Skip to Main Content

Brodeur, Lemieux among best-ever Atlantic picks

by John Kreiser
The Entry Draft remains the basis for building a team in the National Hockey League. A top-flight draft can set up a team for years to come. A bad one -- sometimes even just a bad pick or two -- can set a franchise back for a long time.

Every team has had its ups and downs since the draft began in 1963. Here's a look at the hits (and some of the misses) for each of the teams in the Atlantic Division:


Best first-round pick: Martin Brodeur (1990) -- It seems incomprehensible now, but Brodeur wasn't even the first goalie picked in his draft year (Calgary took Trevor Kidd nine picks earlier). The Devils took Brodeur with the 20th selection and got the winningest goaltender in NHL history, as well as the backbone of three Stanley Cup winners. That's pretty good for a guy who was passed over by 19 teams.
Honorable mention: Brendan Shanahan (1987), Scott Niedermayer (1991), Zach Parise (2003)

Best pick, rounds 2-4: Patrik Elias (1994) -- The Devils took Elias, a Czech forward, in the second round (No. 51) in 1994. While first-rounder Vadim Sharifjanov never panned out, Elias has become a four-time 30-goal scorer and the leading point-producer in franchise history. He owns a pair of Stanley Cup rings and is five goals from 300 for his career.
Honorable mention: Brian Gionta (1998), Paul Martin (2000)

Best later-round pick: Steve Sullivan (1994) -- Sullivan, a speedy center, was found in the ninth round (No. 233) after a 51-goal season with Sault Ste. Marie of the Ontario Hockey League. The Devils gave Sullivan two seasons in the minors, with a couple of quick trips to New Jersey, before trading him to Toronto as part of the Doug Gilmour deal in 1997. He's produced 239 goals and made a terrific comeback with Nashville in the second half of this past season after missing nearly two years with back problems.
Honorable mention: Kirk McLean (1984), Willie Mitchell (1996)

Biggest disappointment: Neil Brady (1986) -- The Devils, one of the NHL's weakest teams during their early years in New Jersey, whiffed on the third pick in the draft when they chose Brady, a center from Medicine Hat of the Western Hockey League from whom much was expected. He wound up scoring just 2 goals in 29 games for the Devils before being traded to Ottawa in 1992; his NHL resume consists of only 9 goals in 89 games.
Honorable Mention: Ari Ahonen (1999), Adrian Foster (2001)


Best first-round pick: Denis Potvin (1973) -- Potvin was the first of the four pillars of the Isles' dynasty to arrive. GM Bill Torrey ignored a barrage of trade requests and took Potvin with the first pick in the Draft after the team's historically bad first season. Potvin was a big part of the Isles' rise and a key to their four consecutive Cups from 1980-83. Few players have run a power play as well as No. 5.
Honorable mention: Mike Bossy (1977), Pat LaFontaine (1983), Roberto Luongo (1997)

Best pick, rounds 2-4: Zdeno Chara (1996) -- The Isles took Chara in the third round (No. 56), but included him in the trade that brought Alexei Yashin from Ottawa in 2001. Chara blossomed into an All-Star with the Senators, then signed with Boston and has further improved his game -- he's a Norris Trophy finalist this season after leading the Bruins to first place in the East.
Honorable mention: Travis Green (1989), Zigmund Palffy (1991)

Best later-round pick: Vladimir Malakhov (1989) -- When the Iron Curtain fell, the Isles took a 10th-round (No. 191) flyer on Malakhov, a young Russian defenseman with a big shot. Malakhov was a sensation as a rookie in 1992-93, helping the Isles end Pittsburgh's two-year reign as champions, and despite several injuries, had a lengthy, productive career.
Honorable mention: Stefan Persson (1974), Radek Martinek (1999)

Biggest disappointment: Scott Scissons (1990) -- Forever doomed to be known as the player who was taken immediately after Pittsburgh chose Jaromir Jagr with the fifth pick, Scissons' career was cut short by an injury. He played just two NHL games, and his pro hockey career was over before he was 25.
Honorable Mention: Dave Chyzowski (1989), Ryan O'Marra (2005)


Best first-round pick: Brian Leetch (1986) -- The Rangers plucked Leetch out of a Connecticut prep school with the ninth pick and waited while he spent a season at Boston College and played for the United States in the 1988 Olympics. He proved to be more than worth the wait: Leetch is the best defenseman in team history, arguably the best U.S.-born player in NHL history and led the Rangers to the 1994 Stanley Cup while becoming the only American to win the Conn Smythe Trophy.
Honorable Mention: Brad Park (1966), James Patrick (1981), Alexei Kovalev (1991)

Best pick, rounds 2-4: Mike Richter (1985) -- The Rangers snatched Richter, a Philadelphia-area native, from under the noses of the Flyers in the second round (No. 28) in 1985. He was a teammate of Leetch on the '88 U.S. Olympic squad, and they joined the Rangers together after the Calgary Games. Richter's 301 wins are the most in team history, and he's arguably the best goaltender produced by the United States.
Honorable mention: John Vanbiesbrouck (1981), Doug Weight (1990)

