There's not a hockey fan alive who doesn't think he or she could do a better job at the draft than an NHL general manager. But drafting is an inexact science -- for every late-round gem (Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk), there's a high pick who didn't turn out to be the star the team that picked him thought he would be (think Patrik Stefan).
Here's a look at some of the best choices in the history of the Entry Draft, as determined by where they were selected among the top 30 picks (Up and coming includes players taken from 2005-09).
Please remember that some players, including Wayne Gretzky, were not drafted.
Mario Lemieux (Pittsburgh, 1984) -- If the Penguins had not drafted Lemieux in 1984, there likely would be no NHL franchise in Pittsburgh today. Lemieux was brilliant from the day he arrived, and the Penguins eventually built the supporting cast that helped him lead the franchise to back-to-back Stanley Cups in 1991-92. Had he stayed healthy, it would have been interesting to see whether he could have broken some of Wayne Gretzky's scoring records. "Mario the Magnificent" may have been the most physically talented player in NHL history.
Runners-up: Guy Lafleur (1971), Denis Potvin (1973), Alex Ovechkin (2004)
Up and coming: Sidney Crosby (2005); Patrick Kane (2007), Steven Stamkos (2008)
Disappointment: Patrik Stefan (1999)
No. 2: Brendan Shanahan (New Jersey, 1987) -- Proving that, in the words of Harry Chapin, "all my life's a circle," Shanahan ended his NHL career in the same place it began -- New Jersey, where he spent his final NHL season with the Devils before finally hanging up his skates. He's one of the great power forwards of any era, with 656 goals, 1,354 points, 2,489 penalty minutes, three Stanley Cups -- and a sure Hall of Fame berth as soon as he's eligible.
Runners-up: Marcel Dionne (1971), Chris Pronger (1993)
Up and coming: Jordan Staal (2006), Drew Doughty (2008)
Disappointment: David Chyzowski (1989)
No. 3: Scott Niedermayer (New Jersey, 1991) -- His career may be winding down, but not because he's lost much in terms of skating -- few defensemen in NHL history have had Niedermayer's wheels. Niedermayer's all-time offensive numbers were held down somewhat because he spent much of his career with the defense-first Devils, but there were benefits -- he earned three Stanley Cup rings in New Jersey prior to captaining Anaheim to a Cup in 2007. Niedermayer became a Devil in one of Lou Lamoriello's greatest trades -- the New Jersey GM dealt journeyman defenseman Tom Kurvers to Toronto in 1989 for the pick that turned into Niedermayer.
Runners-up: Denis Savard (1980), Pat LaFontaine (1983)
Up and coming: Jack Johnson (2005), Jonathan Toews (2006)
Disappointment: Neil Brady (1986)
Steve Yzerman (Detroit, 1983) -- It's hard to picture Yzerman wearing anything but the Winged Wheel, but it almost happened: Then-Wings GM Jim Devellano had hoped to get Pat LaFontaine with the fourth pick in 1983 because LaFontaine had played locally and might help the struggling franchise sell tickets. Instead, the Islanders took LaFontaine with the No. 3 pick and the Wings had to "settle" for Yzerman, who came into the NHL as a high scorer but later showed he was willing to trade individual points for team success. The result was three Stanley Cups in six seasons, all of them with Yzerman as captain.
Runners-up: Mike Gartner (1979), Ron Francis (1981)
Up and coming: Nicklas Backstrom (2006), Evander Kane (2009)
Disappointment: Alexander Volchkov (1996)
No. 5: Jaromir Jagr (Pittsburgh, 1990) -- Pittsburgh fans were heartbroken when the team missed the playoffs on the last night of the 1990 regular season by losing in overtime. Little did they know it might have been the best thing that could have happened, because their "reward" was Jagr. The Czech teenager turned into the perfect sidekick for Mario Lemieux and was a key to the Penguins' back-to-back Cup wins in 1991 and '92. Jagr owns five NHL scoring titles, a Hart Trophy and seven First-Team All-Star berths, as well as five 100-point seasons. His combination of speed, skill and power is matched by very few players in NHL history.
