panther, but they flipped the top pick to the Pittsburgh Penguins for the third pick. The Pens got themselves one of the NHL's premier goalies who has been a huge part of their Stanley Cup-winning teams in 2009 and 2016. Fleury joined forces with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in turning around a team that constantly failed to draw attendance while looking at plans to relocate.
Fleury's breakout year was 2006-07, when he went 40-16-9 with a 2.83 goals against average and .906 save percentage. He missed most of 2007-08, but guided his team to the Stanley Cup Final, falling to Detroit. But he'd bounce back the next year with 35 wins as the Pens won the Stanley Cup.
From 2008-09 to 2015-16, Fleury only failed to win 30 games once; the lockout-shortened 2013 season that only had a 48-game schedule. Fleury has embarked on a remarkable career that could see him in the Hockey Hall of Fame one day.
20 Ilya Kovalchuk, 2001
There's a high chance that Ilya Kovalchuk would be much higher on our list if he didn't decide to walk away from his hefty NHL contract to sign in the KHL. Still, Kovalchuk left a huge impact on his 12 seasons in the NHL. The Atlanta Thrashers star scored 29 goals and 51 points in his rookie season.
He tied Rick Nash and Jarome Iginla for the Rocket Richard Trophy in 2003-04, with all of them scoring 41 goals. Kovalchuk was a 40-goal scorer each year from 2005-06 to 2009-10, including a pair of 52-goal seasons between that time frame. Kovalchuk didn't have much talent around him in Atlanta, as the team only made the playoffs once. He was traded to the New Jersey Devils in 2010, scoring 30-plus goals there twice.
Perhaps Kovalchuk will come back to the NHL some day. He was like another Alexander Ovechkin: A Russian sniper that was a once-in-a-lifetime athlete.
19 Eric Lindros, 1991
Wayne Gretzky was called "The Great One." Eric Lindros was called "The Next One." This was because Lindros had the hype of being a once-in-a-generation player like Gretzky. He dominated the OHL and was expected to be the next superstar of the NHL. His career got off to a controversial start, however.
The Quebec Nordiques took him first-overall in the 1991 Draft, but he refused to play in a French-Canadian region. He was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers and made the Nordiques pay immediately. He scored 41 goals and 75 points in his rookie season. He followed it up with 44 goals and 97 points. Lindros scored 47 goals and 115 points in 1995-96. He guided his Flyers to the Stanley Cup Final in 1997, but they were defeated by the Detroit Red Wings.
Unfortunately for Lindros, he wasn't quite THE ONE. He suffered multiple concussions in his career, which started on an ugly hit from Scott Stevens. Lindros missed so much action and couldn't reach his full superstardom. Still, the 1995 Hart Trophy winner had 372 goals and 865 points in just 760 NHL games, and is a member of this year's Hockey Hall of Fame class.
18 Owen Nolan, 1990
Born in Belfast, Northern Ireland (but being a Canadian citizen) Owen Nolan gave the good folks from the United Kingdom something to celebrate: A superstar hockey player!
Nolan was drafted by the Quebec Nordiques and spent five seasons there before the franchise relocated to Colorado. Once Nolan joined the San Jose Sharks in 1995-96, he really stood out more as a bonafide superstar. He turned the Sharks into a Western Conference juggernaut, consistently toying with 70 points seasons.
He scored 44 goals and 84 points in 1999-2000 which saw him play in the NHL All-Star Game. The five-time All-Star was part of Canada's gold medal squad at the 2002 Winter Olympics, breaking its 50-year drought. He finished with 422 goals and 885 points, and deserves his spot in the Hockey Hall of fame.
17 Rick Nash, 2002
Just thinking how Rick Nash entered this season with 393 career goals and 733 points in 922 years is incredible when you consider that he played his first nine seasons with mostly lousy Columbus Blue Jackets squads.
Nash did everything in his power to stand out on Columbus, whose second-best player during his entire time there was probably David Vyborny, if you even know who the guy is. Nash shared the Rocket Richard Trophy in 2003-04 with Ilya Kovalchuk and Jarome Iginla after all three led the NHL in goals with 41. In seven of his nine seasons in Columbus, Nash scored at least 30 goals, and was a two-time 40-goal scorer.
Nash struggled during his first two years with the New York Rangers before scoring 41 goals and 69 points in 2014-15, leading his team to the President's Trophy. Nash is 32-years-old and is already showing signs of slowing down.
