Every year, you see the same pose at the NHL Entry Draft where the top three picks smile for the camera with their fingers indicated the number where they were selected. Looking back at a bunch of these photos, you’ll usually see at least one player that doesn’t belong. While first overall picks tend to be slam dunks in the NHL, there certainly are plenty of players selected in the top three that don’t pan out.
Hockey is different than the NFL or NBA Draft. In those drafts, you’re getting a player that will help you right away if you’re picking in the top three. In the NHL, even a top-three pick can take a few years to become a star in the league. That’s what makes a list like this even more difficult as we try to see who would have been a better top three pick.
Since their NHL sample sizes are still small, this list can very well change over the next few years. For now though, we’ll simply be re-drafting top three picks based on what these players have shown so far in their NHL careers. Some however, are already safe bets in that they’ve easily surpassed the player originally picked at that particular spot.
2012: 1st – Filip Forsberg – Edmonton Oilers
Original Pick: Nail Yakupov
Yeah, this is one of those cases. Nail Yakupov is already seen as a major draft bust. Prior to the 2012 draft, the slogan for bottom feeding teams around the NHL was “Fail For Nail” and the Oilers certainly did that, albeit not intentionally, and landed their third consecutive no.1 pick in the draft lottery. They selected Yakupov, hoping they could pair him with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, but after a promising rookie season, Yakupov fell out of favor with Oilers coaches and management.
Under Dallas Eakins, then Todd McLellan, Yakupov’s role diminshed and he was traded to St. Louis in the offseason.
Since Filip Forsberg has entered the NHL he’s been a consistent playmaker in Nashville and he has the second most points from this draft class, despite playing one less season than Alex Galchenyuk, this draft’s current leader in points.
2012: 2nd – Alex Galchenyuk – Columbus Blue Jackets
Original Pick: Ryan Murray
Before suffering a knee injury this past December, Alex Galchenyuk was on a point-per-game pace and he had clearly established himself as Montreal’s no.1 centre. Despite a torn ACL at the junior level, he was picked third overall by Montreal and they would take him again if given the chance at a do-over. For Columbus though, Ryan Murray has not panned out as the elite defenceman they’d pegged him out to be.
The Blue Jackets could use a centre with the skillset of Galchenyuk, particularly after having traded Ryan Johanssen last season. Galchenyuk has played 305 games since being drafted, by far the most of any 2012 draftees and has 187 points, despite not playing top-line minutes his whole career. If he stays healthy, he should have a great career.
2012: 3rd – Morgan Rielly – Montreal Canadiens
Original Pick: Alex Galchenyuk
Marc Bergevin recalls that he initially wanted to draft Morgan Rielly back in 2012 “I put a lot of value on defencemen, long term,” said Bergevin. Ultimatelty though, Bergevin listened to his scouts and recognized the organization’s need for a top centre. With Galchenyuk off the board here though, Rielly goes to the Canadiens.
Rielly has shown tremendous improvement the past couple of seasons playing under Mike Babcock in Toronto. Back in 2012, the Habs were pretty well set on defence and Rielly would have had an immediate mentor in Andrei Markov. Speaking of Markov, the organization is still looking for his long-term replacement. Everything’s worked out well for him, but it’s fun to imagine what he would have looked like in the bleu, blanc, rouge.
2013: 1st – Nathan MacKinnon – Colorado Avalanche
Original Pick: Nathan MacKinnon
Despite how badly Colorado has done in the past couple of seasons and the fact they are having a 2016-17 season reminiscent of the late 80s Quebec Nordiques, there’s no way they regret drafting Nathan MacKinnon. MacKinnon lit it up in his rookie year, winning the Calder Trophy after scoring 63 points. He even added seven goals in the Avs’ first round playoff loss to the Minnesota Wild.
Since then, MacKinnon’s numbers have gone down, as he’s had trouble staying healthy, but his numbers can also be attributed to a systematic failure in Colorado. Since we’re only a few years removed from 2013, we’ll give MacKinnon the benefit of the doubt that he can bounce back and show why he was drafted first overall.
