NHL Entry Draft: The Best Player in Each Draft from 1991-2010

Zach VanderbergCorrespondent IJune 27, 2011

NHL Entry Draft: The Best Player in Each Draft from 1991-2010

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    On June 24th, 2011, the Edmonton Oilers came to the podium in Minnesota and announced Ryan Nugent-Hopkins as the first overall selection in the 2011 NHL entry draft. The pick was a good one for the Oilers, who need a top-tier center to complement their young stars like Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall.

    Gabriel Landeskog, Jonathan Huberdeau and Adam Larsson were picked second, third and fourth overall respectively. Each with a different playing style, the jury could be out for years as to who the best player from the 2011 draft eventually turns out to be.

    These players are the best to come out of each draft from the years 1991-2010.

1991: Peter Forsberg

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    Drafted sixth overall by the Philadelphia Flyers.

    Peter Forsberg gets the nod over top draft pick Eric Lindros and third overall pick Scott Niedermayer. Forsberg did not play for the Flyers immediately, but was traded in a massive package deal to the Quebec Nordiques for the aforementioned Lindros.

    This turned out to be one of the best trades in NHL history, favoring the Nordiques/Avalanche. Forsberg blossomed into one of the greatest two-way players in the history of the game. He was an elite scorer, a top defensive player and a player that could play the rough game. He twice scored over 100 points, capturing the Hart Trophy as the NHL's MVP in 2003 after a 106-point season.

    He also helped the Avalanche win the Stanley Cup twice, in 1996 and 2001. He eventually signed with the Philadelphia Flyers in 2005 and played parts of two seasons with them. After a brief stop in Nashville, he made two comeback attempts with the Avalanche that were short-lived.

    When all is said and done, I believe Peter Forsberg will be enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

1992: Sergei Gonchar

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    Drafted 14th overall by the Washington Capitals.

    The 1992 draft was not a particularly strong one, with no dominant superstars coming from it. Sergei Gonchar gets top billing over first overall pick Roman Hamrlik.

    Despite his disastrous 2010-11 season with the Ottawa Senators, Gonchar had actually been one of the game's best offensive defensemen of his generation. He showed flashes of his offensive brilliance in Washington in just his second season, when he scored 41 points.

    Starting with the 1999-00 season, the year after he scored 21 goals, he began a streak of eight consecutive 50-point seasons, topping the 60-point mark three times, as well.

    He spent five extremely productive seasons with the Pittsburgh Penguins, from 2005 to 2010, winning the Stanley Cup in 2009. He currently plays for the Ottawa Senators.

1993: Chris Pronger

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    Drafted second overall by the Hartford Whalers.

    "I'm glad I got drafted first, because nobody remembers number two." Those were the infamous words uttered by first overall selection Alexandre Daigle, widely considered one of the biggest draft busts in NHL history.

    On the opposite end of the spectrum, Pronger has become one of the most dominant defensemen in NHL history. He easily takes the position of this draft's best player, though fourth overall pick Paul Kariya is an excellent player as well.

    Pronger played only two seasons in Hartford before being traded to the St. Louis Blues. He became their captain and won the Norris Trophy in 2000. He also captured the Hart Trophy that year, becoming the first defenseman since Bobby Orr in 1972 to accomplish that feat. He later played one season with the Edmonton Oilers, dragging the underdog to the Stanley Cup Finals.

    He had a productive three seasons in Anaheim, winning the Stanley Cup in 2007. He currently plays for the Philadelphia Flyers, with whom he advanced to the 2010 Stanley Cup Finals.

1994: Tim Thomas

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    Drafted 217th overall by the Quebec Nordiques.

    When it comes to the goaltending position, if you name it, chances are Tim Thomas has done it. He narrowly gets the nod over Patrik Elias and Daniel Alfredsson. Thomas never played for the Nordiques. As a matter of fact, he didn't make his NHL debut until the 2002-03 season with the Boston Bruins, playing in four games.

    After bouncing around the AHL and Finland, Thomas arrived in Boston once again to serve as the Bruins' backup goaltender for the 2005-06 season. He performed admirably, and won the starting job the following season at the age of 31. He won 30 games, but was expected to back up Manny Fernandez for 2007-08. Thomas was forced into the starting job due to injury, and performed even better than the previous season.

