In any professional sport, a draft for entry-level rookies can be a game of chance. There are true superstars to be found as general managers and supporting front office staff try to find through evaluations. In the National Hockey League, professionals come into the league as young as 18.
Some do go through the collegiate ranks or spend an extra year in junior, but even then, the sample size can be small. Big numbers here and there could be a sign of the next NHL superstar. But there are times when the big fish in a small pond is unable to swim with the sharks at the NHL level. Since 2000, there has been quite a range of talent that has been selected with the first overall selection in the NHL Entry Draft.
There are some players who were able to exceed expectations like Alex Ovechkin, Patrick Kane and Sidney Crosby. Some players were able to do well and fall under a second-tier. However, not every player chosen first in the draft has found success. It makes hockey analysts look back to who was second overall to see if the wrong player was chosen first. But even the second pick can have the same risk and reward.
The following is a list that ranks all of the first and second overall selections in the annual NHL Entry Draft since 2000. Some players have established their spot in this time period while others who have joined the league since 2015 may still be on the rise or fall, depending on what happens down the road.
34 2000 First – Rick DiPietro (NY Islanders)
After having quite a collegiate career at Boston University, goaltender Rick DiPietro was the first overall selection in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft. His first stint at the NHL level made some fans worry he was a bust – a 3-15-1 record with a 3.49 goals against average. But over time, those numbers improved. He had a much better performance in the 2003-04 season with a 2.36 GAA and a .911 save percentage.
33 2006 First – Erik Johnson (St. Louis)
It originally looked like the St. Louis Blues made a good decision by drafting defenseman Erik Johnson first overall in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft. He’s been known for delivering a good number of hits and blocks throughout his career. But his best numbers came after he was traded from the Blues to the Colorado Avalanche during the 2010-11 season. Johnson’s best season was 2013-14 with 136 hits and 130 blocks at even strength.
32 2012 First – Nail Yakupov (Edmonton)
The one thing that’s worth noting is that Nail Yakupov could have one of the coolest names of anyone playing in the NHL. That’s probably one of the most positive things that can be said about Yakupov. He was the first overall selection in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. As a right winger, one would assume he would provide some offense to a struggling franchise. So far in a young career, that has not been the case.
31 2005 Second – Bobby Ryan (Anaheim)
When coming out of the same draft class as Sidney Crosby in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, there might be some unfair comparisons. Crosby is not your typical center. However, Bobby Ryan doesn’t have the kind of numbers that would have been expected when he was selected second overall in 2005 by the Anaheim Ducks. Two years after being drafted, Ryan played 23 games in the 2007-08 season; scoring just five goals.
30 2006 Second – Jordan Staal (Pittsburgh)
Jordan Staal is the younger brother who followed his older brother into the NHL. His brother Eric, was selected second overall in 2003. Jordan Staal was the second overall pick in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft. Considering his older brother was successful through his career, there were some high expectations for Jordan when Pittsburgh chose him at the draft. However, he hasn’t put up the same kind of numbers with a little more than 400 points in more than 700 career games.
29 2011 First – Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (Edmonton)
When a team drafts a center with the first overall selection like Edmonton did with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins in 2011, one of the most important statistics would be regarding face-offs. However, Nugent-Hopkins has been below 50 percent when it comes to winning faceoffs at even strength. Part of that can be attributed to the abysmal 37.5 percent win rate during his rookie season. But that number has never reached above 46 percent in any given year.
28 2013 First – Nathan MacKinnon (Colorado)
As a young, 18-year-old hockey star selected first in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft by Colorado, there was a lot of hope for center Nathan MacKinnon. The recipient of the 2014 Calder Memorial Trophy was able to play a full season with 24 goals and 39 assists with a plus-20 rating. The only blemish was that he only won 42.9 percent of his face-offs at even strength. Unfortunately, he’s struggled to repeat those kinds of numbers in recent years.
27 2013 Second – Aleksander Barkov (Florida)
Aleksander Barkov has been a quiet contributor for the resurgent Florida Panthers franchise. Still early in his professional career, there is some potential still untapped within Barkov as a second overall choice in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. It was seen in flashes during his rookie season in 2013-14 with 24 points in 54 games. He slowly got more involved in recent years; starting with a jump to 20 assists in the 2014-15 season.
