Amateur scouting is just about the biggest uncertainty in sports, particularly in the NHL. When teams are scouting a player, they can't only look to who they feel will help them right away, but a player they think will help them five years down the line. They pick apart everything from their body frame, to their stickhandling, skating, hockey sense, passing, shooting and even look for intangibles. With all these factors to consider, it's no wonder so many mistakes will be made when scouting a player.
That's what causes potential stars to slide in the draft and for future NHL duds to look like stars at the junior level.
Today, we're going to be looking back in history at a bunch of NHL stars that were drafted far too low for the value they eventually brought to the league. We'll be looking back at their draft year, seeing where they were picked and where they should have been picked. We will then reveal the team that held that pick, so these players will be ending up on new teams in this fantasy world. It can be anything from a seventh round pick going in the top five, or simply a 9th overall pick making the jump to no.1. It's all about re-drafting the player where they should have been drafted and showing you where they would have ended up.
Think of it as living in a world where all scouts are perfect and a star player is always drafted in the right spot. It is now time to look at revisionist history and re-assigning players to the teams that should have drafted them, based on where that team was picking in that particular draft year. In the interest of balance, we'll be including both current and past NHL stars and try to find as many draft years as possible.
20 Anze Kopitar - 2nd Overall - Mighty Ducks of Anaheim
The 2005 NHL Draft has turned into one of the deeper draft classes in NHL history. It was also the year that the Sidney Crosby sweepstakes quickly put an end to the ill feelings from fans regarding the lockout. The Pittsburgh Penguins won the draft lottery and with it they got the right to draft the greatest prospect in decades. Due to Crosby being drafted, even a player like Anze Kopitar can't surpass him at no.1. Somehow though, Kopitar fell to 12th, where the Kings got an absolute steal. Carey Price could have taken this spot too, but the more pressing need for Anaheim at the time was up front.
If Kopitar was drafted where he should have been, he would have stayed in California, but about 45 minutes outside of Los Angeles. The Mighty Ducks selected Bobby Ryan second overall and for a while, it looked like Ryan was the right pick, but his production eventually slipped and the Ducks shipped him to Ottawa. With Kopitar, the Ducks would have had a monster one-two punch down the middle with Ryan Getzlaf and Anze Kopitar. This pick would have shifted the balance of power in the Freeway Face-Off and we'd be talking about a Duck Dynasty. (Sorry about the weak pun.)
19 Chris Chelios - 5th Overall, 1981 - Colorado Rockies
Chris Chelios somehow fell to 40th overall in the 1981 NHL Draft, but that draft class was so stacked, it's hard to peg him first overall. While Chelios won the battle of longevity, the gap isn't wide enough for him to pass names like Dale Hawerchuk, Ron Francis and Al MacInnis. With other stars moving up in a 1981 re-draft, Chelios finds himself going fifth overall to the Colorado Rockies in a re-draft, who would eventually become the New Jersey Devils.
The Devils built their Stanley Cup teams on a strong blue line and Chelios would have fit in well with them. As said before, Chelios had longevity, as he played the game of hockey into his mid 40s. He won three Norris trophies in his career and undoubtedly would have been a better pick than Joe Cirella, who was a very good NHL player, but he was no Chelios.
18 Mark Messier - 1st Overall, 1979 - Colordaro Rockies
Wow, all of a sudden the Colorado Rockies are looking stacked, aren't they? Messier's was a unique situation, as he was still in the WHA when being drafted into the NHL. He came around at the time of the merger, which may have had teams looking over his raw skills. He slipped to the third round of the draft and was taken by his hometown Edmonton Oilers.
Messier went on to become one of the greatest leaders in hockey history and finished his career second in points, behind only Wayne Gretzky on the all-time list. In this scenario, Messier wouldn't be playing second fiddle to anyone, as he would have been the Rockies' first big star, assuming they didn't make the move to New Jersey. It's hard to tell whether Messier would have benefited more, in terms of his value had he not been in the shadow of Gretzky in Edmonton, but it sure is fun to think about him in a Rockies uniform.
17 Jamie Benn - 3rd Overall, 2007 - Phoenix Coyotes
The 2007 draft was all about late round steals, as both Jamie Benn and P.K. Subban were taken in the draft, but neither went in the first round. Benn and Subban are interchangeable at the no.2 and no.3 picks behind Patrick Kane, but there's a reason why Benn goes no.3 here, which we'll explain later.