    He entered 2008-09 as the uncontested starter for the first time, and delivered, winning the Vezina Trophy as the NHL's best goaltender. He struggled the following season, losing his starting job to rookie Tuukka Rask, and the Bruins were looking to trade him.

    He redeemed himself in the 2010-11 season with one of the greatest seasons in goaltending history. Thomas won back his starting job and set the NHL record for save percentage in a season with .938 percent. He was dominant in the playoffs, leading the Bruins to win the Stanley Cup and capturing the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP. He capped off his season with another Vezina Trophy at the NHL Awards Show.

1995: Jarome Iginla

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    Drafted 11th overall by the Dallas Stars.

    This was a relatively easy selection. Nobody else from the 1995 draft measures up to Iginla. He was drafted by the Dallas Stars, but never played for them, as he was shipped to the Calgary Flames for Joe Nieuwendyk.

    Iginla broke into the NHL the following season full-time and scored 21 goals and 50 points, the start of the career of one of the best goal scorers of this generation. He became the face and spirit of the Flames. He had a banner year during the 2001-02 season, netting a league-leading 52 goals and 96 points, capturing both the Art Ross and Rocket Richard Trophies, but lost the Hart to Jose Theodore only because Theodore had more first-place votes. He also won a gold medal at the 2002 Olympics as a member of the Canadian ice hockey team.

    He was named the Flames captain in 2003 and responded by tying for the league lead with 41 goals and leading the Flames to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals, where they were defeated by the Tampa Bay Lightning. He won his second Olympic gold medal at the 2010 Winter Olympics as well.

    Despite never being paired with an elite center, Iginla remains one of the game's elite goal scorers, netting 43 goals and 86 points during the 2010-11 season, after starting the year slowly. He scored his 1000th point that season, and is expected to net his 500th goal during the 2011-12 season.

1996: Zdeno Chara

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    Drafted 56th overall by the New York Islanders.

    The tallest player in NHL history gets the nod over Daniel Briere. Chara spent three relatively nondescript seasons on Long Island before he was traded to the Ottawa Senators in 2001. This is often seen as one of the worst trades in NHL history, as Islanders GM Mike Milbury shipped Chara and the second overall pick that year (Jason Spezza) to the Senators for Alexei Yashin.

    Where Yashin faltered on Long Island, Chara flourished in Ottawa. He began to show signs of being an elite two-way defenseman, netting 41 points in 2003-04 and was named to the First All-Star team. He scored 16 goals and 43 points during '05-06, but left to sign with the Boston Bruins after the Senators chose to re-sign Wade Redden over Chara.

    Chara was named the Bruins captain immediately upon arriving in Boston. His first season was nondescript, but he scored a career-high 17 goals and 51 points in his second, good for a Second All-Star team nod. He netted 19 goals and 50 points the following year and captured the Norris Trophy.

    He continues to play at an elite level for Boston, coming off another Norris Trophy nomination in 2011. He captained the Bruins to a Stanley Cup win in 2011 as well, becoming just the second European-born and trained player to win the Stanley Cup as the team's captain.

1997: Joe Thornton

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    Drafted first overall by the Boston Bruins.

    The first No. 1 overall selection to appear on this list, Jumbo Joe takes this spot over Marian Hossa. It took Thornton a while to break out, but he scored 37 goals and 71 points in the 2000-01 season in 72 games. It was then that he began to be recognized as an elite NHLer.

    He was named the captain of the Bruins in 2002 and finished third in NHL scoring for the 2002-03 season with 36 goals and 101 points. He was eventually traded to the San Jose Sharks during the 2005-06 season.

    At the time of his trade to San Jose, he had been leading the Bruins in scoring with nine goals and 33 points in 22 games. He scored an incredible 20 goals and 92 points in the remaining 58 games with San Jose, capturing the Art Ross Trophy as the NHL's leading scorer with 125 and the Hart Trophy as the MVP.

    He followed that up with a 114-point season, including his second straight 90-assist season. He continues to produce at a high level for the San Jose Sharks, but experienced a drop-off in his first season as captain in 2010-11. He is still known as one of the game's elite passers and physical players.