Best later-round pick: Henrik Lundqvist (2000) -- Lundqvist was a complete unknown when he came to camp in 2005 -- at most, the seventh-rounder (No. 205) from five years earlier was expected to play at AHL Hartford. Instead, he made the team, took over the No. 1 job and has been one of the NHL's top goaltenders ever since. Lundqvist is the first netminder in NHL history to begin his career with four consecutive 30-win seasons.
Honorable mention: Sergei Nemchinov (1990), Todd Marchant (1993)

Biggest disappointment: Hugh Jessiman (2003) -- The class of 2003 is one of the great NHL drafts of all time, but not because of Jessiman -- he's the only first-rounder from that year yet to play in the NHL. Jessiman, picked No. 12, appeared to have all the tools for success but has never made it and was dealt away by the Rangers during this past season.
Honorable mention: Michael Stewart (1990), Pavel Brendl (1999)


Best first-round pick: Brian Propp (1979) -- Propp was among the NHL's most consistent scorers during his time with the Flyers, never finishing with less than 26 goals and getting 40 or more four times in 10 full seasons. He also was defensively responsible, finishing with a career plus-310 while playing for the Stanley Cup five times. He finished with 425 goals and 1,004 points in 1,016 career games.
Honorable mention: Bill Barber (1972), Peter Forsberg (1991), Jeff Carter and Mike Richards (2003)

Best pick, rounds 2-4: Bobby Clarke (1969) -- Teams shied away from Clarke, a feisty center from Flin Flon, Man., because he was diabetic. The Flyers took him in the second round (No. 17) of the third draft in team history and got a future Hall of Famer whose offensive skills and will to win were the backbone of two Cup-winning teams.
Honorable mention: Scott Mellanby (1984), Mikael Renberg (1990)

Best later-round pick: Ron Hextall (1982) -- The Flyers had no idea when they picked Hextall in the sixth round (No. 119) they were getting one of the best netminders in team history. The son of former NHL forward Dennis Hextall won the Vezina and Conn Smythe trophies as a rookie in 1986-87, and won 296 games in 13 NHL seasons -- 240 of them in 11 seasons with Philadelphia. He also was one of the best stickhandlers among netminders and became the first goaltender in NHL history to score a goal by shooting the puck into the net.
Honorable mention: Rick Tocchet (1983), Dmitry Yushkevich (1991)

Biggest disappointment: Ryan Sittler (1992) -- The Flyers took the son of Hall of Famer Darryl Sittler with the seventh pick in 1992, waited while he played two seasons at the University of Michigan, then saw him turn into one of the great disappointments of all time. Sittler never played an NHL game and was out of pro hockey by the time he was 25.
Honorable mention: Steve Smith (1981), Maxime Ouellet (1999)


Best first-round pick: Mario Lemieux (1984) -- Had Lemieux's health been better, it would have been interesting to see if the first pick of the 1984 draft would have been able to surpass Wayne Gretzky's offensive records. As is, "Super Mario" saved the franchise and led Pittsburgh to its first two Stanley Cups, in 1991 and '92. Despite injuries and illnesses, he still scored 690 goals and 1,723 points in just 915 games. It's hard to conceive of a player who had more physical talent.
Honorable mention: Jaromir Jagr (1990), Evgeni Malkin (2004), Sidney Crosby (2005)

Best pick, rounds 2-4: Mark Recchi (1988) -- Recchi's size (5-foot-10) probably kept him from being picked higher than the fourth round (No. 67), despite a 61-goal, 154-point season with Kamloops of the WHL in his final junior season. He had 50 goals in his only full minor-league season, scored 30 in his first full season with the Penguins in 1989-90 and hasn't stopped scoring since -- putting up 23 goals and 61 points while splitting this past season with Tampa Bay and Boston. His 545 career goals are 26th on the all-time list.
Honorable mention: Mark Johnson (1977), Ryan Malone (1999)

Best later-round pick: Patrick Lalime (1993) -- Lalime, a sixth-round pick (No. 156) in 1993, made a splash as a rookie in 1996-97, setting an NHL record by going 14-0-2 in his first 16 decisions. He finished 21-12-2 with a 2.95 goals-against average and three shutouts while making the All-Rookie team. A contract dispute led to him spending the next two seasons in the minors before returning to the NHL with Ottawa in 1999. He had 36- and 39-win seasons with the Senators and is four wins shy of 200 for his career.
Honorable mention: Shawn McEachern (1987), Maxime Talbot (2002)

Biggest disappointment: Robert Dome (1997) -- Dome was a highly regarded Slovak teenager who came to North America and spent two seasons playing in the International Hockey League (then a top-level minor league with some NHL affiliations). The Penguins took him with the 17th pick in the opening round, but he never panned out, scoring just 7 goals and 14 points in parts of two seasons with Pittsburgh. He left North America in 2003-04 and still is playing in Europe.
Honorable mention: Stefan Bergqvist (1993), Craig Hillier (1996)

View More