It’s always fun to look back in life and see what could’ve been. What if I hadn’t quit that job? What if she and I had never broken up? Reminiscing is a human instinct that we don’t have much control over when your mind starts to wander. For NHL GM’s, I can’t even begin to imagine to imagine how painful it could occasionally be to let your mind wander.
Take the 2002 NHL entry draft for example. Looking back now, there were definitely some big mistakes that were made. That being said, it’s easy for me to sit here almost 15 years later and pass judgment; I have 15 years of stats and knowledge backing me up, whereas these GMs at the time had only their junior stats. This draft class also wasn't the strongest, so it turns out the GMs didn't have as much talent to choose from as we originally thought.
Today we can safely say that the first round of the 2002 NHL draft makes a knowledgeable hockey fan cringe until he can cringe no more.
So I decided to re-draft the first round and apply some sort of justice to the fist round picks that didn’t pan out. Prepare to be surprised.
30 Colombus Blue Jackets – Rick Nash
Originally Selected: Rick Nash
Unfortunately, I can’t start out with a bang. Rick Nash went first that year because he deserved to go first that year. He was by far the best forward in the draft at the time and has proven to be that in the NHL as well. He’s been by far the most productive and influential player in his draft year and continues to make an impact with the New York Rangers today.
Also important to take into consideration is that the Blue Jackets were still new to the NHL, having just expanded in 2000. Rick Nash was the team’s first big name and was to be their franchise player. Although Nash had a lot of personal success in Columbus, the team itself never really threatened a deep playoff run.
29 Atlanta Thrashers – Duncan Keith
Originally Selected: Kari Lehtonen
Today we know Duncan Keith as one of the best defensemen in the league, a rock in the back that has led his team to three Stanley Cups. He's a gold medalist at the Olympics. He's a Norris Trophy winner. He’s also played in over 800 NHL games with 464 points to show for it. If you know Duncan Keith as we know him today, you would assume he was in the top three of the first round. But he wasn’t, not even close. In this draft year, Keith was the biggest steal, selected 54th overall by the Chicago Blackhawks.
I can’t even begin to tell you how many irrelevant players were chosen before the great Keith. Lehtonen was a good pick, but Keith would have obviously been the better choice. I wonder if Chicago would have the same amount of Cups in recent years if Keith had been selected by the Thrashers.
28 Florida Panthers – Jay Bouwmeester
Originally selected: Jay Bouwmeester
Much like Duncan Keith although perhaps not on the same level, especially in recent years, Jay Bouwmeester has been a very good defenseman, bordering on elite in his prime. Still playing to this day, Bouwmeester is on the cusp of his 1,000th NHL game and has managed 377 points. Although he’s never been a point-producing machine of a defenseman, Bouwmeester always kept the back line sound, and was amazing at carrying the puck and getting the play settled in the opposing zone.
He was a top two defenseman for most of his career, but at 33 years old and playing with a young and talented St. Louis squad, his role has diminished somewhat, although I’m sure the Olympian brings a good deal of leadership to the room as well.
27 Philadelphia Flyers – Alexander Steen
Originally selected: Joni Pitkanen
After Rick Nash, arguably the best forward to come out of the 2002 draft was Alexander Steen, currently a top-six forward for the St. Louis Blues. Steen was selected in the first round, 24th overall, by none other than the less than stellar Toronto Maple Leafs. In defense of the Leafs, he didn’t bloom into a 50-plus point producer until later on his career with the St. Louis Blues, his best point tally coming just two years ago in the 2013-14 season with 64 points.
Imagine Steen with the Flyers playing alongside the likes of Giroux and Simmonds. Not a bad set of forwards if you ask me. Pitkanen ended up being alright for the Flyers, but they definitely could have done better with their fourth pick overall.
26 Pittsburgh Penguins – Alexander Semin
Originally selected: Ryan Whitney
After Steen, Semin seems like the logical pick to follow, considering how effective of a forward he was for years with the Washington Capitals. Although he’s often been criticized for not being consistent, Semin has put up quite a few points throughout quite a career. In 650 NHL games that came to an end early last year after a stint with the Montreal Canadiens, the Russian forward put up 517 points, good for second overall behind only Rick Nash for the entire class of 2002.
Semin ended up going in the first round, 13th overall on the back end of back-to-back picks for the Capitals. They picked Steve Eminger first, can you believe that? The Penguins would’ve added another top six forward to the abundant forwards they got in later drafts.
