2011 NHL Draft: 12 Best Drafts in NHL History

Ryan DavenportContributor IJune 17, 2011

2011 NHL Draft: 12 Best Drafts in NHL History

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    OTTAWA, ON - JUNE 21:  General view of the draft board during the 2008 NHL Entry Draft at Scotiabank Place on June 21, 2008 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    At the end of every season, the NHL entry draft is held, and the general managers of each team take their best swing at securing prospects that will ultimately materialize into contributors at the NHL level at some point down the road.  

    A general manager's ability to do so depends on both the quality of each team's scouting department and the number of quality players available in the talent pool, which typically can't be determined until at least five years after the draft takes place.  

    This year's draft class is considered one of the deeper ones in recent memory, as beyond top prospect Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, there are thought to be at least four or five other players who appear to be future stars.  

    Ultimately, for a draft class to be considered above average, it needs to not only contain stars who were taken in the top 10 picks, but also quality players who, for whatever reason, had to wait until the second round or later to hear their names called.  

    With that in mind, here's a look at the top 12 draft classes in NHL history.   

12. 2005

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    OTTAWA, ONT - JULY 30:  (L-R) First overall draft pick Sidney Crosby accepts a hat and jersey from Mario Lemieux of the Pittsburgh Penguins during the 2005 National Hockey League Draft on July 30, 2005 at the Westin Hotel in Ottawa, Canada.  (Photo by And
    Andre Ringuette/Getty Images

    The 2005 NHL entry draft was basically viewed as the "Sidney Crosby Sweepstakes" in the months preceding it, because by that time Crosby had cemented himself as the best prospect since Eric Lindros. 

    Due to the NHL lockout, the league held a special draft lottery, in which each NHL team had a chance at receiving the first pick.  

    While Pittsburgh ended up winning the right to select the Nova Scotia native, many of the teams who lost out certainly came home with some nice consolation prizes. 

    Outside of Minnesota's Benoit Pouliot, all of the other players taken in the top five have reached stardom in the NHL.  Jack Johnson and Bobby Ryan were both members of the United States Olympic Team last winter, and Carey Price has solidified his status as the man between the pipes in Montreal.  

    The rest of the first round was just as good, as Devin Setoguchi, Steve Downie Marc Staal, T.J. Oshie and Anze Kopitar were all selected early.  

    The second round was impressive as well, as James Neal, Mason Raymond and Paul Stastny heard their names called, while Kris Letang was picked up by Pittsburgh in the third.  

    Even the last round featured two future snipers, as Sergei Kostitsyn was grabbed at 200th overall by Montreal, and Patric Hornvquist went to Nashville with the last selection in the draft, lucky No. 230.  

    Though it's too early to tell exactly how good the 2005 draft will end up being, the early returns for many teams have been very, very good.  

11. 1994

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    VANCOUVER, BC - JUNE 15:  Tim Thomas #30 of the Boston Bruins is awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy after defeating the Vancouver Canucks in Game Seven of the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Final at Rogers Arena on June 15, 2011 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
    Harry How/Getty Images

    Interestingly, many of the best players from the 1994 draft class weren't taken until the later rounds, and many of the top selections never secured a lineup spot with an NHL club.  

    There were some stars taken in the top 10, such as Ed Jovanovski, Ryan Smyth and Jeff O'Neill, but overall the first round was a relatively disappointing one.  

    However, the gems that were uncovered in the later rounds more than compensated for the lack of star power at the top of the draft board.  In the second round, future All-Stars Jose Theodore and Patrick Elias were selected, but the real finds came even later.  

    Round 3 saw Chris Drury, Sheldon Souray and Fredrik Modin taken, and Milan Hejduk, Marty Turco and Daniel Alfredsson were taken in the fourth, fifth and sixth rounds respectively.  

    While they all materialized into NHL standouts, the real gold mine was the ninth round.  Here, future NHL stars like Evgeni Nabokov, Tim Thomas, Tomas Vokoun and Steve Sullivan were selected, illustrating how deep this talent pool was.  

    In addition, once again the final pick in the entire draft turned out to be a good one, as the Rangers selected future All-Star Kim Johnsson in the 11th round.  

10. 1997

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    SAN JOSE, CA - MAY 20:  Joe Thornton #19 and Patrick Marleau #12 of the San Jose Sharks celebrate Marleau's second goal of the first period in Game Three of the Western Conference Finals during the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs at HP Pavilion on May 20, 2011
    Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    The 1997 NHL draft was one of the most top-heavy classes in recent memory, as the quality of the players who made it to the NHL outweigh the somewhat low number of solid NHL players it yielded.  

    All of the top five picks have turned out to be star players, as Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Olli Jokinen, Roberto Luongo and Eric Brewer have all been standouts in the NHL.  

