It is impossible to truly project what a player is going to do when they are drafted into any professional sports league. A team might be able to land a top prospect early in the first round like the Pittsburgh Penguins were able to do with the first overall selection. There are also going to be a number of first round busts who may never make it into the NHL, like David Quinn (through no fault of his own but due to medical reasons), or Duncan MacPherson (who disappeared at a ski resort in Austria).
The National Hockey League has had a number of great players enter the league in 1984 in a draft that had talent beyond just the first round that included future Hall of Fame legends like Patrick Roy, Brett Hull and Luc Robitaille – all were not picked up in the first two rounds of the 1984 NHL Draft. When looking at how those players stood when they retired, one begins to think how teams might have chosen differently if they had known the future.
The following is a chance to project what NHL teams who had those first-round draft choices in the first round should have done based on how players performed in their careers. The 1984 draft year was all about a generational player like Mario Lemieux coming along. The Penguins were accused of tanking their season on purpose in order to select him. As it turned out, Lemieux was in fact worth all the hype, he just wasn't the only one. It turned out this draft was littered with hall of famers. Step with us, as we re-draft the legendary 1984 NHL draft.
21 Mario Lemieux – Pittsburgh Penguins
If the Pittsburgh Penguins could do it all over again, of course they would choose to draft Mario Lemieux again. He showed a lot of promise even in his first season with Pittsburgh as he would score 43 goals and 57 assists. The numbers would continue to climb as he was easily one of the best scoring players to take the center position in NHL history. His 85 goals in the 1988-89 season were good for the fourth highest total in league history and contributed to a 199-point season that led the NHL.
In 17 total seasons, Lemieux had 690 goals in 915 career games, even more impressive when one considers that during the 1992-93 season, he was diagnosed with cancer and was still playing to help the team advance to the playoffs after finishing the season with 160 total points. He also retired after 1997 and then returned in 2000 to play another few seasons with adept capabilities. There was a reason that he had the nickname “the Magnificent One.”
20 Patrick Roy – New Jersey Devils
If only the New Jersey Devils would have known the greatness that Patrick Roy would have brought to the NHL, they might have passed on Kirk Muller and selected the legendary goaltender with the second overall pick in the 1984 NHL Draft. Roy is still remembered as one of the greatest goalies the NHL has ever seen who started his career with the Montreal Canadiens after being selected in the third round of the draft. He would help Montreal win the Stanley Cup in 1986 and 1993.
19 Brett Hull – Chicago Blackhawks
The apple didn’t fall too far from the tree as Brett Hull’s father, Bobby, had a Hall of Fame career of his own, most notably as the “Golden Jet” during his time with the Chicago Blackhawks. Maybe the Blackhawks missed back in 1984, but many Chicago fans would have liked to select Brett Hull if they knew what the Golden Jet's son would do when he came to the NHL. Instead, reality saw him selected by Calgary before being traded to St. Louis, where he had some great seasons that included an 86-goal season in 1990-91.
18 Luc Robitaille – Toronto Maple Leafs
Just about everyone else in the NHL passed up on Luc Robitaille as there were plenty of concerns by hockey experts who felt that Robitaille had poor skating skills, which explained why he would fall all the way to the ninth round of the 1984 NHL Draft before the Los Angeles Kings picked him up with the 171st overall pick. If any of the teams in the first round were to look beyond the scouting reports and were to know what he would do in L.A., the Toronto Maple Leafs would have decided against choosing Al Iafrate with the fourth overall selection.
17 Gary Roberts – Montreal Canadiens
The Calgary Flames felt there was something special about Gary Roberts after he had won junior championships in Canada in both hockey and lacrosse. As a left winger, he would play over the course of two decades for several teams and was known for his high level of fitness that kept him healthy for such a long run in the NHL. He even went on to win the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy for dedication and perseverance in 1996 after multiple neck injuries affected his nerves to a point his career almost ended.
