Ranking the First Overall NHL Draft Picks of the '80s and '90s

There are pros and cons of being the first overall selection in any draft. Yes, you automatically stand out, get all of the media attention, and have the opportunity to save a city single handedly.

Look at recent draft picks like Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin. They came to teams with little followings and a lack of winning traditions for several years. Suddenly, they became the two biggest names in the NHL, engaged in a fierce rivalry, and have led their respective teams to prominence.

Then there are guys like Rick DiPietro, who was best remembered for signing a lucrative contact despite never being a true superstar. There's Ilya Kovalchuk who ditched the NHL in the midst of a contract that made him a $100 million man. And there's Nail Yakupov, who failed to rescue the Edmonton Oilers and will probably find a new team at some point.

But looking back 36 years ago, many draft picks changed the landscape of hockey. During the '80s and '90s, we saw a number of first overall selections become either busts, average players, useful players, superstars, legends, once-in-a-lifetime players, and Hall of Famers.

We look back now and see how some of these players changed their franchises around, for better or worse. Surely, some of these teams who drafted the wrong guy number one overall are feeling it all these years later. Warning: If you're an Ottawa Senators fan, you may not want to keep reading.

Without further ado, here's a look at our rankings of every first overall pick from 1980-1999.

21 Gord Kluzak, 1982


The Boston Bruins took the towering 6-foot-4 defenseman with the first pick in the 1982 draft, missing out on talents Scott Stevens and Phil Housley.

Gord Kluzak would only appear in 299 career NHL games, scoring 25 goals and 123 points, and was out of the league by 1990-91, though he did help the Bruins make the Stanley Cup Final the year before.

20 Doug Wickenheiser, 1980


The cousin of Hayley, arguably the greatest women’s hockey player to ever live, Doug Wickenheiser was selected by the Montreal Canadiens with the top pick, but unfortunately never developed into the superstar they had hoped for.

19 Brian Lawton, 1983


Widely remembered as one of the biggest draft busts in NHL history, Brian Lawton was supposed to make the Minnesota North Stars a top team, bringing in a new era. But unfortunately, it never panned out as they had hoped.

Lawton could never find his full potential, with his best season being a 21-23-44 campaign in 1986-87. Lawton scored 20 goals just once in the NHL and would only appear in 483 games, scoring 112 goals and 266 points.

18 Patrik Stefan, 1999


Sadly for Patrik Stefan, he’s best remembered as the guy who had an empty net and a breakaway to help the Dallas Stars put away a game against the Edmonton Oilers nearly a decade ago. He slipped and fell, and the Oilers went back the other way to tie the game in the final second.

Former Vancouver Canucks’ GM Brian Burke is widely regarded as a genius for getting the Atlanta Thrashers to take Stefan number one overall, allowing him to take Daniel Sedin second and Henrik Sedin third overall.

17 Alexandre Daigle, 1993


Everyone remembers the 1993 Draft best for the Ottawa Senators badly missing the chance to draft future Hall of Fame defenceman Chris Pronger, opting to take promising forward Alexandre Daigle instead.

16 Bryan Berard, 1995


If it weren’t for a horrific eye injury, Bryan Berard would have had the potential to be a superstar. He was still a great talent in the NHL, but he just didn’t get the chance to be a guy who was worthy of being a first-overall selection.

Despite being drafted by the Senators, he’d never play a game for them. In his second season in the NHL, he scored 14 goals and 46 points with the New York Islanders and even played for Team USA at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano.

15 Joe Murphy, 1986


Joe Murphy was not a draft bust by any means, but considering how Jimmy Carson, Vincent Damphousse, and Brian Leetch went in the top 10, many will overlook the solid career he had.

He won a Stanley Cup in 1990 with the Oilers and, from 1990-91 to 1996-97, he hit the 20-goal mark in six of those seven seasons. Murphy had a very solid all-around career, finishing with 233 goals and 528 points in 779 games.

14 Chris Phillips, 1996

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Looking at his statistics, he won’t look like a first-overall pick that avoided the bust label, but Chris Phillips' defensive play, leadership, and ability to lead the Senators consistently into the playoffs cannot be forgotten.

He was one of the most respected players in the NHL during his tenure in the nation’s capital and a fairly-new NHL franchise was taken to new heights right away. Phillips had the chance to leave Ottawa during rebuilding years, but he refused.

13 Roman Hamrlik, 1992


In what was one of the more disappointing drafts in recent memory, Roman Hamrlik stood out from most men in this class.

The all-around defenseman who could succeed at both ends of the ice made it to three All-Star games and guided Czech Republic to a surprising Gold Medal victory at the 1998 Winter Olympics.