    Outside of the top five, there were a number of other exceptional players taken in the first round, such as Marian Hossa, Scott Hannan and Brendan Morrow.  

    In the later rounds, some of the better players to be selected were Maxim Afinogenov, Joe Corvo and Brian Campbell, who waited until the sixth round for his name to be called.  

    While there were plenty of teams that were unhappy with their selections a couple of years down the line, the fortunes of a few franchises changed after the 1997 NHL draft.  

9. 2002

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    TORONTO, CANADA - JUNE 22:  (L-R) Number one overall pick Rick Nash selected by the Columbus Blue Jackets, number two overall pick Kari Lehtonen, selected by the Atlanta Thrashers and number three overall pick Jay Bouwmeester, selected by the Florida Pant
    Craig Melvin/Getty Images

    The weeks leading up to the 2002 NHL draft were more dramatic than usual, because no one seemed to be sure of who would be selected first.  There were three prospects who had separated themselves from the pack, as Jay Bouwmeester, Kari Lehtonen and Rick Nash were all thought to have a chance at going No. 1.  

    In the end, Nash was taken with the top selection, with Lehtonen and Bouwmeester going second and third, respectively.  From there, the first round was littered with future impact players like Alexander Semin, Cam Ward, Ryan Whitney, Joni Pitkanen and Joffrey Lupul.

    The later rounds also produced some high-end talent, as Duncan Keith, Jiri Hudler and Tomas Fleischmann all were taken in the second round of selections.  

    The 2002 draft was a particularly good one for Detroit, as they got Hudler in the second round, Valtteri Filppula in the third and Jonathan Ericsson with the last pick in the entire draft.  All three would turn out to be key players for the Red Wings in a few years' time.  

8. 1991

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    20 Jan 1996:  Peter Forsberg #21 of the Western Conference weaves through Ray Bourque #77, Roman Hamrlik #44 and Eric Lindros #88 of the Eastern Conference in an attempt at a shot during the first period of the NHL All Star Game played at the Fleet Center
    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    Much like the 2005 NHL draft, the 1991 edition of the event was one of the most hyped draft classes in league history, largely because of one highly touted prospect.  Dubbed "The Next One" by the media, Eric Lindros was supposed to be the biggest thing that has happened to hockey since Mario Lemieux.  

    While Quebec took Lindros with the first pick, he refused to play for the Nordiques and ended up being traded to the Philadelphia Flyers.  In return, the Nordiques received a massive haul of players, prospects, picks and cash, including the Flyers' first pick in the 1991 draft.  

    That pick turned out to be a Swedish centerman by the name of Peter Forsberg, who would go on to win a Hart Trophy, two Olympic Golds and two Stanley Cups.  

    While Lindros and Forsberg received much of the attention at the time of the draft, the third selection would go on to have even more impressive careers, as Scott Niedermayer turned out to be the most decorated defenseman in recent NHL history.  

    Outside of the top five, Alexei Kovalev, Markus Naslund and Brian Rolston were taken in the first round, while future All-Stars Ray Whitney, Zigmund Palffy and Sandis Ozolinsh were picked up in the second.  

    Though the later rounds didn't produce as many NHL-calibre players as some other drafts have, the quality of elite players who were taken early on is too great to ignore.  

7. 1990

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    PHILADELPHIA - APRIL 10:  Keith Primeau #25 of the Philadelphia Flyers looks to control the puck in front of goalie Martin Brodeur #30 of the New Jersey Devils as the Flyers defeated the Devils 3-2 during game two of round one of the NHL Stanley Cup Playo
    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    The 1990 NHL Draft featured a number of couple of future Hall of Fame players, as well as a crop of solid prospects who would end up enjoying long careers.  

    Future San Jose Sharks captain and Olympic Gold Medalist Owen Nolan was taken first by Quebec, while fellow All-Stars Keith Primeau and Jarimor Jagr were scooped up soon after.  The rest of the first round yielded future stars like Keith Tkachuk, Darryl Sydor and Derian Hatcher, not to mention arguably the greatest goaltender of all time in Martin Brodeur, who wasn't taken until No. 20.  

    In the second round, future All-Stars Geoff Sanderson, Felix Potvin and Doug Weight heard their names called, while Sergei Zubov was drafted in the fifth round.  

    Rounds 7 and 8 also featured future offensive dynamos, as Robert Lang and 500-goal man Peter Bondra were late selections.  

    While the 1990 draft was not quite as impressive as some of the others of its decade, it still produced a solid number of star players and future NHL stalwarts.   