1998: Pavel Datsyuk

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    Drafted 171st overall by the Detroit Red Wings.

    It's quite a statement to say that Datsyuk easily beat out Vincent Lecavalier for this spot, but it's true. The man is just that good at hockey.

    One of the first of the late Detroit draft picks that have become oh so famous, Pavel Datstyuk is one of the best, possibly the second-best player in the NHL. He entered the league in 2001-02 and struggled with the long season, but eventually ended the season as a Stanley Cup champion.

    His third season served as his breakout, as he scored 30 goals and 68 points and pulled off his famous "Datsyukian deke" against Marty Turco of the Dallas Stars. After the lockout, Datsyuk set a new high, leading Detroit with 87 points and winning his first Lady Byng Trophy as the league's most gentlemanly player. He equaled that total the following season and came away with the same award.

    His game jumped to new heights during the 2007-08 season, as he scored 31 goals and 97 points, winning his third consecutive Lady Byng Trophy, along with his first Frank J. Selke Award as the NHL's best defensive forward. He also won his second Stanley Cup that season. He upped his goal total to 32 the following season, again scoring 97 points and winning both awards.

    His point totals took a dip in 2009-10, and he failed to come away with a fifth straight Lady Byng Trophy. He did, however, win his third consecutive Selke Award. He returned to point-per-game form during the 2010-11 season and was nominated for another Selke Award, showing that he remains at a truly elite level.

1999: Henrik Zetterberg

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    Drafted 210th overall by the Detroit Red Wings.

    It took me a while before I decided to choose Zetterberg over one of the Sedin twins, or both of them; but in the end, he is the right choice. He may not have the same flashy numbers as the twins, but he is an elite scorer in his own right, and possesses top-tier defensive ability.

    Zetterberg is another late-round Detroit superstar. He entered the NHL in 2002, and led all rookies in scoring with 22 goals and 44 points, en route to finishing second in Calder Trophy voting. Two seasons later, he was scoring at a point-per-game clip, netting 39 goals and 85 points in 77 games during the 2005-06 season. He also won an Olympic gold medal with the Swedish ice hockey team at the 2006 Winter Olympics.

    After struggling with injuries the following season, he returned stronger than ever during 2007-08. He led Detroit with 43 goals and scored 92 points during the regular season, but it was in the playoffs where he really shined. He led all scorers with 27 points, including tying his teammate Johan Franzen for the Red Wings record for goals in a playoff season, with 13. He scored the Stanley Cup-winning goal in Game 6 against the Pittsburgh Penguins and was subsequently awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy.

    Zetterberg had another spectacular playoff performance the following year, with 24 points, but the Penguins defeated the Red Wings this time around. However, Zetterberg received massive praise for being able to effectively shut down explosive Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby both times.

    He finished second to Pavel Datsyuk for the Frank J. Selke award in 2009, a testament to his defensive ability.

2000: Henrik Lundqvist

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    Drafted 205th overall by the New York Rangers.

    Lundqvist is one of the biggest steals in the history of the NHL entry draft. Much like Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, he has not only become a good player, but one of the game's best. Henrik Lundqvist is one of, if not THE best goaltender(s) in the world.

    He entered the NHL in 2005, after a record-breaking MVP season with Frolunda in Sweden, to back up Kevin Weekes, the Rangers starting goaltender. Weekes was eventually shelved due to injury, pushing the completely unproven Lundqvist into the starting role. He excelled as the starter, setting a record for wins by a Rangers goaltender with 30 and finishing as a finalist for the Vezina Trophy. He also backstopped Sweden to a gold medal win at the 2006 Olympic Games.

    He won 37 games apiece for the next two seasons, finishing as a Vezina finalist both times, and cemented himself as one of the game's best goaltenders. He won a career-high 38 in 2008-09, becoming the first goaltender in NHL history to begin his career with four consecutive 30-win seasons.

    He won 36 games last season, coupled with a career best .923 save percentage, finishing fourth in Vezina voting and extending his 30-game winning streak to six seasons. He is the only goaltender in the league to play at a consistently high level since the lockout, never once having a down season.

    He has been named the Rangers MVP for five consecutive seasons.

