When you're given the first overall pick in the NHL Draft, you're essentially given a golden ticket to turn your franchise around. Some years, that golden ticket has more value than others. For example, in 2015, Connor McDavid was seen as a savior in the making, and so far, he has proven that with the Edmonton Oilers. Some years, the draft class is simply weak and while a team may get a good player, they're not getting a guy that will lead them to a Stanley Cup.
Throughout NHL history, teams have badly messed up on draft day. When you mess up the first overall pick though, you'll remain in the league basement for quite a while. Looking back at some drafts, you can see legends were taken a lot later than first overall. It makes you think that the league could have been a lot different if the best prospect was actually taken first overall.
Would the Islanders have a Stanley Cup in the 2000s had they not taken DiPietro? Would the St. Louis Blues have built themselves a dynasty if they took Jonathan Toews instead of Erik Johnson? Those are the questions we'll answer today, as we re-draft the worst first overall picks in NHL history.
Some of the 'worst' first overall picks on this list actually were decent NHL players, but simply paled in comparison to their replacement here.
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15 1982 - Scott Stevens
Scott Stevens was one of the most punishing defencemen in NHL history. While some of his hits would never be legal in today's NHL, there was more to his game than just open-ice hits. He proved to be one of the most reliable defencemen of his era, originally making a name for himself in St. Louis, then becoming a legend in New Jersey. Back in the '82 draft though, Stevens was taken fifth overall, while Gord Kluzak went first.
Kluzak proved to be a big bust at first overall, as he only played in 299 NHL games, recording 543 penalty minutes and just 123 points. He became better known for his fighting ability, but that's not what a team looks for in a first overall pick.
Just imagine, the Bruins could have had a one-two combo of Ray Bourque and Scott Stevens had they gotten this pick right.
Original Pick: Gord Kluzak
14 1974 - Bryan Trottier
Original Pick: Greg Joly
The New York Islanders are thankful that the deserving first overall pick of the '74 class didn't go until 22nd overall to them. Bryan Trottier proved to be one of the key pieces to the Islanders building a team that would win four straight Stanley Cups in the early 80s.
The Washington Capitals were notoriously bad in the mid 70s and to this day are considered perhaps the worst hockey team to ever hit an NHL ice surface. They certainly had the chance to build themselves a contender with all their early picks, but they often screwed it up.
In 1974, they took Greg Joly first overall, who would only play two seasons for them before being shipped off to the Red Wings. His NHL totals were 97 points in 365 games.
Trottier meanwhile, would play 1,279 games, join the 500-goal club and totaled 1,425 points.
13 1964 - Ken Dryden
Original Pick: Claude Gauthier
Could the Detroit Red Wings have been the team to stun the mighty Bruins in 1971 if they drafted Ken Dryden? Probably not, because the Wings of the 70s were god awful, but drafting Dryden sure could have reduced their eventual 42-year Cup drought. The 1964 draft was pretty thin, as the draft didn't carry the significance it does today, but the Wings had the first pick and took Claude Gauthier.
Here's Gauthier's NHL summary: he never played a game.
Dryden meanwhile, would win six Stanley Cups in just eight NHL seasons, winning the Conn Smythe in 1971 and multiple Vezina trophies. While Dryden was a part of a dynasty in Montreal, the Wings were withering away into obscurity. Dryden's probably relieved he didn't go first overall, but he deserved the distincion of being a higher pick than 14th overall (in a six-team league at the time).
12 1980 - Paul Coffey
Original Pick: Doug Wickenheiser
While many will point to the mid 90s as to when the Canadiens began to fall as a franchise, their downfall can be traced all the way back to 1980. After four straight Stanley Cup victories to close out the 70s, the Habs fell short of a fifth in 1980 but found themselves with the first overall pick due to an earlier trade with the Colorado Rockies. There were some gems waiting for the Habs, including local prospect Denis Savard, and future Hall of Fame defencemen Paul Coffey and Larry Murphy, but instead they went with Doug Wickenheiser.
Wickenheiser proved to be a huge bust for the Habs in the early 80s, as they fell behind competing teams and began to fade to the middle tier of the league.
