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Taking A Look Back: How Players Selected Fourth Overall Have Impacted The NHL

by Jimi Russell / Nashville Predators

As the 2013 NHL Entry Draft approaches, the Predators hold their highest pick since taking David Legwand second overall in the team’s first draft in 1998. Since a Top Five pick is fairly uncharted territory for the club, let’s take a look at some of the top players in NHL history who were taken with the fourth overall pick in their respective drafts.

Seven players who were taken in the fourth spot in the NHL Entry Draft are now enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. Some of the most notable of those seven are: Ron Francis, Mike Gartner, Lanny McDonald and Steve Yzerman.

Francis was taken by the Hartford Whalers in the 1981 NHL Entry Draft, and went on to post 1,798 points (549g-1,249a) in 1,731 career NHL games. The Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., native won two Stanley Cups, three Lady Byng Trophies as the player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability, a Frank J. Selke Award as the League’s top defensive forward, a King Clancy Memorial Trophy for his leadership qualities, and was selected to the NHL All Star Game on four occasions. Francis was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2007.

Gartner, who was selected by the Washington Capitals in 1979, played 19 seasons with the Capitals, North Stars, Rangers, Maple Leafs and Coyotes. The Ottawa, Ont., native posted 1,335 points (708g-627a) in 1,432 career games. Gartner, who holds multiple NHL scoring records, was selected to the NHL All-Star Game seven times and his jersey No. 11 was retired by the Capitals in 2008. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in November of 2001.

McDonald heard his named called fourth in the 1973 draft by the Toronto Maple Leafs. McDonald, who is easily recognizable by his trademark mustache, went on to record 1,006 points (500 g, 506a) in 1,111 career games. The Hanna, Alb., native won the 1983 Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy as the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to ice hockey, the 1988 King Clancy Memorial Trophy and the 1989 Stanley Cup on a team coached by Predators TV color analyst Terry Crisp. McDonald was also the first player in Flames history to have his number retired by the team. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1992.

Yzerman was selected by the Detroit Red Wings with the fourth pick in the 1983 NHL Entry Draft. Yzerman, the longest-serving captain of any team in North American major league sports history, went on to play 1,514 games for the Wings over 23 seasons, posting 1,755 points (692g-1,063a) during that span. He won three Stanley Cups (he also won a Cup as an assistant general manager in 2008), the 1989 Lester B. Pearson Award (currently known as the Ted Lindsay Award) as the most outstanding player as judged by the members of the NHLPA, the 1998 Conn Smythe Award as playoff MVP, the 2000 Frank J. Selke Award, the 2003 Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, the 2006 Lester Patrick Award for his contributions to ice hockey in North America, and was named to the All Star Game 10 times in his career. Yzerman was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2009. He currently serves as the General Manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning, who will pick third in this year’s draft.

While those are just four examples of former fourth overall picks making into the Hall of Fame, many fourth overall selections are waiting on their induction or actively playing in the NHL.

Nicklas Backstrom of the Washington Capitals was selected fourth overall in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft. The Gavle, Sweden native has been better than a point-per-game player for the Caps since joining the team in 2007, posting 415 points (109g-306a) in 413 games. Backstrom finished his rookie season as a finalist for the Calder Trophy which is awarded to the League’s top rookie.

Defenseman Al Iafrate was selected fourth overall at the 1984 NHL Entry Draft by the Toronto Maple Leafs. He is perhaps most famous for his slap shot that set the NHL Skills Competition record, which stood for 16 years, at 105.2 miles per hour. The record was broken by Zdeno Chara with a slap shot at 105.4 mph at the 2009 All Star Game. Although his career was cut short by injury, Iafrate recorded 463 points (152g-311a) during his 14-year career. Iafrate was actually selected by the Predators in the 1998 NHL Expansion Draft, but retired prior to the 1998-99 season.

Former Predator Paul Kariya was selected fourth in the 1993 NHL Entry Draft by the Anaheim Ducks, and went on to play 15 seasons with the Ducks, Avalanche, Predators and Blues. The Vancouver, B.C., native was a career point-per-game player, posting 989 points (402g-587a) in 989 games. Kariya also holds the Preds single-season scoring title after posting 85 points (31g-54a) during the 2005-06 season. He won back-to-back Lady Byng Trophies in 1996 and 1997, he was named to the All-Star Game seven times, and won gold with Team Canada at the 2002 Winter Olympics.

Goaltender Roberto Luongo has cemented himself as one of the top netminders in the game after being selected by the New York Islanders in the 1997 Entry Draft. In 747 games for the Islanders, Panthers and Canucks, Luongo has posted a 348-289-(33)-71 record with a career 2.52 goals-against average, a .919 save percentage and 62 shutouts. The Montreal, Quebec native has been selected as an NHL All-Star four times, won the 2011 William M. Jennings Trophy as a member of the League’s top goaltending tandem, won the 2007 Mark Messier Leadership Award and led Team Canada to gold at the 2010 Winter Olympics.

Back-to-back fourth round selections Alex Pietrangelo (2008) and Evander Kane (2009) are quickly becoming stars in the NHL. Pietrangelo has secured a top defensive pairing position with the St. Louis Blues after posting 121 points (29g-92a) in 224 games. At the 2011 IIHF World Championships, the 23-year-old blueliner was named the tournament’s top defenseman. Kane, a forward for the Winnipeg Jets, has recorded 159 points (80g-79a) since joining the Jets during the 2009-10 season. The former teammate of Jonathon Blum with the WHL’s Memorial Cup winning Vancouver Giants has won gold medals with Team Canada at the 2008 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament and 2009 World Junior Championships. He has also donned the maple leaf in the 2010 IIHF World Championship.

While these are just a few examples of success stories that spawned from the fourth overall pick, the Predators are set to draft a player with the skill set to not only provide an immediate impact to their roster, but to the NHL for years to come.

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