But the two-time Olympic gold medalist has been one of hockey's best pure goal-scorers for over a decade. He may not quite reach the elusive 1,000-points club, but you can bet he'd be there if he was on a better team for his first nine NHL seasons.
16 John Tavares, 2009
With the New York Islanders being one of the NHL's worst teams since the lockout, they needed a star who could bring hockey interest back on Long Island. It took time, but before long John Tavares got the Islanders back surging.
Tavares scored 24 goals and 54 points in his rookie season and followed it up with 29 goals and 67 points the next. 2011-12 saw him score 31 goals and 81 points. Those stood as career-highs until he managed 38 goals and 86 points in 2014-15, getting the Islanders back to the playoffs for the second time in three seasons.
2015-16 was a special year for the Islanders. Tavares scored 33 goals and 70 points. The Islanders won their first playoff series since 1993, as Tavares' Game 6 goal against the heavily-favored Florida Panthers put Uniondale on its feet for the first time in decades. Tavares is a bonafide star and will be a force for years to come.
15 Steven Stamkos, 2008
Like Vincent Lecavalier, Steven Stamkos was under a lot of pressure to perform on a Lightning team that had struggled long enough and wasn't bringing a whole lot of excitement. This was despite the Lightning being just four years removed from a Stanley Cup.
Stamkos answered the call right away, scoring 23 goals and 46 points in his rookie season. He followed it up with a 51-goal season to tie Sidney Crosby for the Rocket Richard Trophy. Stamkos would go on to score 60 goals in 2011-12, challenging Alex Ovechkin as the NHL's premier goal scorer.
Stamkos also scored 43 goals in 2014-15, leading the Lightning back to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in 11 years, before falling short to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Stamkos is a four-time All-Star and will easily score over 500 career goals when all is said and done.
14 Patrick Kane, 2007
Patrick Kane is only 28-years-old and could easily leap into the top-10 of first-overall picks by the time his career ends. If he were to retire already, he'd be a sure-bet to be in the Hockey Hall of Fame. He already has three Stanley Cups with the Chicago Blackhawks, scoring the OT winner in Game 6 of the 2010 Final to bring his team its first championship in 49 years.
Kane won his first Art Ross Trophy in 2015-16, scoring 46 goals and 106 points after not putting up anything higher than 88. He and Jonathan Toews took a 'Hawks team that was last in NHL attendance in 2007 and turned them into the model organization of the '2000s. Kane will be at over 700 career points by the conclusion of 2016-17, barring any surprises. He's well on line to score over 1,000 points and should win more championships and hardware before his career ends.
13 Vincent Lecavalier, 1998
The Lightning became a team in 1992, and struggled for long periods of time to generate a buzz in a non-traditional hockey market. But once they drafted the towering 6-4 centre, their fortunes changed forever.
Vincent Lecavalier became the heart-and-soul leader of the Lightning during his decade-and-a-half spent with the team. He scored 20-plus goals in 12-straight seasons from 1999-2000 to 2011-12. In 2003-04, he led the franchise to its only Stanley Cup championship to date, scoring 32 goals and 66 points that season.
Lecavalier won the Rocket Richard Trophy in 2007 after scoring 52 goals and was a four-time All-Star. He was part of the 2004 World Cup of Hockey winning franchise and made Tampa a relevant place for hockey. He finished with 421 career goals and 949 points in 1,212 career games.
12 Pierre Turgeon, 1987
Pierre Turgeon is one of the most underrated NHL players of all-time. He was the first pick of a stacked 1987 NHL Draft that also featured Joe Sakic, Brendan Shanahan, John LeClair, Eric Desjardins, Mathieu Schneider and others.
Turgeon played 20 seasons in the NHL on six teams. Though he wasn't able to win a Stanley Cup, he silently dominated the '90s while people were paying attention to other stars and better teams. Turgeon was a five-time All-Star and won the Lady Byng Trophy in 1993, given to the player who best displays sportsmanship.He had a pair of 100-point seasons, including a 58-goal and 132-point season with the New York Islanders in 1992-93; the year his team pulled off a shocking upset on the Pittsburgh Penguins who were bidding for a third-straight Stanley Cup.
Turgeon finished his career with 515 goals and 1,327 points in 1,294 games, placing him 32nd in all-time scoring.
11 Bobby Smith, 1978
Given the commonness of his first and last name, and the fact he played in an era with countless NHL legends, there's a good chance you haven't heard of Bobby Smith, the man whom the Minnesota North Stars drafted to become their next face of the franchise. The centre out of Nova Scotia had a remarkable journey in the NHL.
