Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel are one helluva draft punch, no doubt. The two phenoms have the talent, but time will tell if they can break into the ranks of the best duos ever. We count down the best in NHL history.
As it turns out, we may have to alter the definition of the term “generational player.” It used to be that generational players came around only once in, well, a generation. But two in the same draft year? We’re getting a little spoiled here, aren’t we? In the history of the NHL draft, which started modestly 52 years ago, only once have the No. 1 and No. 2 picks had careers that ended with induction into the Hall of Fame. That was in 1971 when Guy Lafleur and Marcel Dionne embarked on their NHL careers with the Montreal Canadiens and Detroit Red Wings. We’re not about to suggest the Hall of Fame start working on plaques for
Connor McDavid and
Jack Eichel just yet, but the possibilities are tempting. McDavid has been carrying the burden of future NHL stardom since his early teenage years. Eichel closed the gap going into this season when it came to the race for No. 1 overall, but as the season went on, McDavid widened it. By the time the Edmonton Oilers picked first overall in the draft, it was a fait accompli.
This will be fun to watch. Adding to it all is the international flavor the rivalry brings, though the two phenoms will be teammates on the North American Young Stars team at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey. And even though McDavid has the early edge, and deserves so, it’s not a stretch to suggest Eichel might catch or even surpass him.
McDavid was the best player in junior hockey this past season, but Eichel was the best in college hockey at 18. McDavid, who was running on fumes in the OHL final, was shut down by two 21-year-old defensemen. Eichel, on the other hand, faced competition that mature in almost every game he played. Where will McDavid and Eichel rank when all is said and done? Well, we’re expecting it will be high on our list of the best 1-2 draft duos in NHL history.
DENIS POTVIN – Drafted No. 1 by the Islanders from the Ottawa 67’s (OHL)
TOM LYSIAK – Drafted No. 2 by Atlanta from the Medicine Hat Tigers (WCHL)
HISTORICAL CONTEXT After getting Lafleur, Pollock tried the same trick two years, offering the Islanders a group of good NHL players in exchange for the first pick. But Isles GM Bill Torrey didn’t take the bait because he thought so highly of Potvin. Lysiak, a big farm boy of Ukrainian descent from High Prairie, Alta., had won two straight scoring titles in the Western Canadian League.
WHAT THEY WERE SAYING “He’s the second coming of Bobby Orr.” – Ottawa 67’s president Howard Darwin of Potvin. “When I look at the guys in the NHL, I just don’t envision myself out there with them. I guess that is pretty strange, but that’s just the way it is. I really don’t follow hockey as much as I should. But I imagine that will change now. I’ll have to get pretty involved in the NHL, if I stay there.” – Lysiak.
DID THEY GET IT RIGHT? Four Cups, three Norris Trophies and a Hall induction for Potvin make the answer a resounding yes. Lysiak’s career wasn’t all that bad, as he had more than 800 points in 900-plus games and was close to being a point-per-game player in the playoffs. But this race isn’t even close. The Atlanta Flames would have been better off taking Lysiak’s Medicine Hat teammate Lanny McDonald, who went fourth to Toronto.
GILBERT PERREAULT – Drafted No. 1 by Buffalo from the Montreal Jr. Canadiens (OHA)
DALE TALLON – Drafted No. 2 by Vancouver from the Toronto Marlboros (OHA)
HISTORICAL CONTEXT Perreault had established himself as the offensive star on a two-time Memorial Cup champion. The team Perreault’s Montreal Jr. Canadiens defeated in the OHA final was the Toronto Marlboros, who featured a stud defenseman named Dale Tallon. After a year with the Oshawa Generals, Tallon was traded to the Marlboros for five players. With the Buffalo Sabres and Vancouver Canucks added as expansion teams, the first-overall choice was determined by the spin of a wheel, and the Sabres won.
