The NHL draft is unlike any other is sports. Talent can come from anywhere. Maybe the first overall pick is a bust; maybe the seventh round pick becomes a superstar; The real barometer for how good a draft was is the high-level talent it produces. Some years provide tremendous amounts of depth, while others you’re lucky to squeeze a dozen stars. Which drafts were the best in NHL history?
Number 5: 1984
The 1984 NHL draft has (so far) produced four Hall of Famers in Mario Lemieux, who was selected first overall, Patrick Roy 51st overall, Brett Hull 117th overall, and Luc Robitaille 171st overall. All of the top five picks, Lemieux, Kirk Muller, Eddie Olczyk, Al Iafrate, and Petr Svoboda had careers that spanned at least 15 seasons. Sprinkle in Gary Roberts, Scott Mellanby, Kirk McLean, Kjell Samuelsson, Don Sweeney, Gary Suter, Ray Sheppard, and Craig Billington throughout the rest of the draft and it helped define the NHL for the next decade. This draft class can also claim a baseball Hall of Famer, as Tom Glavine was selected 69th overall by the LA Kings.
Number 4: 2005
The 2005 draft can obviously boast Sidney Crosby, but it also lay claim to multiple other pillars of the current NHL landscape. Some of the top goalies in the NHL today were drafted in 2005, Carey Price fifth overall, Tuukka Rask 21st, Jonathan Quick 72nd, and Ben Bishop 85th overall. The other range of picks includes Anze Kopitar, T.J. Oshie, James Neal, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Paul Stastny, Kris Letang, Keith Yandle, and Niklas Hjalmarsson. It is also one of the few drafts whose last overall pick became a regular in the NHL, that being Patric Hornqvist.
Number 3: 1991
When three of the top six players selected are Eric Lindros, Scott Niedermayer, and Peter Forsberg, it’s already a good draft. When those three are followed up by Brian Rolston, Alexi Kovalev, Markus Naslund, Glen Murray, and Martin Rucinsky, and it’s just the first round, it goes down in history. The rest of the draft is highlighted by Ray Whitney, Ziggy Palffy, Sandis Ozolinsh, Yanic Perreault, Chris Osgood, Michael Nylander, Mike Knuble, Dmitri Yushkevich, and Sean O’Donnell among others.
Number 2: 1990
Very rarely do you get extremely deep drafts back to back, but that’s what happened in 1990 and 1991. All five of the top picks became stars in the NHL- Owen Nolan, Petr Nedved, Keith Primeau, Mike Ricci, and Jaromir Jagr. The rest of the first round produced some bona fide stars as well, that being Derian Hatcher, Keith Tkachuk, and Martin Brodeur. The second round produced goalie Felix Potvin and forwards Doug Weight, Geoff Sanderson, and Mikeal Renberg. Later round picks include Chris Therien, Alexei Zhamnov, Sergei Zubov, Roman Turek, Robert Lang, Andrei Kovalenko, Jaroslav Modry, Ken Klee, and superstar Peter Bondra who was taken 156th overall.
Number 1: 2003
The 2003 draft is mind-bogglingly deep. Only two of the first round picks played less than 200 NHL games. headlined by first overall pick Marc-Andre Fleury, some of the many notable players selected that year were Eric Staal, Ryan Suter, Dion Phaneuf, Jeff Carter, Dustin Brown, Brent Seabrook, Ryan Getzlaf, Brent Burns, Mike Richards, Corey Perry, Patrice Bergeron, Shea Weber, Corey Crawford, David Backes, Zach Parise, and that is just scraping the surface. The draft also boasts a few hidden gems in the late rounds as Joe Pavelski was taken 205th overall, Toby Enstrom 239th, Dustin Byfuglien 245th, Jaroslav Halak 271st, and Brian Elliott 291st, the second-to-last pick in the draft. All in all, 28 players have been named to at least one all-star team, by far an NHL record.
The 1983 NHL draft wasn’t necessarily about quantity as it was quality. Even though the first overall pick Brian Lawton didn’t have an overly successful career, The next six picks more than made up for it. Picks 2 to 7 went- Sylvain Turgeon, Pat LaFontaine, Steve Yzerman, Tom Barrasso, John MacLean, and Russ Courtnall. Cam Neely was taken ninth and Dave Gagner was taken 12th. The rest of the draft was sprinkled with superstars including Claude Lemieux, Esa Tikkanen, Garry Galley, Rick Tocchet, and Dominik Hasek.
Longevity and potential fringe Hall of Famers was the name of the game for the 1994 draft. The top two picks were Ed Jovanovski and Oleg Tverdovsky, who patrolled the blue line for almost 2,000 combined games. “Captain Canada” Ryan Smyth was selected sixth overall, Jeff Friesen was picked 11th, and Mattias Ohlund was selected at 13. Patrik Elias, Milan Hejduk, and Daniel Alfredsson, all potential Hall of Famers were selected throughout the draft. Maybe the most notable part of the draft was the abundance of goalies selected. Jose Theodore, Marty Turco, Tim Thomas, Evgeni Nabokov, Tomas Vokoun, and Dan Cloutier were all taken in 1994.
By: Dan Esche (@DanTheFlyeraFan)
photo credit: NHL.com