2001: Ilya Kovalchuk

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    Drafted first overall by the Atlanta Thrashers.

    Ilya Kovalchuk became the first Russian player ever to be drafted first overall when he was selected by the now-relocated Atlanta Thrashers. Since entering the NHL in 2001, Kovalchuk has been one of the game's elite goal scorers.

    He led all rookies in goal scoring during the 2001-02 season, and tied for the NHL lead in goals two seasons later with 41. He took another step forward during the 2005-06 season, setting a Thrashers record with an impressive 52 goals and totaled 98 points.

    He had a slight dip the next season, netting 43, but he led the Thrashers to their first-ever playoff appearance. Unfortunately, they could not muster a win, falling to the New York Rangers in a sweep. Kovalchuk managed only a goal and an assist in the four games.

    Despite being named the captain of the Thrashers in 2009, Kovalchuk was traded from the struggling team to the New Jersey Devils at the 2010 trade deadline after it became apparent that he was going to leave during free agency.

    He made his second playoff appearance with New Jersey that season, but the Devils were put down in five games by the Philadelphia Flyers. Kovalchuk faced a controversy in the offseason when he signed a 17-year, $102 million deal with the Devils. The Devils were accused of attempting to circumvent the salary cap and the deal was voided. He later agreed on a 15-year, $100 million deal to stay in New Jersey.

    His first season with the Devils was mildly disappointing. He struggled through most of the season, scoring 31 goals and only 60 points.

2002: Cam Ward

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    Drafted 25th overall by the Carolina Hurricanes.

    Since entering the league in 2005, Cam Ward has become one of the most consistently reliable goaltenders in the NHL, and wins this position narrowly over Rick Nash and Duncan Keith. He served as Martin Gerber's backup that season, and posted 14 wins in 28 games, but his peripheral statistics were lacking.

    However, when Gerber struggled in the playoffs, Ward was there to clean up the mess. He was started in favor of Gerber when the Hurricanes were down by two wins to the Montreal Canadiens in the first round, and after sparking a series comeback, remained the starter. The Hurricanes went on to defeat the Edmonton Oilers in seven games in the Stanley Cup Finals, and Ward was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy.

    After becoming the second rookie starting goaltender to win the Stanley Cup after Patrick Roy in 1986 and the first rookie goalie to win the Conn Smythe Trophy since Ron Hextall in 1987, Ward entered the 2006-07 season as the Hurricanes' unquestioned starting goaltender.

    He had a respectable season with 30 wins, but the Hurricanes became the first team since the 1996 New Jersey Devils to miss the playoffs the season after winning the Stanley Cup. They missed the playoffs once again in 2008, but Ward returned to shine during the next season.

    He posted a career-best 39 wins as the Hurricanes made a surprising run to the Eastern Conference finals, including a dramatic first-round series over the New Jersey Devils. They were eventually swept by the Pittsburgh Penguins.

    After a great 2010-11 season, Ward remains one of the better goaltenders in the NHL.

2003: Ryan Getzlaf

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    Drafted 19th overall by the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim.

    This was easily the most difficult selection of this slideshow, as the 2003 draft is arguably the best of all time, with elite players such as Eric Staal, Marc-Andre Fleury, Corey Perry and Mike Richards. However, finally, I decided to go with Ryan Getzlaf as the top player.

    Getzlaf has drawn comparisons to the great Mark Messier: He is an elite playmaker, plays with a physical edge, is the captain of his team and is prematurely balding.

    Getzlaf entered the league in 2005, recording a respectable 39 points in 57 games. He scored 58 points the following season, and added 17 in the playoffs as the newly christened Anaheim Ducks won the Stanley Cup. He broke out during the 2007-08 season, leading the Ducks with 82 points in 77 games.

    He established himself as one of the league's best playmakers the next year with 91 points, including 66 assists. He has struggled with injuries for the last couple of seasons, but has still managed to produce at well over a point-per-game rate. He was named the Ducks captain as selected by his teammates in 2010 after the retirement of Scott Niedermayer.

    He is a mainstay on the Canadian national team, winning a gold medal with the team at the 2010 Winter Olympics. Under his captaincy, the Ducks should be a contending team year in and year out.

2004: Alexander Ovechkin

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    Drafted first overall by the Washington Capitals.

