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Second Overall proves First Rate: Part 1 - The 60s and 70s

The first in a series of articles looks at how second overall picks have changed a franchise

by Bill Meltzer @NHLFlyers

The distinction of being the first overall pick in the NHL Draft is both a badge of honor and a source of pressure for the player selected. For better or worse, he will forever be compared to other first overall picks and measured by a higher standard than every other member of his own draft class. 

As for the second overall pick, his career merits are usually judged against those who were picked after him in the first round and only rarely (usually at Draft time) mentioned in the context of other players taken second overall. That will be the mantle assumed by the player the Philadelphia Flyers select with the second pick of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft.

The good news for Flyers fans: History has shown that a high percentage of second overall picks achieve success in the NHL. While there have been the inevitable busts, the majority become solid NHL players and a handful equaled or outpaced the first overall pick. 

Here's a look back at some of the best second picks in league history beginning with the 1960s & 1970s:

The 1960s (Peter Mahovlich, Brad Park & Marc Tardif)

Back in the six-team era of the NHL, the teams sponsored junior teams in Canada and laid claim to their top players. That is how the Montreal Canadiens were able to virtually corner the market on French-Canadian talent and why there were so many members of the top Niagara Falls teams on the Boston Bruins. 

Starting in 1963, the NHL established its first entry draft for players from unaffiliated programs. Players from all major junior programs and elsewhere became fair game before the league doubled in size for the 1967-68 season.

The best players from these early drafts who were taken second overall were big left winger Peter Mahovlich (Detroit Red Wings, 1963), offensive defenseman Brad Park (New York Rangers, 1966) and left winger Marc Tardif (Montreal Canadiens, 1969).

In 1963, the Canadiens made Tier II junior forward Garry Monahan of Toronto St. Michael's the first player selected in the NHL's inaugural amateur draft. Picking second, the Detroit Red Wings chose Monahan's teammate, Pete Mahovlich. While Monahan went on to play over 700 games in the NHL, Mahovlich's career far superseded Monahan's.

The brother of longtime Toronto Maple Leafs star Frank Mahovlich, Peter played briefly with the Red Wings and was then traded to Montreal where he was reunited with Frank. During his 884-game NHL career, the so-called "Little M" (who stood 6'5'') scored 30 or more goals five times, topped the 100-point mark twice and won four Stanley Cups with the Habs.  

Three years later, the Boston Bruins selected rugged defenseman Barry Gibbs first overall, while the New York Rangers grabbed puck-rushing blueliner Brad Park second overall. Gibbs had a solid, if unspectacular, NHL career. Park, meanwhile, went on to a Hall of Fame career primarily spent with the Rangers and Bruins. A five-time NHL First-Team All-Star and a two-time Second-Team All-Star, Park had 893 points in 1,113 career games. 

The 1969 draft is best remembered for every NHL team, including the Flyers, passing on Bobby Clarke in the first round because of his diabetic condition. That year, the Montreal Canadiens acquired both the first and second overall picks. With their initial selection, the Habs selected Rejean Houle, who became a fixture with the club both as a player and later in the front office as vice president and general manager. The Canadiens followed it up by picking winger Marc Tardif.

A native of Granby, Quebec , Tardiff won two Stanley Cups with Montreal and scored 31 goals during the 1971-72 season. Later, he jumped to the fledgling WHA and became a scoring machine for the Quebec Nordiques, including a 71-goal season in 1975-76. The Nordiques subsequently retired his number 8 jersey after the World Hockey Association merged with the National Hockey League.

1970s (Marcel Dionne, Wilf Paiement & Barry Beck)

The 1970s kicked off with the Vancouver Canucks selecting defenseman Dale Tallon after the Buffalo Sabres opened the draft by taking future Hall of Famer Gilbert Perreault first overall. Tallon, a two-time NHL All-Star, had a fine career but was overshadowed not only by Perreault, but by the third, fourth and eighth picks of the draft. 

The next year, the Habs grabbed the legendary Guy Lafleur with the first pick. Detroit followed it up with another Hall of Fame forward, Marcel Dionne. One of the best NHL players in history never to play on a Stanley Cup championship team, Dionne tallied 731 goals and 1,040 assists in his stellar career, spent primarily with the Los Angeles Kings.

In 1974, the Kansas City Scouts (later the Colorado Rockies and then New Jersey Devils) nabbed the talented and difficult to play against Wilf Paiement with the second pick after the Washington Capitals chose defenseman Greg Joly first overall. Joly's NHL career was derailed by injuries, while Paiement enjoyed four 30-goal seasons and a pair of 40-goal campaigns with six NHL clubs. His best years were spent with the Rockies and Maple Leafs.

Three years later, a forward was the first pick and a defenseman the second. This time, it was the defenseman who went on to have the superior NHL career. Detroit took much hyped center Dale McCourt first overall, while Colorado "settled" for Barry "Bubba" Beck. 

McCourt never lived up to his billing, while Beck combined bone-jarring hits, offensive ability and a considerable mean streak to become a four-time NHL All-Star, primarily with the Rangers.  

Ultimately, injury problems robbed Beck of much of the prime of his career, but for the period spanning the 1978-79 to 1981-82 seasons, Beck was every bit as feared by opposing coaches and players as Hall of Famers Larry Robinson and Denis Potvin. Beck was equally capable of racking up 14 to 20 or more goals a season while spending 200 minutes in the penalty box.

Stay tuned to for Part 2, which will examine the 1980s and 1990s second overall picks. 

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