12 Ed Jovanovski, 1994

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‘Jovo’ was one of the most decorated defensemen of his time, but you probably just didn’t notice becuase he played in an era with Nicklas Lidstrom, Scott Niedermayer, Chris Pronger, Rob Blake, and others.

The man who was originally selected by the Panthers played four seasons with the team before going to the Vancouver Canucks, where the league took notice of his name. He became a slick puck-moving defenseman, where he had three 40-point seasons.

11 Vincent Lecavalier, 1998

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Though the last five or so seasons of his career were a letdown, considering how huge of a mega star he was years earlier, Vincent Lecavalier was one of the most accomplished players of his generation and the best player in Tampa Bay Lightning history.

10 Wendel Clark, 1985


One of the most beloved players in Toronto Maple Leafs history, Wendel Clark was a guy you only loved if he was on your team. If he was playing against you, chances are you hated him. But that's a sign he was doing things right.

He played three stints with the Leafs and was always a sure bet to hit near 20 goals. In 793 games, he scored 330 goals and 564 points while making it to a pair of All-Star Games.

9 Eric Lindros, 1991


Eric Lindros is definitely not going to go down as one of the most popular players of all-time. Such is life when you demand a trade from the Quebec Nordiques who trusted you to be the franchise star of the future.

Eric Lindros was supposed to be the next Wayne Gretzky, but he didn't live up to the hype, in large part due to concussion problems that followed him most of his career. But when he was healthy, it was a whole new story.

8 Owen Nolan, 1990


Before the Joe Thornton-Patrick Marleau era, Owen Nolan was the greatest player in San Jose Sharks history. Drafted by the Nordiques in 1990, he joined San Jose in 1995-96 and the fairly-new franchise didn't wait long to start making noise.

7 Pierre Turgeon, 1987


While you're busy thinking of Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Steve Yzerman, Joe Sakic, Sergei Fedorov, Jaromir Jagr, Ron Francis, and other stars dominating the '90s, it's important to remember how just special Pierre Turgeon was.

We're talking about a guy who hit the 100-point mark twice, including a ridiculous  58-74-132 campaign in 1992-93 with the New York Islanders. Turgeon was a star on the Buffalo Sabres, New York Islanders, Montreal Canadiens, and St. Louis Blues.

6  5. Joe Thornton, 1997

John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

They don't call him 'Jumbo Joe' for nothing.

One of the worst trades in Boston Bruins history involves them trading away their franchise superstar to the San Jose Sharks during the 2005-06 season, and he's simply dominated in the Shark Tank.

Joe Thornton is an assist-machine, reaching 60 assists in a season eight times. He won the Hart Trophy and the Art Ross Trophy after registering 125 points in 2005-06. Thornton has also scored 20-plus goals 11 times, which is remarkable for a player who basically only passes and that's not an exaggeration.


4 Mats Sundin, 1989


There are a number of NHL legends who came from Sweden: The Sedin Twins, Daniel Alfredsson, Henrik Zetterberg, Henrik Lundqvist, and Nicklas Lidstrom. None of them stood out like Mats Sundin.

The towering 6-foot-5 centre produced with the Quebec Nordiques, scoring 334 points in his four seasons there. But his legacy was entirely with the Toronto Maple Leafs, where he helped a perennially-struggling franchise become one of the best during the '90s and early 2000s.

3 Dale Hawerchuk, 1981


There was no surprise that he won the Calder Trophy in his rookie year vand Dale Hawerchuk's excellence was just getting started at that point. Hawerchuk had the pressure to perform for the new Winnipeg Jets NHL franchise right away and we assume 85 goals and 194 points in his first two seasons did just that.

2 Mike Modano, 1988


The all-time scoring leader to come from the United States had a dominant career with the Minnesota North Stars/Dallas Stars franchise.

Mike Modano burst onto the scene as a rookie in 1989-90, scoring 29 goals and 75 points. From his rookie season to 2007-08, Modano hit the 20-goal mark in all but two seasons. That's consistency for you.

1 Mario Lemieux, 1984


You can make a case that Mario Lemieux truly is the greatest NHL player to ever live. Yes, some can say he's better than Wayne Gretzky and Gordie Howe. He was truly that special and is a huge icon in Pittsburgh.

The man who appeared in just 915 games (due to injuries and fighting cancer) still managed an incredible 690 goals and 1,723 points. He has the best goals-per-game in BOTH the regular season and playoffs with .750.

The two-time Stanley Cup Champion won three Hart Trophies, six scoring titles, and two Conn Smythe Trophies. He's eighth all-time in league scoring, even though the rest of the top 37 players played at least 1,000 games.

Now, he's enjoying life as a part of Penguins ownership, where he saved the franchise from moving to Las Vegas and helped them win another Stanley Cup in 2009. Super Mario, indeed.

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Ranking the First Overall NHL Draft Picks of the '80s and '90s