Benn going to the Coyotes would have given them a budding young star behind an aging Shane Doan and by this point, Benn would be the face of the Coyotes. The Yotes instead took Kyle Turris, another center. Turris has since become a very good NHL player, but is in Ottawa. Benn is a complete center who does it all for his team and would have been a perfect leader in the desert.
Benn has won an Art Ross trophy and has led the resurgence of the Dallas Stars in the past couple of years.
16 P.K. Subban - 2nd Overall, 2007 - Philadelphia Flyers
The reason P.K. Subban gets the nod here in going behind Patrick Kane is that for the longest time, the Flyers have needed a no.1 defenceman. They addressed this need in a trade for Chris Pronger a couple years after this draft, but Subban would still be leading the way today for a Flyers team that has only now found a solution in Shayne Gostisbehere. Getting Gostisbehere doesn't change the fact that for the last decade, the Flyers have had trouble finding a solution on the back end, which led to them signing Shea Weber to a ridiculous offer sheet and overpaying for Mark Streit.
The fiery fans in Philadelphia would have loved having Subban on their team. He also would have thrived in being a villain, as that comes with being a Flyer. With Subban manning their blueline, the Flyers would have transitioned far better following the retirement of Chris Pronger.
15 Theoren Fleury - 4th Overall, 1987 - Los Angeles Kings
Theo Fleury was one of the biggest steals in draft history, as he went 166th overall to the Calgary Flames due to concerns over his size at the NHL level. He also had some off-ice concerns that scared some teams away and Fleury has been very open about the demons he battled throughout his NHL career. This was an amazing draft year, so Fleury can't make the jump to first overall, but looking back at the talent from the '87 draft, Fleury going fourth overall is pretty fair. This would have had Fleury landing with the Los Angeles Kings, which would have transitioned beautifully into the Wayne Gretzky era. Just one year after Fleury was drafted, Gretzky was traded to L.A. and Fleury would have thrived playing alongside The Great One.
Fleury recorded 455 goals and totaled 1,088 points in his career and those totals likely would have been higher playing alongside Gretzky.
14 Ryan Getzlaf - 1st Overall, 2003 - Pittsburgh Penguins
Trying to decide who would go first in a re-draft of the 2003 class was no easy feat. You could make a case for at least 10 other players from that year, but we'll go with Getzlaf here. This was the year the Penguins kicked off a legendary draft by selecting goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. While Fleury has done well for Pittsburgh, many will agree that taking a goaltender first overall is incredibly risky business.
This was before the Penguins took Sidney Crosby, so the need for a no.1 centre was still there. With that need, in would go Ryan Getzlaf. Getzlaf wouldn't make the NHL for a couple of more years, but he would have well been worth the wait. With Getzlaf, the future Penguins would have had Crosby, Malkin and Getzlaf up the middle. The only problem arising from this was how would they pay all three centres? That's a good problem to have.
13 Jonathan Toews - 1st Overall, 2006 - St. Louis Blues
While the St. Louis Blues finally exercised their demons and defeated the Chicago Blackhawks this year, part of their playoff shortcomings in previous years had to do with the Hawks standing in their way. Jonathan Toews was haunting the Blues, a team that passed on him with the first overall pick in 2006 in favor of Erik Johnson. Johnson never lived up to expectations with the Blues, and while he is a good defenceman today, he hasn't lived up to the hype of a no.1 overall pick.
Toews was the class of the 2006 draft, which had some good talent, but his leadership has helped the Hawks to three Stanley Cups since 2010 and he is widely regarded as the best captain in the game. Drafting Toews surely could have helped the Blues end their long Stanley Cup drought and it might have been the Hawks falling short year after year.
12 Pavel Bure - 4th Overall, 1989 - Winnipeg Jets
The 1989 draft is arguably the greatest draft class in NHL history, so Pavel Bure going fourth overall is no slight to the Russian Rocket. When you find out the three that are above Bure on this list you'll understand.
Bure ended up falling all the way to the sixth round because many teams weren't aware that the Soviet was eligible to be drafted. They were also unsure if he would defect from the Soviet Union. The Canucks reaped the rewards and got an absolute steal. Vancouver made plenty of draft mistakes in the 80s, but this is one where they absolutely fleeced other teams by doing their homework.
In our re-draft, the Jets could have landed him at fourth overall and Winnipeg fans would have been treated with an absolute star, who would have been joined by Teemu Selanne to create one of the most exciting duos in hockey.
