The New Jersey Devils have the first overall pick at the 2017 NHL Entry-Level Draft for the first time in team history so I thought it would be fun to take a look at the last few first overall picks in a “where are they now?”-type post. Enjoy!
2016: Auston Matthews – let’s start with the most recent #1 overall pick, Mr. Auston “I scored four goals in my NHL debut and I’m literally better than all of you” Matthews. Toronto finished dead-last in the league during the 2015-16 season and actually managed to win the draft lottery; there was no way that they weren’t taking Matthews first overall. He had a super impressive rookie season, breaking several Maple Leafs rookie records; he had 69 points (nice) (40 goals, 29 assists) in 82 regular season games (he played every single game possible in his first season if his numbers weren’t impressive enough) and tallied five points in six playoff games. He helped the Leafs return to the postseason and gave fans something to cheer about. To top off his rookie campaign, he won the Calder Trophy (rookie of the year) at the NHL Awards last night but it certainly won’t be his last award. He has such an unbelievably bright future ahead of him.
2015: Connor McDavid – your NHL18 cover star is one of the best players in the entire world and he’s only 20. He makes me feel beyond inadequate but that’s okay. His first NHL season was shortened due to injuries but he still managed to score 48 points in 45 games; not bad, eh? During the offseason, he was named Captain of the Oilers and in his first full season with the team, scored 100 points in 82 regular season games, successfully winning the Art Ross Trophy for the league’s top scorer (beating out both Sidney Crosby and Patrick Kane, who had 89 points each). Crosby might be the best player in the world right now but McDavid’s right there with him. He also won the Hart Trophy (league MVP) and the Ted Lindsay Award (most outstanding player as determined by the NHLPA) this year, and is a three-time gold medalist. But despite all of this, he is still one of the most humble and modest guys in the league. He also has a very, very bright future.
2014: Aaron Ekblad – Ekblad is one of the few bright spots of Florida’s future and has quickly become one of the league’s best defensemen. He can definitely bring the offense if he needs to but he’ll be a key piece for the Panthers going forward. He participated in the 2015 All-Star Game and won the Calder Trophy that same year, and last summer, he signed an eight-year contract extension with the Panthers. He’s definitely someone you should be paying attention to if you’re a hockey fan.
2013: Nathan MacKinnon – MacKinnon has been one of the Colorado’s best and most exciting players to watch. He’s hopefully going to help the Avs reach the playoffs again and not finish towards the bottom of the league. In 2014, he won the Calder Trophy and was named to the NHL All-Rookie team. After playing three years with the Avalanche on an entry-level contract, he signed a 7-year, $44.1 million contract last summer and was named an alternate captain a few months later.
This past season, he played all 82 games for the second time in his career and tallied 53 points (16 goals, 37 assists), and played in the NHL All-Star Game for the first time. MacKinnon has 206 career points (75 goals, 131 assists) in exactly 300 games played and with a better supporting cast, could make a huge difference for the franchise.
2012: Nail Yakupov – ah, another #1 Edmonton overall pick and one who is no longer with the team. After his entry-level contract expired, he signed a 2-year deal with the Oilers who then traded him a year later to the Blues. He is currently a restricted free agent. His stats aren’t great (which is probably why the Oilers traded him) but he’s not a bad player albeit a little underwhelming for a #1 overall pick. Which is fine, because not every #1 overall pick is going to be a franchise-changer the way McDavid and Matthews are. Moving on…
2011: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – another #1 overall pick for the Oilers and the second of three in a row. He’s been one of Edmonton’s most beloved players and fun fact, he scored his first career hat trick in his third NHL game (even though the Oilers still lost the game, unsurprisingly). He was nominated for the Calder Trophy in 2012 but Gabe Landeskog was the eventual winner (Adam Henrique was the other nominee). In 2013, he signed a 7-year extension with the Oilers, worth $42 million and he played in the 2015 NHL All-Star Game. He’s been a pretty consistent player but he’s had his cold streaks.
Although Nugent-Hopkins is still with the team, he may not be for much longer. He’s been the subject of trade rumors for a while now and upper management is listening to offers from other teams. I would suggest that the Devils make an offer to Edmonton for RNH but they already have one of Edmonton’s first overall picks.
2010: Taylor Hall – which brings us to Taylor Hall, the first of three straight first overall picks for Edmonton and quite possibly my favorite (and no, it’s not just because he’s a Devil although that helps). The cards he’s been dealt haven’t been great. He was drafted by a franchise who was going through a rebuild at the time and as soon as they come out of it, they trade him to a franchise who’s just entering one. Talk about timing.
Hall’s been one of the most offensive players on every single team he’s been on and he had to carry the Oilers while he was there. Hopefully he doesn’t have to carry the Devils now. He has 381 points in 453 GP and has only played a complete NHL season once (2015-16). And despite playing seven NHL seasons, he has never played in the postseason (sorry, buddy). I don’t have enough good things to say about him (although I might be a little biased).
2009: John Tavares – as a Devils fan, I don’t like Tavares. I hate when the team plays against him and the Islanders because he’s good. He’s had buzz surrounding him even before he was selected in the draft and he’s had a great career with the Islanders so far. He was named the 14th Captain of the team in 2013. He helped the Islanders win their first playoff series since 1993 in 2016 when they defeated the Panthers in Game 6 in overtime. He scored his 500th NHL point this past January and shows no signs of slowing down any time soon. He has just a year left on his current contract but I’m sure the Isles are itching to sign him to a new one.
