Every NHL team has good years and bad years at the draft, but not all good years are created equal. Some teams have repeatedly pulled epic groups of players in a single year, from Hall of Famers to long-term NHLers. Other teams have struggled so much they’ve been lucky to land one great player in a single draft.
Paring down a list of every team’s greatest draft class was a difficult task. The Edmonton Oilers, for instance, picked Mark Messier, Glenn Anderson and Kevin Lowe in 1979 and Paul Coffey, Jari Kurri and Andy Moog in 1980. Their second-best draft might rank top-five in NHL history. Alas, every team only gets one nominee for this exercise (not every pick is listed – just a team’s notable selections). The rules are arbitrary, the process subjective. Some disclaimers:
- Teams aren’t judged on where in the draft they got the players but simply on which players they got. This isn’t a list of best late-round finds. The goal is to decide which team simply got the best group of players in a given year.
- Players are judged on what they accomplished over their careers with or without a given team. The goal is to rate how a team fared on draft day. It’s not the scouts’ fault if a GM later traded away a great pick.
- As much as possible, players are judged on what they’ve done rather than what they’re projected to do. That is why Vegas’ first draft ranks last despite its vast potential.
1. Detroit Red Wings: 1989 – Nicklas Lidstrom, Sergei Fedorov, Vladimir Konstantinov, Mike Sillinger, Dallas Drake, Bob Boughner
Two Hall of Famers. Four players with 1,000 games. Nine Cup rings. Elite talent, great depth. This draft class had it all.
2. Edmonton Oilers: 1979 – Mark Messier, Glenn Anderson, Kevin Lowe
Three dynasty pillars. Two Hall of Famers. Some say Lowe should be. Messier only captain to lead two teams to Cup.
3. Montreal Canadiens: 1971 – Guy Lafleur, Larry Robinson
Not the Habs’ deepest draft, but two Hall of Famers and arguably two top-25 players of all-time makes this year a home run.
4. Calgary Flames: 1984 – Brett Hull, Gary Suter, Gary Roberts, Paul Ranhiem
Just one legend in Hull, but Suter and Roberts belong in Hall of Very Good. Four long, excellent careers.
5. Vancouver Canucks: 1999 – Daniel and Henrik Sedin
Two scoring champs, two Lindsay winners and a Hart winner. Twins had greatest linemate chemistry in NHL history.
6. Pittsburgh Penguins: 2005 – Sidney Crosby, Kris Letang
Crosby could retire today and earn votes as an all-time top-five player. Letang one of best all-around D-men of his generation.
7. Washington Capitals: 2004 – Alex Ovechkin, Mike Green
‘Ovie’ arguably the greatest goal-scorer ever. Green won’t get in Hall but was the best offensive blueliner for a few years.
8. New York Islanders: Bryan Trottier, Clark Gillies, Stefan Persson
Trottier one of best ever to play. Fearsome power forward Gillies a staple of Isles’ dynasty, too, but Hall call dubious.
9. Boston Bruins: 1979 – Ray Bourque, Brad McCrimmon, Mike Krushelnyski, Keith Crowder
Bourque earned 13 first-team all-star nods. A legend. McCrimmon and Krushelnyski carved out long, fruitful careers.
10. Chicago Blackhawks: 1980 – Steve Larmer, Denis Savard, Troy Murray, Carey Wilson
Deep class. Savard a human highlight reel. Larmer was ironman with Hall advocates. Murray won Selke. Variety.
11: Buffalo Sabres: 1982, Phil Housley, Dale Andreychuk
Too low for two Hall of Famers? Both excellent offensive forces, but neither bagged any major individual hardware.
12. Colorado Avalanche/Quebec Nordiques: 1979 – Michel Goulet, Dale Hunter, Anton Stastny
A great goal-scorer in Goulet, while nasty, well-rounded Hunter is the only man with 1,000 points and 3,000 PIM.
13. St. Louis Blues: 1976 – Bernie Federko, Brian Sutter, Mike Liut, Mike Eaves
Federko eclipsed by other superstars but a consistent 100-point guy. Liut among best goalies for much of his solid career.