16 Kirk Muller – Los Angeles Kings
The Devils thought they had something special in Kirk Muller when they drafted him second overall behind Mario Lemieux, but unfortunately, the team wasn’t a championship contender with him. During his first seven season with the Devils, Muller had a total of 185 goals and 335 assists before being traded to Montreal, where he was able to win a Stanley Cup in 1993. He was surprisingly traded in two seasons that took him to the New York Islanders and the Toronto Maple Leafs.
15 Shayne Corson – Detroit Red Wings
Not all of the original first round selections of the 1984 NHL Draft had the skills to be an All-Star level player in the league, but Shayne Corson was one of them and is still worthy of being one of this class’s first 21 overall selections. After he was chosen eighth overall by the Montreal Canadiens, Corson was definitely one of the toughest left wingers in the league at the time as he would collect more than 2,300 penalty minutes in his 19 seasons in the NHL.
14 Al Iafrate – Montreal Canadiens
There was a lot of excitement surrounding Al Iafrate when he was part of the 1984 draft class that led to him being selected by Toronto as the fourth overall selection, after having six points in his short 10-game run with the Belleville Bulls in the Ontario Hockey League. It took a few years for him to hit his stride as he had just 21 points in his rookie season in Toronto, but his best year was with the Washington Capitals in the 1992-93 season, where the defenseman had 25 goals and 41 assists.
13 Eddie Olczyk – Pittsburgh Penguins
It felt like the dream draft selection when the Chicago Blackhawks drafted Illinois native Eddie Olczyk third overall, and he definitely had a few good seasons during a time before the Blackhawks were the dynasty team they are now. But after three seasons in Chicago, he was traded to Toronto. In fact, Olczyk was traded several times in his career as he played for six different teams.
12 Gary Suter – Vancouver Canucks
It seems like the Calgary Flames were seeing the true potential that other teams with the top selections did not. Not only was Calgary the team that drafted Brett Hull in the sixth round, but they also had Gary Suter in the ninth round of the draft. The Flames were able to enjoy winning a Stanley Cup in 1989 when Suter would contribute 49 assists despite injuries after having 70 assists in the previous season. The four-time NHL All-Star also spent time with the Chicago Blackhawks and the San Jose Sharks.
11 Kevin Hatcher – Hartford Whalers
Defensemen don’t usually score a lot of points in their careers, but Kevin Hatcher was not like most defenders in the NHL, which is why he was the 17th selection overall in the 1984 NHL Draft. While he isn’t moving up too many more spots in this re-drafted list, he kept his position with a 17-year career that featured 677 total points in 1,157 games. It took a few years for him to reach his full potential with the Washington Capitals. It was not until the 1989-90 season that he started to break out, with 41 assists and 13 goals.
10 Kirk McLean – Calgary Flames
Kirk McLean didn’t have the opportunity to make a huge impact with the New Jersey Devils after being selected in the sixth round, mostly because of knee injuries he suffered in 1987 before he was traded to the Vancouver Canucks. After a few seasons, he would lead all NHL goalies in minutes and games played (3,738 and 63 respectfully) and would set team records in terms of the shots he faced and those he saved for a .880 save percentage for one of his two All-Star nominations.
9 Petr Svoboda – Minnesota North Stars
While Petr Svoboda didn’t build the same legacy that some of the earlier mentioned legends were able to establish in the NHL, he was the league’s first player from the Czech Republic, who would play more than 1,000 games in the league. The Montreal Canadiens saw something special with someone they felt would be a serviceable defender on the ice. For the most part, he was able to help his line stay on the positive for most of his career that allowed him to be part of Montreal’s Stanley Cup team from 1986.
8 Stephane Richer – New York Rangers
Stephane Richer was another hockey player selected in the early part of the second round and based on his statistics, he could have been a first round player that would have been a serviceable player on a lot of rosters. However, the Montreal Canadiens selected him 29th overall and Richer contributed here and there as a forward for the Canadiens when they won the 1986 Stanley Cup. He would also win another Cup with the New Jersey Devils in 1995, with Richer having 20-goal seasons for both teams.