25 Nashville Predators – Jiri Hudler
Originally selected: Scottie Upshall
Scottie Upshall was a solid NHL player, first-round material in my mind, but he went a little too early for my liking in this draft, especially considering who was still available. But the player I want to replace him with was actually not selected until the bottom of the second round’s barrel, 58th overall, by the Red Wings. I’m talking about Jiri Hudler. The Czech still plays in the NHL, a most recent member of the Dallas Stars.
Hudler had some good seasons with the Red Wings who had originally drafted him, but he really hit his stride for a couple of years with the Calgary Flames. His best season was 2014-15, where he averaged almost a point a game, with 76 points to end the year.
24 Anaheim Ducks – Kari Lehtonen
Originally selected: Joffrey Lupul
Kari Lehtonen was arguably the best goalie in this draft, which is why he would have been selected in the whereabouts of 7th overall by a team like the Ducks, and not 2nd overall before Duncan Keith. That is just madness. Although Lehtonen has enjoyed some good seasons for both the Thrashers and the Stars, the shadow of inconsistency has always loomed over his career. There’s no doubt in my mind that a team can get by with him as their starting netminder, but I would suggest a solid backup, like Antti Niemi, who is his back-up presently with the Dallas Stars.
Lehtonen going 2nd overall didn’t do Atlanta any favors. They needed a franchise guy, and Kari wasn’t it. Duncan Keith on the other hand....oh what could’ve been.
23 Minnesota Wild – Ryan Whitney
Originally selected: Pierre-Marc Bouchard
Really not much of a downgrade for Ryan Whitney, who went from going 5th overall in real life to 8th overall in my make believe life. Whitney played a total of 481 games in the NHL and managed 259 points, not bad for a defenseman. After Duncan Keith and Jay Bouwmeester, I would argue that he’s the best defenseman to come out of this class.
I think Ray Whitney going 8th even in my mock draft goes to show the lack of quality after the first few picks in this draft. Although Whitney was a respected defenseman that put up some good numbers, you would expect maybe a little more from a fifth overall pick. Such was the nature of this very disappointing 2002 class.
22 Florida Panthers – Jaret Stoll
Originally selected: Petr Taticek
Never heard of Petr Taticek? Neither have I until this very moment. The center played just three games in the NHL, earning 0 points. Needless to say, he was a complete waste of a pick for a Panthers side that was desperate for so many years. A better option would have been Jarret Stoll, also a center who ended up playing 869 more games in the NHL than Taticek. Stoll would also get 388 points over that span.
Stoll, however, was selected by the Edmonton Oilers in the 2nd round, 36th overall. He would enjoy a successful NHL career within his role, including two Stanley Cup wins with the Los Angeles Kings. Today, Stoll is not retired just yet but he does remain an unrestricted free agent.
21 Calgary Flames – Matthew Stajan
Originally selected: Eric Nystrom
Another top forward, similar to the likes of Jarret Stoll in terms of games played in production, Matt Stajan would have been my pick for 10th overall. That makes it ironic, because then he would’ve been selected by the Calgary Flames, which is where Stajan has been playing for the past seven years. Another plus for Stajan is that he wouldn’t have had to go by the Maple Leafs for a few seasons. The Leafs selected the center 57th overall. Not bad for someone with 861 games played in the NHL with 381 points to show for.
More concerning is the fact that the Leafs could’ve had Steen and Stajan in one draft. If developed and coached well, they could’ve developed into quite the duo for the Leafs.
20 Buffalo Sabres – Joffrey Lupul
Originally selected: Keith Ballard
Joffrey Lupul is another player that falls into a certain class of forwards. The ones typically rented out near the end of the season to give your team some offensive spark. Lupul himself has always been a pretty consistent point producer during his time in the NHL, enough for a very respectful 11th overall on my list. He originally went 7th overall, chosen by the Anaheim Ducks, but the Ducks would’ve opted for Lehtonen in my world.
Lupul has put up 420 points in 701 NHL games. He’s been on a steady decline for a few years now, however, and he failed his medical before Leafs training camp began this year. Whether or not he’ll ever play in the NHL again remains to be seen. Ultimately injuries have derailed his career more than anything else.
19 Washington Capitals – Cam Ward
Originally selected: Steve Eminger
This draft really only had two quality goalies in it. Kari Lehtonen was obviously one of them, and the other was Cam Ward. Drafted 25th overall by the Carolina Hurricanes, Ward would be a Capitals netminder in my mind if the draft had gone differently. Ward had a few very good seasons with the Hurricanes. It all started when he was forced into action in the playoffs when Martin Gerber was injured. He would carry the team all the way to the Final and beat the Cinderella Edmonton Oilers in seven games, earning himself MVP credentials in the process.