14. Los Angeles Kings: 1980 – Larry Murphy, Bernie Nicholls, Jim Fox, Steve Bozek
Murphy holds rookie point record for D-men and had long Hall of Fame career. Nicholls posted monster offensive stats in a time when many did.
15. Anaheim Ducks: 2003 – Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Drew Miller
Getzlaf, Perry figureheads of the franchise for a decade and a half. Perry an MVP, Getzlaf elite playmaker, both Cup winners.
16. Tampa Bay Lightning: 1998 – Vincent Lecavalier, Brad Richards
Consistent scorers. Lecavalier led the league in goals once. Richards won Conn Smythe. Both live on Hall fringe.
17. New York Rangers: 1990 – Sergei Zubov, Doug Weight, Sergei Nemchinov
Zubov criminally underrated in an era with other legendary D-men. Weight racked up points with his playmaking.
18. Nashville Predators: 2003 – Shea Weber, Ryan Suter, Kevin Klein
Weber and Suter absolute workhorses who’ve spent half their careers as Norris contenders but zero awards or Cups.
19. New Jersey Devils: 1994 – Patrik Elias, Steve Sullivan, Sheldon Souray
Elias a 1,000-point guy. Sullivan scored in an era that wasn’t kind to little guys. Souray racked up goals with bomb from point.
20. Arizona Coyotes/original Winnipeg Jets: 1990 – Keith Tkachuk, Alexei Zhamnov
Throwback power forward Tkachuk sits third among U.S. players in goals. Zhamnov dominant at times as setup man.
21. Philadelphia Flyers: 1991 – Peter Forsberg, Dimitri Yushkevich
Even with injury-shortened career, ‘Foppa’ one of the few dominant players of Dead Puck Era. Yushkevich a physical, heart-and-soul defenseman any team would’ve loved to have.
22. Toronto Maple Leafs: 1973 – Lanny McDonald, Ian Turnbull
McDonald filled net on some decent Leafs teams in the late 1970s and won Cup in Calgary. Turnbull a high-end blueliner in a relatively short career.
23. Dallas Stars/Minnesota North Stars: 1979 – Neal Broten, Craig Hartsburg
Minnesotan Broten was first American with 100-point season. Hartsburg wore ‘C’ for North Stars his final seven years.
24. Carolina Hurricanes/Hartford Whalers: Ray Ferraro, Kevin Dineen, Ulf Samuelsson
No legends here, but three rock-solid players who thrived in prominent roles on multiple teams across long careers.
25. Columbus Blue Jackets: 2002 – Rick Nash
Magic moves for a big man. Could’ve won a lot more if he had more help. Sadly, concussions cut his career short.
26. Ottawa Senators: 1994 – Daniel Alfredsson, Radek Bonk
A Calder winner with 1,000-plus points, ‘Alfie’ may wind up in Hall. Late-bloomer Bonk was solid two-way No. 2 center.
27. San Jose Sharks: 1991 – Ray Whitney, Sandis Ozolinsh, Pat Faloon
Whitney kept scoring in his 40s during a remarkably long career. Ozolinsh was a supernova, an elite PP quarterback who couldn’t stay elite for long.
28. Florida Panthers: 2011 – Jonathan Huberdeau, Vincent Trochek
So far, so good. Calder winner Huberdeau reaching high offensive ceiling that made him No. 3 pick. Trocheck a gem.
29. Winnipeg Jets: 2012 – Connor Hellebuyck, Jacob Trouba
Resumes are short but impressive for Vezina runner-up Hellebuyck and punishing physical blueliner Trouba. If Jets become a championship team, this class climbs the list.
30. Minnesota Wild: 2010 – Mikael Granlund, Jason Zucker
An exciting playmaker in Granlund and a speedy, tenacious goal-scorer in Zucker. Still time to accomplish a lot more. Both players still in their 20s.
31. Vegas Golden Knights: 2017 – Cody Glass, Erik Brannstrom, Nick Suzuki
Who knows? All have promising upside. Knights may have drafted three stars in their inaugural try. Now we watch them develop on three different franchises.