Wednesday, November 30, 2005
How have other No. 1 picks fared?
We would never compare Joe Thornton to Alexandre Daigle -- they are two different kinds of players and Big Joe has a better all-around game.
But Wednesday night had us thinking ... how have other No. 1 draft picks fared in the NHL?
We thought a good starting point would be since the Bruins selected Thornton with the top overall pick in 1997. Some have said that Thornton didn't live up to expectations. How about these other No. 1s?
1998 -- Tampa Bay Lightning select Vincent Lecavalier
Before the Bolts even drafted Lecavalier, the Canadian teenage phenom was being praised as the next Mario Lemieux. (Gee, that sounds awfully familiar.) The then-Lightning owner Arthur Williams said Vinny could be the "Michael Jordan of hockey." Quite the bar for an 18 year old. Lecavalier only tallied 28 points in 82 games in his debut NHL season. He more than doubled that the following season, but his numbers declined over the next two seasons. Lecavalier seemed to come into his own during the 2002-03 season, totaling 78 points and helping the Bolts make the playoffs. Then in 2003-04, Lecavalier played an instrumental part in Tampa Bay's run to a Stanley Cup win. He finished with 66 points in the regular season and added nine goals and seven assists in the postseason.
This season (through Tuesday): 11 goals and 15 assists in 26 games for the Lightning.
1999 -- Atlanta Thrashers select Patrik Stefan
When Stefan was selected first overall, he was one of only two players expected to jump right into the NHL (Pavel Brendl of the Rangers was the other). Thrashers GM Don Waddell said then: "We're not worried about Patrik Stefan this year or next year. We're worried about Patrik Stefan five years from now." Stefan was expected to be the team's franchise player, the one that would give them more offense. It didn't exactly turn out that way. In his rookie season, Stefan scored just five goals in 72 games and he's never scored more than 14 goals in a single NHL season. Plagued by injuries, particularly concussions, Stefan has struggled. He would also play in the shadows of scorers like Kovalchuk and Heatley.
This season: Stefan has three goals and three assists in 18 games for the Thrashers.
2000 -- N.Y. Islanders select Rick DiPietro
DiPietro made history before he even played an NHL game, becoming the first goaltender ever selected with the No. 1 overall pick. DiPietro voided his remaining three years of eligibility at Boston University. He was the draft's top-ranked goalie and he was the one that was supposed to single-handedly turn things around for the Islanders, who had not had a winning record since the 1992-93 season. DiPietro said he welcomed the pressure. He immediately went to the NHL and went 3-15-1 with a 3.49 GAA in 20 games in 2000-01. He spent the next few seasons going back and forth between the Islanders and the AHL's Bridgeport Sound Tigers. DiPietro and the Isles made it to the playoffs, but not past the first round.
This season: He has an 8-9 record with a 3.31 GAA and .897 save percentage.
2001 -- Atlanta Thrashers select Ilya Kovalchuk
Again, another history-maker before he'd even play in an NHL game. Kovalchuk was the first Russian player to be selected with the No. 1 overall pick. He went straight to the NHL and had 29 goals and 22 assists in 65 games for the Thrashers, a much better debut season than Stefan. But early on, Kovalchuk received a lot of criticism for not playing enough defense. Offensively, Kovalchuk is the first on our list to show a steady progression over seasons. He had 67 points in his sophomore season, but his best was in 2003-04. He finished with 87 points and his 41 goals tied for tops in the league.
This season: He has 17 goals and 18 assists in 22 games for the Thrashers.
2002 -- Columbus Blue Jackets select Rick Nash
GM Doug MacLean took control of his own club's destiny and traded with the Florida Panthers for the No. 1 overall pick so they wouldn't miss Nash. Nash was another youngster to make the big leap to the NHL immediately following the draft, playing his first NHL game at age 18. He had 17 goals and 22 assists in 74 games of his rookie seasons. Nash slightly improved to 57 points the following season, a season where he became the youngest player to lead the league in goals, scoring 41 to share the title with Calgary's Jarome Iginla and Kovalchuk. An excellent puck handler and scorer, the center hasn't been able to build on that success as he has battled injuries this season (ankle, knee).
This season: He has played in only three games and has no points.
2003 -- Pittsburgh Penguins select Marc-Andre Fleury
The Penguins were in the middle of their seemingly never-ending rebuilding efforts in 2003 when they traded up for the No. 1 pick to select goaltender Fleury. Like DiPietro, Fleury immediately went to the NHL. And like DiPietro, Fleury struggled. He posted a 4-14-2 record in 22 NHL starts (he also spent time in the QMJHL and with the Pens' AHL club) and spent the following lockout season in the AHL. This season, Fleury has been the top goalie in the AHL (10-0-2 at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton with a 1.57 GAA), and he was recently called up to possibly fill the starting role for the Pens.
This season: He is 1-2-1 in five appearances this season for the Pens.
2004 -- Washington Capitals select Alexander Ovechkin
Ovechkin was one of the best players to come out of Russia when he was drafted by the Capitals and the plan was to rebuild the franchise around the big winger. He is strong and will skate through people to score. Because of the NHL lockout, Ovechkin's NHL debut was put on hold, but the extra year with Moscow Dynamo has paid off for him. In his 2005-06 rookie season, he scored two goals in Washington's 3-2 win over Columbus on opening night. He will battle with Sidney Crosby for this season's Calder Trophy as the league's top rookie.
This season: He has 15 goals and 10 assists in 24 games for the Caps.
2005 -- Pittsburgh Penguins select Sidney Crosby
The anticipation surrounding the NHL draft lottery announcement was palpable. The NHL was looking to save its image and bring back fans and it would do it behind the ace of Crosby, no matter who was awarded the top pick. It wound up going to Mario Lemieux and the Penguins, who are also hoping Sid the Kid will just help keep the team in Pittsburgh. While the actual draft day was anti-climatic, Crosby brought a proven scorer with great vision and strength to the Pens. In the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, he had 66 goals and 102 assists in 62 games after a rookie campaign that featured 54 goals and 81 assists in 59 games. He jumped right to the NHL in October and currently leads all rookies in scoring.
This season: He has 12 goals and 16 assists in 25 games for the Pens.