To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first NHL Draft, NHL.com assembled a 13-member panel to select the best first-round picks of all time, based on selection number. NHL.com will feature one of the top first-round picks each day, beginning with the best No. 30 pick on June 1 and culminating with the all-time No. 1 pick on June 30, the day of the 2013 NHL Draft.
Drafting is one part skill and one part luck -- and sometimes bad luck can turn out to be the best kind.
The Detroit Red Wings had the fourth pick at the 1983 NHL Draft and targeted local prospect Pat LaFontaine. But when LaFontaine was taken by the New York Islanders with the third pick, the Red Wings had to settle for their second choice.
That player was a talented but smallish center who worked out OK. Detroit might not have gotten the player it wanted, but by the time Steve Yzerman retired 23 years later, the Red Wings wouldn't have changed a thing about how that day went.
NHL.com's Dream Draft panel has named Yzerman as the best No. 4 first-round pick.
Yzerman had 42 goals and 91 points in 56 games with the Peterborough Petes of the Ontario Hockey League in his draft year, and carried that scoring touch into the NHL as a rookie in 1983-84. He had 39 goals, a team-best 87 points, and became the first 18-year-old to play in an NHL All-Star Game since the format was adopted in 1969. He finished second to Buffalo Sabres goaltender Tom Barrasso in voting for the Calder Trophy as the League's top rookie.
Yzerman was named Red Wings captain at the start of the 1986-87 season; at 21, he was the youngest to hold the role in team history. He responded with his first 90-point season, and the following season he totaled 50 goals and 102 points and helped the team win its first division title since 1965.
They won it again the next season when Yzerman finished third in the League with career-bests of 65 goals and 155 points, each a single-season franchise mark. He also won the Lester B. Pearson Award as the League's best player as voted by the players, and was a finalist for the Hart Trophy. He had 62 goals and 127 points in 1989-90, but the Red Wings finished last in the division and missed the playoffs.
Yzerman continued to pile up offensive numbers in the regular season without much playoff success. That changed when Scotty Bowman arrived as Red Wings coach for the 1993-94 season. Bowman demanded more defensive accountability from Yzerman, and the result was better team play. His streak of six straight seasons of 40 goals and 100 points was snapped, but a run of three straight seasons atop the Western Conference standings began.
Included was a trip to the 1995 Stanley Cup Final, the Red Wings' first appearance in the championship round since 1966. In 1997, the Red Wings went one step further, and Yzerman had 13 points in 20 playoff games -- including goals in each of the first three games of the Final against the Philadelphia Flyers -- to help Detroit win its first Cup in 42 years.
The following year Yzerman was even better, leading all playoff performers with 18 assists and 24 points. The Red Wings won a second straight Stanley Cup and he took home the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP after a sweep of the Washington Capitals.
The 1999-2000 season saw Yzerman rewarded on two fronts for his well-rounded game. On Nov. 26, 1999 he scored his 600th goal, and after the season he won the Selke Trophy as the League's top defensive forward.
Knee injuries began to take their toll, and after playing fewer than 55 games in 2000-01 and 2001-02, surgery limited Yzerman to 16 games in 2002-03. He was healthy for the 2003-04 season, but it ended in the second round of the 2004 playoffs when he was hit in the eye by a puck, causing a broken orbital bone and a scratched cornea.
He returned for one final season in 2005-06 and finished his career eighth all-time with 692 goals and sixth with 1,755 points. His 19 seasons as a team captain represent a record for longevity in the role. He won the Lester Patrick Trophy for his contributions to hockey in the United States in 2006, and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2009.
"Steve Yzerman defined leadership over the course of his career," NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor Brian Compton said. "While there are many other worthy candidates at No. 4, Yzerman was solid in every facet of the game. He's everything you want in a player."
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
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