Anyone who follows hockey closely realizes that it's executives are creatures of imitation. This is one of the reasons why under-achieving players get bounced from team to team. The next GM always believes he can do more with that player. It’s also a huge reason why so many high draft choices never pan out.
(I'd like to thank Sebastien Tremblay who's article http://bleacherreport.com/articles/88981-jason-bonsignore-great-nhl-underachievers inspired me to write this).
Looking back at the late 1980s and the decade of the 1990s it is easy to see how size truly mattered. The importance of size to an extent superseded skill after the 1991 Entry Draft.
This was the year when 6"4, 220lbs Eric Lindros went first overall to the Quebec Nordiques. The “Big E” had scouts and general managers drooling since he was 14-years-old.
Now whether you believe Eric Lindros was as great as he was advertised is a discussion for another day. However, it was painfully obvious that every scout and director of player development on all 24 NHL teams were mandated to find the next BIG guy.
There is a general understanding that the draft is essentially a crap-shoot. No matter how much a team watches, assesses, and evaluates a player, you just never know what will happen when he turns pro. I don't disagree with this, however, the process of evaluating prospects has improved greatly over the years and have developed at a far greater rate of success. The only hindrance has been the stubbornness of these “old time” hockey guys who make up the NHL’s executives.
Generally the top five ranked players in a draft are considered anything from a franchise player to a blue chip/can’t miss pro. Through to the top 10, teams expect to draft a future everyday contributing NHL player.
Starting from 1992 you can easily go through the draft lists and pick out players that were ranked and drafted way too high mainly because they were teenage giants. The same attributes these players lacked would never have been compromised if the player was 5’10 and 175lbs.
Mike Rathje – third overall San Jose and 6’5” 230lbs. Rathje was a decent and steady defenseman, but his skill sets were not worthy of a third overall pick
Andrei Nazarov – 10th overall San Jose and 6’5” 230lbs. Nazarov went on to a distinguished career as maybe the first Russian born and trained GOON. To my knowledge goons are usually free agent signings or 10th round picks, not 10th overall.
Two players that could’ve been selected instead were Sergei Gonchar 14th and Martin Straka 19th.
Chris Gratton drafted third overall ahead of Paul Kariya. He certainly held no skills above Kariya, and I’m sure the deciding factors came down to four inches and 40 pounds.
Florida used the fifth overall pick to select the younger, but far larger brother of Scott Neidermayer, Rob.
This fifth overall selection struggled to ever find his offensive game and in turn has settled into a solid checking line role. Not exactly what teams are looking for when they have a top five pick.
Of the 26 players taken in the first round, 11 players were well over six feet and 200lbs.
Both Radek Bonk and Jason Bonsignore are taken in the top five (third and fourth respectively). Neither player panned out to be anything near what was advertised.
13 players were over the six foot and 200 pound mark in the first round of the ’94 draft.
Wade Belak was selected 12th overall.
This draft saw a dip in overall size, and the emphasize appeared to be on skill and talent. However, Chad Kilger was selected fourth overall by Anaheim ahead of Daymond Langkow (fifth overall, and even Jarome Iginla was selected 11th.
I guess Anaheim viewed Kilger's three inches and 15lbs more valuable than Iginla's better hands.
Here are some more players whose skill level simply screamed career fourth liner that were taken in the top ten:
1996 – Erik Rasmussen, seventh overall
1997 – Thornton went first and Marleau second. This draft actually saw both size and skill selected high, even though the Montreal Canadiens selected Jason Ward 11th, one spot ahead of Marian Hossa.
1998 – Brad Stuart, Bryan Allen, and Vitaly Vishnevsky were slected second, third, and fourth. Enough said.
1999 – The final draft of the decade saw the New York Islanders select Taylor Pyatt eighth overall
Some may argue that the players I’ve listed played a good length of time in the NHL at least. But they never came close to meeting the expectations I have regarding top five or top 10 picks. Its scary to think if Patrick Kane had been part of the 1993 draft he would have not been selected any higher than fourth.