The NHL Entry Draft is very different from its NFL and NBA counterparts. While all three drafts are very similar in structure, drafting the right player takes a lot more patience and foresight. While in the other drafts, many prospects are pro-ready, very few prospects in every NHL draft are ready to jump onto the big club. A lot of them need at least another year in junior hockey, university or have to go to the minors for a few years to get acclimated to the pro game.
When doing re-drafting themed articles, it’s a lot harder to do recent hockey drafts. Players simply take longer to develop in hockey than in other sports, so you really have to give a minimum of five years before you can really start second guessing a draft. In football you can do it almost in year one, as many rookies take the league by storm every year, while others quickly show that their college game isn’t going to cut it in the pros.
Some of the best players in the NHL didn’t make their mark in the pros until they were in their mid 20s. That’s exactly why in hockey you get many cases of teams giving up on young players way too soon. Nowadays in the cap world, teams are more reluctant to let prospects go because they understand it’s important to have players on cheap entry level deals on the roster.
This list however, gives us plenty of ammo, as we’re going back to the 90s, which we can easily re-draft as most of these players’ careers have ended or they are still going strong as wily veterans in the league. We’re simply going by the best player in those drafts, not necessarily accounting for team needs.
1990 – Jaromir Jagr
The fact that Jaromir Jagr is still playing over 25 years later and still producing in the NHL makes it very easy to dub him as the undisputed best player of the 1991 draft. Jagr sits fourth on the all time points list and when his career is done, he might sit as high as second. He could also sit as high as third on the all-time goals list at the pace he’s on with a couple more seasons. While Owen Nolan is nothing to sneeze at as a first overall pick, come on, this is Jagr. Can you imagine adding Jagr to the Nordiques (picked first that year)? The Nordiques could have boasted a group of forwards including Joe Sakic, Mats Sundin, Peter Forsberg and finally, Jagr.
1991 – Peter Forsberg
The Quebec Nordiques elected to go with “The Next One” and took Eric Lindros, a player who would never end up playing for them. While drafting Lindros for the Nordiques is still the right move in hindsight, considering the return they got, I think any organization would rather have a Peter Forsberg type than Lindros. While Lindros dominated the NHL through a good portion of the 90s, so did Forsberg. Only six points separate them, with Forsberg holding a 871-865 edge. This was the hardest one to pick.
1992 – Sergei Gonchar
Roman Hamrlik went first overall in 1992 to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Hamrlik was a solid NHL player for a long time, but he just doesn’t scream first overall pick to you. Gonchar ended his career with 811 points in 1,301 games, and was able to be one of the better offensive defensemen in the league, even well into his 30s. Hamrlik’s numbers started to decline after 30 and his role was soon diminished to a second pairing blueliner. The year was a pretty weak draft overall, with no real superstars, unless you can agree with Alexei Yashin’s belief that he was.
1993 – Chris Pronger
To think, the Senators could have had one of the NHL’s most intimidating defensemen of all time manning their blue line. That certainly would have tilted things in their favor with their late 90s series battles with the Toronto Maple Leafs. It was easy to knock off the first overall pick from that year, Alexandre Daigle, who proved to be one of the biggest busts in NHL history. Pronger was able to be a workhorse throughout his career, often willing his teams to deep playoff runs. He was effective up until the last year of his career, where a concussion has forced him to step away from the game.
1994 – Daniel Alfredsson
The 1994 draft isn’t especially deep, but it had some good building blocks for teams with players like Ed Jovanovski, Ryan Smyth, Jeff Friesen and Patrik Elias. Jovanovski isn’t a bad first overall pick but no player from this draft class meant more to his team than Daniel Alfredsson did for the Senators. Alfredsson was an absolute steal with the 133rd pick overall in the draft. He would go on to captain the Sens for many years, willing them to the 2007 Stanley Cup Final. He finished his career with 1,157 points and just retired after the 2013-14 season following a sub-par stint in Detroit.
1995 – Jarome Iginla
Shane Doan is another good option here, as he’s still a productive NHL player going on 40, but Jarome Iginla was the more dominant player in his prime.
Iginla was drafted by the Dallas Stars 11th overall, but never made an impact in Dallas, as he was traded to Calgary in a deal to land Joe Nieuwendyk. Iginla would go on to become the face of the Flames, leading them on their improbable 2004 run to the Stanley Cup Final. Even at 38, Iginla continues to hover around the 30-goal mark. Can you imagine if the Sens had followed up the selection of Alfredsson in 1994 by picking Iginla first overall?
1996 – Zdeno Chara
We now come to another draft year where pickings were slim for franchise players. Picking first overall again, the Ottawa Senators selected Chris Phillips, who proved to be a solid contributor for many years, but let’s face it, in most draft years, he’s not the kind of player that would go first overall. Instead the Senators could have completed a roundup of elite trio of skaters by selecting Zdeno Chara who went 56th to the Islanders. While the Sens would eventually land Chara in a trade with New York, this could have saved them a few years. Chara has slowed down now, but has been a force in the NHL for so long.
1997 – Roberto Luongo
While Joe Thornton has been one of the best playmakers of this generation, it’s not often you get to land a Roberto Luongo type early in the draft. In 1998, the Bruins were picking first overall and they ended up trading Thornton to San Jose as he was entering his prime, while they had years of goaltending woes before the likes of Tuukka Rask and Tim Thomas popped up. There are also arguments to be made for Marian Hossa or maybe Patrick Marleau, but for the sake of balance, we’ll put one goaltender on this list.
1998 – Pavel Datsyuk
Ignore what you’ve seen the last few years from Vincent Lecavalier and try to remember him for the player he was in Tampa Bay. Even looking back now, the Lightning made a very good pick by going with him first overall. For his shortcomings, Lecavalier still gave the Lightning over 1,000 games, 383 goals, and 874 points. He helped lead them to their only Stanley Cup back in 2004, just six years after being drafted.
That being said, Pavel Datsyuk is still going strong today and is a plus-255 player for his career, while Lecavalier is in the negative hundreds. Datsyuk also doesn’t keep finding himself with terrible contracts, and could still be helping the Lightning today if they had taken him first.
1999 – Henrik Sedin
Well, this was a very unique situation, as the Sedin twins made it very clear they wanted to play in the NHL together and GM Brian Burke made that happen by landing the 2nd and 3rd overall picks. Who went first overall? Patrik Stefan. In a three-team trade, the Canucks managed to land those two picks, but what if the Thrashers had been able to swing something to land them themselves the 2nd overall pick as well?
Well, then the Thrashers could have instantly found themselves two impact players to help the young franchise rather than one. Stefan proved to be the biggest bust in NHL draft history and starting off on the wrong foot like that doomed the Thrashers franchise. From whiffing your first ever pick, you find yourself moving cities 12 years later? Things could have been really different.
As for which Sedin twin to pick, it’s almost a toss-up between Henrik and Daniel, as they’ve both had very good careers, but the tiebreaker usually goes to the center in hockey, so Henrik it is.
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