The thrilling 2016 NHL Draft is now behind us and a future for all 30 NHL teams has now been locked in. There's no going back now.
In my opinion, draft day trumps trade deadline day and July 1st when it comes to the rightful title of "Christmas to hockey fans." Teams are drafting players who they expect to dominate with their clubs for decades. That's more exciting than signing or trading for a veteran who won't be good for more than five years, if you're lucky.
The NHL Draft seems to get stronger just about every year. More first-rounders than ever before are becoming NHL regulars and superstars. You couldn't say that about drafts before the new millennium. You also couldn't say that about many of the selections in the early 2000s.
As we put another draft behind us, it's a great time to reflect on how other drafts in the past hold up today. Here are the rankings for the every NHL Draft from 2000-2015.
Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel will soon become the next Sidney Crosby-Alex Ovechkin rivalry. Probably in two to three years. 2015 was hyped as one of the most loaded draft classes of all-time, so it'll probably be closer to number one when this list is re-done in five years.
That being said, it's still way too early to put 2015 higher than its previous 15 classes. Dylan Strome, Mitch Marner, Noah Hanifin, Brock Boeser, Kyle Connor, and Thomas Chabot are some of the future stars in the making. The majority of these hyped-up picks either didn't play the entire season with their clubs (or not at all) or simply looked like typical rookies.
Like the 2015 Draft, this one is simply too early to tell. But it wasn't one of the most enticing groups to begin with. That's why teams like the Ottawa Senators (in the Bobby Ryan trade) or Anaheim Ducks (when they traded for Ryan Kesler) had no problem sacrificing first-round picks.
Aaron Ekblad, Sam Reinhart, Leon Draisaitl, and Sam Bennett are undoubtedly superstars in the making, but it could be a couple more years (or longer) until we see them reach their playing primes. Dylan Larkin has had the most success so far, scoring 23 goals in 2015-16 with the Detroit Red Wings.
I'm going to have to go ahead and say that when you look 20 years into the future, we'll consider this the worst draft class of the 16 drafts that we are ranking.
It all starts with the number one pick, Nail Yakupov, who went to the Edmonton Oilers. The Russian forward has feuded with his coaches, and has just 50 goals and 111 points in 252 games. Ryan Murray, the second pick who went to the Columbus Blue Jackets, is struggling to establish himself with the big boys.
You might think at first that this draft class got a low ranking simply for being just three years young, but so far it has actually been quite a disappointment. Then again, there's plenty of time for these guys to rise as a new generation of stars. Nathan MacKinnon, Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Drouin, Sean Monahan, and Max Domi all have potential. But how many of them have actually played like bonafide stars yet? None, other than MacKinnon.
Finally, we are getting into the years where we have a firm idea of how the draftees turned out. 2002 was far from spectacular in many ways. Rick Nash, the top pick, become a perennial 30-goal scorer. No complaints there. The next pick, Kari Lehtonen, has enjoyed a career as a solid and consistent 30-win goaltender. Jay Bouwmeester went third and has established himself as an above average blueliner.
Joffrey Lupul, Cam Ward, and Alexander Semin also had some success in their careers, but they've totally lacked consistency. Duncan Keith was a second-round gem, but most of the first round completely faltered and lacked star power.
No doubt you'll recognize the top two selections: Ilya Kovalchuk and Jason Spezza, first and second respectively. Before he bolted for the KHL, Kovalchuk was a pure goal scorer, constantly reaching the 40-goal mark.
Spezza has emerged as one of the league's craftiest and most skilled centres. After 11 seasons with the Ottawa Senators, he was traded to the Dallas Stars. He has 812 points in 843 NHL games. But aside from that, this was a lackluster draft for the most part. Alexander Svitov (third overall) has been out of the NHL since 2006-07. In fact, nine out of the top 10 players taken from Round One haven't even played a game since most recently 2007. That's nearly one third of the picks.
Rick DiPietro went from the first pick in this draft to having the most laughable contract in NHL history for a guy who had just a trio of 30-win seasons under his belt. He was last healthy in the 2007-08 season and became a bust of a goalie for the Isles.
Dany Heatley was the second pick and after a decade of constantly lighting the lamp for 40-50 goal seasons, he became an afterthought in 2010-11 and is now in Europe. Marian Gaborik, Scott Hartnell, Alexander Frolov, Anton Volchenkov, Steve Ott, Justin Williams, and Niklas Kronwall all became standouts in the NHL.
Alexander Ovechkin went first and Evgeni Malkin second to kick off the 2004 Draft. Obviously, these guys have been anything but busts. Ovechkin's always scoring 50 goals while Malkin has a Hart Trophy, a pair of scoring titles, and two Stanley Cups. After them, most of the draft was unspectacular.
A handful of first-rounders went on to have great NHL careers. Andrew Ladd, Blake Wheeler, David Krejci, Cory Schneider, Mike Green, and Alexander Radulov have been (and still are) terrific hockey players.
Two-time Cup winners Dave Bolland and Bryan Bickell went in the second round. David Booth, Nicklas Grossman, Alex Goligoski,, Andrej Sekera, Alexei Emelin, Alexander Edler, Johan Franzen, and Pekka Rinne are another handful of late-round steals who continue to play at high-levels.
This draft class was like the series finale of Seinfeld. Decent, but could have been way better.
Erik Johnson went first overall to the St. Louis Blues. He's been a solid blueliner, but he's not going to ever reach the Norris Trophy-level we all thought he'd be capable of. The second pick, Jordan Staal (to Pittsburgh), is now in Carolina but has become an afterthought after winning a Stanley Cup in 2009. He's struggled to stay consistent offensively. The next three picks raised zero problems, in order: Jonathan Toews, Nicklas Backstrom, and Phil Kessel. All true winners.