WHAT THEY WERE SAYING “We came out with the greatest hockey player in the world. Who can ask for anything more? The Buffalo Sabres will be the first expansion team to win the Stanley Cup. You can be sure of that.” – Sabres GM Punch Imlach on Perreault. “To be honest, we would have grabbed Perreault, too, if we’d had the chance. But the scouts, and not just our own, claim Tallon could turn out to be the better player.” – Canucks GM Bud Poile.
DID THEY GET IT RIGHT? Absolutely. Tallon had a productive career with the Canucks, Hawks and Penguins, but Perreault forged a Hall-of-Fame career. He could not, however, make the Sabres the first expansion Cup champ because, despite an abundance of talent, the Sabres never won it.
8 . 2009
JOHN TAVARES – Drafted No. 1 by the Islanders from the London Knights (OHL)
VICTOR HEDMAN – Drafted No. 2 by Tampa Bay from Modo (Sweden)
HISTORICAL CONTEXT It’s difficult to usurp the first guy to obtain exceptional status from Hockey Canada, and that’s exactly what Hedman faced against Tavares in the 2009 draft. By the time Tavares was picked, he had established himself as an offensive stud, with three straight 100-point seasons. But he wasn’t playing against men and living on his own in Sweden, the way Hedman had been doing since the age of 16 with Modo. Tavares drew comparisons to Phil Esposito in terms of his ability around the net and his skating, which looked as though it needed work. No such concerns with Hedman, whose size and skating were seen as his major strengths.
WHAT THEY WERE SAYING “John knows he’s special, and there’s nothing wrong with that. He doesn’t hide from it. The great players, they know.” – minor hockey teammate Sam Gagner. “He will be a cornerstone on defense for a team for many years to come.” – an NHL GM on Hedman.
DID THEY GET IT RIGHT? At this point, yes, but the gap is closing quickly. Anyone who watched Hedman dominate in the first half of the Stanley Cup final can see multiple Norris Trophies in his future and probably Stanley Cups. Tavares has worked hard to improve his skating and is one of the league’s premier offensive players.
JOE THORNTON – Drafted No. 1 by Boston from the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (OHL)
PATRICK MARLEAU – Drafted No. 2 by San Jose from the Seattle Thunderbirds (WHL)
HISTORICAL CONTEXT Thornton had been pegged for NHL stardom since he scored eight points in six games in Jr. B at 14. Even though Marleau had more goals and points than Thornton did in their draft year and Marleau’s team had more playoff success, there was no doubt who would go first overall. Regardless, over the course of their two-year junior careers, Marleau outscored Thornton 199-198.
WHAT THEY WERE SAYING “Sometimes we pinch ourselves and say, ‘My God, if he ever had the co-ordination he’s going to have in four or five years’…Every day it’s an adventure for him. If he ever gets used to his body, look out.” – Soo Greyhounds GM, Dave Mayville, on Thornton. “A real talent, but he scares the heck out of me.” – an NHL scout on Marleau.
DID THEY GET IT RIGHT? Even though both players struggled during their rookie seasons under taskmaster coaches – Thornton mightily with Pat Burns in Boston, Marleau not as badly with Darryl Sutter in San Jose – Thornton has had the more distinguished career. Thornton has a scoring title and a Hart Trophy, and he and Marleau have won an Olympic gold medal, but neither has delivered his team to a Stanley Cup championship, separately or together. Advantage: Thornton.
STEVEN STAMKOS – Drafted No. 1 by Tampa Bay from the Sarnia Sting (OHL)
DREW DOUGHTY – Drafted No. 2 by Los Angeles from the Guelph Storm (OHL)
HISTORICAL CONTEXT Stamkos was pegged as the No. 1 prospect from the start of the season and did nothing in his draft year to dissuade talent evaluators. Doughty was actually ranked No. 3 by the NHL’s Central Scouting Bureau, behind Zach Bogosian. There were concerns about Doughty’s weight but not his ability. Because of his late 1989 birthday, he was in his third OHL season, while Stamkos was finishing his second.
