NHL: Power Ranking the First Overall Picks of the Last 20 Years
Last June, the Edmonton Oilers selected Taylor Hall first overall—the first time they had held such a position in their history.
Being selected first overall comes with high expectations every time. It is a position given to one regarded as a can't-miss prospect, a superstar in the making. Of course, there are exceptions to the rule, such as Brian Lawton. But when it holds true, you could come away with Mario Lemieux.
From 1991-2010, the first overall position has seen some stars and some busts. Here are the rankings of the last 20 first overall selections.
20. Patrik Štefan
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While Alexandre Daigle is often regarded as the biggest first overall bust of all time, not even he could match the futility of Patrik Štefan.
Drafted by the Atlanta Thrashers in 1999—a class considered among the worst in the history of the draft—to say that Štefan didn't live up to his position would be an enormous understatement.
Breaking into the NHL with a rookie season of five goals and 25 points, it didn't get much better. He hit a career-high 14 goals and 40 points in the 2003-04 season and the post-lockout game was not kind to him either, netting 10 goals and 24 points in the 2005-06 season.
He was traded to the Dallas Stars in the 2006 offseason—and Štefan's name will forever live on for an incident he had during his one season in a Stars uniform.
On January 4th, 2007, Štefan's Stars were beating the Edmonton Oilers by a score of 5-4. With about 11 seconds remaining in the game, Štefan skated alone toward the empty net, ready to ice the game. However, he fell down after losing control of the puck. The Oilers took control and Ales Hemsky scored with two seconds remaining to send the game into overtime.
Patrik Štefan may not just be the worst first overall draft pick of the last 20 years; he may very well be the worst of all time.
19. Alexandre Daigle
The original "can't-miss" prospect, Ottawa wanted him so badly that they were accused by some of throwing games late in the season to assure themselves of the first overall pick.
Daigle was selected by the Ottawa Senators in the 1993 and received the largest rookie contract in NHL history, an astounding $12.25 million over five years. This later lead to the introduction of a rookie salary cap.
Daigle actually had a strong rookie season with the Senators, netting 20 goals and 51 points while playing all 84 games. He followed that up with a decent enough 16-goal, 37-point campaign in the lockout-shortened 1995 season.
However, soon enough, the Ottawa nightlife and the lucrative contract caught up to Daigle. He was frequently accused of putting the party before the game and was rarely motivated. He was also outplayed by teammate Alexei Yashin every year that he was in Ottawa, though the Senators continued their heavy promotion of Daigle over Yashin.
The Senators had finally had enough and shipped him to the Philadelphia Flyers in 1998. After bouncing around the league for a couple more seasons (and a two-year retirement due to "lack of motivation"), Daigle wound up with the Minnesota Wild in 2003-04, where he equaled his rookie numbers exactly.
However, flash to 2006, and Daigle was out of the NHL again.
Shortly after being drafted, Daigle uttered the infamous comment "I'm glad I got drafted first, because no one remembers No. 2."
That No. 2? Does the name "Chris Pronger" ring any bells?
18. Rick DiPietro
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Rick DiPietro's career has been a sad one.
Unlike the previous two players mentioned, lack of motivation is not what is keeping him so low on this list. As you may have guessed, it's the injury bug and nobody encounters it as often as Rick DiPietro.
Drafted by the New York Islanders in 2000 (prompting the Isles' brass to trade Roberto Luongo), he broke into the NHL immediately and posted dreadful numbers, as is common in the development of young goaltenders. He did not see NHL ice for another season, when he was called up for 10 games in 2003. He made it full-time the following season and performed very well for a team that was still not considered elite.
During his breakout 2005-06 season, he was also selected as the starting goaltender for the USA Olympic team. After the season, he was signed to a 15-year, $67.5 million contract—the longest in NHL history.
However, in March 2007, DiPietro suffered the first of a long string of injuries with a concussion. He returned, but was then forced out until the playoffs after being concussed again soon after.
In the offseason, he underwent hip surgery. The 2007-08 season also ended prematurely for him due to another hip surgery. He played only five games of the 2008-09 season before being shut down and played only eight during the following season.