26 2007 Second – James van Riemsdyk (Philadelphia)
It’s rough to be in the same draft class as Patrick Kane, especially when he’s put up the numbers that he has since the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. The Philadelphia Flyers selected left winger James van Riemsdyk second overall, but he didn’t jump into NHL play right away like Kane did. A few years later, he would play 78 games and score 35 points in the 2009-10 season. The Flyers would eventually let him leave after three disappointing seasons for how high they drafted him.
25 2014 First – Aaron Ekblad (Florida)
As part of the Florida Panthers’ rebuilding process, they decided to select defenseman Aaron Ekblad with the first overall choice in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. A lot of good things were seen in his rookie season that led to him winning the 2015 Calder Memorial Trophy. Ekblad was able to collect 109 hits, 80 blocks and 26 takeaways in the 2014-15 season. He also scored 39 points in 81 games.
24 2002 Second – Kari Lehtonen (Atlanta)
The Atlanta Thrashers selected Kari Lehtonen with the second overall pick in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft, but didn’t bring him up to the NHL level until the 2003-04 season. He won his first four starts with a save percentage of .953. He was generally above the .900 save percentage mark with the Thrashers. But the team was never able to provide the scoring to keep his win-loss record higher than around .500. Lehtonen would take the change to sign with the Dallas Stars in 2009.
23 2012 Second – Ryan Murray (Columbus)
Ryan Murray had some success playing amateur hockey for the Everett Silvertips in the Western Hockey League. So much so that it earned him being the second overall choice by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. He was in the minors for the first season under the Blue Jackets organization. But he would get the call-up to the big league in the 2013-'14 season – 66 games with 21 points and 94 blocks.
22 2011 Second – Gabriel Landeskog (Colorado)
The Colorado Avalanche were able to find a solid piece of their franchise’s puzzle by drafting left winger Gabriel Landeskog with the second pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. He would start his career on the right foot with a full 82-game season where he scored 22 goals and 30 assists for the Avalanche. This performance earned him the 2012 Calder Memorial Trophy and a spot on the All-Rookie Team.
21 2014 Second – Sam Reinhart (Buffalo)
It’s too early to condemn Sam Reinhart as a first round bust in the NHL. He’s only in his third season in the league after being drafted second overall by the Buffalo Sabres in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. There was a lot of excitement when he scored 105 points (36 goals, 39 assists) with the Kootenay Ice in the Western Hockey League. He had a nine-game sample in the 2014-15 season where he had one assist.
20 2010 First – Taylor Hall (Edmonton)
Taylor Hall is the kind of player who has put up okay numbers. Career-wise, he’s played in more than 400 games with just less than 400 total points. Not terrible statistics. But there’s something to be said about being the first overall selection in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft by the Edmonton Oilers. When you are among a number of first overall selections like Patrick Kane and Alex Ovechkin, expectations can be somewhat high.
19 2016 Second – Patrik Laine (Winnipeg)
The Winnipeg Jets are hoping that they found the right player to build their franchise around in right winger Patrik Laine. At age 18, there’s a lot of time for him to develop into someone who could be a dominant force in the NHL. His experience is limited to time spent playing hockey in his native Finland. In 2015-16, he was a top player for the Tappara Tampere club in SM-Liiga with 17 goals in 46 games. He also had 10 goals in 18 playoff games that postseason.
Laine is finding some early success with the Jets as he has maintained a plus-rating through the first half of the season; despite the Jets being near the bottom half of the Western Conference standings. But early on, he’s had two hat tricks during wins over Toronto (Oct. 19, 2016) and against Dallas (Nov. 18, 2016).
18 2000 Second – Dany Heatley (Atlanta)
After spending a year in the minors after the 2000 NHL Entry Draft, left winger Dany Heatley would make his debut in 2001 with the Atlanta Thrashers. Through the first three years of his career, he had some struggles. But he would flourish with a change of scenery with the Ottawa Senators. During the 2005-06 season and the 2006-07 seasons, Heatley had consecutive 50-goal seasons with more than 100 points in each.
