The NHL Draft Lottery is an exciting day for the cellar-dwellers of the league. The bottom-tier teams look on anxiously as deputy commissioner Bill Daly counts down the draft positions, one by one. Should your club get lucky and land that coveted first overall selection, it could change the dynamic of your franchise.
It’s always fun to look back and see who was selected first overall in each draft year, and to question whether or not they actually turned out to be the best player from that draft class. Hindsight’s always 20/20, but often it seems that the first overall pick isn’t the best player from his draft year.
That’s not to diminish the value of a first overall draft choice; indeed, there’s a very high success rate for players whose names are called first at the draft table every June. However, as you will see in the list, the first player chosen has only turned out to be the best player from his draft year about half the time in the last decade.
Today’s list will go back through that decade and re-select not just the first overall picks from each year, but the second as well. It’s interesting to see how much some players move up in our revisionist’s history—there are a handful of players on the list today that were originally selected well beyond the first round.
Here are the top two picks from each draft year since 2007, re-selected by yours truly (their original draft positions appear in parenthesis). Enjoy:
20 2007: 1st – Patrick Kane (1st)
Original Pick: Patrick Kane
It’s hard to believe that it’s been nearly 10 years since the Chicago Blackhawks chose Patrick Kane first overall, but the anniversary will pass by this June (assuming human civilization doesn't end before that). We’ve had a lot of time to evaluate this pick, and it’s safe to say that the Chicago Blackhawks made a great choice by taking Kane first overall.
Kane became the first American to win the scoring race when he accomplished the feat in 2015-16, registering 106 points. He’s scored 710 points in 704 NHL games, and aside from his periodic off-ice buffoonery, there’s not much to dislike about Kane. The three-time Stanley Cup champion is already a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer, and he’s only 28. Kane could retire as the highest scoring American to ever play.
19 2007: 2nd – Jamie Benn (129th)
Original Pick: James van Riemsdyk
Selected by the Dallas Stars in the fifth round, 129th overall in 2007, Jamie Benn represents the list’s biggest jump (127 slots) in our revisionist’s history. Benn has been one of the league’s most consistent and prolific scorers since 2013-14, putting up 290 points in 286 games since then. It’s not very often a fifth round pick wins the NHL scoring title, but Benn did just that in 2014-15.
Current Toronto Maple Leafs star James van Riemsdyk was the original second overall pick (by the Flyers), and no disrespect to him, but Benn has had a far superior career to this point. JVR probably wouldn’t squeeze into the top five if a re-draft were held today, as other studs chosen in 2007 include P.K. Subban, Jakub Voracek, Logan Couture and Wayne Simmonds.
18 2008: 1st – Erik Karlsson (15th)
Original Pick: Steven Stamkos
The Ottawa Senators chose defenseman Erik Karlsson with their 15th overall pick in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, and they’ve been reaping the benefits of that choice ever since. Karlsson is in elite company with the way he produces offense from the blue line, as he currently ranks ninth all time in points-per-game by a defenseman accomplishing the feat in a low-scoring era. The Swede is just 26 years old, to boot.
Karlsson supplants Steven Stamkos as 2008’s first overall selection, and that’s not a knock on Stammer, who is legitimately one of the best snipers in the game today. It’s more of an endorsement of Karlsson. He’s already won two Norris Trophies as the league’s best defenseman, and he became the first D-man since Nicklas Lidstrom in 2005-06 to score at least 80 points in one year (last season). His value to the Sens cannot be understated.
17 2008: 2nd – Steven Stamkos (1st)
Original Pick: Drew Doughty
Originally 2008’s first overall selection, Steven Stamkos drops to number two overall in today’s re-draft. Stamkos was still a damn fine pick by the Lightning, as no other player from the 2008 draft has scored more points than Stamkos’ 582. Furthermore, with 321 goals to date, he has more than double the total of the second-highest goal scorer from the ’08 draft (Jordan Eberle, 153).
Of all the other players chosen in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, there really was only one other guy who could have went second here instead of Stamkos, and that was 2008’s original second overall selection, Drew Doughty. Heck, an argument can be made that Doughty is superior to both Stamkos and Karlsson (he’s certainly won more), but we still gave the slight edge to Karlsson and Stammer.