    This should come as no shock, as Alexander Ovechkin is one of the best players in the NHL and one of the most elite goal scorers seen in a long time. The No. 2 pick, Evgeni Malkin, also became a top scorer, but can't compare to The Great Eight.

    Ovechkin entered the NHL in 2005 due to the 2004-05 lockout and was an immediate hit, scoring 52 goals and 106 points, winning the Calder Trophy over the man you'll read about on the next slide. He gave the long-suffering Washington Capitals something to be proud of, and their fans began coming out to see the Russian dynamo.

    However, it was during the 2007-08 season that he made history. He became the first player since the 1995-96 season to score 60 goals, finishing the season with 65. The 65 stands as both the Washington Capitals record and the NHL record for left wingers. He compiled 112 points in total to win the Art Ross Trophy and led the Capitals back to the playoffs.

    The Capitals were now a power in the Eastern Conference, winning the Presidents' Trophy in 2008-09, as Ovechkin scored 56 goals, 110 points and won his second Hart Trophy. However, the Capitals fell to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round of the playoffs.

    Ovechkin again scored 50 goals the following season, but his team was upset in the first round. Ovechkin experienced a dip to only 32 goals and 85 points this past season, but he still remains one of the game's elite players.

2005: Sidney Crosby

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    Drafted first overall by the Pittsburgh Penguins.

    It doesn't matter who else was picked in this draft. Sidney Crosby is simply the best player in the entire NHL.

    The 2005 draft lottery was known as the "Sidney Crosby Sweepstakes," which the Penguins ultimately won. Crosby did not disappoint, scoring 102 points in his rookie season and giving fans a reason to return to see the Penguins.

    He scored an incredible 120 points in his sophomore season when he was 19, making him the youngest scoring champion in professional sports history. He also won the Hart Trophy as NHL MVP. He led the Penguins back to the playoffs, but they were defeated in the quarterfinals.

    His first season as the Penguins captain in 2007-08 was injury-plagued, but he was able to lead the Penguins to the Stanley Cup Finals, where they were set down by the Detroit Red Wings. He scored 103 points the following season, but scored 15 goals in the playoffs as the Penguins won the Stanley Cup over Detroit in seven games.

    His newfound goal-scoring ability carried over into the 2009-10 season. He scored 51 goals to tie for the NHL lead, and scored 109 points to tie for second in the NHL. This showed a new side to Crosby, and made him truly dominant. He also added to his legend during the Olympics, when he scored the gold medal-winning goal in overtime against Team USA.

    2010-11 was looking to be a banner year for him. He scored 32 goals and 66 points in only 41 games, including an incredible 25-game point-scoring streak that saw him amass 27 goals and 51 points. Though he was on pace to put up numbers not seen in 15 years, he was sidelined for the rest of the season with a concussion.

2006: Jonathan Toews

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    Drafted third overall by the Chicago Blackhawks.

    Jonathan Toews wins this spot over the fourth pick, Nicklas Backstrom. He's not the scorer Backstrom is, but he has other components to his game that make him one of the top players in the NHL.

    Toews made an immediate impact in the NHL when he entered in 2007. He led all rookies with 24 goals, and compiled 54 points in only 64 games. He finished third in Calder Trophy voting to his teammate, Patrick Kane, and Backstrom.

    Toews was named the captain of the Chicago Blackhawks before his sophomore season at the age of 20. He didn't disappoint, scoring 34 goals and 69 points. He led the resurgent Blackhawks, one of the youngest teams in the NHL, all the way to the Western Conference finals, where they were defeated by the Detroit Red Wings.

    Toews scored 68 points the following year, but led the powerhouse Blackhawks to a Stanley Cup win, snapping a 49-year drought, the longest in the NHL at the time. He scored 29 points during the playoffs and earned the Conn Smythe Trophy. He also won a gold medal at the Olympic Games with Team Canada and was named the tournament's best forward.

    Toews grew as a scorer during the 2010-11 season, with 32 goals and 76 points, including a late-season surge to will the depleted Blackhawks into the playoffs, where they nearly came back from a three-games-to-none deficit against the Vancouver Canucks.

