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.
Kevin Lowe never had the same cachet as some of his more famous teammates, but his role on six Stanley Cup championship teams can't be overstated. While the names Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Paul Coffey, Brian Leetch and Mike Richter drew headlines, Lowe was a defensive-zone stalwart and dressing-room leader.
It's why he was voted the best No. 21 first-round pick by NHL.com's Dream Draft panel.
Edmonton Oilers' talent haul from the 1979 NHL Draft is near legendary. They selected Messier in the third round and Glenn Anderson in the fourth. But with the final pick of the first round -- their first pick as an NHL franchise -- they chose Lowe, a 6-foot-2, 200-pound defenseman with the Quebec Remparts of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League who had scored 26 goals in 68 games.
Lowe had 21 points in 64 games for Edmonton as a 20-year-old in 1979-80 and is credited with scoring the first NHL goal for the Oilers. In 1983-84, he had a career-best 46 points and a plus-39 rating during the regular season, then added 10 points in 19 Stanley Cup Playoff games to help the Oilers win their first championship.
That effort helped Lowe earn a spot on Canada's team for the 1985 Canada Cup, and he turned in another solid season in 1984-85 when the Oilers repeated as NHL champions.
Lowe again played a big role in 1986-87, totaling eight goals, 37 points and a plus-41 rating in the regular season, and six points in 21 playoff games as the Oilers became three-time Cup winners. He had a career-high nine goals in 1987-88 and Edmonton won a fourth title. That postseason, he never missed a game despite wearing a cast to protect a broken wrist. After the series, Gretzky said Lowe also played through broken ribs.
Lowe helped the Oilers win a fifth Cup in 1989-90, then was traded to the New York Rangers in 1992. In 1993-94, he had 19 points in 71 regular-season games and one goal in 22 postseason games to help the Rangers snap their 54-year title drought and win his sixth Stanley Cup.
Lowe returned to the Oilers as a free agent in 1996 and played two final seasons with Edmonton. He's the only player in Oilers history to have played 1,000 games for them (1,037), and his 172 Stanley Cup Playoff games are the most in franchise history. He finished his career with 451 points and a plus-252 rating in 1,254 regular-season games; in 19 NHL seasons, his team went to the playoffs 18 times.
He skated in seven NHL All-Star Games and won the King Clancy Memorial Trophy in 1990. Though his No. 4 with the Oilers has not been retired, he was the only player to wear it for the franchise until he gave Taylor Hall permission to don the number in 2010.
"Though he was surrounded by bigger stars that drew all of the attention and won all of the awards, neither the dynastic Oilers nor the once-in-a-lifetime Rangers could have won their combined six Cups without Kevin Lowe as the pillar on defense," said NHL vice president of public relations John Dellapina, who covered the 1994 Cup champion Rangers for the New York Daily News. "Able to keep up with all that offensive talent while ensuring that his own zone was a perilous place for enemy attackers, Lowe anchored the blue lines that enabled Gretzky, Messier, [Jari] Kurri and even [Grant] Fuhr and Richter to do their things. And in the dressing room, he was a commanding presence who forgot more about winning big games than most players ever will learn and literally laughed when reporters and young teammates would express concern after losses early in playoff series."