It's a tough call, but we'll go with Paul Coffey as a deserving first overall pick, given he scored 1,531 points in 1,409 games, among the highest scoring blueliners in NHL history. Just imagine what a pairing of Coffey and Larry Robinson could have looked like.
11 1977 - Mike Bossy
Original Pick: Dale McCourt
Yet again, the Islanders got a draft steal in midst of building a dynasty. In the 1977 draft, Mike Bossy fell to the Isles saw the future Hall of Fame sniper fall to them at 15th overall, while Dale McCourt went first overall to the Red Wings. (No wonder they were called the Dead Wings in that era). McCourt actually wasn't that bad of an NHL player, in fact he was somewhat productive, scoring 478 points in 532 games. Still, when you compare him to Mike Bossy, who scored 573 goals and had 1,126 points in his career, you can't say this was a successful draft for Detroit.
Bossy was undoubtedly the best player of this draft class, with only him and Rod Langway being the only Hall of Famers.
10 1979 - Ray Bourque
Original Pick: Rob Ramage
Rob Ramage wasn't a bad player by any means, but what he's mostly known for is being a main piece of a trade package that sent Brett Hull to the St. Louis Blues in the late 80s. It's just that the 1979 draft also produced arguably the best defenceman ever, Ray Bourque. Bourque slid down to ninth overall in the draft to Boston, as the fourth blueliner taken.
Bourque would score 1,579 points in an amazing 22-year career and carried the Bruins franchise for two decades. Ramage would only average about half a point a game.
With the Colorado Rockies owning the first overall pick in 1979, Bourque could have been the cornerstone of their franchise and perhaps they wouldn't have ended up moving to New Jersey to become the Devils.
9 1996 - Zdeno Chara
Original Pick: Chris Phillips
Chris Phillips has had a very long, solid NHL career. In fact, he's considered one of the best players in Senators history. If any team would get a Chris Phillips type player in the first round of a draft, they'd be very happy. Still though, he doesn't really scream 'first overall pick'.
The '96 draft was very weak overall, so there weren't many better options, but the Senators could have had Zdeno Chara first overall. Chara would eventually make his way to Ottawa in a highway robbery deal that saw the Sens land Chara and a second overall pick (Jason Spezza) for Alexei Yashin.
Getting Chara in Ottawa earlier likely would have seen the Sens develop him sooner than the Islanders did and probably would have helped them lock Chara up to a long-term deal at a young age, rather than see him bolt for Boston in free agency om 2006.
8 2012 - Filip Forsberg
Original Pick: Nail Yakupov
We still can't really tell who is going to be the best player of the 2012 class when all is said and done, but it's pretty safe to say it's not Nail Yakupov. Yakupov is already on his second NHL team, as the team that drafted him (Edmonton) sent him packing to the Blues prior to this season.
Filip Forsberg never even played for the team that drafted him (Capitals) 11th overall. He was part of the infamous trade a few years ago that sent Martin Erat to Washington, giving the Predators an absolute steal.
Since that draft, Forsberg has recorded 141 points in 194 NHL gqames and while he's off to a slower start this year, he's already made an All-Star appearance and is set up for success in Nashville. The Oilers could have had him playing alongside Connor McDavid or Leon Draisaitl.
7 1983 - Steve Yzerman
Original Pick: Brian Lawton
Brian Lawton may be a very successful sports agent, but a successful first overall pick, he was not. The North Stars took him first overall in the 1983 draft and while Lawton played in the NHL for 12 years, he only averaged 40 games a season. His best season saw him record just 44 points.
The Detroit Red Wings finally got their first round pick right that year, taking Yzerman fourth overall, who would go on to be the franchise's best player ever, after Gordie Howe. Yzerman played his entire career in Detroit, and recorded 1,755 points in 1,514 games, setting a Wings franchise record.
He would also be the savior that led them to three Stanley Cups and helped begin their epic run of 25 straight playoff appearances.
6 1995 - Jarome Iginla
Original Pick: Bryan Berard
Bryan Berard probably could have been a very good NHL player had an eye injury not derailed his career. Still, with the benefit of hindsight and looking back at a weak 1995 class, you can't help but say Jarome Iginla was the rightful first overall pick. Iginla went 11t overall to the Dallas Stars but would be traded the following year for Joe Nieuwendyk.