Ward has been a starter in Carolina ever since, although the team in front of him was never quite up to par. The Capitals would have had quite a different look in net if things had gone another way.
18 Washington Capitals – Johnny Boychuk
Originally selected: Alexander Semin
Another great defenseman to come out of the 2002 draft was Johnny Boychuk. He was originally drafted 61st overall in the second round by the Avalanche. He wasn’t the quickest and he didn’t have the best hands, but he could shoot the puck and he could also defend as well as any other defenseman in the league, with a Stanley Cup win with the Big Bad Bruins to show for it. He was traded from the Bruins to the Islanders in 2014, and the Bruins blue line saw a noticeable decline in quality.
Because Semin would not have been available, Boychuk would have fit in nicely with Washington looking forward, perhaps on the first pairing with John Carlson. The Islanders were quick to secure Boychuk’s services up to the year 2022.
17 Montreal Canadiens – Pierre-Marc Bouchard
Originally selected: Chris Higgins
With all due respect to Chris Higgins, he probably deserved to go much later in the first round. He was used in the wrong role in Montreal and found little success in Vancouver afterward. To me, he would have been best positioned as a third liner. Instead, I think the Habs would have been better off with Pierre-Marc Bouchard. Selected originally by Minnesota eighth overall, Bouchard finished his career in 2014 with 356 points in 593 games.
If he would have been drafted by the bleu-blanc-rouge, the team he grew up watching, that plays in the province he was born in, it would have been quite the fit for Bouchard and the Canadiens. To be fair, I’m sure they would have seriously considered choosing him had he still been available.
16 Edmonton Oilers – Valtteri Filppula
Originally selected: Jesse Niinimaki
The Edmonton Oilers had a few very, very, very rough years leading up to today, with the exception of 2006 where they reached the final. Some of it may be due to making first round picks like Jesse Niinimaki. Who, what, why? The center never played a game in the NHL. A first round pick that came to absolutely nothing. Instead, I think the Oilers would have been better off with Valterri Filpulla.
The Finn forward instead was drafted 95th overall in the third round incredibly by the Detroit Red Wings, and still plays in the NHL to this day for the Tampa Bay Lightning, a team widely considered as one of the best in the league. In 716 games, he’s scored 388 points, 145 of those being goals.
15 Ottawa Senators – Frans Nielsen
Originally selected: Jakub Klepis
It’s because of picks like Jakub Klepis that the 2002 draft’s first round is so dull. Jakub played one season of 14 points in the NHL four years after he was drafted, a move squandered for the Ottawa Senators. Considering Klepis was a centre, I think selecting Frans Nielsen instead would have paid dividends for the Senators, and would have really helped them in the 2007 Stanley Cup Final against Anaheim.
Frans Nielsen was actually selected in the third round, 87th overall by the New York Islanders where he spent his entire career until he went to Detroit earlier this year. In 612 NHL games, the Dane has 352 NHL points and remains a consistent player in the NHL to this day. He's no All-Star, but he's certainly a very useful player.
14 Washington Capitals – Dennis Wideman
Originally selected: Boyd Gordon
The third of three draft picks in the third round by the Washington Capitals, this would have been a chance to really solidify the blue line for years to come. Although Boyd Gordon was a consistent player throughout his career, he was never meant to be more than a fourth liner, maybe third line center at most.
Selecting him 17th overall wasn't quite the right pick. But history played out, resulting in Buffalo getting the steal of the 2002 draft, selecting Dennis Wideman 241st overall in the eighth round.
To give you an idea, Dennis Wideman is still in the NHL today, has played a total of 762 games while recording 372 points. Quite a career for someone drafted in the eighth round. Combined with Boychuk (also selected in the mock draft), the Capitals would have been looking at a few nice pieces on defense.
13 Los Angeles Kings – James Wisniewski
Originally selected: Denis Grebeshkov
While we're talking about defensemen that were a steal in the draft, you need to bring up James Wisniewski. Although he was by no means the best of defenseman, he was selected too late considering how well his career went. Selected 156th overall in the 5th round, I think the Kings would have been better suited selecting James Wisniewski over Grebeshkov, also a defenseman.