Kyle Okposo, Bryan Little, Claude Giroux, and Semyon Varlamov also stood out from Round One. Milan Lucic, Artem Anisimov, Steve Mason, Brad Marchand, James Reimer, and Leo Komarov were other talents selected in Round Two and beyond.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, the first pick in the draft, hasn't been anything close to a superstar. That being said, he's not a bust by any means, though 77 goals and 222 points in 313 NHL games doesn't scream "elite."
Gabriel Landeskog has been a great number two selection for the Colorado Avalanche, becoming the youngest captain in franchise history at 19 years and 286 days. Third pick Jonathan Huberdeau is slowly coming into his own. Mark Scheifele, Sean Couturier, and Dougie Hamilton are rising superstars who'll dominate for years to come.
Goaltender John Gibson, winger Brandon Saad, and elite Russian Nikita Kucherov came after the first round and have stood out tremendously. Then there's that Johnny Gaudreau in the fourth-round. He's nicknamed Johnny Hockey for a reason.
The Edmonton Oilers took Taylor Hall first overall. As he battles injuries and continues to play through frustrating seasons, the sky is still the limit for the winger to become a multi-time 30-40 goal scorer in New Jersey now.
Tyler Seguin went next to the Boston Bruins, but after being traded to Dallas, he's registered 70-point seasons in his first three years there. He's a bonafide superstar who turned the fortunes of Big D around. Star centre Ryan Johansen went fourth, while talents Cam Fowler and Jaden Schwartz followed.
Not much needed to say about Patrick Kane, the top pick. Three Stanley Cups, a Conn Smythe, Art Ross, and Hart Trophy award to his name. What a true superstar he has become. And what a joy to watch.
James Van Riemsdyk, the second pick, has been a 30 goal scorer with the Toronto Maple Leafs and continues to light the lamp consistently. Kyle Turris, the third pick, is enjoying first-line duties in Ottawa. Meanwhile, Jakub Voracek, Logan Couture, Ryan McDonagh, Kevin Shattenkirk, and Max Pacioretty have become absolute stars. Couture and Pacioretty are constant 30-goal scorers and headline the offense on their respective teams.
Norris Trophy-winning P.K. Subban was selected in the second round, as was consistent 20-goal man Wayne Simmonds. Jake Muzzin, Carl Hagelin, Nick Bonino, and Carl Gunnarsson were late-round selections that have become very serviceable NHLers.
John Tavares went first overall to the New York Islanders and he's one of the main reasons the Isles went from perennial losers to a team on the rise. There's no concerning him as the top pick.
Meanwhile, blueliner Victor Hedman went second. His progress took time, but in 2015-16, he played like a Norris Trophy defenceman and is set to dominate the league for years to come. Speedster Matt Duchene went third to the Colorado Avalanche. He's a sure bet for 20 goals a season.
Inconsistent but talented winger Evander Kane went fourth, followed by constant 20-goal man Brayden Schenn. Who went sixth? Oh yeah, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, one of the league's elite rearguards. Chris Kreider and Marcus Johansson were other first-rounders who stood out.
3 3. 2008
Steven Stamkos went first overall. Must we really go on about how he's the best pure goal-scorer not named Alexander Ovechkin in the NHL today?
Oh yeah, then the best defenceman in the world, Drew Doughty, went next to the Los Angeles Kings. All he's done is win two Stanley Cups and two Olympic Gold Medals. Not bad at all, eh? Star blueliner Alex Pietrangelo went fourth. The dominant Erik Karlsson also went in Round One. Tyler Ennis and Jordan Eberle were offensive talents that also fell within the first 30 picks.
2 2. 2005
Perhaps the biggest NHL Draft when it came to changing the future forever. If Sidney Crosby didn't go first overall to the Pittsburgh Penguins, this laughingstock of a franchise would have surely relocated. All the two-time Stanley Cup champion and Art Ross winner has done is become the greatest hockey player on the planet. His Hart Trophies and Olympic Gold Medals back it up.
Bobby Ryan, a consistent 20-goal goal scorer, went second overall. Carey Price, the best goalie in the world, went fifth to the Montreal Canadiens, amidst heavy criticism from the immortal Pierre McGuire. Anze Kopitar, the best two-way player in hockey, went 11th to the Kings. Other All-Stars, Marc Staal and 2014 Vezina winner Tuukka Rask, along with T.J. Oshie and Matt Niskanen, rounded out the remainder of the top 30 selections.
Not only was this the greatest draft since 2000, but it's probably the greatest draft class ever.
16 of the top 30 picks were All-Stars. Marc-Andre Fleury, the first pick, has two Stanley Cups after being the backbone of the Penguins' crease for a decade. Eric Staal, the next pick, guided the woeful Carolina Panthers to a Stanley Cup in 2006.
Nathan Horton became an elite power forward at third overall. Then came other stars, Thomas Vanek, Milan Michalek, Ryan Suter, Dion Phaneuf, Jeff Carter, Dustin Brown (pre 2012), Brent Seabrook, Zach Parise, Ryan Getzlaf, Mike Richards, Ryan Kesler, and Corey Perry. Oh yeah, Round Two had Loui Eriksson, Patrice Bergeron, Shea Weber, Corey Crawford, David Backes, and Jimmy Howard. Clarke MacArthur, Joe Pavelski, Tobias Enstrom, Dustin Byfuglien, Jaroslav Halak, and Dustin Byfuglien were late-round gems.
For anyone born in 1985 with dreams of becoming a professional hockey player, this was their year. What an unbelievable amount of talent and stardom taken in just one draft.
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