WHAT THEY WERE SAYING “To me, he looks like Steve Yzerman.” – an NHL scout on Stamkos. “He can play it any way you want to play it. If you want to play a finesse game, he can do that. If you want to play a physical game, he’s fine with that, too. And when he hits guys, it hurts.” – an NHL scout on Doughty.
DID THEY GET IT RIGHT? Hate to dodge here, but the jury is still out. Doughty has the edge at this point by virtue of being the best player on two Cup-winning teams, the 2012 and 2014 L.A. Kings, while Stamkos failed to score a goal in his only Stanley Cup final with Tampa this past season. Doughty also has two Olympic gold medals, while Stamkos hasn’t played at the Olympics yet. Stamkos is one of the most electrifying offensive players in the NHL, Doughty one of the best all-round D-men.
MIKE MODANO – Drafted No. 1 by Minnesota from the Prince Albert Raiders (WHL)
TREVOR LINDEN – Drafted No. 2 by Vancouver from the Medicine Hat Tigers (WHL)
HISTORICAL CONTEXT Even though Modano was considered the superior offensive talent, he and Linden were separated by only one goal in the WHL in their draft year of 1988. Modano scored a hat trick in his first major junior game and was an offensive force for the Prince Albert Raiders, while Linden was establishing himself as a two-way player and tremendous leader in Medicine Hat. More importantly, he led the Tigers to their second consecutive Memorial Cup.
WHAT THEY WERE SAYING “Missing training camp hurts the boy more than it hurts us. We don’t expect Mike Modano to come in and take a job. It’s a bonus for us if he plays this year. For someone to start his career as a holdout isn’t the most advantageous thing.” – North Stars GM Jack Ferreira, after failing to come to terms with Modano. “(Linden) may be the best impact player in the history of the franchise.” – Canucks coach Bob McCammon.
DID THEY GET IT RIGHT? Yes, even though Linden was a heart-and-soul player in Vancouver and goes down as one of the all-time great Canucks. Modano brought only one Cup to Dallas, and he needed a lot of help, but he was one of the most creative players of his era and made the Hall of Fame. He’s also the highest-scoring American-born player ever.
ALEX OVECHKIN – Drafted No. 1 by Washington from Dynamo Moscow (Russia)
EVGENI MALKIN – Drafted No. 2 by Pittsburgh from Metallurg Magnitogorsk (Russia)
HISTORICAL CONTEXT Ovechkin had been the No. 1 prospect for two years prior to his draft. In fact, the Florida Panthers tried to take him in the ninth round of the 2003 draft, claiming that with leap years taken into consideration, he was old enough to be drafted. The NHL, of course, quashed it quickly. Malkin and Ovechkin were teammates on the Russian under-18 team at the 2003 under-18 World Championship, and each won a gold medal with the 2004 world junior team.
WHAT THEY WERE SAYING “He is big, strong and can take a hit. He has an excellent winning attitude, and he’s a nice person. Time will tell if he will become the best player ever from Russia.” – European Central Scouting Bureau head Goran Stubb of Ovechkin. “He’s 1A and there’s really no No. 2 in my book.” – an NHL scout on Malkin.
DID THEY GET IT RIGHT? Malkin has one more Stanley Cup than Ovechkin, who obviously has none, and both have enough hardware to open a store, but it’s hard to argue Ovechkin wasn’t the better choice. The deciding factor is Ovechkin has been far more durable than Malkin throughout his career. Ovie has missed just 2.6 games per season, whereas Malkin has missed 13 on average.
PIERRE TURGEON – Drafted No. 1 by Buffalo from the Granby Bisons (QMJHL)
BRENDAN SHANAHAN – Drafted No. 2 by New Jersey from the London Knights (OHL)
HISTORICAL CONTEXT Little-known fact: Turgeon and Shanahan combined for 2,681 points, just one fewer than Lemieux-Muller for second all-time among the top two picks. Once again, the race to go first overall pitted a dynamic skill player from Quebec against a gritty Ontario player, and the team with the No. 1 selection went with the skill. Both played on the Canadian team involved in the ‘Punch-up in Piestany,’ a bench-clearing brawl with Soviets at the 1987 world juniors. Turgeon was the only player who stayed on Canada’s bench, while Shanahan was in the middle of the chaos fighting Alex Galchenyuk’s father.
