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Second Picks Often Prove First Rate

by Bill Meltzer / Philadelphia Flyers
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 2007 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.

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.
Brad Park

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 While Monahan went on to play over 700 games in the NHL, Mahovlich’s career far superseded Monahan’s.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.

The Granby, Quebec native 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 Boston Bruins owned both the third and fourth selections and took two players that later became major trading coups by the Flyers – Reggie Leach and Rick MacLeish. The Toronto Maple Leafs took future Hall of Famer Darryl Sittler eighth overall. Sittler joined the Flyers in 1982 and spent several productive seasons with the club.

The next year, the Habs grabbed the legendary Guy Lafleur with the first pick. Detroit followed it
Marcel Dionne
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 Chiefs (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.

The 1980s (Brian Bellows, Kirk Muller, Brendan Shanahan, Trevor Linden)

The 1982 Entry Draft turned out much like the 1974 edition, as the top overall pick, defenseman Gord Kluzak, never really got to show what he could do in the NHL due to injury problems. Kluzak, a surprise selection by Boston, was felled repeatedly by serious knee injuries. He was also injured in a lopsided fight against the Flyers’ Dave Brown.

Originally, most prognosticators figured that high scoring Kitchener Rangers right winger Brian Bellows would be taken first overall. Instead, he went second to the Minnesota North Stars. Bellows went on to have four seasons with at least 40 goals (including a 50-goal campaign) and nine with at least 30 goals on his way to scoring 485 goals during his long NHL career.

Brendan Shanahan
The next year, the draft went down much like the 1970 draft with a second pick (Sylvain Turgeon by the Hartford Whalers) who had a decent enough NHL career but had the misfortune of being severely eclipsed by the players who followed him on draft day – Pat LaFontaine, Steve Yzerman and Tom Barrasso. Turgeon (like Bellows) was known as something of a one-dimensional player, but had three seasons with 30 or more goals, including a 40-goal season before heading to Europe for the final six years of his career.

To many fans, any discussion of the 1984 Draft class begins and ends with the Penguins’ selection of Mario Lemieux with the top pick. While second overall pick Kirk Muller could never hope to match Lemieux’s legacy in the sport, he was an outstanding leader on and off the ice and a fine two-way player for the New Jersey Devils, Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, Florida Panthers and Dallas Stars. A five-time selection to the NHL All-Star Game, Muller had 959 points in his 1,349 game career and owns a Stanley Cup ring from the 1992-93 season with the Montreal Canadiens.

The 1987 Draft saw arguably the finest power forward of the last 20 years, Brendan Shanahan, taken second overall by New Jersey after the Islanders chose Pierre Turgeon with the first selection. Power forwards typically start to break down physically in their early 30s. Shanahan, who has 627 career goals and counting, is still going strong at age 38. Remarkably, he has only had scale back slightly on the punishing physical style that made him such a force for the Devils, St. Louis Blues, Hartford Whalers and Detroit Red Wings.

Meanwhile, the top two of the 1988 Entry Draft bore a similarity to contrast between Lemieux and Muller in 1984. Mike Modano, a shoo-in for the Hockey Hall of Fame after his retirement, went first overall. But while second overall pick Trevor Linden has not put up comparable point totals to Modano’s, he is regarded as one of the game’s best natural leaders and accomplished two-way players.

A six-time 30-goal scorer during his first of two lengthy stints with the Vancouver Canucks, Linden did not quite find the same success during his time with the New York Islanders, Montreal Canadiens and Washington Capitals. He revived his career upon his return to Vancouver – albeit in more of a defensive role.

The 1990s (Chris Pronger, Wade Redden, Daniel Sedin)

Even a top three pick in the draft can take time to hit his stride in the world’s top hockey league. That’s the case with many of the best second overall picks of the 1990s.

The decade started with one of the deepest draft classes in NHL history. Second overall pick Petr Nedved, who was sandwiched in between the selections of Owen Nolan first overall,
Chris Pronger
Keith Primeau (Red Wings), Mike Ricci (Flyers) and Jaromir Jagr (Penguins), took several seasons to hit his stride offensively in the NHL, before scoring 38 goals in his third season. The former Flyer’s career best season came with the Penguins in 1995-96, when he tallied 46 goals and 99 points. But Nedved’s career has often been overshadowed by many of the players taken after him, including countryman Jagr, Keith Tkachuk and Martin Brodeur later in the first round.

