We often talk about the worst players to have been selected first overall in the National Hockey League draft, but rarely about the best.
The talent was so present that we had to make very difficult choices, especially towards the end, but that’s the beauty of it.
Here is a top 10 of the greatest players to have heard their name first at amateur auctions over the years…
1. Mario Lemieux
Wayne Gretzky or Mario Lemieux? This eternal debate does not take place here since Gretzky was never drafted in the NHL. It is therefore to the great player of the Quebec center that comes the palm of this list.
In addition to his talent that was unmistakable on the ice, Lemieux brought the Pittsburgh Penguins out of the NHL’s slumps by producing at a breakneck pace in addition to making his teammates better. He was voted the National League’s best player four times by his peers in addition to winning the Art-Ross Trophy six times. He won the Stanley Cup two years in a row, winning the Conn-Smythe Trophy each time.
In short, “The Magnificent” fully deserves to be at the top of this top 10.
2. Sidney Crosby
In second place, we find none other than Mario Lemieux’s runner-up, Sidney Crosby. The Penguins captain even had the chance to play a few games with his owner before he bowed out. Let’s say it’s still special.
Like Lemieux, Crosby brought the Penguins out of the depths with the quality of his game and his leadership, leading them to three Stanley Cup conquests, including winning the Conn-Smythe Trophy twice in a row. He also allowed his team to make the playoffs 16 years in a row, which is still incredible.
We could go on for a long time with the individual honors Crosby received over the years, but let’s end with his two gold medals at the Olympic Games when he scored the golden goal against the United States in Vancouver in 2010 and the goal of insurance against Sweden in Sochi in 2014.
3. Alexander Ovechkin
If there has always been a debate about Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux, there has always been one about Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin as well. These are however tedious debates since it is, in both cases, very different players.
In Ovechkin’s case, the real debate would be whether he’s the all-time leading goal scorer in NHL history. The Russian has won the Maurice-Richard trophy… nine times. The trophy was born in the 1998-99 season, but if it had always existed, Bobby Hull would be its closest pursuer with seven conquests of the top scorer trophy.
Ovechkin has long been criticized for being an individual player and not playing well enough defensively to win the Stanley Cup. He silenced those critics, however, in 2018 when he led the Washington Capitals all the way, winning the Conn-Smythe Trophy in the process.
Photo credit: Reuters Photo, Ellen Ozier
4. Guy Lafleur
Like the previously named players, Guy Lafleur is a hockey legend. During his best years, the Quebecer won the Stanley Cup four years in a row with the Montreal Canadiens. And for the first three years, he was also voted the NHL’s best player by his peers and he won the Art-Ross Trophy each time.
The beginnings and ends of his career were more difficult, but the fact remains that for six consecutive years, he collected between 119 and 136 points. He was at that time considered one of the best, if not the best. He is also the most spectacular player of his generation.
5. Connor McDavid
Even though he is only 25 years old, Connor McDavid deserves to be high on this list. Having played in a more defensive era than Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux, the Edmonton Oilers captain currently sits fourth in history in points per game…behind Gretzky, Lemieux and Mike Bossy.
He was injured extensively in his first NHL campaign, but since then he has won the Art Ross Trophy four times in six seasons. He was also voted MVP on the Bettman Tour three times by his peers.
Some might say he hasn’t led the Oilers to the Stanley Cup yet, but it’s not that he hasn’t tried by scoring a whopping 33 points in just 16 playoff games this year. He will lift the precious trophy one day and if all goes well, he could very well find himself higher in such a top 10 in a few years.
Photo credit: Photo archives, AFP
6. Denis Potvin
Surprisingly, Denis Potvin is the only defender present in this top 10. The Bobby Orr, Raymond Bourque, Brian Leetch, Al MacInnis, Paul Coffey and co. were not all selected first in their respective draft…just like Victor Hedman and Cale Makar, by the way, who are currently the best defensemen on the Bettman circuit.
But let’s get back to Potvin. The New York Islanders legend was part of the core of this dynasty that won the Stanley Cup four years in a row. Although he didn’t win the Conn-Smythe Trophy, he was dominant with 85 points in 78 playoff games during that streak.
The third-ranked defenseman in NHL history in points per game also won the Norris Trophy three times in four years, from 1975 to 1979. He may be the only defenseman on the list, but it is all one.
7. Patrick Kane
Even if he still surely has a few good seasons left in the body, Patrick Kane finds himself in seventh place on this list thanks to his undeniable talent, but also thanks to his three Stanley Cups, his Conn-Smythe trophy and his 1180 points.
At the end of the 2021-2022 season, he was 52nd in NHL history in scoring, but if all goes well, he should crack the top 30 and maybe even the top 20. Add to that his performances remarkable in the playoffs, he who collected 132 points in 136 playoff games in a defensive era in addition to scoring very important goals.
The 2015-2016 campaign will have been a dominant one for the 33-year-old American. He won the Art-Ross, Ted-Lindsay and Hart trophies with 106 points, while the NHL’s second-highest scorer had only 89 points.
Photo credit: REUTERS/John Sommers (UNITED STATES)
8. Dale Hawerchuk
Despite playing for regular teams more often than not, Dale Hawerchuk managed to rank 21st in NHL history in points and 14th in points per game. He had six campaigns of 100 or more points and three more of more than 95 points.
Unfortunately, he never won the Stanley Cup. He only made it to the Finals once and that was the last year of his career, in 1997, with the Philadelphia Flyers. However, they lost their flag against the Detroit Red Wings.
Like Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews still has many years of hockey ahead of him, but he still earned his place in the ninth place in the top 10 since he seems to be the worthy successor to Alex Ovechkin with two consecutive Maurice-Richard trophies.
In his last 125 games, the 24-year-old American has scored no less than 101 goals, which is simply incredible. He was also voted the best player according to his peers during the last campaign and he even won the Hart Trophy.
His next mission will be to lead the Toronto Maple Leafs beyond the first round of the playoffs. We thought he was going to succeed this year, but the Tampa Bay Lightning finally won in seven despite Matthews’ nine points. The curse should end one day…
Photo credit: AFP
10. Gilbert Perreault
Like the two players ahead of him on this list, Gilbert Perreault didn’t win the Stanley Cup, but it wasn’t because he didn’t try, as evidenced by his 103 points in 90 playoff games.
The Quebec forward is 24th in NHL history for points per game and ninth for the most points with a single team, the Buffalo Sabres.
Finally, let’s add to this that he was the central element of the famous “French Connection” with René Robert and Richard Martin in the 1970s.
The term “Honourable Mention” here might well be renamed “Higher Than Honorable Mention” since these are some very big stars in NHL history.
Here are the players who came very close to sneaking into this list. And in the case of one player in particular (you’ll guess which one), he might find himself in that top 10 one day…
- Pierre Turgeon
- Joe Thornton
- Mats Sundin
- mike modano
- Steven Stamkos
- Nathan MacKinnon
- Eric Lindros