The NHL Draft is the perfect opportunity for struggling franchises to select new players to build their teams into contenders. Or so we think.
Teams like the Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings seem to strike gold every year when it comes to the draft. Hence the ‘Hawks three Stanley Cups in the last six years.
Then there are the Edmonton Oilers, a team that wins the lottery every year and the cycle repeats: The guys they select just aren’t good enough to turn it all around. Also, the Vancouver Canucks are feeling the pain of not knowing how to draft and needing to have a long-term rebuild.
So, what’s the catch? So many NHL teams make the right selections, while others get it wrong over and over again. It’s always fun to look back at players selected; allowing fans to think what could have been.
Unfortunately for them, time travel just isn’t possible. That means they can’t go back in time and re-do draft selections. Sorry, New York Islanders fans, you’re stuck with the fact you took Rick DiPietro in 2000.
But for the rest of us, we can’t help but wonder how draft selections would have panned out if we could bring Doc Brown from Back to the Future to reality and use his DeLorean to make different selections.
Here is our look at how the last 15 first overall selections could have gone down.
2001 – Jason Spezza
Though Ilya Kovalchuk was the most attractive name and went first overall, he did not lead the Atlanta Thrashers to much and the New Jersey Devils should feel lucky he bolted for the KHL to void one of the dumbest contracts handed out in sports.
Enter Jason Spezza. He’s been in the playoffs many times, has always been a reliable center and, here’s a big one, is still in the NHL. The second overall pick from 2001 by the Ottawa Senators established himself as one of the best early on.
He centered the dangerous Daniel Alfredsson and Dany Heatley line for four years, where he had two 90-point seasons and an 87-point campaign. Spezza is now with the Dallas Stars and it’d be nice to see him win a Stanley Cup after so much loyalty to the Sens.
2002 – Rick Nash
This was one of the weakest draft classes in recent memory. Sure, the Columbus Blue Jackets made the playoffs just once with Rick Nash, but he helped put a new franchise on the map.
Nash played nine seasons with the Jackets. He had seven seasons where he scored 30-plus goals, despite having absolutely zero superstars to help him on his team. Nash carried them for so long without any support, before being traded to the New York Rangers in 2012.
The next best pick? Duncan Keith in the second round, but there’s no way he’d able to carry the Jackets the way Nash did.
2003 – Ryan Getzlaf
One of the most stacked draft classes ever featured Getzlaf, Eric Stall Nathan Horton, Corey Perry, Marc-Andre Fleury, Ryan Kesler, Ryan Suter, Brent Seabrook, Loui Eriksson, Thomas Vanek, Jeff Carter, and Brent Burns among others,.
The Penguins did win a Stanley Cup with Fleury in 2009, but he’s been the worst playoff goalie in the NHL since then. Imagine if the Pens had Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Getzlaf, who has been a real champion in his career.
Getzlaf is a lock for 20 goals and 70 points a season, and those types of center are rare today. The Penguins have been prone to early playoff exits because of their lack of depth and toughness. With a towering player like Getzlaf, there’d be three elite centres on the Pens.
And perhaps an NHL dynasty?
2004 – Alex Ovechkin
Okay, come on now. There’s no questioning that this is the best pick in Washington Capitals history.
Ovechkin has put himself into the discussion for a top-10 all-time NHL player. In an era where scoring is more difficult than ever before, ‘Ovie’ single handedly turned around an awful team and made them a powerhouse.
He’s on his way to leading the Caps to the playoffs for the eighth time in nine seasons. Ovechkin has won five Rocket Richard Trophies (six 50-goal seasons), the Art Ross once and three Hart Trophies.
There’s no way the Capitals would take someone else over him. And yes, we know Evgeni Malkin is really good. Just not Ovie good.
2005 – Sidney Crosby
Just like Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby was a no-brainer back when he was drafted. Over a decade later, the result remains a no-brainer.
All Crosby has done is take a franchise by himself that was about to move to Las Vegas and make them the talk of Pittsburgh once again. The Penguins got a new arena and have a huge following nowadays.
Crosby has had five-100 point seasons, is always called the best hockey player in the world and has two scoring titles along with two Hart Trophies. The Pens would never re-do this if they were given the shot. Carey Price is the next best player from this draft and would likely go first overall in a variety of other drafts, but not this one.
2006 – Jonathan Toews
The St. Louis Blues have seen their rivals, the Chicago Blackhawks, embarrass them time and time again with three Stanley Cups. The Blues can thank themselves for doing just that.
With the top pick in 2006, they selected Erik Johnson, who is now with the Colorado Avalanche. Jonathan Toews went third overall to the ‘Hawks. All Toews did was become the league’s best two-way player, captain Chicago to three Cups, and win two Olympic Gold Medals.
What could have been in St. Louis…
2007 – Patrick Kane
Back in 2007, everybody knew that Kane was going first overall. There was no questioning it.