16 2009: 1st – John Tavares (1st)
Original Pick: John Tavares
Just like Patrick Kane in 2007, John Tavares keeps the top spot from the 2009 NHL draft. The Islanders centerman has been an elite producer since his sophomore season in 2010-11, and hasn’t looked back since. His career so far has seen him produce 503 points in 552 games, a stretch that has often seen him pivoting the top line in New York with less-than-optimal wingers on his flanks.
Although Tavares’ production has taken a slight step back over the past season and a half, there’s still no denying his value to an Islanders team that is just a few pieces away from being a pretty strong hockey club. Perhaps a step back in production isn’t the worst thing from the Islanders’ perspective; Steve Yzerman put up ridiculous numbers in his early days as a Red Wing, but the franchise didn’t take that next step until the expectations were spread out a little more evenly throughout the lineup.
15 2009: 2nd – Oliver Ekman-Larsson (6th)
Original Pick: Victor Hedman
A defenseman was selected second overall in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, but not the same defenseman we have listed here in today’s re-draft. While the Tampa Bay Lightning originally selected Victor Hedman (who, by the way, was a fine pick and would probably be in this position if it were based on this season alone), they may have been better off opting for another Swedish rearguard in Oliver Ekman-Larsson.
OEL has flown under the radar thus far in his pro career, which is something that will tend to happen when you’re playing hockey in Arizona. Nonetheless, Ekman-Larsson has been the best player on his team for quite some time now, and it’s not particularly close. Ekman-Larsson edged out the aforementioned Hedman for this position, as well as elite two-way forward Ryan O’Reilly.
14 2010: 1st – Vladimir Tarasenko (16th)
Original Pick: Taylor Hall
The St. Louis Blues first round selection from 2010 didn’t pay dividends immediately, but today he is one of the league’s most lethal snipers. We’re of course talking about Russian Vladimir Tarasenko, who has scored 97 goals over the past two and a half seasons, second only to reigning Maurice Richard Trophy champion Alex Ovechkin.
Tarasenko was a bit of a late bloomer, as he got his feet wet professionally in St. Petersburg before making the move to North America in 2012. After a slight adjustment period that saw him produce good but not great numbers (62 points in his first 102 games), Tarasenko has hovered near a point-per-game since then. The original first overall pick here was Taylor Hall, who is a great player, but today we take Tarasenko over Hall, no doubt.
13 2010: 2nd – Tyler Seguin (2nd)
Original Pick: Tyler Seguin
The second overall pick for our 2010 re-draft basically came down to a coin toss. Do we stick with the original second-overall pick of Tyler Seguin, or do we bump him out of the top-two and put Hall in his place? In the end, we decided to let Seguin keep the honor for now, but this could be changing back and forth throughout the remainder of their careers.
Seguin has had the advantage of playing on better hockey teams than Hall has so far, and thus his numbers are slightly superior. Hall hasn’t ever been tethered to a player as productive as Jamie Benn, though, so it’s fair to speculate that perhaps Hall is the better player. Of the remainder of the 2010 draft selections, Ryan Johansen is the only other player who received consideration for this spot.
12 2011: 1st – Nikita Kucherov (58th)
Original Pick: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
Of all 10 drafts that we’re re-selecting the top-two picks for, 2011 is the only year that neither of our selections were originally picked in the first round. Going first overall today is Tampa Bay Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov, who has recently established himself as one of the top point producers in the league.
Kucherov led the Lightning in points last season with 66, and he continues to produce without fellow star player Steven Stamkos in the lineup. Kucherov led the club to the Conference Final last season sans-Stamkos, and his production hasn’t dropped off since Stamkos’ injury this year, either. Kucherov supplants Oilers pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins here, who is a solid NHLer but not elite.
11 2011: 2nd – Johnny Gaudreau (104th)
Original Pick: Gabriel Landeskog
Johnny Gaudreau represents the second-biggest leap on our list, as he jumps up 102 spots from 104th overall all the way up to second overall in 2011. Johnny Hockey dropped so far in the draft mostly because of his stature, but that just goes to show how much size can be overrated by clubs across the league. His five-foot-nine, 157-pound frame hasn’t been too much of an issue so far, that’s for sure.
