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.
Going into the 2004 NHL Draft, the Washington Capitals had three first-round picks, giving them an opportunity to rebuild quickly after finishing 14th in the Eastern Conference in the 2003-04 season.
They started with the No. 1 pick, and the choice was Russian forward Alex Ovechkin. With the No. 27 pick, acquired from the Boston Bruins as part of a trade involving defenseman Sergei Gonchar, the Capitals selected defenseman Jeff Schultz from the Calgary Hitmen of the Western Hockey League.
Detroit Red Wings in exchange for forward Robert Lang, Washington found another WHL blueliner to its liking: Mike Green.
Green has evolved into one of the top offensive defensemen in the NHL, he received the majority of votes from NHL.com's 13-member Dream Draft panel to earn recognition as the best first-round pick taken at No. 29.
Green spent one more season with his junior team, the Saskatoon Blades, then started the 2005-06 season with the Hershey Bears, Washington's affiliate in the American Hockey League. He was called up a week into the NHL season, and on Oct. 12, 2005, played 14:14 in a 7-2 loss at the Carolina Hurricanes. He split the season between the AHL and NHL and had three points and a minus-8 rating in 22 NHL games.
He spent all of 2006-07 in the NHL, with 12 points and a minus-10 rating in 70 games.
Green's career changed with the arrival of Bruce Boudreau as Capitals coach Nov. 23, 2007. Green had three goals and seven points in 21 games in 2007-08 prior to Boudreau's arrival, but put up 15 goals and 49 points in 61 games after the hiring.
The next season was historic for Green; his 31 goals in 2008-09 were the most by a defenseman since Paul Coffey had 37 in 1984-85. Green led NHL blueliners in goals and points (73), was named an NHL First-Team All-Star, and finished second in voting for the Norris Trophy.
He was just as good the next season, finishing second in Norris Trophy voting after again leading NHL blueliners with 19 goals and 76 points. His plus-39 was third in the League, behind only his draft classmates, Schultz (plus-50) and Ovechkin (plus-45), and the Capitals won the Presidents' Trophy.
A series of injuries the following two seasons limited Green to 81 games, and his absence took something out of the Capitals offensively. He missed a month this season with another injury, but his return changed the team's fortunes. Though many will credit Ovechkin for engineering the late-season rally to win the Southeast Division title, the team closed 15-2-2 after Green returned to the lineup March 21.
In 35 games, Green led all NHL defensemen with 12 goals and was in the top 20 at his position with 26 points.
"I covered the Capitals for parts of five seasons, and in that time Green went from a decent prospect to the most dynamic offensive defenseman in the sport," NHL.com staff writer Corey Masisak said. "When Bruce Boudreau arrived in Washington, Green's play improved exponentially and he became a two-time Norris Trophy finalist. If advanced statistics were more prevalent in 2009 he probably could have -- or should have -- won. He's been besieged by injuries and then had to deal with 'Dale Hunter hockey,' which just wasn't a fit for any of Washington's big guns, but he rebounded with a very nice season in 2012-13 and led the NHL in goals by a defenseman again despite missing time with an injury."
As strong a performer as Green has been, he wasn't the only contender for this spot. In some of the closest voting by NHL.com's 13-member panel, Green received seven votes; defenseman Niklas Kronwall, taken No. 29 by the Detroit Red Wings in 2000, got six.