Ottawa’s first overall pick of the 1993 draft, Alexandre Daigle, never came close to living up to the expectations placed upon him after a spectacular junior career. But today, it’s easy to forget that the second pick by the Hartford Whalers, defenseman Chris Pronger, was also widely considered a bust after his first four NHL seasons, which were split between the Hartford Whalers and St. Louis Blues after being traded for Brendan Shanahan.

Now, Pronger is dangerous both offensively and physically and can play 30 or more minutes per game as needed.

Pronger’s opponent in the 2007 Stanley Cup Finals, Wade Redden, had a subpar season and a poor playoff by his standards in 2006-07, but the mobile Ottawa Senators defenseman has long been regarded as one of the better two-way blueliners in the game. Selected by the Islanders second overall in 1995 and then swapped to Ottawa in a deal that sent first overall pick Bryan Berard from the Senators to the Islanders, Redden has played his entire career to date with Ottawa. A severe eye injury nearly ended Berard’s career, and the more purely offensive-minded back has never been the same player since coming back to the game.

The 1999 draft saw the Atlanta Thrashers choose center Patrik Stefan first overall. While Stefan has played 455 NHL games to date, he has not lived up to expectations. The second overall pick by Vancouver, Daniel Sedin, entered the league with a lot of hype as he and twin brother Henrik broke into the league together. The twins played so-so hockey for their first several seasons in the league, but slowly started to find their rhythm in more recent years.

This season, left winger Daniel enjoyed his first 30-goal campaign, posting 34 goals and 84 points, while brother Henrik racked up a remarkable 71 assists during the regular season. The twins’ breakout season lost a bit of luster after a disappointing playoff performance, but the 26-year-old brothers are just entering the primes of their careers and likely have not hit their career high-watermarks as of yet.

The 2000s (Dany Heatley, Jason Spezza, Eric Staal, Evgeni Malkin)

The jury is still out on how the draft classes since 2000 are destined to be remembered, but a series of second overall picks have fared very well in this decade so far.

Selected by the Atlanta Thrashers in 2000, Dany Heatley has emerged as one of the NHL’s premier offensive talents. Coming off back-to-back seasons in which he’s topped 50 goals and 100 points for Ottawa, the 26-year-old Heatley is a threat to score or create a scoring chance for a teammate at any time. He uses his speed, size and remarkable ice vision to buy time and space for himself and his linemates.
Evgeni Malkin

Heatley’s Ottawa linemate, Jason Spezza, took a little longer to blossom at the NHL level. The second overall pick in 2001 has become a premier setup man and enjoyed his first 30-goal season this year.

The 2003 second pick by the Carolina Hurricanes, Eric Staal, already owns a Stanley Cup ring and has a 100-point NHL season to his credit before his 23rd birthday. The dynamic young center is so talented that his 30-goal, 70-point season this year was considered something of a letdown after his magical sophomore NHL season for the ‘Canes.

When the winners of the 2006-07 NHL awards are announced on June 14, there is a strong chance that Pittsburgh Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin (second overall in 2004) will walk away with the Calder Trophy as the rookie of the year. Bringing a package of size, finesse and strength, Malkin recorded 33 goals and 85 points as a first-year player after leaving Russian Super League team Metallurg Magnitogorsk shrouded in secrecy and controversy.

Who will the next star to emerge from the second overall selection of the NHL Entry Draft? Atlanta Thrashers goaltender Kari Lehtonen (selected in 2002) is one of better young goaltenders in the league and has the chance to emerge as a superstar keeper in the next few years. Last year’s second overall pick, Jordan Staal, jumped straight from junior hockey to the NHL and not only retained a roster spot on the Penguins all season, he tallied 29 goals and nearly outscored his brother Eric for the season.

The Flyers and their fans hope the 2007 Entry Draft will continue the trend of stellar second picks that make a substantial impact on the league. While it would, of course, be ideal if the player blossomed within a couple years of his selection, the team realizes the need for patience. Ultimately, it’s not where the player starts out that’s important — it’s where he ends up.
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