17 2015 Second – Jack Eichel (Buffalo)
There was a lot of attention towards Jack Eichel in the months leading up to the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. Connor McDavid ended up being picked by Edmonton with the first pick, which left Eichel to the Buffalo Sabres at the number two spot. It felt like a good choice considering he was from the northeast part of the country. While he hasn’t put up the same numbers as McDavid has early on, there’s no reason to look down on the young center.
16 2001 First – Ilya Kovalchuk (Atlanta)
The Atlanta Thrashers had a good selection in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft with left winger Ilya Kovalchuck. The Russian hockey player was probably one of the few bright spots on an Atlanta team that struggled for most of the 2000s. Aside from one playoff appearance after winning the 2006-'07 Southeast Division with 97 points, the Thrashers were usually below .500 and Kovalchuk was burdened with a career minus-116 rating.
But his numbers were still good in terms of scoring. Through 816 career games, Kovalchuk had 417 goals with 399 assists for 816 career points. He scored more than 30 goals in eight of his 11 NHL seasons. His best individual season was with Atlanta in 2005-06 where he had 52 goals and 46 assists for a 98-point season.
15 2008 Second – Drew Doughty (Los Angeles)
Defensemen in hockey aren’t usually known for scoring a lot of points. But Drew Doughty is not like most defenders in the NHL. The Los Angeles Kings certainly saw some potential when they chose him second overall in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. He had some success in his early years, but would start to get into a groove on the Kings defense in the 2013-14 season where he had 180 hits on the ice.
14 2016 First – Auston Matthews (Toronto)
Auston Matthews had a very rare first game in the NHL. Despite losing in overtime to the Ottawa Senators on Oct. 12, 2016, Matthews scored four goals in the 17 minutes he spent on the ice. The 19-year-old center quickly showed why the Toronto Maple Leafs made the right choice with the first overall pick in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. He’s even had a few game-winning goals early in his NHL career.
13 2009 First – John Tavares (NY Islanders)
While this season as been a little rough for the New York Islanders, they still have a consistent center with John Tavares. Selected first overall by the Islanders in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, Tavares has been a big part of the team’s rebuilding process that led to two 100-point seasons going into this season. In the 2014-'15 season, Tavares scored 38 goals with 48 assists. He followed that up with 33 goals and 37 assists in the 2015-'16 season.
12 2009 Second – Victor Hedman (Tampa Bay)
Defensemen are not going to usually score your team the most points in any given season. But they are usually graded on their plus-minus rating through a season. Victor Hedman was the second overall selection in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft by the Tampa Bay Lightning. After three rough season where he had a minus-9 rating, he’s improved from his fourth season on with improved scoring and defense.
He’s on pace for a fourth-consecutive season with at least 10 goals, which is impressive for a defenseman in the NHL. His best individual season was the 2013-14 season where he scored 13 goals and 42 assists for a 55-point season. While he’s viewed as one of the top 10 defenders in the league, he still has yet to be named an All-Star, nor has he won the Stanley Cup.
11 2003 First – Marc-Andre Fleury (Pittsburgh)
Marc-Andre Fleury might be having a down season this year and the Pittsburgh Penguins may have found a new main netminder in Matt Murray, but nothing should be taken away from the good career that Fleury has had up until now. Drafted in 2003, it took a few seasons before he started to get into a groove as the Penguins goalie. In the 2006-07 season, Fleury had 40 wins with 2.83 goals against average.
10 2015 First – Connor McDavid (Edmonton)
It didn’t take long for Connor McDavid to show why he was worthy of being the first overall selection in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. The Edmonton Oilers are certainly happy about landing the young Ontario native as he’s been able to score more than 100 career points in less than 100 career NHL games. McDavid didn’t play a full season last year. But he showed what he could do in just 45 games.
9 2010 Second – Tyler Seguin (Boston)
The Boston Bruins decided to draft a center with the second overall pick in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. While his numbers were low in his rookie season (11 goals, 11 assists) in 2010-11, he still got his name on the Stanley Cup that season. His opportunities grew in years two and three with Boston as he posted 67 points in 2011-12 and then 32 points in the shortened 2012-13 season – again competing for the Stanley Cup in a loss to the Chicago Blackhawks.
