The NHL Draft is where teams find their future superstars. While that’s easy (relatively speaking, at least) to do when picking first overall, sometimes diamonds are found in the rough. We’ve looked through every NHL Draft to find the best pick from every class. Value matters, but some first-overall picks still made the list. Let's get started!
Dahlin was the first-overall pick, but the Swedish defenseman was still the choice here. Only a handful of the players from this class have gotten any real playing time in the NHL, so the options were limited. Brady Tkachuk was considered, but Dahlin tallied 44 points as an 18-year-old defenseman. That’s practically unheard of.
Pettersson, taken fifth overall, announced himself as a future star with a rookie campaign that made him a lock for the Calder by the All-Star break. The shifty Swede scored 28 goals and tallied 38 assists, doing so in only 71 games. Finally, the Canucks have a successor to the Sedin twins throne.
This was a head-to-head battle between Auston Matthews, who went first overall, and Laine, who went second. There’s no reason to knock Matthews. However, Laine has looked like a future 50-goal scorer since he was a rookie. He’s never failed to score at least 30 goals in a season. That gets him the nod by a hair.
Yes, Sebastian Aho is a stud, and he was drafted in the second round. You still can’t go with anybody other than McDavid. He’s the best player in the NHL right now, and he already has two Art Ross Trophies to his name. McDavid is going to be the face of the league for the next decade. Even as the first pick, he was the best pick.
Pastrnak showed that he had a ton of potential when he debuted as an 18-year-old rookie despite being drafted so late in the first round. He managed only 10 goals in 46 games, but now the Czech forward is one of the best goal scorers in the NHL. "Pasta," who you’ve probably seen in Dunkin ads, just tallied 38 goals in only 66 contests.
This was another battle between the top two picks in a class. Nathan MacKinnon has been great for the Avalanche, though he did have a bit of a (mild) slump in the middle of his career. He just had a fantastic season, but Barkov did as well, scoring 35 goals and notching 96 points. The thing that gave Barkov the edge? He’s also a stellar defensive player.
Hellebuyck has had an up-and-down career in net so far. That being said, at his peak he posted a 2.36 GAA and .924 save percentage. More to the point, he did that as a fifth-round pick. If you get a decent starting goalie at that point in the draft, and Hellebuyck seems better than that, you’ve gotten a steal.
Kucherov seemed to have taken his game to a new level when he notched 100 points in the 2017-18 season. Then he exploded this past season, tallying a whopping 128 points. Those are Jaromir Jagr-level numbers, and naturally he won the Art Ross Trophy. Not too shabby for a second-round pick.
Klingberg is an offensive dynamo from the blue line, and he’s already made one All-Star team, although the NHL All-Star Game is weird now. At his peak he tallied 59 assists in a season, which is amazing. The Stars got him for a song, too, as nobody drafted Klingberg until the fifth round.
You could go with John Tavares, the first-overall pick, and nobody would argue with you. He’s been one of the best forwards in the NHL for a while. However, Hedman has been perhaps THE best defenseman in the NHL at times. He has a Norris Trophy to back up that claim, and he’s had over 50 points in each of his last three seasons. A tough battle, but Hedman wins it.
If Hedman isn’t the best defenseman in the NHL, it’s because it might be Karlsson. No defenseman has been better on the puck than the smooth-skating Swede. His point totals have been staggering. He once had 82 points in a season, making him the first defenseman to finish in the top five in scoring since Paul Coffey way back in the 1985-86 campaign. Karlsson also has two Norris Trophies, even though he was drafted 15th overall.
Normally, 87 points wouldn’t win you an Art Ross, but that was the case for Benn when he took home that trophy. The next season he notched 89 points but didn’t get another Art Ross for it. He’s closing in on 300 career goals, even though he was drafted in the fifth round.
Marchand has irked many a player with his divisive, occasionally dirty, actions. Most players, and people, tend to not like being licked by some random person. Marchand is more than just a pest though. He’s scored over 30 goals in each of his last four seasons and just had his first 100-point campaign. This comes after the undersized forward lasted into the third round.
We can’t get cute here. Sure, a lot of future All-Stars were drafted this year, but you can’t argue with Sid the Kid. He immediately became the face of the NHL and was the best player in the league for a decade. Crosby has won two Hart Trophies and, just as importantly, two Conn Smythes. He’s led three teams to a Cup and has turned into the franchise player he was hyped to be.