He looked to be healthy during the 2010-11 season, but injuries soon got the better of him, as after playing 21 games, he was injured in a fight with Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Brent Johnson and is likely lost for the season once again.
17. Bryan Berard
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Much like the previous Islander on this list, Berard is ranked low due to injury issues.
Drafted by the Ottawa Senators in 1995, he was immediately traded to the New York Islanders for the second overall selection, Wade Redden, after informing the Senators that he had no intentions of playing in Ottawa.
He broke into the NHL the following season with a bang, winning the Calder Trophy with 48 points. With a 14-goal, 46-point performance the following season, Berard looked like a legitimate franchise blueliner.
However, the following season, he was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for goaltender Felix Potvin. In his second season in Toronto, Berard's entire career would change. On March 11, 2000, in a game against the Ottawa Senators, forward Marian Hossa's stick clipped Berard's right eye, which resulted in him nearly losing it.
He even received a large insurance settlement for what looked like a career-ending injury, but Berard vowed he would return. He underwent seven eye operations the following year and began skating and working out.
He was eventually offered a tryout contract by the New York Rangers and made the team. Despite scoring only 23 points, Berard was able to play in all 82 games.
Following successful one-year stints with the Bruins and Blackhawks, Berard signed with the Columbus Blue Jackets after the lockout, where he infamously became the first NHL player to test positive for steroids, but he did not receive NHL discipline. He was brought back to Long Island the following year, where he scored the game-winning goal against the rival New York Rangers in his first game back.
He is currently a free agent after spending the last few seasons in Russia.
16. Taylor Hall
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Check back in five years and Hall may be in the Top Five. The kid is simply THAT good.
His first NHL season recently ended due to injury, but in that short time, he had already been one of the highest scoring rookies in the league, with 22 goals and 42 points in only 65 games for the youthful Edmonton Oilers.
There is not much to say about Hall due to the small sample size, but he has impressed greatly in his first season. He is already known as one of the league's fastest skaters, finishing second in the fastest skater competition at the All-Star Game.
The 2010 first overall selection has definitely not disappointed thus far.
15. Erik Johnson
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The first overall selection by the St. Louis Blues in 2006, Johnson was the first defenseman drafted first overall since 1996.
Johnson entered the NHL in 2007 and immediately made an impact for St. Louis, scoring 33 points in only 69 games that season. It was certain that Johnson would be an elite blueliner.
However, he was forced to miss the entire 2008-09 season due to a freak golf cart accident in the offseason—and yes, you read that correctly. Johnson decided it would be good idea to attempt to play "golf-cart polo" during a team golf outing, but caught his foot in between the accelerator and brake pedal, tearing his ACL and MCL.
He returned in 2009-10 and picked up where he left off, scoring 10 goals and 39 points.
After struggling this season with only 19 points through 55 games, Johnson was traded to the Colorado Avalanche with Jay McClement in a shocking move to acquire Chris Stewart and Kevin Shattenkirk. Currently with the Avs, Johnson faced the Blues two days later and scored a goal in a 4-3 victory over his former team.
14. John Tavares
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Much like Taylor Hall and Erik Johnson, expect John Tavares to shoot up this list in the years to come. Drafted by the New York Islanders in 2009, he was perhaps the most anticipated first overall selection since Sidney Crosby in 2005.
Tavares is the proud owner of one of the greatest junior careers ever seen, breaking into the OHL at the age of 15. The following season, he broke Wayne Gretzky's OHL record for goals by a 16-year-old, finishing with 72.
Despite not being regarded as the strongest skater, Tavares' hard work paid off in his first season, as he tied for first among rookies in goals with 24 and finished second with 54 points.
He has already surpassed those numbers this season, with 25 and 57 respectively, and is definitely trending upwards.
13. Chris Phillips
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It is rare that a stay-at-home defenseman is drafted so high, but Phillips has been a rock on defense for the Ottawa Senators, who selected him with the first overall choice in 1996. He entered the NHL in the 1997-98 season and helped the Senators to the playoffs.
Despite his lack of scoring, he is an intimidating and helpful presence on the Ottawa blue line, helping the Senators reach the playoffs in every season he has been there, with the exception of two (including this season).