6. 1983

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    DETROIT - APRIL 11:  Steve Yzerman #19 of the Detroit Red Wings skates during the NHL game agaisnt the Edmonton Oilers at Joe Louis Arena  April 11, 2006 in Detroit, Michigan. The Red Wings won the game 2-0.(Photo By Dave Sandford/Getty Images)
    Dave Sandford/Getty Images

    The 1983 NHL draft was a great success for a number of teams, but the Minnesota North Stars were not one of them.  With the first pick in the draft, the North Stars selected American forward Brian Lawton, who has since been labeled one of the biggest busts in recent memory.  

    However, after Lawton, there were a number of future stars available, such as Steve Yzerman, Pat Lafontaine and Cam Neely, who were all taken in the top 10.  

    After those future greats were selected, there were still some steals to be had, as future Conn Smythe winner Claude Lemieux and Bob Probert were taken in the second and third rounds.  

    Even the fourth produced top-flight talent, as future Lightning starter Darren Puppa and Oilers great Esa Tikkanen were finally picked up.  

    The later rounds actually produced talent that's almost on par with that of the first round, as Rick Tocchet and Kevin Stevens were around until the sixth round.  

    However, the real steals of the draft were mostly European, as NHL teams were unsure of whether their draftees would even be allowed to attend a training camp in North America.  Either way, future Hall of Fame inductees Dominik Hasek, Slava Fetisov and Vladislav Tretiak were all taken in the seventh round or later.  

    The 1983 draft wasn't a particularly deep talent pool, but with six Hall of Famers, including three in the later rounds, the rewards were high for a number of teams.  

5. 1998

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    27 Jun 1998:  First round picks (L-R) David Legwand of the Nashville Predators, Vincent Lecavalier of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Brad Stuart of the San Jose Sharks pose for a group shot during the 1998 NHL Entry Draft at the Marine Midland Arena in Buffa
    Rick Stewart/Getty Images

    The 1998 NHL draft featured two forward prospects who were considered to be neck-and-neck going into the final weeks before the selections would be announced.  

    Those two forwards were Vincent Lecavalier and David Legwand, each of which had their unique set of strengths that had NHL scouts drooling.  Ultimately, Lecavalier was tabbed first by Tampa Bay, and as they say, the rest is history.  Lecavalier lead the Lightning to the 2004 Stanley Cup, and Legwand has been a long-time member of the Nashville Predators.  

    After those two, there were a number of standout NHL players who were taken within the next 25 picks, such as Simon Gagne, Brad Stuart, Alex Tanguay, Scott Gomez and Robyn Regehr.  While there were plenty of busts in the first round, the number of top-flight NHL players that were taken is too great to ignore.  

    In the second round, future Rocket Richard winner Jonathan Cheechoo was picked, as was Mike Ribeiro. 

    Interestingly, the best round of the draft may have been the third, as future Conn Smythe winner Brad Richards heard his name called at No. 64, and Erik Cole, Francois Beauchemin and Brian Gionta followed soon after. 

    The later rounds also saw NHL stars claimed, as Shawn Horcoff was taken in the fourth, while future Russian Olympic teammates Andrei Markov and Pavel Datsyuk were snatched up in the sixth.  Michael Ryder was also a steal, as he waited until the eighth round to be selected.  

    Ultimately, while the 1998 draft had some big named picked early, it's the late-round gems that made this class a memorable one.  

4. 1988

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    DALLAS - OCTOBER 5:  Center Mike Modano #9 of the Dallas Stars moves the puck past Jeremy Roenick #97 of the Los Angeles Kings on October 5, 2005 at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    The 1988 NHL draft was headlined by two future NHL captains and Olympians in Mike Modano and Trevor Linden, but featured a number of other talented players selected within the first 10 picks.  

    Jeremy Roenick, Rod Brind'Amour, Martin Gelinas and Teemu Selanne were all claimed by the time the 11th pick rolled around, but the later rounds produced some diamonds in the rough.  

    In the fourth round, future All-Stars Tony Amonte, Rob Blake and Mark Recchi were selected, as were Joe Juneau and Keith Carney.  

    Seeing as Russians were still finding it difficult to escape the clutches of the National Team, many talented Europeans weren't picked until much later in the 1988 draft.  

    Future 76-goal scorer Alexander Mogilny was taken by the Sabres with the 89th pick, and fellow countryman and future NHL All-Star Valeri Kamensky was taken with the 129th selection.

    The successes of players like Mogilny and Kamensky paved the way for Russians in the future, and NHL teams gradually became less and less hesitant to select Europeans.  

3. 1979

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    TORONTO, ON - NOVEMBER 08: Glenn Anderson #9 and Mark Messier #11 celebrate a goal by Anderson at the Hockey Hall of Fame Legends Game at the Air Canada Centre on November 8, 2009 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    The 1979 NHL draft was the first in league history that allowed professional players from other leagues (primarily the World Hockey Association) to be selected.  In addition, the league changed the minimum age requirement to 18, so teams essentially had two years' worth of players to select from.  

