Twenty years ago this month the Edmonton Oilers dynasty was officially over – five Cups in seven years – and most hockey fans were talking about an NHL final that featured Mario Lemieux and the Pittsburgh Penguins against the Minnesota North Stars.
At the same time some were wondering if there was going to be a big snub at the NHL draft. Top prospect Eric Lindros told the Quebec Nordiques he had no interest in playing for them. He went to the proceedings that June in Buffalo, walked up to the podium when Nordiques GM Pierre Page called his name first overall, but refused to put on the Quebec jersey handed to him by team owner Marcel Aubut.
Twenty years later, more than 5,000 teenagers have been selected in the draft without a single one snubbing their selection or team. Lindros eventually landed in Philadelphia, where he had some excellent seasons, but his career unfolded largely unfulfilled. A couple players selected after Lindros – Scott Niedermayer (third overall) and Peter Forsberg (sixth overall) – had five-star careers that will soon land them in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Such is the nature of the NHL draft. There’s a lot of glam and glitz in being selected first overall, but as always there’s plenty of intrigue in the years to follow.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is the No. 1-rated prospect according to The Hockey News’ Draft Preview (now available on newsstands and online), but there’s far better than a 50-50 chance one of a handful of players will go on to become a better player than the Red Deer Rebels center.
This year’s draft is considered five-deep at the top, including Swedish defenseman Adam Larsson, Kitchener right winger Gabriel Landeskog, Drummondville center Sean Couturier and Saint John pivot Jonathan Huberdeau.
According to scouts, there’s a bit of a dropoff before the sixth pick, then a gaggle of nine players a slight cut above the next group. As always, there’s not a huge difference between picks in the latter half of the first round and those in the first half of the second round. It’s all based on the preferences of the 30 NHL teams, all of which we profile in Draft Preview in terms of how they’re situated heading towards the most important day of talent regeneration.
The big winner before a pick has even been made is the New Jersey Devils, who won the draft lottery and moved up from the eighth overall pick to fourth. They’ll surely select one of the fab five.
Then again, things could change in the next six weeks leading up to the June 24 draft. As it was, the big five used to be a big four when we closed up Draft Preview in early April. Then Huberdeau joined the pack.
Will one of the other top 100 prospects we detail in Draft Preview make a similar move up the draft board?
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Brian Costello is The Hockey News’s senior special editions editor and a regular contributor to THN.com with his blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.