Runners-up: Scott Stevens (1982), Tom Barrasso (1983)
Up and coming: Carey Price (2005), Phil Kessel (2006)
Disappointment: Daniel Dore (1988)
No. 6: Paul Coffey (Edmonton, 1980) -- Talk about being drafted by the right team: Coffey and the Oilers were a marriage made in hockey heaven. Coffey was the fastest defenseman of his (and maybe any) generation -- and he was taken by a team that had an unparalleled collection of offensive talent. He set single-season offensive records during the Oilers' dynasty years, is second among defenseman in career goals (396) and points (1,531), and owns five Stanley Cup rings.
Runners-up: Phil Housley (1982), Peter Forsberg (1991)
Up and coming: Derick Brassard (2006), Sam Gagner (2007)
Disappointment: Daniel Tkaczuk (1997)
Bernie Federko (St. Louis, 1976) -- Federko made up for the lack of a physical presence (he was generously listed at 6 feet and about 175 pounds), but he more than made up for any lack of physicality with his hockey skills, which helped him pile up 369 goals and 1,130 points in exactly 1,000 games on the way to the Hall of Fame. He was the first player in NHL history to put up at least 50 assists in 10 consecutive seasons (1978-79 to 1987-88).
Runners-up: Bill Barber (1972), Shane Doan (1995)
Up and coming: Kyle Okposo (2006), Colin Wilson (2008)
Disappointment: Ryan Sittler (1992)
No. 8: Ray Bourque (Boston, 1979) -- Looking back, it's hard to believe seven players were picked ahead of Bourque, who stepped right into the NHL from junior hockey in '79 and didn't step out until he skated away as a Stanley Cup champion with Colorado in 2001. Bourque owns all the NHL career scoring marks for defensemen (410 goals, 1,169 assists, 1,579 points). He was a First-Team All-Star 13 times -- including 2000-01, when he turned 41 -- and won the Norris Trophy as the NHL's best defenseman five times. Perhaps no player in NHL history has been as consistently brilliant for so long.
Runners-up: Grant Fuhr (1981), Jeremy Roenick (1988)
Up and coming: Devin Setoguchi (2005), Peter Mueller (2006)
Disappointment: Rocky Trottier (1982)
No. 9: Brian Leetch (N.Y. Rangers, 1986) -- Is Leetch the greatest U.S.-born player in NHL history? It's a matter of debate, but he certainly is in the discussion. The Hockey Hall of Famer joined the Rangers after one season at Boston College and a stint with the 1988 U.S. Olympic team and never stopped putting up points. Leetch won the 1989 Calder Trophy, took home the Norris Trophy twice and led the Rangers to the 1994 Stanley Cup (their only one since 1940), while becoming the first (and still only) American to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.
Runners-up: Cam Neely (1983), Rod Brind'Amour (1988)
Up and coming: Logan Couture (2007), Josh Bailey (2008)
Disappointment: Brett Lindros (1994)
Teemu Selanne (Winnipeg, 1988) -- Selanne announced his arrival in 1992 by shattering NHL records for first-year players with 76 goals and 132 points -- totals that don't figure to be surpassed for a long time. The Finnish Flash led the NHL in goals three times and was good enough to score 48 goals and 94 points at age 36, helping the Anaheim Ducks to their first Stanley Cup. He passed the 600-goal mark this season, and if he decides to call it quits, it won't be because he can't play anymore -- he had 27 goals in 54 games in 2009-10.
Runners-up: Steve Vickers (1971), Bobby Holik (1989)
Up and coming: Michael Frolik (2006); Cody Hodgson (2008)
Disappointment: Mikhail Yakubov (2000)
No. 11: Jarome Iginla (Dallas, 1995) -- The Stars traded the future for the present when they sacrificed Iginla to get Joe Nieuwendyk from Calgary. Landing Nieuwendyk helped them win the first Stanley Cup in franchise history in 1999 -- but the Flames are more than happy with their end of the deal, because Iginla has become one of the NHL's top stars. He's won the Art Ross, Rocket Richard and Lester B. Pearson trophies, and was a Hart Trophy finalist in 2007-08 after reaching the 50-goal mark for the second time. Iginla owns the Flames' franchise records for career goals and points and has been the face of hockey in Calgary for much of his career.
