The Cream of the Crop: Ranking the NHL's Last 10 No. 1 Draft Picks

Stefan KubusAnalyst IOctober 16, 2011

The Cream of the Crop: Ranking the NHL's Last 10 No. 1 Draft Picks

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    The last decade has brought a remarkable group of No. 1 picks: Sidney Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin, John Tavares, Taylor Hall, Rick Nash, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Marc Andre-Fleury, Steven Stamkos, Patrick Kane, and Erik Johnson.

    Being taken first overall in the NHL Entry Draft is obviously a prestigious honor, but what really matters is what happens next. 

    Will that No. 1 overall pick live up to all the hype or will they crumble under the pressures the National Hockey League brings?

    Let's take a look at where these tremendous talents rank against one another. 

10. Erik Johnson

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    Taken by the St. Louis Blues in the 2006 draft, Erik Johnson was certainly the best defenseman available in the draft by far.

    The Blues wanted to address their blue line by adding a franchise defenseman like Johnson.

    He undoubtedly has that franchise cornerstone potential, but injury had set him back from progressing to that stage in St. Louis. 

    A trade to Colorado last season also didn't help him find consistency. Now, however, Johnson seems to finally have found a home in Denver.

    Should he stay healthy, Johnson will have the chance to blossom into that all-star caliber No. 1 defenseman. 

9. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins

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    Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has already been off to a great start in this first stage of his hopefully outstanding NHL career.

    With the WHL's Red Deer Rebels last year, Nugent-Hopkins tallied 106 points in 69 games, 75 of those points being assists. He's better known for his playmaking skills, but he's shown he can put the puck in the net, too.  

    Just last night, Nugent-Hopkins, the 18-year-old Burnaby, British Columbia native, scored a hat-trick in a losing effort against the Vancouver Canucks, giving him four goals in his first three NHL games, his only four points thus far.

    It's tough to gauge just how good he will be in comparison to past No. 1 overall picks, but one thing is for sure: the Edmonton Oilers have their franchise center man that Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle will be able to feed off of for many years to come. 

8. Taylor Hall

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    Taken first overall in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, Taylor Hall sought to prove that the Edmonton Oilers made the right choice in the hyped "Taylor vs. Tyler" debate leading up to the draft. Without a doubt, they certainly took the best player available in the draft.

    Last season, although his year was cut short by injury, he still compiled a satisfying rookie season, notching 22 goals and 42 points in 65 games. 

    Looking to build on that and back from injury, Hall will take his game to the next level in Edmonton. With the likes of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle, Magnus Paajarvi, Linus Omark and Hall, the Oilers have a bright future ahead of them, one that has potential to bring back the glory days of the 1980s.

7. Patrick Kane

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    Patrick Kane was a huge part of the rebuilding process that saw the Chicago Blackhawks rise to glory once again in 2010.

    Taken first overall in 2007, Kane made an instant impact in the Windy City. 

    After finishing 13th in the Western Conference a season prior, Kane stepped in and led the Blackhawks in scoring at the end of the 2007-08 season, leading them close to a playoff spot.

    Since then, Kane, a great compliment to center man Jonathan Toews, has been the team's No. 1 right wing, but has shifted to center this season.

    Most notably, Kane scored the Stanley Cup-winning goal in overtime of Game 6 of the 2010 Stanley Cup Finals to end the 49-year Cup drought.

    The Blackhawks are back in contention on a regular basis in the NHL and Patrick Kane has been a huge part of that success. 

6. Marc-Andre Fleury

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    In somewhat of a rare move, Marc-Andre Fleury, a goaltender, was taken first overall in 2003 by the Pittsburgh Penguins. The last goaltender taken first overall was Rick DiPietro by the New York Islanders in 2000, which hasn't panned out the way they had hoped on Long Island.

    Only the third goaltender taken first overall in NHL history, the Sorel, Quebec, native has been nothing short of spectacular since his arrival in Pittsburgh. In fact, he's been the best of those three hands down and he's only 26.

    As any hockey player will tell you, it doesn't get any better than winning the Stanley Cup. As a 25-year-old, "The Flower" backstopped the Pens to the team's first Stanley Cup since 1992.

    That could be something we should get used to seeing, as Fleury has developed into an elite NHL goaltender since being drafted eight years ago. 

5. Rick Nash

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    It's very difficult to imagine where the Columbus Blue Jackets would be had they not drafted Rick Nash first overall in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft.

    The above goal sums up the clutch captain of the Blue Jackets and five-time All-Star. For the 2008-09 season, Nash was appointed captain and he helped lead Columbus to their first postseason appearance in franchise history.