The New Jersey native has already racked up 171 points in 196 games to date, and he’s just getting started. A handful of other players competed for this spot, including Jonathan Huberdeau, Gabriel Landeskog, and Mark Scheifele, but in the end we had to give the nod to the former Hobey Baker winner.
10 2012: 1st – Filip Forsberg (11th)
Original Pick: Nail Yakupov
It’s been nearly five years since the Edmonton Oilers called Nail Yakupov’s name first overall in 2012, and I think it’s safe to say that Yak was a dud of a pick. He’s since been traded to St. Louis, where he has six points in 27 games and hasn’t found the scoresheet in his last eight appearances (commodities that are becoming more and more sporadic).
The Oilers should have instead went with 11th overall pick Filip Forsberg. Forsberg was sent to Nashville before his NHL career even began (Washington’s regrets are greater than Edmonton’s in this case), but the Swede has proven to be the best player from his draft class thus far. He’s already amassed 160 points in his young NHL career, and is part of an all-of-a-sudden strong one-two punch up the middle in Music City.
9 2012: 2nd – Hampus Lindholm (6th)
Original Pick: Ryan Murray
The Columbus Blue Jackets held the second overall pick in 2012, and with it they chose a defenseman. Unfortunately, they chose the wrong one by selecting Ryan Murray. Murray is a good third-pairing defenseman today, but the Anaheim Ducks' sixth overall selection of Hampus Lindholm looks to be the superior choice this far into their careers. Seth Jones and Lindholm would make quite the pairing in Columbus today.
Lindholm normally hovers around 20 minutes a night on the Ducks blue line, often matching up against opponents’ top forwards. There were a lot of good defenseman drafted in the first round of the 2012 draft, and others who competed for this spot were Morgan Rielly, Jacob Trouba, and forward Alex Galchenyuk. At this point, though, Lindholm projects to be the second best player from his class.
8 2013: 1st – Nathan MacKinnon (1st)
Original Pick: Nathan MacKinnon
About half the time the team that holds the first overall selection gets it right, and that’s what the Colorado Avalanche did in 2013 when they called Nathan MacKinnon’s name first. The Halifax native burst onto the scene as a fresh-faced 18-year-old in 2013-14, putting up 63 points in his rookie season to earn the rookie of the year honors.
MacKinnon’s production has slowed since his inaugural campaign, but there’s no doubt he’s a top-tier forward in this league with the potential to grow into a full-fledged superstar. It’s no secret that the Avalanche are struggling these days, but MacKinnon is still pacing for around 60 points and currently leads the club in that category with 30. The Avs made the right choice, as MacKinnon is a great piece to start building around.
7 2013: 2nd – Sean Monahan (6th)
Original Pick: Aleksander Barkov
The 2013 NHL Entry Draft was still recent enough that it’s tough to tell just what every player is, exactly. I had trouble trying to decide who to take second, partly because the candidates for the spot are fairly even in their careers to this point. In the end I decided to go with Flames sixth overall pick Sean Monahan, who currently leads the entire draft class in points with 186.
Solid arguments can certainly be made for Aleksander Barkov, Seth Jones, and Rasmus Ristolainen, but Monahan has been the most consistent player of that bunch, playing a strong two-way game and the role of a leader on an up-and-coming Flames squad. He and Johnny Gaudreau make up a deadly duo up front for Calgary, and with both of them still in their early 20s that might be something the rest of the league should get used to.
6 2014: 1st – Aaron Ekblad (1st)
Original Pick: Aaron Ekblad
Much like Colorado in the previous season, Florida nailed their first overall pick in 2014 by calling out defenseman Aaron Ekblad’s name. Defensemen usually develop by sundial, but once every five or six years comes a defenseman who is able to step right into a number one spot, and Ekblad did just that for the Panthers.
Ekblad put up 39 points in his rookie campaign, edging out Mark Stone and Johnny Gaudreau for rookie of the year honors in 2015. As a defenseman he still has tons of room to grow, and it wouldn’t be the least bit surprising if he wound up with a Norris Trophy or two in his career. He already leads his draft class in games played, having already skated in over 200 games for Florida.