2013: 2nd – Aleksander Barkov – Florida Panthers
Original Pick: Aleksander Barkov
Aleksander Barkov’s emergence last season helped the Panthers win the Atlantic Division and it seemed with him leading the offence and their no.1 pick in 2014 leading the defence, that the Panthers were destined for great things. The team has hit a huge snag this season though and part of the reason is that Jonathan Huberdeau has missed much of the season with an injury which has put more pressure on Barkov. Should he stay healthy for the rest of this season, Barkov should be able to match the 59 points he produced last year, but the Panthers will have to find a long-term solution on the wing next to Barkov.
The Panthers surprised a few people when they took Barkov second overall, but it was the right choice.
2013: 3rd – Seth Jones – Tampa Bay Lightning
Original Pick: Jonathan Drouin
Going into the 2013 draft, there was a chicken and the egg question in regard to Jonathan Drouin and Nathan MacKinnon, who were teammates with the Halifax Mooseheads. Who was more responsible for the other’s success? In a season MacKinnon was injured, Drouin stepped in and led the Mooseheads to the top of the QMJHL so that stirred up quite a debate.
Despite having a plethora of talented young forwards, the Lightning saw Drouin as the best player available and took him third overall. Drouin has shown a lot of promise this season, but considering the fiasco that went down with Drouin last season, you wonder if the Bolts would rather have Seth Jones, who they could have paired with Victor Hedman. Jones is finally looking like the blue chip prospect he was touted to be, as he’s had an amazing season in Columbus, after Nashville, who took him fourth overall, traded him a year ago.
2014: 1st – Aaron Ekblad – Florida Panthers
Original Pick: Aaron Ekblad
The Panthers haven’t messed up their draft picks, but it’s clear the organization needs help. At least they don’t have to worry about who will eat up the most ice time, as Aaron Ekblad already looks more seasoned at 20 years old than many defencemen look like in their mid 20s. Ekblad was just about as NHL ready as you could get for a rookie defenceman and he’s quickly shot up the ranks. He won the Calder Trophy in his rookie year and that’s not going to be the last individual trophy he wins.
It’d be no surprise if Ekblad wins a Norris Trophy some time in the next three years. Ideally the Panthers would like to have a young stud to be Ekblad’s blue line partner, but we could very well be talking about the league’s best defenceman in a few years.
2014: 2nd – Leon Draisaitl – Buffalo Sabres
Original Pick: Sam Reinhart
The Oilers hit a pair of home runs with their 2014 and 2015 draft picks. It was a little surprising that the Oilers took another center in 2014 after seemingly being set at the position. Well, if not for Edmonton’s 2015 pick, Draisaitl would still be a capable no.1 center for the Oilers. Draisaitl is on pace for over 70 points this season and the Oilers finally seem to be set for a return to the postseason. Other than an improved blue line the biggest reason for the Oilers contending is just how deep they are down the middle.
The Buffalo Sabres are not quite set down the middle. They took Sam Reinhart with the second overall pick and while Reinhart has shown some potential, Draisaitl’s been the better player thus far in his NHL career. That could also be because he plays on a second line, but we can’t start playing what ifs here.
2014: 3rd – David Pastrnak – Edmonton Oilers
Original Pick: Leon Draisaitl
David Pastrnak has been a very pleasant surprise for the Boston Bruins this season, as he already has 20 goals. He showed some potenial in 2015-16, he managed to score 15 goals, despite playing just 51 games. The Bruins have their weaknesses, but Pastrnak was a home run pick at 25th overall back in 2014. The Oilers may be disappointed to see Draisaitl already taken in this re-draft, but putting Pastrnak on the wing isn’t a bad consolation prize.
We still don’t quite know what Pastrnak’s ceiling is, but not many players drafted in the 20s are 20-goal scorers within just a couple of seasons. Putting Pastrnak on the opposite wing of Jordan Eberle also yields some excitement when thinking about what Pastrnak would have looked like in the Oilers’ lineup.
2015: 1st – Connor McDavid – Edmonton Oilers
Original Pick: Connor McDavid
You want to know the biggest reason for the Oilers’ turnaround? This guy. Connor McDavid has been healthy this season, unlike his rookie year, and he’s already looked every bit like the ‘franchise savior’ he was pegged out to be. McDavid has a chance to win the Art Ross Trophy this year and if the Oilers make the playoffs, which they likely will, he may even be considered for the Hart Trophy.