WHAT THEY WERE SAYING “A great French Canadian (Gilbert Perreault) led the rise of the Buffalo Sabres, and the Buffalo Sabres bottomed out with his retirement. I like to think another French Canadian will lead the Sabres back up again.” – Former Sabres GM Gerry Meehan. “It’s almost as if Brendan Shanahan was tailor-made for our franchise.” – Devils director of player personnel Marshall Johnston.
DID THEY GET IT RIGHT? No. Though their career totals were 27 points apart, Shanahan’s physical play and character made him a three-time Cup winner. Turgeon’s teams reached the third round of the playoffs only twice.
MARIO LEMIEUX – Drafted No. 1 by Pittsburgh from the Laval Voisins (QMJHL)
KIRK MULLER – Drafted No. 2 by New Jersey from the Guelph Platers (OHL)
HISTORICAL CONTEXT Like Lafleur, Lemieux was putting up ridiculous numbers in the QMJHL. His 282 points in 1983-84 stand as the record for Canadian junior hockey by more than 30 points. Lemieux was so coveted there was speculation the Pittsburgh Penguins and New Jersey Devils were tanking games in order to finish last. Muller was establishing himself as one of the most complete players in junior and had character oozing out of every pore.
WHAT THEY WERE SAYING “There’s a difference between being the most talented player and becoming the best player. Maybe one of those other kids – Muller or (Ed) Olczyk or someone even lower in the draft – will turn out to be better than Lemieux. It’s going to be boom or bust for Mario. He’ll either be a superstar or do nothing in the NHL.” – an NHL scout. “To me, Muller is the best player in the draft. The Devils really did it right.” – Detroit Red Wings scout Neil Smith.
DID THEY GET IT RIGHT? Of course they did. Muller had a terrific career, producing as a first-liner in New Jersey and winning a Stanley Cup in 1992-93 with Montreal. Lemieux, however, was a generational player who saved the Penguins not once but twice. He’s No. 4 in THN’s Top 100 NHL Players Of All-Time.
GUY LAFLEUR – Drafted No. 1 by Montreal from the Quebec Remparts (QMJHL)
MARCEL DIONNE – Drafted No. 2 by Detroit from the St. Catherines Black Hawks (OHA)
HISTORICAL CONTEXT The Canadiens no longer had exclusive domain over Quebec-based talent, so GM Sam Pollock wisely traded his first pick in 1970, along with Ernie Hicke, to the California Golden Seals for the No. 1 pick in 1971. It was worth the gamble, since Lafleur scored 130 goals and led the Quebec Remparts to the Memorial Cup. Dionne, meanwhile, had 62 goals and 143 points in the OHA, which was considered a more difficult junior league.
WHAT THEY WERE SAYING “I hope those who doubted he was the best junior hockey player in Canada now are convinced that he is. He never lets his fans down, and that’s the sign of a star.” – Canadiens chief scout Claude Ruel after Lafleur led the Remparts to the Memorial Cup. “It’s not exaggerating to say I’d have scored 1,000 (goals with the Canadiens) instead of 731.” – Dionne.
DID THEY GET IT RIGHT? Yes, but we’ll never know how Dionne would have fared in Montreal. With his talent and scoring ability, he might have been just as successful as Lafleur was. He outscored Lafleur by 171 goals and adapted to the NHL far quicker. But Dionne left Drummondville to play junior in St. Catharines because he wanted to escape the Quebec fishbowl. He might have wilted under the pressure in Montreal.
This is an edited version of a feature that appeared in the August 17 edition of The Hockey News magazine. Get in-depth features like this one, and much more, by subscribing now.