We’re going with back-to-back first-overall picks, but argue with us at your own peril. In Ovechkin, the Caps got not only a franchise player but also the best goal-scoring player of his generation, and perhaps any generation. He’s led the league in goals a whopping eight times, and Ovi could end up becoming the third-ever player to cross the 800-goal mark.
We wanted to go with Patrice Bergeron, who went in the second round, to highlight every player from Boston’s top line. In reality, though, Pavelski was a better value. He’s had a great career in his own right, as he’s a three-time All-Star who was named captain of the San Jose Sharks. What’s truly impressive is that he’s done all that after being a seventh-round pick.
The Blackhawks’ dynasty was built on the strength of high-draft picks like Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. They also got some good value picks, though, including Keith. The defenseman was drafted 54th overall out of Michigan State, and eventually he would become the winner of not just a Norris Trophy but also a Conn Smythe.
Speaking of members of the Chicago dynasty, Sharp was actually drafted by the Flyers at the end of the third round. He stayed with Philly for only a couple of years before moving to the Blackhawks, where he took his career to the next level. When he retired — he’s now an analyst for NBC Sports — Sharp had 620 regular-season points to his name, not to mention all the postseason success.
When you draft a player in the seventh round and he eventually earns the nickname “King Henrik,” you know you’ve struck gold. Lundqvist has been a stalwart in net for the Rangers since he made his debut after the NHL’s season lost to the lockout. In addition to winning one Vezina, Lundqvist was named the MVP of the Rangers a whopping nine times.
We’re thankful for the presence of Zetterberg in this draft, or we would have had to split hairs on the Sedin twins as the best pick. Instead, the honor goes to the former Red Wings captain, who was drafted in the seventh round. He made his NHL debut right after the Wings won the 2002 Cup, and he would go from promising young player to Conn Smythe winner when the team hoisted the Cup again in 2008. Hank’s number is going to be retired by the Wings eventually, and it all started with a late-round flyer.
The Wings can thank these two drafts for all their success after the turn of the millennium. Datsyuk was a great defensive player and arguably the best stickhandler the NHL has ever seen. He wasn’t a force of personality — a native of Russian, he never seemed to take to America or the English language — but he did it all on the ice. Datsyuk might be uncomfortable when he gives his Hall of Fame induction speech, but that day is coming eventually.
Joe Thornton, the first-overall pick, would have been a great choice. He’s had an outstanding, and long, career. And yet by value, Hossa going 12th overall feels like a slightly better pick. Unfortunately, health issues cut his career short, but despite that he tallied over 500 goals and 1,100 points. The Slovakian threw in another 149 playoff points for good measure.
Not to call this a bad draft, but the top 20 picks made a total of zero All-Star teams combined. Chara, the tallest player in NHL history, lasted to the second round. Perhaps his atypical body type put people off. The Islanders didn’t hold onto him either. Instead, he became a legend with the Boston Bruins thanks to his massive slap shot and tremendous defensive positioning.
Iginla never played a game with the Stars, but they used him in a deal to get Joe Nieuwendyk, which paid off. Still, Dallas might wonder what could have been. Despite losing an entire season of his career to the lockout, Iginla finished with 625 goals and 1,300 points to his name. He’s arguably the best player in Flames history. The Stars drafted him with the 11th pick.
It feels like kind of a shame that Alfredsson played the final season of his career with the Red Wings. Otherwise, he could have retired as a career-long Senator. After being drafted in the sixth round, the Swedish center would become the franchise leader in Ottawa in terms of goals, assists and points. Alfredsson also served as the captain of the Sens for several seasons.
The 1993 NHL Draft is the first class we’ve gotten to that features current Hall of Famers. Chris Pronger, who went second overall, is one. Kariya, who went fourth overall, is our pick though. Both of those guys had careers hindered by concussions, and the NHL’s lack of exercising caution with head injuries, but he still managed 989 points in 989 career games. He made seven All-Star teams and along with Teemu Selanne basically made hockey in Anaheim a thing.
Gonchar got overshadowed by playing in an era of great offensive defensemen, but he really packed a punch on that end of the ice. He had two 20-goal seasons with the Capitals, impressive for a defenseman, and he had multiple 60-point seasons. The Russian was taken 14th overall and took a job as a coach with the Penguins, a team he won a Stanley Cup for, after he retired.
Ziggy Palffy entered the NHL with a bang. He scored over 40 goals in each of his first three seasons and then in his fourth campaign had 50 points in 50 games. Palffy also had a few good campaigns with the Kings before he headed back to his native Slovakia to play several seasons. The 26th-overall pick’s career numbers would have been even better if not for his early return to his homeland.