Despite his status as a defensive defenseman, he scored a memorable goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 2004 quarterfinals to tie the series at two games apiece. He was named an alternate captain of the Senators in 2006, a position he still holds to this day. He and the Senators reached the 2007 Stanley Cup Finals, where Phillips infamously made the mistake of scoring on his own net, which stood up as the Ducks' Stanley Cup-winning goal.
Amidst trade speculation this season, Phillips signed a three-year extension with the Senators, expressing his desire to stay in Ottawa.
12. Ed Jovanovski
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Ed Jovanovski was drafted by the Florida Panthers in 1994 after the franchise had just finished its first NHL season.
He entered the NHL for the 1995-96 season and scored 10 goals and 21 points while the Panthers made a shocking run to the Stanley Cup Finals where they met the Colorado Avalanche, who ended their run with a sweep. Still, Jovanovski performed well with nine points through 22 games, a glimpse into his talent.
In 1999, he was traded to the Vancouver Canucks as one of the key pieces in the deal that brought Pavel Bure to the Panthers. It was in Vancouver that Jovanovski found his offensive game in the NHL. In his second full season with the team, he recorded a career-high 12 goals and 47 points, the first of three-straight 40-point seasons. In those three seasons, he was also named the Canucks' top defender all three times.
He became a free agent in 2006 and signed a large contract with the Phoenix Coyotes, where he scored a career-high 51 points in 2007-08.
Jovanovski will be a free agent once again this summer and teams will likely be lining up for the big defenseman, who combines a perfect balance of scoring and physicality.
11. Rick Nash
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Rick Nash has been the heart and soul of the Columbus Blue Jackets since he was drafted in 2002.
He became the first player in Blue Jackets history to take home a major NHL award, tying for the Rocket Richard Trophy in only his second season with 41 goals. He also set a modern NHL record that season for the highest goals-to-assists ratio, with only 16 assists.
Nash has been a consistent producer for the Blue Jackets, even leading the team to its first playoff appearance in 2009 with a 40 goal, 79 point performance. He was named the team's captain in late 2008 and has served in the role admirably. He is also the owner of nearly every offensive record in Blue Jackets team history.
Despite the small-market nature and lack of a winning history, Nash solidified his commitment to Columbus with the signing of an eight-year contract in 2009. Nash has never had an elite offensive teammate, carrying the Blue Jackets himself every season.
10. Roman Hamrlik
Drafted first overall by the Tampa Bay Lightning in 1992 before their first season, it is hard to believe that Roman Hamrlik is only one game away from 1300. He has been a rock on defense ever since he was drafted and in his fourth season, he broke out with a huge 65-point season as the Lightning made the playoffs for the first time in franchise history.
He was traded to the Edmonton Oilers the season after and spent another couple of seasons there, even recording 45 points in the 1999-00 season.
He then signed a four-year contract with the New York Islanders, where he performed well, usually being known as their best defenseman.
He signed a two-year contract with the Calgary Flames after the lockout, where he began to shift his role from puck-moving scorer to more of a stay-at-home blueliner. His rock-solid play in a Flames uniform earned him another four-year deal, this time from the Montreal Canadiens, where he currently patrols the blue line.
Even at the age of 36, he is a fearsome presence on defense and remains one of the hardest hitters in the entire NHL.
9. Marc-André Fleury
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Marc-André Fleury had some work to do when he was selected first overall by the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2003, being the second goaltender selected since 2000.
Fleury's first couple of seasons on the struggling Penguins were underwhelming, but such is common with a young goaltender. Though his individual statistics were never eye-popping (until this season), he recorded 40 wins for the Penguins in 2006-07, as the Penguins returned to the playoffs.
Despite being injured for a large portion of the 2007-08 season, he lead the Penguins to the Stanley Cup Finals where they were defeated by the Red Wings in six games. He helped to bring the team back to the Finals in 2009, where he made a memorable last-second save on Nicklas Lidstrom in Game 7 to preserve the 2-1 lead and hoisted the Cup a few moments later.
He has faced his biggest challenge this season. Missing Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin for the second half of the season, Fleury has been carrying the team and is well on his way to a possible Vezina and Hart Trophy nomination.
8. Patrick Kane
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Watch out everyone—the Patrick Kane Party Train is coming through.
