Thursday, June 18, 2009

NHL Draft. All-Time: Ups and Downs 1 - 9

Drafting is an inexact science -- for every late-round gem (Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk), there's a high pick that didn't work out the way the a team had planned (Patrik Stefan).

Here's a look at some of the best choices in the history of the Entry Draft, as determined by where they were selected among the top 30 picks. (Up and coming includes players taken from 2004-08)


No. 1: Mario Lemieux (Pittsburgh, 1984) -- If the Penguins had not drafted Lemieux in 1984, the franchise likely would have left Pittsburgh two decades ago. Lemieux was brilliant from the day he arrived, and eventually the Penguins built a supporting cast that helped him lead the franchise to back-to-back Stanley Cups in 1991-92. Had he stayed healthy, it would have been interesting to see whether he could have broken some of Wayne Gretzky's scoring records. He was perhaps the most physically talented player in NHL history.

Runners-up: Guy Lafleur (1971), Denis Potvin (1973)
Up and coming: Alex Ovechkin (2004), Sidney Crosby (2005); Patrick Kane (2007)
Disappointment: Patrik Stefan (1999)

No. 2: Brendan Shanahan (New Jersey, 1987) -- Shanahan's career came full circle in 2008-09 when he re-signed with the Devils, the team he began his career with more than two decades earlier. He's one of the great power forwards of any era, with 656 goals, 1,354 points, 2,489 penalty minutes, three Stanley Cups -- and a Hall of Fame berth as soon as he's eligible, which could be soon depending on whether he plays next season.

Runners-up: Marcel Dionne (1971), Chris Pronger (1993)
Up and coming: Evgeni Malkin (2004), Drew Doughty (2008)
Disappointment: Dave Chyzowski (1989)

No. 3: Scott Niedermayer (New Jersey, 1991) -- Few defensemen in NHL history have had Niedermayer's wheels -- he's as swift and smooth a skater as you'll ever see. Niedermayer's offensive numbers were held down somewhat because he played much of his career with the defense-first Devils. There were benefits, however -- he helped the Devils to three Stanley Cups and then captained Anaheim to another in 2007. He became a Devil in one of Lou Lamoriello's greatest trades -- the New Jersey GM dealt journeyman defenseman Tom Kurvers to Toronto in 1989 for the pick that turned into Niedermayer.

Runners-up: Denis Savard (1980), Pat LaFontaine (1983)
Up and coming: Jack Johnson (2005), Jonathan Toews (2006)
Disappointment: Neil Brady (1986)

No. 4: Steve Yzerman (Detroit, 1983) -- It's hard to believe now, but then-Wings GM Jim Devellano actually hoped to get Pat LaFontaine with the fourth pick in 1983, because LaFontaine had played locally and might help sell tickets. Instead, the Wings had to "settle" for Yzerman, who came into the NHL as a high scorer but later showed he was willing to trade individual points for team wins. The result was three Stanley Cups in six seasons, all of them with Yzerman as captain.

Runners-up: Mike Gartner (1979), Ron Francis (1981)
Up and coming: Niklas Backstrom (2006)
Disappointment: Alexandre Volchkov (1996)

No. 5: Jaromir Jagr (Pittsburgh, 1990) -- Missing the playoffs on the last night of the regular season is painful, but the Penguins' consolation prize for their near-miss in 1990 was Jagr. The Czech teenager turned into the perfect sidekick for Mario Lemieux and was a key to the Penguins' back-to-back Cup wins in 1991 and '92. He owns five NHL scoring titles, a Hart Trophy and seven First-Team All-Star berths, as well as five 100-point seasons. His combination of speed, skill and power is matched by very few players in NHL history.

Runners-up: Scott Stevens (1982), Tom Barrasso (1983)
Up and coming: Carey Price (2005); Luke Schenn (2008)
Disappointment: Daniel Dore (1988)

No. 6: Peter Forsberg (Philadelphia, 1991) -- Talk about the one that got away -- the Flyers drafted Forsberg with the sixth pick, but traded him to Quebec a year later in the Eric Lindros deal. Forsberg became one of the NHL's toughest skill players, a center who could beat you with a shot, a pass or just by running over you. It's hard to imagine how good he'd have been if injuries hadn't slowed him down and ultimately cut short his career.

Runners-up: Phil Housley (1982), Vincent Damphousse (1986)
Up and coming: Eric Johnson (2006), Sam Gagner (2007)
Disappointment: Daniel Tkaczuk (1997)

No. 7: Bernie Federko (St. Louis, 1976) -- At (maybe) 6 feet tall and all of 178 pounds, Federko hardly was a physical presence, but he more than made up for any lack of physicality with his hockey skills, which helped him pile up 369 goals and 1,130 points in exactly 1,000 games on the way to the Hall of Fame. He was the first player in NHL history to earn at least 50 assists in 10 consecutive seasons (1978-79 to 1987-88).

Runners-up: Bill Barber (1972), Shane Doan (1995)
Up and coming: Rostislav Olesz (2004); Kyle Okposo (2006)
Disappointment: Ryan Sittler (1992)

No. 8: Ray Bourque (Boston, 1979) -- Bourque stepped right into the NHL from junior hockey in 1979 and didn't step out until he skated away as a Stanley Cup champion with Colorado in 2001. Bourque holds all the NHL career scoring marks for defensemen (410 goals, 1,169 assists, 1,579 points), was a First-Team All-Star 13 times -- including 2000-01, when he turned 41 -- and won the Norris Trophy as the NHL's best defenseman five times. Bourque rarely was flashy, but almost always brilliant.

Runners-up: Grant Fuhr (1981), Jeremy Roenick (1988)
Up and coming: Devin Setoguchi (2005), Peter Mueller (2006)
Disappointment: Rocky Trottier (1982)

No. 9: Brian Leetch (N.Y. Rangers, 1986) -- Leetch, who spent most of his career with the Rangers, arguably is the greatest U.S.-born player in NHL history. He joined the Rangers after one season at Boston College and a stint with the 1988 U.S. Olympic team and never stopped putting up points. Leetch won the 1989 Calder Trophy, took home the Norris Trophy twice and led the Rangers to the 1994 Stanley Cup (their only one since 1940) while becoming the first (and still only) American to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.

Runners-up: Cam Neely (1983), Rod Brind'Amour (1988)
Up and coming: James Sheppard (2006); Josh Bailey (2008)
Disappointment: Brett Lindros (1994)

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