    The result was one of the deepest draft classes in history, as two Hall of Fame players were taken in the first 10 picks in Ray Bourque and Mike Gartner.  Outside of those two, the rest of the top ten virtually all went on to be solid NHL players, and six would be selected for at least one NHL All-Star game.  

    Later in the first round, future greats like Kevin Lowe and Hall of Famer Michal Goulet were taken, while Dale Hunter, Neal Broten and future Vezina winner Pelle Lindbergh were selected in the second.  

    Out of the 126 players selected in the 1979 draft, 103 would go on to suit up in the National Hockey League, illustrating how much talent there was available. 

    While the first two rounds were impressive, the best player from the 1979 Draft class was taken in the third round, as six-time Cup winner Mark Messier was picked up by the Oilers from the WHA, and his future teammate and fellow Hall of Famer Glenn Anderson was taken one round later.  

    Though there weren't as many great players to emerge from the late rounds as there were in other years, for it's era the 1979 draft was a gold mine for NHL teams looking to stock their lineups with talent for the future.  

    It will go down as the first truly great draft class in NHL history, and remains one of the best ever.  

2. 1993

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    TURIN, ITALY - FEBRUARY 19: Chris Pronger #44 of Canada tries to hook Saku Koivu #11 of Finland during the men's ice hockey Preliminary Round Group A match between Finland and Canada during Day 9 of the Turin 2006 Winter Olympic Games on February 19, 2006
    Elsa/Getty Images

    The 1993 NHL draft featured some of the best players of the last decade, but the team with the first selection will forever regret their decision on Draft Day in 1993.  

    The Ottawa Senators selected Alexandre Daigle with the top pick, and he went on to become one of the biggest busts in NHL history.  However, the picks that followed turned out rather well for the teams lucky enough to miss out on Daigle.  

    In the first 15 picks alone, names like Chris Pronger, Paul Kariya, Viktor Kozlov, Jason Arnott and Adam Deadmarsh were called.  Soon after, Jason Allison, Saku Koivu and Todd Bertuzzi were tabbed near the end of the first round.  

    In the second round, Jamie Langenbrunner, Brendan Morrison and Bryan McCabe were all selected, and the later rounds also produced some high level NHL players.  

    Future All-Stars Miroslav Satan, Tommy Salo and Eric Daze were all taken in the third round or later, while Darcy Tucker and Patrick Lalime were grabbed in the fifth.  

    Some future stars had to wait even longer, as Pavol Demitra and Kimmo Timonen turned out to be steals in the ninth and 10th rounds, respectively.  

    While there weren't as many late-round gems as there were in other years, the high number of players taken early that turned out to be NHL stars is hard to ignore.  

    Unfortunately, the Ottawa Senators set their franchise back about five years by opting to select Daigle over Norris Trophy-winning rearguard Chris Pronger.  

1. 2003

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    NASHVILLE, TN - JUNE 19:  Top NHL Draft prospects pose for a picture on stage in between concerts on June 19, 2003 at the Gaylord Entertainment Center in Nashville, Tennessee. Front row(L to R) Milan Michalek, Zach Parise, Ryan Suter, Thomas Vanek and Dus
    Elsa/Getty Images

    While it's only been eight years since the 2003 draft, it has already emerged as the best class of all time. 

    Since then, the top two selections have each lead their teams to Stanley Cup victories, as Marc Andre Fleury backstopped Pittsburgh to the Cup in 2008, while Eric Staal lead the Hurricanes in Playoff scoring en route to the 2006 title.  

    After they were selected, Nathan Horton, Nik Zherdev and Thomas Vanek all heard their named called, so all of the players within the top five have at least materialized into solid NHL players.  

    However, the rest of the first round produced even better talent.  The list of future NHL stars is endless, as Ryan Suter, Braydon Coburn, Dustin Brown, Jeff Carter and Brent Seabrook were all gone by the 15th pick.  

    From there, Brent Burns, Ryan Getzlaf, Zach Parise, Ryan Kesler, Mike Richards, Corey Perry and Eric Fehr were all taken before the end of the first round.  One could assemble an entire All-Star team out of the players tabbed in the first 30 picks, because the talent pool was so deep.  

    Outside of the first round, Loui Eriksson, Shea Weber and David Backes were taken in the Second, and Clarke MacArthur was grabbed in the third. 

    Even the eighth round produced two All-Star defensemen in Tobias Enstrom and Dustin Byfuglien, who have since become Winnipeg's top defensive pairing.  

    While there are still likely some standouts to emerge from the 2003 draft, the number of stars this class produced is simply astonishing.  

    On Team Canada's 2010 Olympic Team that won the Gold in Vancouver, there were seven players from the 2003 draft class, illustrating how strong this talent pool truly was.