2008: Steven Stamkos – he signed an eight-year, $68 million contract last year with the Lightning, the team that originally drafted him, so that’s a great indication that he’s been good for the organization. He’s been plagued with injuries the last few years and played just 17 games during the 2016-17 season but he’ll return and take the league by storm. He’s a two-time Maurice Richard trophy winner (league’s top goal-scorer in 2010 and 2012), he was named to the NHL’s Second-Team All Star team in 2011 and 2012, and has played in four All-Star Games (2011, 2012, 2015, and 2016). He’s pretty much a point per game player: he has 582 points in 586 career games. So yeah, he’s also pretty good.
2007: Patrick Kane – there’s a reason Chicago picked Kane first overall and he’s delivered everything to Chicago. He helped Chicago win three Stanley Cups in just six years (2010, 2013, 2015); he won the Conn Smythe Trophy (playoff MVP) in 2013; and won the Hart Trophy, the Art Ross Trophy, and the Ted Lindsay Award in 2016. He was the first U.S.-born player to win the Hart and the first to win the Art Ross. He was named to the NHL Top 100 earlier this year and it’s hard to imagine Kane playing for any other franchise; the Blues tried to trade their 9th, 24th, and 26th overall picks for the first overall selection in 2007 in order to draft him. He’s become synonymous with the Blackhawks organization and has become one of the most recognized players in the world.
2006: Erik Johnson – Johnson was drafted first overall by the Blues in 2006. After playing out his three-year, entry-level contract, he signed a two-year contract with St. Louis but he was traded not too long after to the Avalanche where he’s played the rest of his career up until now. In 2015, he signed a seven-year contract extension with the Avs; he is one of the highest paid defensemen in the league and the highest paid player on the Avs. He’s never played a complete NHL season and hasn’t produced much offensively but he’s been a decent defenseman for Colorado.
2005: Sidney Crosby – can I skip both Crosby and Ovechkin? Doesn’t everyone already know who they are and what they’ve done? Is this super unprofessional of me right now? Okay fine. Crosby is arguably the best hockey player in the world and he’s the face of the NHL. He’s won three Stanley Cups (2009, 2016, 2017), including two back-to-back; he holds a number of NHL records; he’s won the Art Ross trophy twice (leading scorer) (2007, 2014); he’s won the Maurice Richard trophy twice (top goal-scorer) (2010, 2017); he’s won the Ted Lindsay award (best player as voted by peers) three times (2007, 2013, 2014); the Hart trophy (league MVP) twice (2007, 2014); and the Conn Smythe trophy (playoff MVP) twice (2016, 2017). He captains the Penguins and has captained Team Canada; he’s also a five-time gold medalist. Are you exhausted yet? Me too. Crosby is just too good at what at he does and whether or not you like him, you have to admit that he plays the game at the highest level possible, night in and night out.
2004: Alexander Ovechkin – Ovechkin might go down as one of the greatest NHLers to ever play the game without winning a Stanley Cup. I know that hockey is a team sport and it takes more than just one person to win a Cup (or even get that far) but if anyone deserves a Cup, it’s Ovechkin. The Captain of the Washington Capitals has been one of the organization’s brightest stars in franchise history. Offensively, he’s on another level. He’s won the Hart trophy three times (2008, 2009, 2013), the Ted Lindsay award three times (2008, 2009, 2010), the Art Ross trophy once (2008), the Maurice Richard trophy six times (2008, 2009, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016), and the Calder trophy in 2006. He also holds several NHL records and is a four-time gold medalist. His hockey resume is super impressive; he just needs a Cup now.
2003: Marc-André Fleury – the Penguins’ second #1 overall pick in within three years is no longer a Pittsburgh Penguin. He was selected during the Vegas expansion draft and will play with the NHL’s newest franchise for at least next season. He has been one of the best goaltenders in the league as long as he’s been in it. It’s hard to judge goaltenders by their stats because those reflect the teams in front of them as much as they reflect them individually but it’s hard to argue when you watch him play. He’s a three-time Stanley Cup champion and played a big role in all three Cup wins.
2002: Rick Nash – Nash was drafted first overall by the Blue Jackets in 2002 and spent the first nine years of his career with them. His last season with them (2011-12) was the first and only time he’s played a complete 82 games. Nash helped the Jackets reach the playoffs for the first time in franchise history in 2008-09, despite getting swept by the Red Wings in four games. Columbus’s 2011-12 season got off to a really bad start and during the offseason, Nash was traded to the Rangers and has been with them ever since. He’s an alternate captain for the team and has produced offensively and defensively for them; he’s been one of their most consistent players. While he may be on a decline, he may still have a few years left.
And there you have it, a brief look back at the last 15 first overall picks. Funnily enough, I chose 15 because it was a decent number to handle but in my research, the first overall pick the year before Rick Nash was Ilya Kovalchuk so I’m glad I decided to not do any more than 15.
A good majority of these first overall picks are now household names: Kane, Crosby, Ovechkin, Hall, Stamkos, Tavares, and now McDavid and Matthews. They’re all some of the best players in the world and deserved to go first overall. And while it’s way too early to start making comparisons between either Nolan Patrick or Nico Hischier and their predecessors, the Devils should be comforted by the fact that they’re getting an excellent hockey player.