11 Pavel Datsyuk - 2nd Overall, 1998 - Nashville Predators
The Detroit Red Wings have made the playoffs for 25 straight years because they have managed to land goldmines late in drafts. They never picked in the top 10, due to their constant playoff appearances, but were able to transition from the old guard to the new guard due to those late round gems. Pavel Datsyuk was one of them, as he drafted 171st overall in 1998. Vincent Lecavalier went first in 1998 and while the last few years of his career have soured opinions on him, Lecavalier was an NHL-ready player in 1998 and he did dominate for several years.
Datsyuk was more of a project, but in a weak class like 1998 and knowing how good Datsyuk became, he goes 2nd overall to the Nashville Predators in this re-draft. Datsyuk has now retired from the NHL and has finished his career with 918 points in 953 games. The Preds have spent years seeking an offensive wizard and Datsyuk was exactly that, on top of being a responsible player in his own end.
10 Henrik Zetterberg - 1st Overall, 1999 - Atlanta Thrashers
Henrik Zetterberg is still the captain of the Red Wings and he has been one of the elite two way players of the NHL for the better part of the 21st century. He has now slowed down, but looking back at the 1999 draft, it's crazy to think that Zetterberg went down to 210th overall.
The Sedins were the class of the first round but they insisted on playing together. The Atlanta Thrashers were just starting off as a franchise and were in no position to trade assets to land two of the top three picks. That's what puts Zetterberg first overall to the Thrashers. Atlanta would have had to been very patient with Zetterberg, but they were an expansion team, so time was on their side. It also would have saved them a lot of heartache in drafting Patrik Stefan first overall.
9 Daniel Alfredsson - 1st Overall, 1994 - Florida Panthers
Daniel Alfredsson was the cream of the 1994 class, a draft that saw Ed Jovanovski go first overall to the Florida Panthers. Jovanovski was a very good defenceman, but Alfredsson was a franchise player who put the Senators on his back for so many years. The Florida Panthers could have reaped the benefits of Alfie's leadership and he would have enjoyed a luxurious life in the Sunshine State. Perhaps they would have avoided their slide as a franchise following their 1996 Stanley Cup Final loss. Imagine Alfredsson plying his trade while not having to deal with the high pressure environment of a Canadian market.
The 1994 draft was full of solid players, but wasn't very deep on high-end talent. Alfredsson going first overall wasn't that bold of a decision. He holds just about every Senators franchise record, finishing his career with 1,157 points and 444 goals.
8 Brett Hull - 3rd Overall, 1984 - Chicago Blackhawks
The 1984 draft was simply too good for even one of the best snipers in NHL history to make the jump to first overall. This was the Mario Lemieux draft year, so putting Brett Hull at no.3 is fair. Hull went 117th overall to the Calgary Flames. Hull would go on to score 741 goals in his career and his points totaled to 1,391 points.
Who was picking at no.3 that year? Hull's father's old team, the Chicago Blackhawks. It would have been such a perfect story for Hull to join his dad's old team and lead a turnaround for that franchise. The Blackhawks began to find success after the Oilers' run of dominance ended in the early 90s. Putting Hull on the Chicago teams of the early 90s would have made it far more of a series with the Penguins in the 1992 finals.
7 Patrick Roy - 2nd Overall, 1984 - New Jersey Devils
We told you 1984 was a strong draft year. In one draft, you had perhaps the greatest player of his generation, the best sniper and the best goaltender. The New Jersey Devils were well before the Martin Brodeur era and adding Patrick Roy would have seen them start their ascent as a franchise far earlier. By the time he was 20 years old, Roy was already leading the Canadiens to a Stanley Cup. It's really fun to think about Roy in a Devils uniform, as he was often compared to Martin Brodeur, with endless debate over who was the better goaltender.
With this pick, it's unlikely the Canadiens would have had their two Stanley Cups in 1986 and 1993 and would still be sitting at 22 and facing a near 40-year drought. The Habs got an absolute steal that year when they were able to take Roy 51st overall.
6 Sergei Fedorov - 3rd Overall, 1989 - Toronto Maple Leafs
The 1989 draft was epic and it was a perfect opportunity for teams picking high to find the next face of their franchise. The Quebec Nordiques found theirs, when they took Mats Sundin first overall, but the rest of the top five picks were incredibly underwhelming. When looking at the talent of the 1989 draft, Sergei Fedorov, in a perfect world, would have landed with the Toronto Maple Leafs, who instead used the pick on Scott Thornton. This pick was another big miss for the Leafs.
