Predicting what will happen on Draft day is about as easy as picking where lightning will strike. Even more foggy is how those picks will pan out. We all know about busts like Alexandre Daigle and Patrik Stefan, but I’m going to take a look at the top 3 picks from each NHL Entry Draft since 2003.
Why 2003? Well, we all know that 2003 is widely considered the strongest draft class in NHL history. All but one first round pick has played in the NHL and many of them have been quite successful.
2003: 1. Marc-Andre Fleury (PIT), 2. Eric Staal (CAR), 3. Nathan Horton (FLA)
It was probably debatable who was better to take 1st overall between Fleury and Staal, but it worked out well for both clubs. The Hurricanes already had their future franchise keeper in Cam Ward, and the Pens were soon to pick up both Crosby and Malkin (and another Staal). Both teams have since raised Lord Stanley.
Florida, on the other hand, might take a redo on their pick. Don’t get me wrong, Horton is a very good player who still has upside. However, look at some of the names picked in the first round after Horton; Thomas Vanek, Dion Phaneuf, Jeff Carter, Dustin Brown, Zach Parise, Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Kesler, Mike Richards, and Corey Perry. Who would you take if you could do it over?
2004: 1. Alex Ovechkin (WAS), 2. Evgeni Malkin (PIT), 3. Cam Barker (CHI)
No need to waste a lot of time listing Ovechkin and Malkin’s credentials. It’s the third pick that yet again is questionable. I’m sure at the time, the scouting would show Barker to be a top flight prospect. While he is a good player, can you argue his talents over Alexander Radulov, Travis Zajac, Wojtek Wolski, or Mike Green?
2005: 1. Sidney Crosby (PIT), 2. Bobby Ryan (ANA), 3. Jack Johnson (CAR)
Again, the top pick is academic. Recently, Bobby Ryan has silenced the critics who questioned the Ducks for taking him second overall. He’s put together 2 strong seasons and gives Anaheim another elite offensive weapon.
The Jack Johnson pick is a little grey. First, Carolina traded him after a dispute over the direction of his career. Since then, he has been a bit of an enigma for the Kings. Although the tail end of the 09-10 season would show that Johnson can handle a top-pair role in the NHL, his efforts up until then were shaky at best.
However, who could argue with Carolina for taking him third overall after the young career he had up until the draft?
2006: 1. Erik Johnson (STL), 2. Jordan Staal (PIT), 3. Jonathan Toews (CHI)
Starting to see how you build a Stanley Cup winner? That’s right, have a top 2 pick for 4 straight seasons. Aside from that, this year was interesting. Johnson, Staal, and Toews were a little bit closer in their rankings and it was probably a bit harder to choose which to take. Johnson had the bearing of a franchise defenseman, Staal had great skill and the “Staal” pedigree, and Toews was a flashy center as well.
It appears St. Louis made the right decision as they possess a great group of young forwards, and without Johnson they might look a little thin on the blue line. If the Penguins had taken Toews over Staal they might have had the problem (I use that word loosely) of three #1 centers. Staal has the offensive skill, but also the defensive acumen. Would he have blossomed into a #1 center if he had that room to grow? Given their current position, you know Chicago isn’t second guessing themselves.
Then again, who was the #4 pick? 100 point center Nicklas Backstom. Just some other names from the 1st round; Phil Kessel, Derrick Brassard, Kyle Okposo, Peter Mueller, Michael Frolik, Bryan Little, Jonathan Bernier, Chris Stewart, Claude Giroux, Semyon Varlamov, and Nick Foligno. Potential rival to 2003′s draft class?
2007: 1. Patrick Kane (CHI), 2. James Van Riemsdyk (PHI), 3. Kyle Turris (PHO)
Perhaps the closest 1-2-3 of all time, these guys were all potential 1st overall picks come draft day. I read reports from scouting agencies that each had a different guy going 1st overall. The NHL’s own Central Scouting Bureau had Turris at No. 1, Kane at No. 2, and JVR at No. 3.
Although Turris is still quite young and has boatloads of upside, both Chicago and Philadelpia are cashing in on the decision to pass on Turris. Both Kane and Van Riemsdyk are playing for the Stanley Cup, while Turris spent the season in the AHL.
Turris is certainly not considered a draft bust (yet), but what did Chicago and Philly see in Turris that made them pass? When their skills match up so closely, it had to be something that made them go with Kane and Van Riemsdyk, respectively. To venture outside that top-3, Russian prospect Alexei Cherepanov, who later tragically passed away during a KHL game, was ranked in the Top 5. He was expected to drop due to questions on whether he would come to North America or stay in Russia, but no one expected a drop to 17th overall.
Months earlier, Angelo Esposito was supposed to be 1st overall. He was taken 20th by Pittsburgh, traded to Atlanta, and has yet to set foot on NHL ice. The Scouts were good to track his fall from grace and prevent an NHL team from embarrassment.
2008: 1. Steven Stamkos (TBL), 2. Drew Doughty (LAK), 3. Zach Bogosian (ATL)
Another dynamite top-3. Although Bogosian has had a rough start in the NHL, breaking his leg and missing significant time, he tallied 9 goals and 10 assists in just 47 games (on defense, mind you) and figures to be Atlanta’s future on the blue line. Despite a tough rookie season in Tampa, Stamkos exploded as a sophomore by scoring 51 goals and earning the Rocket Richard Trophy (shared with Sidney Crosby).
Some doubted the Kings choice to take Doughty over Bogosian, citing weight issues. Kings GM Dean Lombardi himself said that Doughty’s body was very immature at the time they drafted him and still could use some work. However, Doughty just finished a season where he led his team in playoff scoring, won a Gold Medal for Canada in the Olympics, and was nominated as a Norris Trophy Candidate, and all at the tender age of 20.
I doubt any of those 3 teams would change their minds given the chance. However, the 8 teams that skipped Tyler Myers might want a do-over.
2009: 1. John Tavares (NYI), 2. Victor Hedman (TBL), 3. Matt Duchene (COL)
It was pretty clear that Tavares would be the No. 1 guy in 2009, despite the many conversations on Hedman and potentially Duchene. There was even a fake Twitter account in the name of John Tavares that spawned speculation that the Isles might take Duchene over him. In the end, it came out as predicted.
Tavares had a decent season on the Island, but the lack of support is really telling. He will have to mature fast if he is going to helm this team to success. Hedman, lauded for his ability to be an instant impact for an NHL team, was underwhelming. He did instantly make the Tampa squad, but is not quite the 6’6″ Lidstrom he is supposed to be yet.
Duchene no doubt was the best of the 3 in his freshman campaign, outscoring Tavares (by 1 point), registering a plus-1 (contrasted to Tavares’s minus-15), and helping his team reach the playoffs (Islanders finished 13th in the East).
Let me be clear, the story of these players is not yet written and it is easy to make these observations in retrospect. They are all still quite young and have plenty of time to prove their respective teams right, and the naysayers wrong. What factor will be the little difference that pushes Hall above Seguin, or Fowler above Gudbranson, or vice-versa?
Who will be the team this year to snipe that late 1st round gem? Who will pick up that late draft gem (probably Detroit)? Which team will end up wishing they had June 25th-26th, 2010 to do all over again?
About the Author
Written by Eric Cooney
Eric Cooney was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina, and lives in Los Angeles, CA. He shares his thoughts on the NHL as one man who is a northerner, southerner, east coaster, and west coaster. Follow him on Twitter @EricCooney