    On his resume, Nash has a Rocket Richard trophy, which he shared with Jarome Iginla and Ilya Kovalchuk in 2004. But more importantly, he has a gold medal, which he was instrumental in capturing at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics, scoring seven points in 11 games.

    Nash has undoubtedly been "the man" in Columbus since he arrived there. The struggling franchise has failed to support him with a certified cast, but this summer, Blue Jackets' GM Scott Howson has tried to do just that with the additions of Jeff Carter and James Wisniewski.    

4. John Tavares

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    It was no mystery that John Tavares would be a star in the NHL one day. 

    Tavares broke Wayne Gretzky's goal scoring record as a 16-year-old in the OHL, scoring 72 goals with the Oshawa Generals in 2006-07.

    It was a no-brainer for the New York Islanders to select him first in the 2009 Entry Draft.

    Since then, Tavares hasn't looked back.

    After scoring 24 goals and 54 points in 82 games as a rookie, Tavares followed that up with a 29 goal, 67 point season the next year.

    This season, he is off to a scorching hot start, with eight points in four games.

    This is the beginning of a new era on Long Island, an era that should have all NHL fans excited for years to come. 

3. Steven Stamkos

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    As Steven Stamkos broke into the league in 2008, the Tampa Bay Lightning were an organization in turmoil, from ownership all the way down through to coaching.

    Stamkos found himself benched by then head coach Barry Melrose for his lack of production, though he was limited to around 10 minutes a game.

    Once Stamkos settled in, however, he had a great second half, finishing the season with 19 points in the last 20 games.

    The summer following that season, Stamkos trained with former NHL player Gary Roberts, who put him on an intense training program. It didn't take long to see results.

    That next season, Stamkos tied Sidney Crosby for the league lead in goals with 51, making him the third youngest player to achieve such a feat, behind only Jimmy Carson and Wayne Gretzky.

    Stamkos, under new ownership and management, helped lead the Lightning back to the postseason following their second best season in franchise history.

    That's not all. He's earned the right to have his name penciled in next to Crosby and Ovechkin as an elite forward in the NHL, in quick fashion, too. 

2. Alexander Ovechkin

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    No matter how many times I watch it, it never gets old. Affectionally referred to as "the goal," Alexander Ovechkin scored this beauty in his very first season. Since then, he has taken the league and its highlight reels by storm.

    The riveting Russian has a resume of endless accomplishments at only 26. He was the first player to win the Art Ross, Maurice Richard, Lester B. Pearson and Hart Memorial trophies all in the same season, which came in the 2007-08 campaign. That same season saw him tally 65 goals, the most ever scored by a left wing in NHL history.

    He also took home the Calder Memorial Trophy in 2006, edging out Pittsburgh Penguins' superstar Sidney Crosby for rookie of the year honors.

    It had been awhile since the league has seen such an explosive and dynamic player as Ovechkin, not to mention one who dominated his competition as a first year player.

    The Washington Capitals locked up Ovechkin for life, virtually, with a 13-year extension in 2008. It's a good thing they did, too, because this is one guy you certainly want to build a franchise around.

    The only thing he needs now is a Stanley Cup, which shouldn't be too far off. 

1. Sidney Crosby

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    That brings us to the No. 1 first overall draft pick in the last decade, and who other than Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins? 

    What hasn't this kid done yet?

    He was named captain at age 19. He has won the Stanley Cup, Art Ross Trophy and Lester B. Pearson Award. Oh, and did I mention that he was the youngest in NHL history to achieve all of this?

    Just two seasons ago, he captured one trophy that rival superstar Alex Ovechkin had over him: the Rocket Richard Trophy. Crosby showed he could not only set up gorgeous plays, but also finish them, tallying 51 goals in 2009-10, sharing the goal-scoring title with Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos.

    If he can fully recover from his concussion and stay healthy, he's going to pick up right where he left off last year.  

    On top of that, he helped lead Canada to a gold medal in the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, scoring the game-winning overtime goal to defeat the United States.

    Prior to coming into the league, Crosby's hype was through the roof, calling him "The Next One," a play off of Wayne Gretzky's nickname, "The Great One."

    Can you blame those high on Crosby? Not one bit. This kid has lived up to, and exceeded, expectations.

    With the speed of the game today, the dedication to fitness, the bigger goalie equipment, smaller nets and the rules, the game is completely different today than it was in the 80s. It truly makes you wonder if even "The Great One" could match what he did back then if he were to enter the league in this era.