Far too much do we focus on former first-overall draft picks that turn out to be busts.
Patrik Stefan is the best example, with Alexander Daigle close behind. Both were predicted to be impact, skillful NHL contributors, and though they may have had big league skill, they certainly didn't show it .
Stefan lasted until 2007 in the NHL, then retiring shortly after.
Daigle, on the other hand, was a different story. The forward is only considered a bust because of his draft placing. Being drafted No.1 comes with its lofty expectations, and unfortunately, a career 0.53 point per game average doesn't properly address them.
A 40 point, third line winger is by no means a draft bust, but that's the type of production a late first round or early second round pick is predicted to produce, if they pan out themselves.
Back to the title. We don't focus nearly enough on the first overall picks that did pan out. Maybe because them producing is expected, so it's really nothing exciting if they do live up to those expectations. Maybe it's just the well-known "new" effect, where after the player's first couple seasons, they are replaced by the next first overall pick. Either way, the successful ones don't get nearly enough attention and credit, so this article will properly address that predicament.
So here we go. Here are eight players that DID live up to the hype! Enjoy!
Joe Thornton was drafted out of the OHL by the Boston Bruins in the 1997 NHL Entry Draft as an 18-year-old while being hyped as a premier power-forward in the making and the Bruins' new face of the franchise.
Fourteen seasons and 995 games played later, "Jumbo Joe" has sustained a point per game pace (1,001 points) and has solidified himself as one of the league's elite number one centers with his deft passing ability, incredible on-ice vision and power-forward style of play.
No, he hasn't led the Bruins, nor the always heavily favoured San Jose Sharks, to a Stanley Cup championship, and sometimes can be noted as "disappearing" in the clutch. However, he does have great leadership abilities despite not winning at all yet, and is known as a presence in the dressing room. Either way, stats don't lie, and over 1,000 points, close to 700 assists, and nearly 1,000 games played, it's no secret the Bruins made the right choice in selecting Joe first overall.
It's just a shame that they couldn't hold onto him long enough to reap the benefits of this talented pivot playing in his prime.
Ilya Kovalchuk was selected first overall by the now extinct Atlanta Thrashers in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft. The Russian-born winger was known to be a scoring threat every time on the ice during his junior career overseas, and there were questions how it would translate on to the North American ice. Nearly 400 goals in just over 700 games says it something might have clicked well with Ilya.
Kovalchuk is also a point-per-game player over his 10 seasons in the NHL and has one of the most lucrative scoring pedigrees in the league as well. He's been a 50-goal scorer twice, a 40-goal man six times and has scored over 30-goals in all but one his 10 seasons. The season he didn't score 30 was his rookie year, where he scored 29 goals in a shortened year, as he played only 65 points. I'm sure it's safe to say he would have scored at least one more goal if he did play the extra 17 games.
If scoring 30 goals nine times out of 10 doesn't make you a successful first round pick, I don't know what does.
Swedish sensation Mats Sundin was drafted by the now-defunct Quebec Nordiques hockey club in the 1989 NHL Entry Draft. The forward was projected to see success in the NHL as a second line, secondary scoring option, but he achieved much more than that.
The towering center (6'5", 231) played out 19 NHL seasons, attaining point-per-game status and being known as one the most intimidating centers to play against of all time. The pivot scored, passed, hit, won face-offs, contributed to both special teams units and was a great leader. He can be said as a true poster boy for a five-tool player in terms of hockey.
He never won a Stanley Cup, and his career almost ended on a sour note, but scoring over 30 goals in 13 of his 19 seasons, serving as the longest non-North American captain in NHL history and leading the Leafs in almost every stat possible is enough to cement his status as a successful first overall draft pick.
The Sabres and Canucks were newly founded NHL teams that year, and the NHL decided to put both these teams in a competition for the first overall pick. They used a spinning a wheel, with numbers 1-20 on it, the Canucks representing 1-10 and the Sabres 11-20. As the whole came to a halt, it appeared it had stopped on the No.1, and then league-President Clarence Campbell started to congratulate the 'Nucks.
However, then-Sabres coach Punch Imlach asked Campbell to take a closer look, revealing that the pointer was in fact on the No.11 instead, awarding the Sabres the pick.
Back to the player. Close to 1,200 games played and nearly 1,400 points later, it can be said Gilbert Perreault was a successful first overall draft pick. The pivot represented leadership qualities that were envied around the league, and he was the best faceoff man during his time.
A year after Perreault, Guy Lafleur was selected first overall by the Montreal Canadiens in the 1971 draft. A player that initially struggled out of the gate, Guy eventually picked up his slack to go on to become of the best and most popular players the game has ever seen.
With his slicked-out hair flow and wicked shot, Lafleur quickly became a nationally known hockey presence. Playing with one of the most storied franchises helps too. He was nicknamed "Flower" after he developed his well-known smooth skating ability and lethal scoring touch. Lafleur was easily the cornerstone of the five championship teams he has been on.
Beyond those intangibles, he also registered 1,353 points over 1,127 games, adding to his overwhelming pedigree and all contributing to his status as a successful first overall draft pick.
Pierre Turgeon was drafted out of the QJMHL by the Buffalo Sabres back in 1987. He would quickly make an impact as a center with the Sabres, posting over 40 points in his rookie season. However, his sophomore season was when he really started to make his mark in the NHL. Following an 88 point campaign as a 19-year-old, he posted 106 and 79 point seasons during his short time in Buffalo.
For a player of his ilk, Turgeon moved cities quite a bit, playing in six cities before calling it quits with the Avalanche back in 2007. However, that didn't seem to take much of a toll on his production, because the skilled, offensive center still posted some Hall of Fame numbers. Before running into injuries late in his career, he recorded nine 30 goal seasons, with a couple over 50.
He closed his career with over 1,300 points in just over 1,200 games played, numerous individual awards and over 500 goals. Let's call his career a success.
Mike Modano was selected by the old Minnesota team, the North Stars, in the 1988 NHL draft and went on to become arguably the greatest American to play the sport. Still an active player, Modano seems to be on the verge of retirement, and if so, would go out as one the greatest to play the game.
He was known as a two-way force in his heyday, being a face-off specialist, defensive juggernaut, while also being capable of posting point-per-game numbers. He was an assistant captain during the Stars' only cup in 1999, but captained Dallas later in his career from 2003 until the lockout, being known as a leader the players loved playing for.
Leaving the Stars last season, and close to retirement, Modano is currently part of the elite group that has over 1,000 NHL points and is only one game away from being a 1,500 game NHL veteran. A sure-fire future Hall of Fame member, Modano was a great leader, a class act and an offensive machine that cements his status as a successful draft pick.
Who else would be the most successful first overall draft pick, right?
Mario Lemieux was drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 1984 NHL Entry Draft. After settling an early contract dispute between him and then Penguins General Manager Eddie Johnston, he can now be said as arguably the greatest player of all time.
Lemieux was a leader, an offensive and defensive juggernaut. He had tremendous size, slick passing ability, the softest hands—he was everything you wanted your star center to be. He played 17 seasons, all with the Penguins, participating in just over 900 games and registering almost 1,800 points. Excuse me if I'm wrong, but the player could be the most selfish, unloved player in the league, but if he was posting nearly two points per game, he can be deemed a first round pick that lived up to the hype.
To put it in perspective, Lemieux, if he played the same amount of games his competition did for "Greatest Ever" in Gretzky, Orr, etc., he would have been on pace to end up with at the very least the same amount of points as each of them, and perhaps even smashing a couple of their records along the way.
It's no doubt Lemieux is a number one pick who lived up to the hype. Olympic Gold, Stanley Cups and NHL records all say so.