Runners-up: Mike Sillinger (1989), Brian Rolston (1991)
Up and coming: Anze Kopitar (2005), Brandon Sutter (2007)
Disappointment: David Cooper (1992)
No. 12: Gary Roberts (Calgary, 1984) -- If it seemed like Roberts was around forever, that's because he was -- at least by hockey standards. Roberts won a Stanley Cup with Calgary at age 23, scored 53 goals three seasons later, missed most of three seasons recovering from a serious neck injury, and still managed to score 438 goals and 910 points in 1,224 games. At age 42 he was a key locker-room presence in Pittsburgh's run to the 2008 Stanley Cup Final, and he played briefly with Tampa Bay in 2008-09 before retiring.
Runners-up: Kenny Jonsson (1993), Marian Hossa (1997)
Up and coming: Marc Staal (2005), Tyler Myers (2008)
Disappointment: Josh Holden (1996)
Jean-Sebastien Giguere (Hartford, 1995) -- The last first-round draft selection in Whalers history had to make a few detours before finding success, but Giguere was one of the keys to the Anaheim Ducks' emergence in the past decade. He won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP in 2003 when Anaheim lost the Stanley Cup Final to New Jersey, and he could have won again in 2007 after the Ducks topped Ottawa for their first Stanley Cup. He's now with Toronto after a midseason trade.
Runners-up: Dan Cleary (1997), Alexander Semin (2002)
Up and coming: Jiri Tlusty (2006), Lars Eller (2007)
Disappointment: Michael Stewart (1990)
No. 14: Rick Middleton (N.Y. Rangers, 1973) -- Want to spoil the day for a 35-and-over Rangers fan? Just mention Middleton, who showed flashes of brilliance but was sacrificed in a trade that brought Phil Esposito's long-time sidekick, Ken Hodge, to the Big Apple in 1976. As it turned out, the Rangers traded Middleton's future for Hodge's past -- Middleton had seven-straight 30-goal seasons and went on to score more than 400 goals with the Bruins, while Hodge was gone 18 games into his second season in New York.
Runners-up: Brian Propp (1979), Sergei Gonchar (1992)
Up and coming: Michael Grabner (2006), Dmitry Kulikov (2009)
Disappointment: Jim Malone (1980)
No. 15: Mike Bossy (N.Y. Islanders, 1977) -- The Islanders were a team on the rise by 1977, when 12 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.
Runners-up: Al MacInnis (1981), Joe Sakic (1987)
Up and coming: Alex Plante (2007), Erik Karlsson (2008)
Disappointment: Scott Kelman (1999)
Dave Andreychuk (Buffalo, 1982) -- Andreychuk, all 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds of him, made life miserable for goaltenders for more than two decades. He was a big scorer in the first half of his career, ringing up 30 or more goals seven times with Buffalo and getting 53 for Toronto in 1993-94 -- then remained a consistent scorer for another decade while improving his all-round game. Andreychuk also became a leader -- he was the captain of the Tampa Bay Lightning when they won the 2004 Stanley Cup. Andreychuk retired with 640 goals and 1,338 points in 1,639 games.
Runners-up: Al Secord (1978), Markus Naslund (1991)
Up and coming: Colton Gillies (2007), Joe Colborne (2008)
Disappointment: Ty Jones (1997)
No. 17: Bobby Clarke (Philadelphia, 1969) -- NHL teams were reluctant to take a chance on drafting Clarke because he was a diabetic. The Flyers called his name at No. 17 and got a Hall of Famer. The diabetes quickly became a non-issue as Clarke keyed the Flyers' rise in the 1970s. He was named team captain at 23, at the time the youngest player ever to get the "C." Clarke's drive and skill led the Flyers to Stanley Cups in 1974 and '75, and he retired in 1984 with 1,210 points, three Hart trophies and a hatful of other honors.
Runners-up: Brent Sutter (1980), Kevin Hatcher (1984)
Up and coming: Martin Hanzal (2005), Trevor Lewis (2006)
Disappointment: Brent Bilodeau (1991)
No. 18: Glen Murray (Boston, 1991) -- Murray sandwiched two stints with the Bruins around time with Pittsburgh and Los Angeles; suffice it to say the second stint in Boston was better than the first. Murray had not scored 30 goals in a season before returning to the Bruins in 2001-02, and then did it three times in a row -- including a high of 44 in 2002-03. He was a solid player for a long time, finishing his career with 337 goals and 651 points in 1,009 NHL games.