Federov was coming over from the Soviet Union, which was probably why he slipped to the fourth round. Not many were sure whether Fedorov would defect, but while CSKA Moscow was in Portland for the Goodwill Games, Fedorov slipped out of his hotel room and got on a plane to Detroit, where he signed with the Red Wings. Fedorov would become one of the league's superstars of the 90s and helped the Wings to their late 90s dynasty.
5 Joe Sakic - 1st Overall, 1987 - Buffalo Sabres
Pierre Turgeon wasn't a bad selection by the Buffalo Sabres at first overall, but Joe Sakic was one of the greatest leaders and one of the best players of his generation. Sakic led the Avalanche to two Stanley Cups and set multiple franchise records, having played his entire career with the Quebec Nordiques/Colorado Avalanche franchise.
His records with Colorado include most all-time goals (625), assists (1,016) and points (1,641). It's fun to think of what the Buffalo Sabres could have done had they made Sakic their top pick. Turgeon ended up being traded to the New York Islanders by the 1991-92 season, but Sakic was one of the NHL's elite players well into the 21st century. The Sabres made a strong run to the 1999 Stanley Cup Final and it would have been interesting to see a Sabres team led by Sakic up front going up against Mike Modano's Dallas Stars.
4 Jaromir Jagr - 2nd Overall, 1990 - Vancouver Canucks
Jaromir Jagr is still playing all these years later, which might tell you he should have gone first overall in 1990, but there's a good ending to this story, so stay with us. The Vancouver Canucks held the second overall pick that year and ended up going with Petr Nedved who was a good player, but became notorious for holding out for longer contracts. Seeing Jagr play in a rowdy Canadian market would have been amazing, as it seems to be the only thing Jagr hasn't done in his career.
Jagr is now third on the all-time NHL scoring list and if he plays a few more years, he can even challenge Messier at the no.2 spot. With Jagr on their team, the Canucks probably could have gotten the edge over the Rangers in the 1994 Stanley Cup Finals and they would have kept a higher profile in the NHL throughout much of the 90s. Imagine a universe where Jagr and Pavel Bure were playing on the same team!
3 Teemu Selanne - 2nd Overall, 1988 - Vancouver Canucks
Oh boy, just what kind of team could the Canucks have had? The Canucks routinely found themselves picking early in the drafts of the late 80s and early 90s and these just happened to be some of the most stacked classes in NHL history. Mike Modano retains his spot at first overall, because it's always harder to find a center.
There is a sacrifice for Selanne going second overall here, as that would knock Trevor Linden down a few pegs. If you value leadership over raw talent, then you're upset at that prospect. Linden is the most beloved Vancouver Canuck of all time, but the temptation of putting Selanne in Vancouver was too thrilling to pass. Going by the nature of this list, the Canucks are getting some of the league's most high profile scorers of all time.
2 Nicklas Lidstrom - 1st Overall, 1989 - Quebec Nordiques
Nicklas Lidstrom was the best defenceman of his generation, which is why he's worthy of passing someone even as great as Mats Sundin for the first pick of the 1989 draft. Lidstrom would have anchored the Quebec (or Colorado) blueline for decades and his going to that franchise would have prevented the Red Wings from getting one-up on Colorado in the rivalry. Red Wings fans must be sickened at the thought of this. Lidstorm won four Stanley Cups and an astounding seven Norris Trophies in his career, so in what world is that not worthy of a first overall pick?
Luckily for the Wings, scouting in Europe wasn't quite what it is today, so Lidstrom slipped all the way to them at the 53rd pick. It's still crazy to think of the thought of Lidstrom being on the other side of the Avalanche/Red Wings rivalry.
1 Martin Brodeur - 1st Overall, 1990 - Quebec Nordiques
Martin Brodeur set just about every goaltending record there is, so that is why he gets the top spot in the 1990 draft. Had the Quebec Nordiques been aware of how big of a star the Montreal native was going to be, they would have snatched him up in a heartbeat. It would have been quite the amazing dynamic with the Montreal born Brodeur playing for the Nordiques while the Quebec City native Roy would be manning the crease in Montreal. Maybe the teams eventually would have swapped goaltenders to get their hometown kid.
Brodeur slipped all the way to 20th overall in the 1990 draft. He wasn't even the first goaltender selected in this draft, as Trevor Kidd went 11th overall to the Calgary Flames. The Nordiques still made a good pick in getting Owen Nolan first overall, but Brodeur should have been the selection.
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