The Oilers won the lottery of all lotteries when they landed the first overall pick in 2015. McDavid might have even led the Oilers to a playoff berth last season had he stayed healthy. He makes everyone around him better and thanks to him, the dark days in Edmonton are over.
2015: 2nd – Jack Eichel – Buffalo Sabres
Original Pick: Jack Eichel
Jack Eichel was a pretty good consolation prize for the Buffalo Sabres, who missed out on the no.1 pick in 2015 despite finishing last in the NHL. Some draft experts went as far as to say that in any other draft year since 2005, Eichel would have been a first overall pick. Like McDavid, Eichel has run into some injury trouble as well, suffering a high ankle sprain in the preseason this year. Eichel managed to score 56 points last year and in just 28 games this year, he has 21 points.
We’re probably still a couple of years away from seeing what Eichel can really do, but if the Sabres manage to turn it around in the next couple of years, it will be due to Eichel’s efforts. The Sabres have no regrets here.
2015: 3rd – Mitch Marner – Arizona Coyotes
Original Pick: Dylan Strome
Now is where we’re really getting into the “it’s too early to judge” stage. The Arizona Coyotes selected Dylan Strome third overall in 2015, but since Strome is back in junior after a seven-game audition with the Coyotes, we have to put Mitch Marner here.
After spending an additional year in junior, Marner has had a tremendous season for the Toronto Maple Leafs as he’s part of a young core that seems destined to finally turn the Leafs around. Toronto is challenging for a playoff spot this year, and Marner’s production is certainly a big factor. Marner has 41 points in 48 games, putting him on pace for over 70. We’ll see if he his the proverbial rookie wall at some point, but so far so good.
For that reason, he goes to Arizona in our re-draft.
2016: 1st – Auston Matthews – Toronto Maple Leafs
Original Pick: Auston Matthews
Much like Connor McDavid has been the biggest reason for the Oilers’ turnaround, Auston Matthews has been the biggest reason why the Leafs have been competitive this season. Matthews didn’t take long to show the world why he was the first overall pick, as he scored four goals in his first NHL game. Matthews now sits at 23 goals through 48 games, which puts him at pace for over 40 in his first NHL season.
It’s going to take Matthews’ best play to bring the Leafs back to the playoffs, but the Maple Leafs have found the cornerstone they will build around for the foreseeable future. Matthews already possesses incredible maturity and hockey smarts, even though he’s just 19 years of age.
2016: 2nd – Patrik Laine – Winnipeg Jets
Original Pick: Patrik Laine
If there’s anybody who could challenge Matthews’ status as the consensus no.1 overall pick in a 2016 re-draft, it’d be Patrik Laine. Laine has come as advertised in Winnipeg, as he has displayed his wicked release time and time again, finding the net 23 times in his first 45 games. A concussion had him sidelined for much of January. If not for the injury, he probably would have been close to 30 goals by this point.
The Jets were very forunate in the 2016 lottery, jumping up from seventh overall to second and it was a no-brainer for them to take Laine. The Jets still have to find an answer in goal for them to return to the playoffs, but with Laine, they won’t have to worry about who will socre goals for them.
2016: 3rd – Matthew Tkachuk
Original Pick: Pierre-Luc Dubois
For much of the leadup to the 2016 draft, it was expected that Matthews would go first, Laine would go second and Laine’s Finnish teammate Jesse Puljujarvi would go third. The Blue Jackets instead opted for Pierre Luc-Dubois. Dubois didn’t make the jump to the NHL this year, as he’s playing in the Q with the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada.
Matthew Tkacuk was seen as NHL ready due to his physical style of play, and so far he seems to be a mini steal for the Flames, who took him sixth overall. Tkachuk has been a welcome addition for the Flames and he’s already scored 31 points in 48 games. His style of play is exactly what many NHL GMs and coaches look for and he definitely would have been a good fit for the blue collar mentality of John Tortorella in Columbus.
In all fairness though, we’ll have to wait a few more years to give this pick a more accurate assessment.
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