It seems his career might be over because of an ACL injury early last year, but he does have 552 NHL games under his belt, with 274 points to show for it. Wisniewski is part of a large list of quality defensemen that came out of the 2002 draft, and I would have him jump four rounds to be selected by the Los Angeles Kings in the first round.
12 Phoenix Coyotes – Tomas Fleischmann
Originally selected: Jakub Koreis
Selected 63rd overall in the second round by the mighty Detroit Red Wings, Fleischmann goes up over 40 spots in my draft and is selected by the Phoenix (now Arizona) Coyotes in the first round. The Coyotes are a team that has struggled on and off the ice for quite a while now, and I’m sure selecting a player like Jakub Koreis in the first round, who never played a game in the NHL, didn’t help the team.
Fleischmann, on the other hand, was a consistent player, who hovered between 40 and 50 points, his best season coming with the Florida Panthers where he broke the 60-point mark. Anything really is better than who the Coyotes selected, but Tomas Fleischmann would have definitely helped the team.
11 Buffalo Sabres – Scottie Upshall
Originally selected: Daniel Paille
Daniel Paille was by no means a bad pick, but I think there would have been a little more upside in selecting a player with character like Scottie Upshall. Upshall was by no means a prolific scorer but did have a respectable 250 points in 629 NHL games. He’s a member of the St. Louis Blues for the current season. In the real draft Upshall actually went 6th overall, selected by the Nashville Predators, but knowing what we know after all these years it would be foolish to keep him so high.
Considering the depth of the Buffalo Sabres in the late 2000s, Upshall would have fit in the third line with a Sabres squad that was filled to the brim with top six scorers. Upshall would have been a very nice piece down the middle behind Daniel Briere and Chris Drury.
10 Chicago Blackhawks – Trevor Daley
Originally selected: Anton Babchuk
The Blackhawks are lucky they had the unreal luxury of selecting Duncan Keith in the second round because their first round pick wasn’t anything to be too proud of. Babchuk spent his time between the NHL and the juniors, never succeeding in making a long-term impact on an NHL line-up. For the Blackhawks, the pick didn’t pay dividends at the end, that’s why I think they would be better off having selected Trevor Daley. Daley was selected 43rd overall (before Keith) by the Dallas Stars, where he spent most of his career.
Daley would have fit in quite nicely with a Blackhawks team that ended up becoming quite the dynasty. He actually ended being brought in as a rental last year for the Blackhawks. He’s averaged 261 points in 844 games and would have made the perfect depth forward. He still plays in the NHL today with the Penguins.
9 New York Islanders – Greg Campbell
Originally selected: Sean Bergenheim
Sean Bergenheim was a decent pick so late in the first round, but this is a good chance for the Islanders to make a good character pick while also getting someone who can put up some points. Greg “Soupy” Campbell was drafted 67th overall by the Florida Panthers, so he would jump quite a few sports in my mock draft.
He eventually went from Florida to the Bruins, where he was an essential part of the penalty kill in their Stanley Cup winning series, limiting the Vancouver Canucks to only two power play goals. While Campbell was never regarded as a top player in the NHL, role players are just as vital to a team's success. And that's exactly the type of player the Islanders could've used at the time.
8 Arizona Coyotes – Matthew Lombardi
Originally selected: Ben Eager
No hate for Ben Eager, but his stats and his style of play over 407 NHL games didn’t match his first round selection. Instead, I choose Matthew Lombardi, the center selected by the Flames 90th overall and who ended up playing over 500 NHL games, earning 262 points in the meantime. Although Lombardi struggled to find his form as of the 2012-13 season, his production in his first few NHL seasons was pretty good with the Calgary Flames, until he was traded to the Phoenix Coyotes for a few seasons.
So although the Coyotes did get him eventually, they didn’t get to draft him as I had them doing here. He would play 87 games with the Coyotes over two seasons, netting 24 goals and 45 assists.
7 Toronto Maple Leafs: Joni Pitkanen
Originally selected: Alexander Steen
The Maple Leafs selected Alexander Steen 24th overall in the first round, a gift from the Gods looking back all these years later. Because I have Steen going in the fourth round chosen by the Philadelphia Flyers, it’s only fitting that the Leafs selected who the Flyers had actually chosen fourth overall, Joni Pitkanen.
Although going fourth overall is a bit early for me, I definitely think Joni deserves to go in the first round. The defenseman enjoyed a few successful years in the NHL. He posted 282 points in 535 NHL games, not too shabby for a defenseman. He would play the last five seasons of his career with the Hurricanes, averaging 30-40 points a season. By no means was he a stud, but he was worthy of the 24th draft selection.