Had Jagr been the first-overall pick, he would have been the choice here. The fact he fell to the fifth pick makes it an even easier decision. Jagr racked up five Art Ross Trophies and put up some truly gaudy numbers in his career. That includes finishing with 766 career NHL goals despite the time he spent in the KHL. If not for that sojourn, he could have challenged Wayne Gretzky for the NHL record.
Lidstrom is the best defenseman of his era. He’s one of the best defensemen of all-time. Period. And you could make the argument he was the best ever. The Swede is a true legend of the game. Somehow he fell to the third round. This is the steal to end all steals.
It was a battle between Recchi and Teemu Selanne, who are both Hall of Famers. The edge went to Recchi because Selanne was a top-10 pick, while Recchi went in the fourth round. Although Recchi was never a star and bounced around from team to team, he finished with over 1,500 career points. That helped him make seven All-Star teams.
Getting a future Hall of Famer, and franchise legend, with the 15th-overall pick is never a bad thing. Sakic moved with the team from Quebec to Colorado, where he captained the Avalanche to two Stanley Cups. One season he won a Cup and a Conn Smythe, and in another he won a Cup and a Hart. It was a tremendous career, and he’s one of the first names that comes to mind when you think of the Avalanche.
These days the 22nd pick would be toward the end of the first round. In 1986, though, that made Graves the first pick of the second round. Fittingly, he had his best season when the Rangers won their first Stanley Cup since 1940. He scored 52 goals during the regular season before adding 10 more in the playoffs. The Rangers would eventually retire his number.
We mentioned Nieuwendyk earlier when we were talking about Jarome Iginla. At the time, we noted that Nieuwendyk paid off for the Stars, and his Hall of Fame status is an indication of that. He won a Conn Smythe in leading Dallas to its first Cup, and flags fly forever. Overall, the 27th pick notched 564 regular-season goals and 66 more in the playoffs.
How is Mario Lemieux not the choice? Or Patrick Roy, who went in the second round? Well, for starters, Lucky Luc is a Hall of Famer with 668 goals and 1,394 points to his name. He won the Calder and made eight All-Star teams. That’s great, right? OK, now bear in mind that he was a ninth-round pick. Yeah, that’s how Robitaille ended up the best value of this class.
Hasek is maybe the best goalie of his era. He was an unconventional netminder, but it worked. Not only did he win six Vezinas, but he also actually won two Hart Trophies, almost unheard of for a goalie. Hasek could have been a steal if he was taken first overall; he lasted until the 199th pick.
You probably think of Gilmour as a Maple Leaf, but he played only six of his seasons with Toronto. It’s with the Leafs that he won a Selke, though, and set the franchise record for points in a year with 127. The Blues grabbed the future Hall of Famer in the seventh round, and they got five good seasons out of him before dealing him to Calgary.
Chelios played a long, long time in the NHL. He was so devoted to hockey that he played 46 games in the AHL in his 40s. It’s understandable why he loved the game so much, though. He won three Norris Trophies and got named to 11 All-Star teams. Getting 1,651 NHL games out of a 40th overall pick is real bang for the buck.
The NHL was still a little iffy on European players in the early '80s, which may be how a player like Kurri fell to the fourth round. He stepped right into action by tallying 75 points in 75 games as a rookie for the Oilers. Sure, he spent a lot of his time skating alongside players like Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier, but Kurri was a legitimately great player in his own right. You don’t score 601 goals in 1,251 games if you aren’t a stellar talent.
Speaking of Messier, he was a steal much like his teammate Kurri. Messier, the future Rangers captain, was a third-round selection. The formidable forward won two Hart Trophies and finished his career with 1,887 points. Only two players in NHL history have more. You may have heard of them. Their names are Wayne Gretzky and Jaromir Jagr.
We can’t really sugarcoat it: 1978 is maybe the worst NHL draft class ever. There are no Hall of Famers and only one player who made an All-NHL team: the little-remembered goalie Bob Froese. So we’re going with the ninth-round pick MacTavish. In addition to being the last NHL player who didn’t wear a helmet, and once ripped a mascot’s tongue off, he had 480 career points. That’s enough in this class.
If not for an injury-shortened career, Bossy would have been an easy pick for this list. Even with the unfortunate injury, though, the Islanders legend was the top value at 15th overall. He played only nine full NHL seasons, and he never failed to cross the 50-goal mark.