After all these years, Iginla is still going strong in the NHL at 39 years old. He has joined the 500-goal club and was the Calgary Flames' franchise player through most of his career. He's sitting at 613 career goals and 1,275 points.
Berard's NHL career was derailed by injuries and after 619 games, was forced to retire.
5 1986 - Brian Leetch
Original Pick: Joe Murphy
Joe Murphy would eventually be a productive NHL player, but for the Wings. he was a massive disappointment. Detroit took Murphy first overall, but would ship him to the Oilers in 1990 and also played for the Blackhawks, Blues, Sharks, Bruins and Capitals. He played 779 games, scoring 528 points, so by all means, he was a solid NHL player. But...
The Wings could have taken a future Hall of Famer in Brian Leetch. Taking Leetch just a few years after taking Yzerman would have given the Wings some exciting young prospects to build around in the 80s. While late-round gems in the late 80s would eventually turn the Wings around, it's amazing to think they could have had Leetch on the blue line and Yzerman at center ice.
Leetch is a two-time Norris Trophy winner, Conn Smythe winner and recorded 1,028 points in 1,205 games.
4 2006 - Jonathan Toews
Original Pick: Erik Johnson
The Blues were finally able to overcome the Chicago Blackhawks in this year's Stanley Cup playoffs, but this was preceded by years of the Hawks doing the Blues in. The trend of Chicago beating up on St. Louis started back in 2006 when one team missed big on their draft pick, while one hit a home run.
With the first overall pick in 2006, the Blues had a chance to rebuild their roster with a blue chip player. They took Erik Johnson first overall. Johnson is a solid NHL player today, but he has never lived up to the expectations of being a first overall pick. He was traded to the Colorado Avalanche after some disappointing years in St. Louis.
The Hawks had the third overall pick and drafted the man that would lead them to the end of their 49-year drought. Jonathan Toews has grown to be the best captain in the NHL and he has led the Hawks to three Stanley Cups.
Had the Blues taken Toews instead of Johnson, perhaps we would be talking about the Blues being the team of the decade today.
3 2000 - Henrik Lundqvist
Original Pick: Rick DiPietro
The Islanders thought Rick DiPietro was such a good goaltending prospect that they drafted him first overall in 2000 and traded away a young Roberto Luongo to make room for him.
While DiPietro showed signs of being a good goalie, he was never able to stay healthy and got the infamous 15-year contract from the Islanders in 2006, a contract he could never live up to.
It turns out there was a gem of a goaltender in that 2000 class, but no one was talking about him. Henrik Lundqvist is undoubtedly the steal of the class, as he went in the seventh round at 205th overall to the New York Rangers.
Lundqvist has since become arguably the best goalie of the last decade, with a Vezina trophy win back in 2012. Now there's a guy who'd be worthy of a 15-year contract.
2 1993 - Chris Pronger
Original Pick: Alexandre Daigle
When you look at the cases in NHL history of the second overall pick surpassing the first overall pick, there's no greater difference than Chris Pronger and Alexandre Daigle. The Sens were a young franchise and were in search of the young man who would lead them out of the gate as an expansion team.
The Sens had to choose between a prolific junior scorer and a guy who had the look of a defensive stud. They went with Daigle who famously said: "I'm glad I got drafted first because no one remembers No. 2."
Well it turns out we all remember no.2 as Pronger was the most punishing defenceman of his era, a total nightmare for the opposition. Pronger was often the most valuable player on his team and the Sens would have gotten themselves off to a great start as a franchise had they taken him.
1 1999 - Henrik Sedin
Original Pick: Patrik Stefan
Patrik Stefan is arguably the biggest draft bust in NHL history and the Thrashers taking him first overall in 1999 got them off to a horrendous start as a franchise, one from which they would never recover.
The 1999 class is probably the worst in history. The only other players worthy of a first overall pick are the Sedin twins, and we'll give the slight edge to Henrik. The tricky part was the twins wanted to go to the same team, so it would have been tough for the Thrashers to swing that as they didn't have many trading pieces as an expansion team. They would have had to find a way to land the top two picks to get them, but there's no doubt that drafting the twins would have gotten them off to a good start as a franchise.
Stefan was an epic disappointment while the Sedins have been the faces of the Vancouver Canucks for the better part of the last 15 years.
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