    Toews' defensive ability was finally recognized when he finished as a finalist for the Frank J. Selke Award.

2007: Patrick Kane

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    Drafted first overall by the Chicago Blackhawks.

    The body of work by the NHL draft class of 2007 is not very expansive, but Patrick Kane has already made his mark. He entered the NHL immediately and teamed with Jonathan Toews to lift the Blackhawks back to relevance.

    Kane did not disappoint in his role as the new scorer for the Blackhawks, netting 21 goals and 72 points in his rookie season, leading all rookies in scoring. He also captured the Calder Trophy as the league's best rookie.

    He had a similar sophomore season with 70 points, but helped lead the Blackhawks back to the playoffs, where they were put down by Detroit in the conference finals. He shined even brighter during the 2009-10 season.

    He scored a career-high 30 goals and 88 points, leading the Blackhawks in scoring en route to winning their first Stanley Cup in 49 years. Kane scored the Stanley Cup-winning goal in overtime of Game 6 against the Philadelphia Flyers, cementing his name in Chicago lore forever.

    He produced at a point-per-game clip during the 2010-11 season, with 73 in as many games, but the Blackhawks failed to complete their rally against the top-seeded Vancouver Canucks in the quarterfinals of the playoffs.

2008: Steven Stamkos

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    Drafted first overall by the Tampa Bay Lightning.

    Only 21 years of age, Steven Stamkos has become one of the NHL's elite goal scorers during the early stages of his career. He takes this spot by a slim margin over the second pick, defenseman Drew Doughty.

    Stamkos entered the NHL frequently being played on the fourth line and getting little power-play time under coach Barry Melrose. When Melrose was fired, Stamkos began to flourish. After scoring only 14 points in the first 40 games of the season, he went on an impressive streak, scoring 32 points in his final 39 games for a respectable 23-goal, 46-point rookie season.

    While most expected Stamkos to be a big-time scorer, nobody predicted what he would do during his sophomore season. He developed instant chemistry with veteran winger Martin St. Louis and scored an incredible 51 goals and 95 points. He tied Sidney Crosby for the NHL lead in goals that season and became the third-youngest player to score 50 goals in a season.

    His 2010-11 season began in similar fashion, with some questioning whether Stamkos could score 60 goals or more. However, he noticeably cooled off during the latter portion of the season, but still finished with an outstanding total of 45 goals and 91 points.

    He is known for his incredible one-timer, often setting up at the left circle on the power play waiting for a pass from St. Louis to come. He helped the Lightning to the conference finals and looks to be a leader on a team with a bright future.

2009: Matt Duchene

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    Drafted third overall by the Colorado Avalanche.

    Drafted by the team he grew up cheering for, Matt Duchene gets the top spot over first overall pick John Tavares, though they are only two years into their careers. It is too early to judge them completely, but at this point in time, Matt gets top billing.

    Duchene came in with high expectations and met them all. He scored 24 goals and 55 points during his rookie season, leading all rookies in scoring. His impressive year earned him a spot on the All-Rookie Team and a third-place finish for the Calder Trophy.

    His sophomore season was looking to be an impressive one as well, but the Avalanche caught a snag and finished with the second-worst record in the NHL. Still, Duchene ended up with strong totals of 27 goals and 67 points, becoming the youngest player in Avalanche history to lead the team in scoring.

    Duchene is expected to be the leader on an extremely young Avalanche team and lead them back to their glory days.

2010: Jeff Skinner

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    Drafted seventh overall by the Carolina Hurricanes.

    It is almost ridiculous to begin judging this class, but as of right now, Jeff Skinner is the best player from the 2010 draft after being one season removed from it. The baby-faced Skinner put on an extremely impressive performance as the NHL's youngest player, scoring 31 goals and 63 points en route to winning the Calder Trophy.

    He was named to the All-Star Game's rookie team, but ended up in the actual game as an injury replacement for Sidney Crosby. He became the first player drafted in 2010 to become an All-Star, and was the first 18-year-old to play in the game since the legendary Steve Yzerman.

    The future is extremely bright for Skinner in the NHL.

    For more 2011 NHL draft coverage, stay tuned to Bleacher Report for updated NHL mock drafts, NHL draft rumors, NHL draft results and draft grades.