Sadly for the Philadelphia Flyers, the worst NHL team that year, it was Chicago who won the draft lottery. Meanwhile, Kane, along with Toews, led Chicago to three Cups and is presently in the middle of a Hart Trophy season.
How fitting that Kane would score the Cup-clinching goal in Game 6 of the 2010 Final against the Flyers, the team that had the best chance of landing him.
Once again, the top selection of a recent NHL Draft wouldn’t change if time travel were possible.
2008 – Drew Doughty
Hold the phone, like a good general manager would.
Listen, we know Steven Stamkos is one of the best pure-goal scorers in hockey, and the Tampa Bay Lightning were more than thrilled to have Stamkos fall into their arms in the 2008 NHL Draft.
Yes, an annual threat to score 40 goals is dangerous, but up until a couple of years ago, the Lightning failed to build around their superstar. Stamkos has only been to the playoffs three times and he’s all but likely to leave the Lightning in the offseason.
Looking back, the Lightning were better off taking Doughty. He’s emerged as arguably the NHL’s best defenseman and impact players like him are more critical than a pure-goal scorer in the playoffs.
Doughty has two Stanley Cups with the Los Angeles Kings and two Olympic Gold Medals. Stammer hasn’t led the Lightning to a Championship yet. When all is said and done, his tenure with the team will look like a waste. It took them forever to build around him and it may be too late.
2009 – John Tavares
An absolute no-brainer. Everybody tried making the hype exciting by pondering if Victor Hedman would go first before Tavares, but it was obvious from the get-go who was going number one.
Like many others on this list, Tavares turned around a perennially struggling franchise and made them a playoff contender. He’s made every player around him a lot better and has carried the Isles on his back.
The Isles have made the playoffs just twice under Tavares, but he’s headlining a very bright future in Brooklyn. They’re more than happy they took him.
2010 – Tyler Seguin
It was a huge debate in 2010 as to would go first overall: Taylor or Tyler?
The Edmonton Oilers opted to go with talented scoring winger Taylor Hall. In all fairness, Hall has been an elite scoring machine for Edmonton, but they’re always winning the draft lottery instead of making the playoffs.
Seguin was a force for the Boston Bruins, winning a Cup in his rookie season. The team gave up on him early, trading him to Dallas in 2013. In his first two years there, Seguin made the struggling Stars a dangerous squad, posting 84 points in his first year followed by 77 the next.
His chemistry with Jamie Benn is something special. Boston gave up on him too early. The Oilers could have had him and Connor McDavid as centers.
2011 – Gabriel Landeskog
In all fairness to Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Oilers management who took “The Nuge” with the top pick in 2011, most of the selections here are still young and have lots of time to prove their worth.
However, Nugent-Hopkins has been a disappointment with Edmonton. The undersized centre hasn’t been able to stay healthy, with just one 20-goal season in his career. Given how Edmonton has Leon Draisaitl and McDavid at center, The Nuge isn’t needed.
Meanwhile, left finger Gabriel Landeskog instantly became a leader for the Colorado Avalanche, with 20-goal seasons in his first three full years in the NHL.
2012 – Filip Forsberg
Right now, this draft is looking like a disaster.
When the Oilers took Nail Yakupov first overall, it appeared they found the scoring winger they needed to work along with Hall, Jordan Eberle, and Nugent-Hopkins. But they picked the wrong one.
Almost all of the first-round selections in 2012 are still developing, but Filip Forsberg has become the most NHL-ready. With the Nashville Predators, he scored 63 points in 82 games last year and will be a future superstar in the league.
2013 – Nathan MacKinnon
Like the last couple of drafts, many of the players selected in 2013 are still in the midst of developing. That includes Nathan MacKinnon, but he’s already becoming a major star for the Avalanche.
In his rookie year, MacKinnon took the Avs to the playoffs and Central Division title, scoring 63 points in his first season with the team. His sophomore year was a disappointment, but he’s rebounded this year.
In his first 66 games of 2015-16, MacKinnon has 48 points. The Avalanche made the right choice by taking him first overall.
2014 – Aaron Ekblad
The towering six-foot-four defenseman was no sure-thing to go first overall by the Florida Panthers in 2014.
But he did go first overall and he was the player the Panthers desperately needed for the future. He’s given them a reliable, workhorse defenseman that will carry this young team into the future.
He had 39 points in 81 games during his rookie year. So far, Ekblad has avoided the sophomore slump. He has shown more than enough promise to prove he was the right selection.
2015 – Connor McDavid
Even if Connor McDavid had zero goals and no points all season long and Jack Eichel scored 100 points, McDavid would keep his spot.
The Oilers knew they had to select the future NHL star; the most hyped-up player since Sidney Crosby. McDavid had the Oilers on track to fight for the playoffs before missing significant time with an injury.
He’s already become arguably their best player and he isn’t even in his 20s yet. McDavid will be the NHL’s best player soon enough. There’s no reason for the Oilers to wish they took someone else, even though Jack Eichel has been incredibly good in his rookie year as well.
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