With the early round draft picks of the 2011 entry draft coming to terms with contracts with their new squads, I figured I would break down the 5 greatest draft picks ever in the history of the glorious National Hockey League. Now people immediately begin to think of draft picks like Crosby, Ovechkin, Malkin, etc. but they will not be included in this countdown. Why? Because they were kind of obvious selections. Crosby was a first overall pick in 2005, and Ovie and Geno went one, two, respectively, in 2004.
All 3 of these picks worked out, unlike some picks selected in the top 5 overall in decades past… (see Alexandre Volchkov, Pavel Brendl, and Jason Bonisgnore). What goes into this selection are those players that were selected at a later round, or seemingly out of no where, and ended up being NHL superstars.
Number Five: Nicklas Lidstrom (Detroit Red Wings, 53rd Overall in 1989)
The Swedish born defenseman was a surprise pick by the Wings when his name was announced during the second round of the 1989 draft. European players were still seen as a risky move in the NHL and Lidstrom wasn’t exactly dominating the SEL (Swedish Elite League), where he played for Vasteras IK. After being drafted, Lidstrom accumulated 39 points over 77 games in Sweden, and was brought up to the show for the 1991-92 season mainly due to his size and defensive abilities. What the Red Wings found out was they found one of the shiniest diamonds ever found in the rough of the NHL draft. The current captain of the wings has spent all 19 seasons with Detroit, has won 7 Norris trophies (award given to the NHL’s top defenseman), 4 Stanley Cup rings, a Gold Medal in 2006 at the Winter Olympics, has been in 11 All-Star games, and was named the “NHL Player of the Decade” by Sports Illustrated. Not bad for a guy selected on the back end of the second round on a wimb. Lidstrom has 1291 points in 1752 career games in the NHL, and will return to the Red Wings blue line for his 20th season this fall.
Number Four: Brett Hull (Calgary Flames, 117th Overall in 1984)
Scouts were somehow skeptical of Hull’s skill even though his father, Bobby Hull (whose autographed picture hangs above my nightstand by the way), is arguably the greatest left winger to ever play the game and revolutionized the position in the 1960s and early 70s. Brett dominated throughout his junior career, where he played 2 years with the Penticton Knights in the BCJHL, notching 292 points in 107 games. After being drafted, Brett went and played a pair of seasons for the University of Minnesota-Duluth, where he displayed his scoring potential – putting up 84 goals in 90 contests. Hull spent his first 2 years bouncing around between the AHL and NHL, and it wasn’t until he was traded to the St. Louis Blues during the 1987-88 season where he started to take off as a scoring dynamo. Brett spent his next 10 full seasons with the Blues, where he had 922 points in 733 games. He would end his career with 3-year stints in both Dallas, and Detroit, and is remembered by many hockey fans due to his controversial overtime goal in game 6 of the 1999 stanley cup finals for the Dallas Stars, where his skate looked to be in the crease as he slid the cup winning goal passed Dominik Hasek. Brett Hull would finish his career with 1391 points, good enough for 21st all time in NHL history. He is also the NHL’s all time scoring leader among American born players.
View the goal for yourself… Legit or no?
Number Three: Dominik Hasek (Chicago Blackhawks, 199th Overall in 1983)
Dominik Hasek wouldn’t make his way over to the States until 1990, and would be traded in 1992 from Chicago to Buffalo. He was the first goaltender to revolutionize the position since Terry Sawchuk in the 1950’s and 60’s. Hasek would eventually win two Stanley Cup rings with the Detroit Red Wings, but is better known for the nine years he spent as a Buffalo Sabre. He would win 6 Vezina trophies as the leagues best goalie in Buffalo, and perhaps an even more impressive 2 Hart Trophies, which is given to the player “adjudged most valuable to his team.” Hasek won the award in back-to-back seasons in 1996-97 and 1997-98 and was the first goaltender to win the award since Jacque Plante in 1962. “The Dominater” is best known for his unorthodox style of netminding and extreme athleticism, he retired from the NHL after the 2008 season. He is 11th all-time in Wins, and finished with a 2.20 Goals Against Average throughout his career, which is lower than any other goaltender in the top 30 for wins.
Not the best fighter though, as number 5 on TSN’s countdown of Hasek’s top 10 moments shows…
Number Two: Patrick Roy (Montreal Canadiens, 51st overall in 1984)
Patrick Roy was the 3rd goalie selected in the 1984 draft, looked over by New Jersey and Edmonton, who selected Craig Billington and Daryl Reaugh, respectively, before Montreal took Roy off the board. Patrick Roy would go on to become arguably the greatest goaltender of all-time. He is one of only two goaltenders to play over 1000 games (Martin Brodeur the other), and is second all-time in wins with 551. Roy won four Stanley Cups: two with Montreal, and two with the Colorado Avalanche. He is also the only goaltender in NHL history to win the Conn Smythe Trophy (given to the MVP of the playoffs) three times. He is notorious for his toughness, as well as perfecting the Butterfly style of goaltending, which is the common technique taught to Canadian goaltenders. Roy holds numerous records, including the record for most consecutive overtime wins in the playoffs with 10. Roy is also one of only six players to have his number (33) retired by two teams.
Number One: Mark Messier (Edmonton Oilers, 48th Overall in 1979)
The most interesting thing about the 1979 draft is the fact that there were two different draft classes because the league changed the draft age from 19 to 18. As a result, the draft was stacked with talent. Some of the players selected before Messier include Mike Gartner (1335 career points), Ray Bourque (1579 career points), Michel Goulet (1152 career points), and Dale Hunter (1020 career points). As an 18 year-old in the WHA, playing for the Cincinnati Stingers, Messier failed to shine, accumulating only 11 points and 58 penalty minutes in 47 games, which failed to give him a blue-chip target as the draft approached. Many scouts saw him as more of a grinding forward, as opposed to a goal scorer. Edmonton couldn’t have foreseen the career Messier would go on to have. “The Messiah” had a 25-year NHL career with the Edmonton Oilers, Vancouver Canucks, and the New York Rangers, and is notarized as one of the greatest leaders in the history of sports. He won 6 Stanley Cups, and is the only player in the history of professional sports to captain two different professional organizations to championships. Messier was a 15-time All Star and also won 2 Hart trophies. He is the NHL’s second leading scorer of all time (behind only Wayne Gretzky), and finished his career with 694 goals and 1193 assists, in 1756 contests. Messier is notorious for publicly guaranteeing a victory before game 6 of the 1994 Eastern Conference Finals, where they were down 3-2 in the series against division rival New Jersey. He would go on to famously record a natural hat-trick and lead the Rangers to their first Stanley Cup in 54 years.
It gives me chills watching the highlight:
Henrik Zetterberg (Detroit Red Wings, 210th Overall in 1999)
Pavel Datsyuk (Detroit Red Wings, 171st Overall in 1998)
Luc Robitaille (Los Angeles Kings, 171st Overall in 1984)
Mark Recchi (Pittsburgh Penguins, 67th Overall in 1988)
And just so I can shout out to Sault Ste. Marie:
Rick Tocchet (Philadelphia Flyers, 121st Overall in 1983)