8 2002 First – Rick Nash (Columbus)
In the beginning of their first season as an NHL expansion team, the Columbus Blue Jackets decided to take left winger Rick Nash as their first overall selection. As far as his position, Nash hasn’t put up elite numbers. But they’ve been consistent and above average throughout his nine years with Columbus and now entering his fifth season with the New York Rangers. His career started slow with a 39-point season at age 18 in the 2002-03 season.
But he would bounce back with 41 goals in the 2003-04 season. Overall, he’s scored more than 30 goals in eight seasons in the NHL. He’s recently provided depth at the position for the New York Rangers. He’s still scoring goals with a 42-goal season in the 2014-'15 season. Nash has had a good career so far with more than 400 goals and more than 300 assists.
7 2001 Second – Jason Spezza (Ottawa)
Jason Spezza is another player who was given a year to develop more in the minor leagues before making his NHL debut. Spezza was drafted by the Ottawa Senators in 2001 and it took him a little time to grow as a center. He had 55 points in 78 games in his second NHL season. He then saw growth with 71 assists for 90 points in the 2005-06 season. His best year was with the Senators in the 2007-08 season – 34 goals and 58 assists for 92 points.
6 2004 Second – Evgeni Malkin (Pittsburgh)
Evgeni Malkin could have been a first overall selection in just about every NHL Entry Draft. He just happened to be in the same draft class as Alex Ovechkin. Regardless, the Pittsburgh Penguins are still happy with taking Malkin second overall in 2004. Malkin has been a great center for the Penguins as part of a high-scoring offense. It just took a few seasons for Malkin to hit his scoring groove.
5 2008 First – Steven Stamkos (Tampa Bay)
The Tampa Bay Lightning were able to find a great player to build around when they chose center Steven Stamkos first overall in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. Since then, Stamkos is on pace to reach 600 career points not long from now. He was one of the few players on this list to be able to start playing in the NHL at age 18 – scoring 23 goals during his rookie year in the 2008-'09 season.
4 2003 Second – Eric Staal (Carolina)
There’s a good chance that Eric Staal will be known as one of the greatest Carolina Hurricanes in franchise history. Since being drafted second overall in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, Staal was a consistent center for the Hurricanes. After only 31 points in 81 games in his rookie season, Staal spent some time in the minors before being called up for the 2005-06 season. Staal surprisingly finished with 45 goals and 55 assists in a 100-point season where Carolina won the Stanley Cup.
3 2005 First – Sidney Crosby (Pittsburgh)
One year after picking up Evgeni Malkin, the Pittsburgh Penguins were able to pick up another great center with the first overall selection in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft. Unlike Malkin, Sidney Crosby would make an immediate debut to the NHL without a stop in the minors. Crosby played 81 games in the 2005-06 season with 39 goals and 63 assists. That number jumped to 36 goals and 84 assists in the 2006-'07 season.
2 2007 First – Patrick Kane (Chicago)
One of the main reasons for the Chicago Blackhawks winning three Stanley Cup championships in the last seven years is the play of Patrick Kane. He was certainly the right choice for Chicago with the first overall selection in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. Kane has been a perfect fit for the team that the Blackhawks have built in the last decade. Kane has put up great numbers as the team’s right winger as he enters his 10th NHL season.
1 2004 First – Alex Ovechkin (Washington)
While many might be surprised to not see Sidney Crosby here, Ovechkin takes our top spot. While he has yet to win a Stanley Cup with the Washington Capitals, he was the right choice with the first overall selection in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft. He finished with 52 goals in a 106-point season in his rookie year after a lockout wiped out what would have been his rookie 2004-05 season. Not long after, he led the NHL with 65 goals in the 2007-08 season.
In his 12th season with Washington, Ovechkin has scored more than 500 goals and has collected more than 1,000 points. He’s been an All-Star five times with a number of awards that include the Hart Memorial Trophy for NHL MVP three times and the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy for most goals six times.
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