Draft

NHL Draft’s Best, Worst No. 1 Picks Of All Time

By Colin Likas
Jan 2, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby (87) reacts after being named the first star of the game against the New York Islanders at the CONSOL Energy Center. The Penguins won 5-2. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 2, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby (87) reacts after being named the first star of the game against the New York Islanders at the CONSOL Energy Center. The Penguins won 5-2. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /
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Drafting can be difficult in some pro sports, but it can often be really easy in the NHL’s first round

During this point in the offseason, guys who were selected in the 2016 NHL Draft are deciding whether or not to sign with the big club that drafted them or opting to play in college or developmental leagues before accepting an entry-level contract.

Guys taken early in the first round are far more likely to hop on with an NHL team in the immediate future, while others may opt to get more hockey seasoning and experience and potentially let their stock rise, whether to push a team into offering an ELC or do something like Nashville draft pick Jimmy Vesey is currently doing — rejecting an ELC and testing the market.

All this got me thinking about the earliest of draft picks; the guys who go No. 1 overall and what becomes of them. Of course, we’re seeing several of them currently having good to great NHL careers. But it doesn’t always turn out that way.

Today, I’m going to take a look at some of the best and worst No. 1 overall picks in NHL draft history. The draft goes back to 1963, so there’s a fair amount of options to choose from.

nhl draft
Apr 9, 2016; Columbus, OH, USA; Chicago Blackhawks right wing Patrick Kane (88) looks on during warmups prior to the game against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports /

Best: F Patrick Kane, 2007, Chicago Blackhawks

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Since this is a Chicago Blackhawks blog, we’ll start with the only first-overall pick the Blackhawks have ever had in the draft. The Blackhawks made the wise choice not to trust pre-draft rankings, which had Kyle Turris at No. 1 overall, and took Kane over Turris and seemingly-constant Chicago trade target James van Riemsdyk.

That move has obviously paid off in spades on the ice. Kane has helped the Blackhawks to three Stanley Cups and tallied the series-winning goal for the 2010 Cup that broke the team’s 49-year championship drought. He’s a Conn Smythe winner, a Calder Trophy winner and the first-ever American-born Hart Trophy winner, and he recently won the Ted Lindsay and Art Ross awards.

The crafty winger in nine NHL seasons has made the All-Star Game eight times. And he only seems to be getting better after leading the league last season in points with a career-best 106. He and Jonathan Toews helped pull a franchise from utter mediocrity into a dominant on-ice presence. So that’s a good use of a first-overall pick.

Worst: F Claude Gauthier, 1964, Detroit Red Wings; F Andre Veilleux, 1965, New York Rangers; D Rick Pagnutti, 1967, Los Angeles Kings

These three all get grouped together because they’re the only first-overall picks to never play a game in the NHL (we’ll assume 2016 top pick Auston Matthews gets there).

Gauthier’s career stats show him as playing one year with the Quebec Junior A Hockey League’s St. Jerome Alouettes, with “statistics unavailable.” Not a great start. I guess the Red Wings’ drafting success of the 1990s and early 2000s didn’t begin in the mid-1960s. Veilleux also spent just one season in the QJAHL, netting 13 points in an unknown number of games.

Pagnutti, the second defenseman ever taken with the first overall pick (Barry Gibbs was the first, by Boston in 1966), actually went on to a fine minor league career. He played some form of organized hockey through the 1976-77 season and spent parts of six seasons with an AHL team. That just didn’t translate to NHL success, which is obviously what the Kings were expecting when they took him at No. 1 overall.

Next: Ovechkin/Crosby and Phillips

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