Despite his penchant for late-night antics in the city, Patrick Kane has been one of the better players in the NHL since he was drafted first by the Chicago Blackhawks in 2007.
With things finally looking up in Chi-Town, Kane certainly did not disappoint, leading all rookies with 72 points and winning the Calder Trophy.
Despite recording only 70 points in his sophomore season, Kane helped to lead the Blackhawks back to the playoffs. Kane notched nine goals in his first 16 playoff games, including a memorable hat trick against Roberto Luongo and the Canucks in the semifinals. They were eventually defeated in the Western Conference Finals by the Detroit Red Wings, but the Blackhawks had made their statement.
Kane became a point-per-game player the following season, leading the Blackhawks with 30 goals and 88 points, as Chicago usurped the Red Wings as the Central Division champions. They defeated the Nashville Predators and Vancouver Canucks in six games each, and then swept the top-seeded San Jose Sharks in the Conference Finals to move on to the Stanley Cup Final.
They faced off against the Philadelphia Flyers in a six-game series, which culminated in Kane scoring the Stanley Cup-winning goal in overtime in extremely memorable fashion.
Skating in, Kane fired a shot at a bad angle, which slid under the pads of goaltender Michael Leighton and went under the border of the net. No light went on, but Kane and the Blackhawks celebrated anyway, as they knew he had just ended 49 years of Chicago suffering.
7. Steven Stamkos
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Steven Stamkos is only in his third season of play and despite not being marketed as much as Sidney Crosby or Alex Ovechkin, he has quickly become one of the game's best players.
He was projected as the first overall pick in 2008 and following heavy promotion from the Tampa Bay Lightning via their "Seen Stamkos?" campaign, he was selected there by the team.
His NHL career started slow, with only 14 points through the first 40 games, leading some to even call him a "bust." However, head coach Barry Melrose had rarely given Stamkos more than 10 minutes of ice time per game.
After Melrose was fired, Stamkos went off in the season's second half, recording 32 points in the final 39 games of the season—including 19 in his last 20—giving him a respectable rookie total of 23 goals and 46 points.
After the season ended, he began a summer of rigorous workouts with NHL veteran and one-time teammate Gary Roberts, who was known for his legendary training regimen. The training paid off big-time, as Stamkos broke out in a huge way, meshing perfectly with winger Martin St. Louis on his way to co-leading the league with 51 goals and scoring 95 points as well.
Stamkos is currently leading the NHL in goals and is likely to surpass the 50-goal mark for the second consecutive season and sits second in the league in points.
Stamkos is sure to be one of the top five NHL players for years to come.
6. Ilya Kovalchuk
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Ilya Kovalchuk holds the distinction of being the first Russian player to be drafted first overall. He was selected by the Atlanta Thrashers in 2001 and broke into the NHL immediately, leading all rookies with 29 goals and finishing second in Calder Trophy voting to teammate Dany Heatley.
After improving on those totals the following year, he co-led the league in goals with 41 and tied for second in points with 87 during the 2003-04 season.
He returned to the league after the lockout and scored an incredible 52 goals and 98 points. Despite a dip in points, he again topped the 40-goal plateau the following season and matched his career high with 52 in 2007-08. He scored 43 goals and 91 points during the 2008-09 season and was named the team's captain that season, a distinction that had been long awaited.
The 2009-10 season would be a career changing one for Kovalchuk. He was in the final year of his contract and his name was constantly brought up in trade rumors, due to the fact that he appeared uninterested in continuing his career with the Thrashers.
Finally, he was traded to the New Jersey Devils on February 4th, 2011, ending his 10-year run in Atlanta. He never truly meshed with the Devils but finished the season with 41 goals, marking his sixth consecutive 40-goal season.
He became a free agent in July and turned down lucrative offers from teams such as the L.A. Kings. Finally, he agreed to a monstrous 17-year deal with the Devils. The deal was eventually rejected by the NHL and came to a legal agreement with New Jersey to the tune of $100 million over 15 years.
He struggled mightily in his first full season in New Jersey, as the Devils dropped to the bottom of NHL standings. However, he has been red hot as of late and is currently one of the major reasons the Devils are making a run at the playoffs, also serving as one of the Devils' alternate captains.