7 Scott Mellanby – Quebec Nordiques
While Scott Mellanby was the type of player who could have easily been drafted later in the first round, he was instead chosen in the second round by the Philadelphia Flyers and showed some promise within a few years of his NHL debut. He had consecutive 50-point seasons until he was involved in a bar fight wherein he suffered a severe cut that not only nearly cost him his left arm, but also cost him some time on the ice. That was before he was selected by the Florida Panthers in the 1993 Expansion Draft, where he had some of his best seasons, including a 70-point season with 32 goals in the 1995-96 season.
6 Cliff Ronning – Pittsburgh Penguins
Before the 1984 NHL Draft, Cliff Ronning was the Most Valuable Player in the Western Hockey League with 89 goals and an amazing 197 total points. However, he was drafted in the seventh round by the St. Louis Blues – the mistake that 20 other NHL teams that season made was not grabbing him earlier. He was also playing with the Canadian National Team, but wasn’t hitting his stride initially in St. Louis and would be traded to Vancouver.
5 Ray Sheppard – Washington Capitals
Ray Sheppard wasn’t a first rounder, but had a career that was worthy of being one of the top 20 players in the class. While he was drafted by Buffalo in the third round, he was making decent progress in the first two seasons where he had 38 and 22 goals respectively between 1987 and 1989 – he was still playing with the Cornwall Royals of the OHL to be developed before going to Buffalo.
4 Jeff Brown – Buffalo Sabres
Finding decent defenders who could score points on the ice is one of the more important things that hockey teams try to find and the Quebec Nordiques were able to grab one in the second round of the 1984 draft in Jeff Brown. He showed some promise during his first four seasons with the Nordiques before he was traded to St. Louis, where he would help set plenty of records among the franchise’s all-time defensemen.
3 Kjell Samuelsson – Boston Bruins
This Swedish hockey player was a defender who would get at least one All-Star invite despite being a sixth-round selection by the New York Islanders. His best season came during the 1992-93 season, when he was an All-Star, after being traded from the Philadelphia Flyers to the Pittsburgh Penguins. With the Penguins, he would be part of a Stanley Cup-winning team that also featured the top overall pick of this draft in Mario Lemieux, as well as future high picks like Jaromir Jagr and Kevin Stevens.
2 Paul Cavallini – New York Islanders
The 10th round of the 1984 NHL Draft did have one highlight with an All-Star in Paul Cavallini who was selected by the Washington Capitals near the end of the draft. Most of his numbers were not extremely impressive overall with 56 career goals and 177 assists during 12 seasons in the NHL. But his best season came in the 1989-90 season when he was with the St. Louis Blues.
Cavallini played in nearly every game that season with a plus-rating of 38 after scoring 39 goals. After two consecutive 35-point seasons between 1990 and 1992, he moved back to Washington and then spent three more seasons in St. Louis, but his numbers slowly declined. His lone All-Star appearance does warrant him still being elevated to a first-round grade if the entire class was re-drafted – or at the very least, an early second round choice to provide depth in a later line.
1 Craig Billington – Edmonton Oilers
Craig Billington wasn’t a great goaltender, as he was mostly a back-up during his 15-year career after being drafted in the second round by the New Jersey Devils. He also struggled a bit at the start of his career that featured an 11-41-4 record with the Ottawa Senators in the 1993-94 season, averaging a little more than four and a half goals per game. It was not the season he was hoping for after earning an All-Star nomination the year prior with a 21-16-4 record while splitting time with Chris Terreri in New Jersey.
While working as a backup through the 1990s, his best numbers were with the Colorado Avalanche between 1996 and 1999, where he maintained a 2.61 goals against average and a .910 save percentage despite a 30-23-7 record. His career ended in 2003 after playing his final four seasons with the Washington Capitals with a career record of 110-149-31.
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