John Kreiser of NHL.com had a really terrific piece this week in which he presented the de facto "greatest first round of all-time" for the NHL Draft: Looking at the best players to be taken from No. 1 down to the No. 30 pick. Seriously, this is 'grab a bar stool and start the debate' material.
(Don't confuse this project with the best first-round ever, which could turn out to be 2003.)
For example: Mario Lemieux's place as the best No. 1 pick (over Guy Lafleur in 1971 and Denis Potvin in 1973) is pretty well undisputed (until we end up seeing whatever Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby become).
But who's the best No. 2 pick of all time? Kreiser says it's Brendan Shanahan, but what about Chris Pronger? At No. 3, he goes with the defenseman in Scott Niedermayer over Denis Savard (1980) and Pat LaFontaine (1983). It's hard to argue, but you certainly can argue the point.
The other delicious facet of the article, besides projecting guys like Evgeni Malkin and Cody Hodgson as ones to watch: That Kreiser includes the biggest flop at each draft position as well. So while we celebrate that both Brian Leetch and Cam Neely were selected at No. 9, we can also recall that the great Brett Lindros was taken there as well.
(If nothing else, this list in notable for going with Patrik Stefan instead of the traditional choice of Alex Daigle as the No. 1 flop at No. 1. Has that meme finally met its demise?)
As you can see from the photo above, one of the most interesting debates is sparked by the best No. 15 pick of all time. From NHL.com:
No. 15: Mike Bossy (N.Y. Islanders, 1977) -- Twelve teams (including the Rangers and Toronto twice each) passed on Bossy because he was regarded as just another sniper from the run-and-gun Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Isles coach Al Arbour told GM Bill Torrey he could teach Bossy to play defense; he was right, and the rest is history. Bossy scored 573 goals in just 10 seasons and was a key to the Isles' four consecutive Stanley Cups before being forced to retire in 1987 due to back problems. Had Bossy stayed healthy, it's likely he -- not Wayne Gretzky -- would have broken Gordie Howe's all-time record for goals.
First off: Wow.
Second, it's hard to argue against Bossy, especially when consider the injury factor. But Sakic (still of the Colorado Avalanche?) is eighth on the NHL career list in points (1,641) and 14th in goals (625) while playing in the trap era. Does he deserve the nod over Bossy? I'd say yes.
The other tantalizing aspect of the list are the numbers where a player taken recently could eventually become the best of all time. Consider:
No. 2: Brendan Shanahan (New Jersey, 1987); Up and coming: Evgeni Malkin (2004)
No. 24: Doug Jarvis (Toronto, 1975); Up and coming: T.J. Oshie (2005)
No. 29: Danny Gare (Buffalo, 1974); Up and coming: Mike Green (2004)
Realistically, Green's steadily making the best case for surpassing the current choice, but that's a mighty bit premature.
Again, fun list from the NHL. Check it out and have it out in the comments.