6 Carolina Hurricanes – Tom Gilbert
Originally selected: Cam Ward
The Hurricanes would be one of the teams that would have to downgrade in my draft. They wouldn’t get their stud goaltender Cam Ward, who led the team to their only Stanley Cup in 2006. Instead, the Carolina Hurricanes select Tom Gilbert with their first round draft pick, a defenseman with over 640 games of NHL experience and 220 points earned in the process.
Although I wouldn’t consider Gilbert a top two defenseman, he could definitely play that role back in his prime, depending on the team, and I think he would have done a good job helping the Hurricanes solidify their defense. He still plays in the NHL today with his new team, the Los Angeles Kings. Would he have made the same impact as Ward? No chance. But that doesn't mean Gilbert wouldn't be valuable for the Hurricanes.
5 Dallas Stars – Keith Ballard
Originally selected: Martin Vagner
Add Keith Ballard to the list of very solid defensemen coming from the first round. Ballard was actually originally selected 11th overall by the Buffalo Sabres, but because they chose Joffrey Lupul, Ballard was available to be chosen by the Dallas Stars. That's better than their actual pick, Martin Vagner, who played a whopping zero NHL games. That's something that can ruin the reputation of an NHL general manager.
Ballard, on the other hand, would have been a defenseman that paid dividends. He enjoyed 604 NHL games earning 175 points in his NHL career. He played 10 NHL seasons in total before retiring in 2015 to pursue his studies in Sports Science. He was an effective player on the ice and would have made a ton of sense with the 26th pick.
4 San Jose Sharks – Chris Higgins
Originally selected: Mike Morris
As I mentioned earlier, Chris Higgins went a little too early to my liking. Selected 14th overall by the Montreal Canadiens, he only bounces back a few spots to 27th overall since the Habs opted to go with the hometown sensation Pierre-Marc Bouchard. This means that Chris Higgins would have potentially made his NHL debut as a San Jose Shark, and he could’ve made a nice addition to their third line. At least that's better than Mike Morris, who never played an NHL game.
In 711 NHL games, Higgins managed 333 points, 165 of those being goals. He was electric in his first few years with the Canadiens and even earned some playing time on the first line for quite a long time, but he never found that form for any other NHL team.
3 Colorado Avalanche – Daniel Paille
Originally selected: Jonas Johansson
This was a lost pick for the Avalanche, who selected forward Jonas Johansson late in the first round though he only ended up playing one NHL game. Poor guy never really even got a chance. However, because in this life the Sabres elected to draft Scottie Upshall in the first round, Daniel Paille was still available for the taking. Paille enjoyed a good career in the NHL between three teams, most notably the Boston Bruins where he found the most success.
He was definitely a good depth forward to have on the roster, and he even managed to put up decent points as well, as he collected 172 points in 582 NHL games played. After a stint with the New York Rangers last season, Paille is currently under contract in the Swedish League.
2 Boston Bruins: Erik Christensen
Originally selected: Hannu Toivonen
Hannu Toivonen was a bold pick; a goaltender getting picked up in the first round can be a bit risky. It didn’t end up panning out for the Bruins or for Toivonen, who would only end up playing 61 games in the NHL. A better choice would have been Erik Christensen, who was still available; he ended up being selected 69th overall by the Penguins.
The left winger enjoyed quite a career for a third-rounder, earning 163 points in 387 games played. Not the greatest numbers, but still better than Toivonen or anybody else in this draft of meager talents. Christensen spent his playing career in a few different cities but was still a bottom six goal scorer nonetheless. Because of this re-draft,Christensen jumped up 40 spots.
1 Atlanta Thrashers – Maxime Talbot
Originally selected: Jim Slater
To finish off the first round, the Atlanta Thrashers selected Jim Slater. Slater, a centerman by trade, played in 10 seasons for the Thrashers. He was also a part of the Winnipeg Jets when the Atlanta Thrashers relocated. It was definitely not a waste of a pick for the Thrashes at the time considering how loyal he was to the team, and considering the fact that he did have 138 points in 584 NHL games.
But instead I would opt for Maxime Talbot, a gritty forward to close out the first round. Talbot went in the eighth round, incredibly, to the Pittsburgh Penguins, the team he would even win a Cup with. He even scored both the team's goals in their Game 7 win over Detroit in the '09 final.
This year, Talbot plays in the KHL for the first time in his career. But just because he isn't in the league anymore, it doesn't mean this pick would've been a waste.