5. Joe Thornton
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Despite his lackluster playoff reputation, few can deny what a great scorer Joe Thornton has been in his NHL career.
He was drafted by the Boston Bruins in 1997, but did not make the immediate impact that other first overall selections made. He struggled and was scratched often as he recorded only three goals and seven points in 55 games.
It was not until his third season that he began to show flashes of his talent when he netted 23 goals and 60 points. He scored a career-high 37 goals the following season and approached the point-per-game plateau with 71 points in 72 games.
He was named captain of the Bruins in 2002, which was a controversial move, as Thornton was occasionally chided for immaturity. However, that season, he recorded 36 goals and 101 points, finishing third in the NHL in scoring.
He regressed to 73 points in 77 games the following season and when play resumed after the lockout, he was back to the elite player he was in 2003. He had scored nine goals and 33 points in the first 22 games of the season.
However, on November 30th, 2005, Thornton was traded to the San Jose Sharks in exchange for Wayne Primeau, Brad Stuart and Marco Sturm. Teaming with Jonathan Cheechoo, Thornton raised his game to another level, scoring 20 goals and 92 points in the remaining 58 games of the season, capturing the Art Ross Trophy by two points with 125. He also won the Hart Trophy that season.
He followed that up with a 114-point season and though his production has dropped each year, he remains the Sharks' offensive leader. He was even named captain before this season.
The only thing missing from Thornton's impressive résumé is a Stanley Cup ring, something he has his team in position to win.
4. Vincent Lecavalier
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When new Tampa Bay Lightning owner Art Williams drafted Vincent Lecavalier in 1998, he famously proclaimed him "the Michael Jordan of hockey."
While that statement did not exactly hold true, Lecavalier has been spectacular for the Lightning over the course of his career. While he only recorded 28 points in his rookie season, he broke out with 67 in his sophomore year and was soon named captain.
After struggling for a couple of seasons and having his captaincy stripped for immaturity, he scored 33 goals and 78 points in 2002-03, teaming with Martin St. Louis and Brad Richards to lead the Lightning to the playoffs.
Florida's original "Big Three" led the Lightning back to the playoffs the following season where they went to the Stanley Cup finals and eventually topped the Calgary Flames in an epic seven-game series.
After the lockout, Lecavalier resumed his career with a typical 35-goal, 75-point season. However, the following year, he proceeded to set the league on fire. He scored an incredible 52 goals and 108 points, becoming the first Lightning player to win the Richard Trophy.
He began the following season on a similar tear, but slowed down after longtime teammate Brad Richards was traded—he still finished with 40 goals and 92 points.
Due to his success and maturity, he was renamed captain of the Lightning in 2008, a position he still holds. Despite regressing in his point production, Lecavalier has remained a great leader for the team and currently has his team in playoff position.
3. Eric Lindros
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Injuries aside, Eric Lindros was easily one of the most dominant players of the 1990s.
He was drafted in 1991 by the Quebec Nordiques, but refused to play for the team due to lack of marketing potential and his inability to speak French. The holdout lasted for a year, until Nordiques management finally worked out trades with both the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers.
Eventually, arbiter Larry Bertuzzi ruled that Lindros be sent to the Flyers for prospect Peter Forsberg, Chris Simon, Mike Ricci, Kerry Huffman, Steve Duchesne and two first-round draft picks.
Lindros made an immediate impact with the Flyers, scoring 41 goals and 75 points in only 61 games during his rookie season. He teamed with John LeClair and Mikael Renberg to form the "Legion of Doom" line and once again topped 40 goals in the 1993-94 season.
He tied Jaromir Jagr for the NHL's scoring lead in the lockout-shortened 1995 season, but Jagr was awarded the Art Ross Trophy due to his 32 goals to Lindros' 29. Lindros, however, came away with the Hart Trophy. He had his finest offensive season the year after with 47 goals and 115 points while playing 70 games for the first time in his career.
The following season, he led the Flyers to the Stanley Cup Finals, rolling over their first three opponents, but they were set down by the Detroit Red Wings in the finals in four games.
