Do #1 overall picks pay off?

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new york rangers

Kaapo Kakko smiles after being selected second overall by the New York Rangers . (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

The New York Rangers have a shot at the #1 pick, but does that matter?

When the eight placeholder teams lucked into a chance at the top overall pick in the NHL Entry Draft, the Blueshirts faithful were ecstatic.  The debate among fans of the New York Rangers was whether it would be better for the Blueshirts to lose in the qualifying round to get a one in eight chance at Alexis Lafreniere.

While the lure of the top overall pick is tremendous, just how much does getting that top overall pick matter?  It turns out, not so much.  We looked at the last 25 top picks and how much success those 25 players have had in the NHL.

Of the last 25 picks, only five players have gone on to win the Stanley Cup. The Pittsburgh Penguins won with Sidney Crosby and Marc Andre-Fleury, the Washington Capitals with Alex Ovechkin, the Chicago Blackhawks with Patrick Kane and the Tampa Bay Lightning with Vincent Lecavalier.  The Penguins and Blackhawks won three times each while Washington and Tampa have won once.

Of the 25 players four others got as far as the Stanley Cup Finals.  Ilya Kovalchuk with the Devils in 2012, Rick Nash made it in 2014 with the Rangers, Steven Stamkos in 2015 with Tampa and Joe Thornton with San Jose in 2016.  That means just over one third of the first overall picks in the last quarter century made it to the Finals.

Here are the last 25 number one picks.   Stanley Cup winners are in bold and teams that the pick played a lot of games for beyond their drafting team is in parentheses.

  • 2019 – Jack Hughes – New Jersey Devils
  • 2018 – Rasmus Dahlin – Buffalo Sabres
  • 2017 – Nico Hischier – New Jersey Devils
  • 2016 – Auston Matthews – Toronto Maple Leafs
  • 2015 – Connor McDavid – Edmonton Oilers
  • 2014 – Aaron Ekblad – Florida Panthers
  • 2013 – Nathan MacKinnon – Colorado Avalanche
  • 2012 – Nail Yakupov – Edmonton Oilers (KHL)
  • 2011 – Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – Edmonton Oilers
  • 2010 – Taylor Hall – Edmonton Oilers (Arizona/New Jersey)
  • 2009  – John Tavares – New York Islanders (Toronto)
  • 2008 – Steven Stamkos – Tampa Bay Lightning
  • 2007 – Patrick Kane – Chicago Blackhawks – 3 Stanley Cups
  • 2006 – Erik Johnson – St. Louis Blues (Colorado)
  • 2005 – Sidney Crosby – Pittsburgh Penguins – 3 Stanley Cups
  • 2004 – Alex Ovechkin – Washington Capitals  – 1 Stanley Cup
  • 2003 – Marc-Andre Fleury – Pittsburgh Penguins – 3 Stanley Cups
  • 2002 – Rick Nash – Columbus Blue Jackets (Rangers/Boston)
  • 2001 – Ilya Kovalchuk – Atlanta Thrashers (New Jersey)
  • 2000 – Rick DiPietro – New York Islanders
  • 1999 – Patrik Stefan – Atlanta Thrashers
  • 1998 – Vincent Lecavalier – Tampa Bay Lightning – 1 Stanley Cup
  • 1997 – Joe Thornton – Boston Bruins (San Jose)
  • 1996 – Chris Phillips – Ottawa Senators
  • 1995 – Bryan Berard – Ottawa Senators (Islanders)

One thing to note is of the last five championships, four had a number one pick on the roster.  Also note that Marc-Andre Fleury got to the Finals with the Golden Knights, not just the Penguins.

It’s a team game

What all of this says is that hockey is a team game.  One player can play a third of the minutes, but he is at the mercy of the other 19 players wearing the team jersey for the other two thirds of the game.  Just ask Connor McDavid.

To win the Cup, top picks need help.  The Penguins also had the second overall picks in Jordan Staal and Evgeni Malkin and a solid third rounder in Kris Letang.   The Capitals selected Nicklas Backstrom fourth overall and found Evgeny Kuznetsov 26th overall.   Chicago added third overall pick Jonathan Toews, but also found Duncan Keith and Corey Crawford in the second round.  The Lightning of 2004 had Lecavalier, but supplemented him with third round pick Brad Richards and undrafted free agent Martin St. Louis.

It’s astonishing that the Edmonton Oilers had four number one picks in six years and have made the playoffs once in the last 14 seasons. Not only that, they’ve had 11 top ten picks in the last 15 years. That’s an awful record.

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