5 2014: 2nd – Leon Draisaitl (3rd)
Original Pick: Sam Reinhart
The Oilers got their first overall picks wrong twice before (according to this list), but they nailed it with their third overall pick of Leon Draisaitl in 2014. The Buffalo Sabres held the second overall slot that season, and with it they chose Sam Reinhart. Reinhart has developed into a decent enough player so far, but there’s no denying that Draisaitl is the cream of the forward crop of this class thus far.
Yes, their careers are young enough that this could conceivably change, but right now that’s the way it is. Draisaitl leads the pack in points with 99 in 155 games thus far, and those numbers are largely hampered by his rookie season. He should have been sent back to junior after his nine-game audition, but instead Edmonton kept him for 37 games, and he got just nine points. Other candidates who could take over Dr. Drai in the future are Nikolaj Ehlers, Dylan Larkin, and Robby Fabbri.
4 2015: 1st – Connor McDavid (1st)
Original Pick: Connor McDavid
Do I even need to write anything about this guy? It’s once in a generation a player like Connor McDavid comes along, and the Oilers were lucky enough in 2015 to win the draft lottery and be gifted the rights to this marvelous player. To do anything other than select McDavid with this selection would have been asinine, and his presence in Edmonton is the biggest reason Edmonton has finally turned the corner in 2016-17 (with due respect to Cam Talbot).
McDavid suffered a serious injury in his rookie campaign that limited him to just 45 games, but he put up 48 points in the process. This season, McDavid hasn’t missed a game and is your current NHL scoring leader with 54 points in 47 games. Sidney Crosby, who missed the first six games of the season with a concussion, is nipping at his heels and doesn’t look ready to pass the “best player in the game” torch quite yet, but when that time comes it’s going straight to McDavid.
3 2015: 2nd – Mitch Marner (4th)
Original Pick: Jack Eichel
While Jack Eichel was hands-down the consensus second-best player available at the 2015 NHL Draft, Toronto’s Mitch Marner is proving that perhaps he’s the hidden gem in the top five of that class. Buffalo fans will likely view this selection as a troll-job, but quite honestly if you gave me the option of taking either one of these players today, I’d take Marner.
Marner has been turning heads all season in Toronto with his lightning-fast speed and smooth hands. Skating on a line with Tyler Bozak and James van Riemsdyk, his line is producing at an incredible clip. It’s actually astounding how fast the Maple Leafs have turned things around, having finished dead last in the league just last season. Of course that rendition of the team didn’t include Marner, William Nylander, or Auston Matthews.
2 2016: 1st – Patrik Laine (2nd)
Original Pick: Auston Matthews
If Buffalo fans thought I was trolling them by picking Marner ahead of Eichel, then how do you think Leafs fans feel about this pick? Auston Matthews was the consensus number one pick at the 2016 draft table, and the Leafs did what any sane team would do and they called his name. Now, this is going to be a debate that lasts for the better part of the next two decades, and right now it’s pretty much a coin toss.
Matthews and Patrik Laine have nearly identical numbers through the first 40-odd games of their rookie seasons. Laine of course is currently out with a concussion after being on the receiving end of a clean open-ice hit by Buffalo’s Jake McCabe, but before that the race for the Calder was heating up big time. You almost feel bad for the other solid rookies this season (Marner, William Nylander, Matthew Tkachuk, Zach Werenski), because the Calder Trophy is a two-horse race in 2017.
1 2016: 1st – Auston Matthews (1st)
Original Pick: Patrik Laine
Okay, fine, I put Laine first and Matthews second simply to make my list different than the actual draft that occurred not eight months ago. In any case, Matthews or Laine would have been great first and/or second picks in any draft, and both clubs are lucky to have these franchise cornerstones on their rosters.
Both players have played 42 games so far this season (Toronto recently completed its CBA-mandated five-day break, hence the lower-than-league average GP total; Laine has missed the last handful due to his injury), and Matthews has put up 38 points to Laine’s 37. They have 22 and 21 goals, respectively, and both have registered 16 assists. These two players are special, and this will be a fun comparison to watch over the coming seasons.