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Picking top 3 all-time draft classes easy as 1 2 3

by Adam Kimelman
The foundation for a great team starts at the draft. Having a foundation of drafted players allows a GM to sprinkle in outside talent, rather than take the chance on free agency or risky trades.

The NHL has been drafting players since the first amateur draft in 1963. Over the years the draft has gone through changes -- more teams were added, the number of rounds was changed, and the age minimum was lowered to 18.

But what hasn't changed is the importance of the draft in building -- and sustaining -- winning organizations. examines three of the best draft classes in League history.

1979 -- This draft will be remembered as the turning point for the Edmonton Oilers' dynasty. GM/coach Glen Sather, with the 21st and final pick of the first round, selected Quebec Remparts defenseman Kevin Lowe.

In the third round (No. 48), Sather took a rambunctious forward from the Cincinnati Stingers of the World Hockey Association -- Mark Messier. Sather had traded for one of Messier's former teammates with Indianapolis of the WHA the year before, and hoped the partnership between Messier and Wayne Gretzky would work.

Six picks into the fourth round (No. 69), Sather selected Denver University forward Glenn Anderson.

Together Lowe, Messier and Anderson led the Oilers to five Stanley Cups in seven seasons.

To get to the second Cup, in 1985, Edmonton had to go through Philadelphia, which had some luck of its own in 1979. In the first round (No. 14), the Flyers selected Brandon Wheat Kings forward Brian Propp, who scored 425 goals, and in the second round (No. 35) tabbed Swedish goalie Pelle Lindbergh. Not long after winning the 1985 Vezina Trophy, Lindbergh was killed in a car accident.

Other stars coming out of the 1979 draft include Mike Gartner (No. 4, Washington), Hall of Fame defenseman Ray Bourque (No. 8, Boston), Dale Hunter (No. 41, Quebec) and three-time Stanley Cup winner Guy Carbonneau (No. 44, Montreal).

1988 -- This was the first draft to feature U.S. players directly inspired by the 1980 U.S. Olympic gold medal, and it showed as three of the top 11 all-time American-born players came from this draft class.

At the top is Mike Modano, the draft's first selection, by the Minnesota North Stars. In 20 seasons, the native of Livonia, Mich., leads all U.S.-born players with 543 goals and 1,329 points.

Third on both lists is Jeremy Roenick, who was taken at No. 8 by Chicago. The Boston-born Roenick has 513 goals and 1,216 points. Roenick's high school classmate, Tony Amonte, was taken in the fourth round (No. 68) by the Rangers. He retired in 2007 sixth among U.S.-born players with 416 goals, and 11th with 900 points.

Another all-time scorer taken in '88 was Teemu Selanne, who went 10th to Winnipeg. Selanne set a rookie record with 76 goals in 1992-93, and if he returns for a 17th NHL season in 2009-10, he has a chance to pass Jari Kurri as the all-time Finnish-born goal scorer in NHL history. Selanne has 579 goals, 22 behind Kurri's 601.

Other top players to emerge from the Class of '88 include two-time Selke Trophy winner Rod Brind'Amour (No. 9, St. Louis); Mark Recchi (No. 67, Pittsburgh), who ranks 14th on the all-time scoring list; Norris Trophy winner Rob Blake (No. 70, Los Angeles); and Russian superstar Alexander Mogilny (No. 89, Buffalo).

2003 -- If you're planning a reunion of the 2003 draft class, send all invitations to the next All-Star Game. You're sure to find more than a few players there.

The first round of that draft could go down as the most productive in the history of the League -- 29 of the 30 players have played in the NHL; 13 have played at least 300 games; nine have been All-Stars, including Eric Staal (No. 2, Carolina) three times and Dion Phaneuf (No. 9, Calgary) and Ryan Getzlaf (No. 19, Anaheim) twice.

Two teams were doubly blessed in the first round. Philadelphia got Jeff Carter at No. 11 and Mike Richards at No. 24, while Anaheim selected Getzlaf and Corey Perry at No. 28.

Other top-level players just from the top 30 include Pittsburgh's Marc-Andre Fleury, the first selection, who has backstopped the Penguins to back-to-back Stanley Cup Finals; 40-goal scorers Thomas Vanek (No. 5, Buffalo) and Zach Parise (No. 17, New Jersey); and stalwart defensemen Brent Seabrook (No. 14, Chicago) and Brent Burns (No. 20, Minnesota).

The first round wasn't the only gold mine. Other players taken outside the first round include Patrice Bergeron (No. 45, Boston), Shea Weber (No. 49, Nashville), Joe Pavelski (No. 205, San Jose), Tobias Enstrom (No. 239, Atlanta) and Dustin Byfuglien (No. 245, Chicago).

Contact Adam Kimelman at

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