Runners-up: Ken Daneyko (1982), Petr Sykora (1995)
Up and coming: Ryan Parent (2005), Chris Stewart (2006)
Disappointment: Jesper Mattsson (1993)
Keith Tkachuk (Winnipeg, 1990) -- The Jets grabbed Tkachuk in 1990 and he made the NHL after one season at Boston University. Tkachuk became one of the NHL's best power forwards -- a two-time 50-goal scorer and the first U.S.-born player to lead the NHL in goals when he had 52 in 1996-97. He continued scoring after being dealt to St. Louis in 2000-01 and reached the 500-goal mark on the final day of the 2007-08 season. He retired after the 2009-10 season.
Runners-up: Craig Ramsay (1971), Olaf Kolzig (1989)
Up and coming: Jakub Kindl (2005), Luca Sbisa (2008)
Disappointment: Matthieu Descoteaux (1996)
No. 20: Martin Brodeur (New Jersey, 1990) -- Would you believe Brodeur was not the first goaltender taken in his draft year? Calgary took Trevor Kidd at No. 11. Brodeur passed Patrick Roy for the regular-season wins record in 2008-09, then surpassed Terry Sawchuk's mark of 103 shutouts early in 2009-10. He has three Stanley Cup rings, captured the Vezina Trophy four times and is regarded as the gold standard among NHL goaltenders.
Runners-up: Larry Robinson (1971), Michel Goulet (1979)
Up and coming: Kenndal McArdle (2005), Michael Del Zotto (2008)
Disappointment: Barrett Heisten (1999)
No. 21: Kevin Lowe (Edmonton, 1979) -- Lowe was the Oilers' first draft pick after the NHL-WHA merger and wound up anchoring the defense on a team that won five Stanley Cups in seven years. He also provided stability on the blue line when the New York Rangers broke their 54-year drought by winning the Cup in 1994. Lowe wasn't flashy, but on an offense-first juggernaut like the Oilers, he was a vital, stabilizing factor.
Runners-up: Pat Flatley (1982), Saku Koivu (1993)
Up and coming: Tuukka Rask (2005), John Moore (2009)
Disappointment: Yevgeni Ryabchikov (1994)
Bryan Trottier (N.Y. Islanders, 1974) -- The Islanders completed a Hall of Fame daily double when they chose Trottier, a center from the Swift Current Broncos of the WCJHL, with their second pick in 1974 after taking his future linemate, power forward Clark Gillies, with their first pick. Trottier was the prototypical two-way center -- tough, strong, defensively diligent -- but his offensive skills were off the chart. Trottier, Gillies and Mike Bossy formed one of the NHL's best lines for years. After scoring 500 goals and helping the Isles to four straight Stanley Cups in the 1980s, Trottier finished his career with two more Cups as a checking center in Pittsburgh.
Runners-up: Adam Graves (1986), Adam Foote (1989)
Up and coming: Claude Giroux (2006), Jordan Eberle (2008)
Disappointment: Nikos Tselios (1997)
No. 23: Ray Whitney (San Jose, 1991) -- The second draft pick in Sharks history now is 38, but still going strong after totaling 21 goals and 58 points for Carolina (his sixth NHL team) in 2009-10. The Edmonton native has broken the 20-goal mark for the last four seasons and now has 324 goals and 869 points for his career -- not bad for a kid whose first hockey claim to fame was being the Oilers' stick boy in Wayne Gretzky's last season in Edmonton (1987-88). Those offensive numbers are pretty impressive for a 5-foot-10, 180-pounder who was told he was too small to make it in the NHL.
Runners-up: Travis Green (1989), Todd Bertuzzi (1993)
Up and coming: Niclas Bergfors (2005), Semyon Varlamov (2006)
Disappointment: Craig Hillier (1996)
No. 24: Danny Briere (Phoenix, 1996) -- Briere's career took a while to get started, but he finally broke out with a 32-goal season in 2001-02 -- only to be traded to Buffalo the following season. He had 28 and 25 goals for the Sabres before breaking out again with a 32-goal, 95-point performance in 2006-07. He's spent the last three seasons with Philadelphia and after a 26-goal regular season -- the fifth time in six seasons he's exceeded 20 goals -- he led all playoff scorers this spring with 30 points, including 12 in the Final, one off Wayne Gretzky's all-time record.