Carlyle has spent a lot of years as a head coach, which is where you probably recognize him. In his day, though, he was a hard-nosed defenseman and leader. In addition to captaining the Penguins and Jets, he won the Norris Trophy in the 1980-81 season. The 30th-overall pick was no scoring slouch, though, as he had 647 career points.
OK, maybe the 1975 NHL Draft is the worst one ever. At least it gave us Taylor, though, who was selected with the 210th pick. He played in a high-scoring era of hockey and on a line with Marcel Dionne, so you have to take his numbers with a grain of salt. That being said, he had three 40-goal seasons, and he made four All-Star teams.
We almost went with Taro Tsujimoto, but his career was hurt by the fact he didn’t actually exist because Sabres general manager Punch Imlach made him up as a joke. So let’s go with Trottier, who went 22nd overall. Trottier won a Calder and a Hart and then went on to four Cups in a row with the Islanders. Oh, and then two more with the Penguins. Trottier held basically every “fastest player to X milestone” in the NHL until a guy named Wayne Gretzky came around.
We know, we know. Defense isn’t sexy. However, defense got Gainey into the Hall of Fame. Honestly, the Selke Trophy, for best defensive forward, could be named for Gainey given that he won four in a row in his career. The eighth-overall pick also had a total of 501 points.
Bobby Clarke is the face of the ‘70s Flyers, but Barber was just as vital to their success. He was a goal-scoring machine, as he pumped out 30-goal seasons with gusto. Once, he hit the 50-goal mark to go with 62 assists. It was all good enough to get Barber not just two Stanley Cups in Philly but also a spot in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Not too bad for the seventh-overall pick.
The first round of the NHL Draft was only 14 picks in 1971, so to call Robinson a second-round pick feels like it needs an asterisk. That being said, Big Bird is a Hall of Famer who was drafted 20th overall. Playing the bulk of his career for a juggernaut Montreal Canadiens machine, he won six Stanley Cups and played a big part in them. That was especially true in 1978, when he won the Conn Smythe.
Smith was left exposed by the Kings in the 1972 Expansion Draft, where he was snatched up by the Islanders. That worked out pretty great for both the goalie and the team. Smith, the first NHL goalie credited with a goal, won a Vezina, a Conn Smythe and four Stanley Cups in a row with New York. Smith rose from being selected 59th overall to making the Hall of Fame.
This was a tough choice. Would we go with Bobby Clarke, the Hall of Famer who was taken 17th overall, or Goring, the not-quite-Hall-of-Famer who was taken with the 51st pick. After some hemming and hawing, we went with Goring. Yes, he won four Cups with the Islanders, which is notable, but from a personal perspective he notched 888 points for the Kings and Islanders (and also one year with the Bruins). Also, Goring basically invented the playoff beard.
The NHL Draft was a completely different thing at this point in its history, so the fact only two players out of the 24 taken made an All-Star Game isn’t that big of a deal. Bennett finished with 334 career points, making two All-Star Games representing the Atlanta Flames. He was also the first American player to score 30 goals in a season. Bennett was selected 16th.
Only 18 players were selected in this draft, and most of them never played in the NHL or barely saw any NHL action. Kelly, at least, played in 425 NHL games. He tallied 196 career points. This is after being taken 16th overall, again, in an 18-player draft.
Thank goodness: a player you may have heard of! Park wasn’t just a good player. He’s in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Though he never won the Norris, Park was the runner-up six times. Playing at the same time as Bobby Orr will do that to a guy. After being selected second overall, behind a guy named Barry Gibbs who was not a Bee Gee, Park racked up almost 900 points from the blue line.
This was an easy choice but not because Bouchard, who was selected fifth overall, had a great career. He was a middling, forgettable player. He’s also the only guy from this draft who basically had an NHL career at all.
You read that right. Dryden was drafted by the Bruins 14th overall. He was then immediately traded to the Canadiens. After debuting late in the season, Dryden won the Conn Smythe in 1971 and then proceeded to win the Calder as Rookie of the Year in 1972. Dryden would then proceed to win five Vezinas, not to mention six Stanley Cups. He’s an all-time great goalie. You think the Bruins wish they had held onto him?
And here we arrive at the first NHL Draft. Mahovlich went second overall and is the only player from this class to make an All-Star Game. While he wasn’t quite as good as his Hall of Fame brother, Frank, “Little M” did have two 100-point seasons in his career and finished with 773 career points.