Lindros suffered his first in a series of concussions in 1998 and was involved in a scary incident after a game against the Nashville Predators in 1999. He was discovered by teammate Keith Jones lying pale and cold in the bathtub and Bobby Clarke ordered that he be placed on a flight to Philadelphia. However, he was soon taken to a Nashville hospital where he was diagnosed with a collapsed lung, and would have died had he been placed on the flight.
Lindros was eventually stripped of his captaincy for criticizing the team doctors and would be concussed twice more in his time with Philadelphia. He sat out a full season and was eventually dealt to the New York Rangers, where he had success in his first season, but eventually succumbed to another concussion.
After one-year stints with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Dallas Stars, he retired from hockey.
2. Alexander Ovechkin
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Was there any doubt that the "Great Eight" would slot in at No. 2 on this list?
Being No. 2 is certainly no slight on a list like this, as Alexander Ovechkin is making a strong case for becoming one of the greatest scorers the game has ever seen.
He was drafted by the Washington Capitals in 2004, but was forced to wait until the 2005-06 season to enter the NHL due to the 2004-05 lockout. However, he put together one of the greatest rookie seasons in the history of the NHL. He scored 52 goals and 106 points, easily capturing the Calder Trophy and setting an NHL rookie-record with 425 shots on goal.
It was two seasons later though, that Ovechkin would really make his mark on the record books.
He began scoring like nobody had seen in years, and on March 21, 2008, he scored a pair of goals to hit the 60-goal mark—the first time anyone had accomplished this feat since the 1995-96 season, when Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr both did it. He finished the season with 65 goals—an NHL record for left wingers—and 112 points, leading the league in scoring and running away with the Hart Trophy.
He also carried the Washington Capitals to the playoffs that season—quite a feat considering they were near the bottom of the league standings a few months earlier. He scored 56 goals the following season and finished second with 110 points but still won his second Hart Trophy, becoming the first repeat-winner since Dominik Hasek in 1998.
He once again amassed 50 goals despite missing 10 games last season and tied for second in the league with 109 points. He was also named captain that season following the trade of Chris Clark. He lead the Capitals to the President's Trophy, but they were upset by the upstart Montreal Canadiens in the first round of the playoffs.
In the current 2010-11 season, Ovechkin is on pace for his worst offensive year. However, do not be surprised to see him pot another 50 next season.
1. Sidney Crosby
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Simply put, Sidney Crosby is the best player in the NHL. And despite the protests of his "haters," there really is no evidence to the contrary.
Quite possibly the most highly-anticipated draft pick in history, Crosby was selected by the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2005, after being nationally known throughout Canada since about the age of 13. He proved his gaudy junior numbers held up, scoring 39 goals and an incredibly 102 points in his rookie season, breaking Mario Lemieux's franchise record for points by a rookie. He finished second in Calder Trophy voting to the previously mentioned Alexander Ovechkin.
During his rookie season, he received the labels of a "whiner" and a "diver", terms that are still incorrectly used to describe him today.
The following season, Crosby became the first teenager to lead the league in scoring since Wayne Gretzky in 1980 with 36 goals and an incredible 120 points. He became the youngest player to win the Art Ross Trophy that season and also captured the Hart. He was named the Penguins captain in the offseason—the youngest full captain in NHL history.
Despite an injury that saw him play only 58 games, he scored 72 points and led the Penguins to the Stanley Cup Finals where they were defeated by the Red Wings.
The following season, he returned with 33 goals and 103 points, but took a backseat to teammate Evgeni Malkin as the Penguins returned to the finals to defeat the Red Wings and win the Cup.
The 2009-10 season however, was perhaps Crosby's finest. He scored a career-high 51 goals—tying for the league lead—and 109 points—tied for second in the league. He also entered his name into Canadian folklore, scoring the gold medal-winning goal for Canada at the 2010 Olympics.
The current 2010-11 season was looking to be a banner year for Crosby, who quickly erased any doubt that he is the NHL's top player with an incredible 25-game point-scoring streak that saw him amass an unbelievable 27 goals and 51 points.
Unfortunately, he was diagnosed with a concussion and has not played since game 41, but amassed 32 goals and 66 points in half a season's worth of play.
Sidney Crosby is the best first overall draft pick of the last 20 years and possibly one of the greatest in the history of the draft.