Runners-up: Doug Jarvis (1975), Sean Burke (1985)
Up and coming: T.J. Oshie (2005), Mattias Tedenby (2008)
Disappointment: Jean-Francois Damphousse (1997)
Mark Howe (Boston, 1974) -- Gordie's son wasn't as good as the old man, but who was? Nor did Mark ever play for the Bruins. Instead, he and brother Marty joined their father in Houston, where they led the Aeros to a WHA title and made the club one of the league's flagship franchises in its early seasons. The Howes went to Hartford in 1977 and stayed with the Whalers through the merger with the NHL. Mark shifted to defense and had a number of excellent seasons with the Philadelphia Flyers. If you add up his WHA and NHL numbers, he finished with more than 400 goals, and ended with 1,246 points in 1,355 games.
Runners-up: Brenden Morrow (1997), Cam Ward (2002)
Up and coming: Andrew Cogliano (2005), Patrik Berglund (2006)
Disappointment: Mikhail Kuleshov (1999)
No. 26: Claude Lemieux (Montreal, 1983) -- When there was a Stanley Cup to be won, having Lemieux on your side was a good idea -- he took home rings with Montreal, New Jersey and Colorado while earning a reputation as one of the game's best playoff performers (and most irritating players). Lemieux was on four Cup winners, earned the Conn Smythe Trophy in 1995, and stunned the hockey world by making a comeback with San Jose in 2008-09 at age 43. He finished his career with 379 goals and 786 points in 1,215 regular-season games, plus 80 goals and 157 points in 234 postseason contests.
Runners-up: Don Maloney (1978), Ziggy Palffy (1991)
Up and coming: David Perron (2007), Tyler Ennis (2008)
Disappointment: Kevin Grimes (1997)
No. 27: Joe Nieuwendyk (Calgary, 1985) -- It's hard to start your career much better than Nieuwendyk did -- he scored 51 goals in each of his first two full seasons, the second of which ended with the Flames hoisting the Stanley Cup. Nieuwendyk never reached those heights again, but he scored 45 goals in each of the next two seasons and was a consistent scorer for winning teams until retiring in 2006-07 with 564 goals and 1,126 points -- plus 66 playoff goals and Stanley Cup rings with three different teams.
Runners-up: Scott Mellanby (1984), Scott Gomez (1998)
Up and coming: Ivan Vishnevskiy (2006), John Carlson (2008)
Disappointment: Ari Ahonen (1999)
Mike Richter (N.Y. Rangers, 1985) -- Richter arguably is the best U.S.-born goaltender in NHL history. He was between the pipes when the Rangers ended their 54-year Stanley Cup drought in 1994, led the United States to the World Cup championship two years later and to the silver medal in the 2002 Winter Olympics. He ended his career (prematurely, due to concussions) with 301 wins, the most in Rangers history, despite spending his first few seasons splitting time with John Vanbiesbrouck.
Runners-up: Guy Chouinard (1974), Corey Perry (2003)
Up and coming: Matt Niskanen (2005), Nick Foligno (2006)
Disappointment: Adrian Foster (2001)
No. 29: Danny Gare (Buffalo, 1974) -- Gare scored 45 and 68 goals in his last two junior seasons and quickly showed the teams that passed over him that those totals were no fluke. The second-round pick scored 31 goals as a rookie to help the Sabres make the Stanley Cup Final, and then reached the 50-goal mark in his second season. He had a career-best 56 in 1979-80, when he was a Second-Team All-Star, and came back with 46 the next season. Gare finished his career in 1986-87 with 354 goals and 685 points in 827 games.
Runners-up: Stephane Richer (1984), Teppo Numminen (1986)
Up and coming: Steve Downie (2005)
Disappointment: Brian Wesenberg (1995)
No. 30: Randy Carlyle (Toronto, 1976) -- In the words of Joni Mitchell, "Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone?" Such was the case of the Leafs and Carlyle. Toronto took him with its first pick (in the second round) in 1976, bounced him up and down between the big club and the minors for two seasons, and then dealt him to Pittsburgh in the summer of 1978. Carlyle blossomed as a Penguin, winning the Norris Trophy as the NHL's top defenseman in 1981. He went on to play in four All-Star Games and wound up scoring 647 points in 1,055 games with the Leafs, Penguins and Winnipeg Jets. He's done pretty well as a coach, too, leading Anaheim to the Cup in 2007.
Runners-up: Mark Hardy (1979), Patrice Brisebois (1989)
Up and coming: Matthew Corrente (2006), Thomas McCollum (2008)
Disappointment: Luke Sellars (1999)