He won the Calder Trophy in 1979. Smith was a 30-goal scorer four times in the NHL, including a 43-goal and 114-point campaign in 1981-82. He scored at least 70 points in nine of his 15 NHL seasons. Smith was part of the Montreal Canadiens 1986 Stanley Cup team, scoring 31 goals and 86 points that season.
He finished with 357 career goals and 1,036 career points in 1,077 games.
10 Joe Thornton, 1997
Joe Thornton was taken by the Boston Bruins first-overall in 1997, but the team failed to build around him. He was shipped to the San Jose Sharks in 2005, and has since become the face of the franchise. Jumbo Joe won the Hart and scoring title in his first season with the Sharks and has embarked on a career that'll put him in the Hockey Hall of Fame. No question about it.
Few centres of the post-lockout era have dominated the way Thornton has. He uses hit 6-4 frame to get around defenders and set up his wingers for goals. He has racked up 60-plus assists in seven seasons with the Sharks and led them to their first-ever Stanley Cup Final in 2016.
He's also a member of two Canadian Olympic gold medal squads and both World Cup of Hockey-winning teams. Thornton is 28th all-time in scoring, but will easily jump into the top-20 by the time he's retired.
9 Mats Sundin, 1989
When you think of Toronto Maple Leafs legends, you think of Ted Kennedy, Dave Keon, Auston Matthews (well, not yet) and Mats Sundin. The second most storied NHL franchise has been home to many legends, but it's Sundin who is the franchise's all-time leading scorer.
Sundin's size allowed him to control games (6-feet-5, 240 pounds). He was the first pick by the Quebec Nordiques in the 1989 NHL Draft, but was involved in a blockbuster trade to the Leafs in 1994, where he would put up a triumphant career.
Sundin was one of many Toronto Maple Leafs greats that wasn't able to bring a Stanley Cup to the city, but he accomplished so much. He scored 564 goals and 1,349 points in 1,346 NHL games. Sundin also helped Sweden win gold at the 2006 Winter Olympics. He ranks 27th all-time in NHL scoring.
8 Mike Modano, 1988
The highest-scoring American of all-time made a huge impact in his home country. When the Minnesota North Stars had to leave for Dallas, Mike Modano's efforts made hockey crazy in the less-traditional Texas market. He guided the franchise to dominance in the '90s and 2000s, helping Dallas win its first-ever Stanley Cup. That remains their lone championship to this day.
Modano was an eight-time All-Star. His 561 goals and 1,374 goals are the most all-time for an American, as he surpassed the legendary Phil Housley in those departments. Modano finished with with 561 goals and 1,374 points in 1,499 games.
He had his number nine retired by the Stars in 2014, ensuring that Modano hangs in there with Troy Aikman, Deion Sanders and Dirk Nowitzki in Dallas sports' lore.
7 Gilbert Perreault, 1970
Back in 1970, the Vancouver Canucks and Buffalo Sabres were the only two teams who could win the draft lottery. In a roulette wheel spin, it was Buffalo whose fortunes changed forever. Gilbert Perreault instantly put the Sabres on the map by forming The French Connection Line with fellow French-Canadians Rick Martin and Rene Robert.
Perreault scored 38 goals and 72 points in his rookie season. He and the Sabres reached the 1975 Stanley Cup Final against the Philadelphia Flyers, but the Broadstreet Bullies were too much. Sadly, Perreault was able to do everything but win a Stanley Cup in Buffalo.
Perreault would finish with 512 career goals and 1,326 points. That puts him 33rd on the all-time scoring list, ahead of legends like Jarome Iginla, Alex Delvecchio and Jean Beliveau, among others.
6 Denis Potvin, 1973
The New York Islanders were in a tough era where the Broadstreet Bullies (Philadelphia Flyers) were dominating the league. The Boston Bruins were soaring with Bobby Orr and the Montreal Canadiens would win four Stanley Cups in a row (1976-79) to close out the decade.
Luckily for the Isles, there was a man who was able to change their fortunes. That was defenceman Denis Potvin, whom they selected first-overall in 1973. Potvin became the NHL's best defenceman after Orr's untimely retirement from hockey, leading the Islanders to a dynasty with four Stanley Cups in a row from 1980-83.
Potvin wound up scoring 310 goals and 1,052 points in just 1,060 NHL games. He won the Norris Trophy three times. To think if it weren't for Wayne Gretzky's dynasty in Edmonton, just how much more Potvin and the Islanders could have dominated. But not to worry, he left his legacy on Long Island for life.
5 Dale Hawerchuk, 1981
The Winnipeg Jets had recently moved on from the World Hockey Association and needed a new superstar to build around and inject more excitement in the Great White North. Luckily for them, they had their guy in Dale Hawerchuk. And yes, he was the answer to their problems.
Hawerchuk scored 45 goals and 103 points in his rookie year, easily capturing the Calder Trophy. Hawerchuk reached 100 points in six of his first seven NHL seasons. The one year he didn't hit 100? He still scored 91 points. Hawerchuk finished with 518 goals and 1,409 career points. He is 19th all-time in scoring.
Hawerchuk wasn't noticed as much because he played in the same era as greats like Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Steve Yzerman, Joe Sakic, Paul Coffey and Mario Lemieux. But Hawerchuk goes down as one of the NHL's all-time legends.
4 Alexander Ovechkin, 2004
Alexander Ovechkin has made a serious impact on the NHL since joining the league in 2005-06. The Washington Capitals went to an afterthought to a perennial powerhouse, riding the talents of the Russian sniper to greatness. Ovechkin has been this generation's Maurice Richard and Mike Bossy: All he does is score goals.
The Great Eight won the Calder Trophy in 2005-06 with 52 goals and 106 points. He even scored 65 goals in 2007-08, winning the Rocket Richard, Art Ross and Hart Trophy in the same season. Ovechkin has seven 50-goal seasons under his belt. When he scored 32 goals and 85 points in 2010-11, people already questioned if he was past his prime. Uh, yeah, not even close.
Ovechkin is a pure goal-scorer and has abilities that have not been seen in decades. Ovechkin is on par to hit 1,000 career points this season and has plenty of time to jump up on the all-time scoring list.
3 Sidney Crosby, 2005
If Sidney Crosby retired right now, we'd maybe move him down more. But he's only 29-years-old, has already accomplished a ridiculous ton and still has several more years of playing in his prime. Even Crosby out of his prime will be better than 90 percent of NHL players.
Sid the Kid came to Pittsburgh in 2005-06 and has lived up to every bit of the hype. The Penguins have made the playoffs every year with him on the team, except for his rookie season. He's guided the team to two Stanley Cups and has two scoring titles to go along with his two Hart Trophies. Crosby is also enshrined in Canadian hockey lore, thanks to his golden goal at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.
The NHL and the Penguins were in trouble after 2005-06. The 2004-05 season was lost because of a lockout. The Penguins were nearing relocation to Las Vegas. But Crosby emerged to become the NHL's version of Derek Jeter, Peyton Manning and Kobe Bryant: The face of the league that everyone wanted to watch.
Amazing what a kid out of Cole Harbour (population 25,161) could do to change the league. He should hit 1,000 career points by the end of 2016-17.
2 Guy Lafleur, 1971
Maurice Richard, Howie Morenz, Jacques Plante, Patrick Roy, Doug Harvey, Henri Richard, Jean Beliveau, Jacques Lemaire, Yvon Cournoyer, Bernie Geoffrion...the list goes on for Montreal Canadiens legends.
But it's none other than Guy Lafleur who is the Canadiens' all-time scoring leader with 560 goals and 1,353 points. Canadiens GM Sam Pollock changed the course of hockey history by trading up for the first pick to nab Lafleur. It's safe to say he got everything he bargained for. Lafleur won the Art Ross Trophy in 1976, 1977 and 1978 along with a pair of Hart Trophies in '77 and '78. Lafleur won five Stanley Cups , including four in a row with the Habs from from 1976-79.
The Hockey News ranked Lafleur as the 11th-greatest NHL player of all time. Given all of his accomplishments with the most iconic franchise in hockey history, we can't disagree much there.
1 Mario Lemieux, 1984
Not only is he the greatest first-overall pick of all-time, but he's arguably the greatest NHL player of all-time. Mario Lemiux scored 690 goals and 1,723 career points...in only 915 NHL games. Injuries and retirements due to cancer treatment held him back from chasing Wayne Gretzky's records, but no doubt he would have made a serious run at them.
Super Mario guided the Penguins to a pair of Stanley Cup championships in 1991 and 1992. He won three Hart Trophies and six Art Ross Trophies. In 1992-93, he missed two months while undergoing treatment for Hodgkin's lymphoma. He still finished with 160 points and ran away with the scoring title.
Lemieux won the Conn Smythe twice as playoff MVP and four Lester B. Pearson Awards. He has guided the Penguins to a pair of Stanley Cups as part owner of the franchise. Without Mario Lemieux, there is no Pittsburgh Penguins.
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