Monday, June 03, 2013

Best/Worst of Three or More 1st Round Picks

Having three 1st round draft picks as the Calgary Flames and Columbus Blue Jackets do this year -- pending any trades, is unusual but not unprecedented. Since the NHL Entry Draft expanded to 30 selections per round in 2000, it has happened six times -- most recently with the Ottawa Senators in 2011.

Since 1969, there have been 22 occurrences of teams having three or more 1st round selections with the record for the most picks held by Montreal. In 1974, the Canadiens had five of the 18 picks in the 1st round selecting RW Cam Connor (5th), C Doug Risebrough (7th), D Rick Chartraw (10th), RW Mario Tremblay (12th) and LW Gord McTavish (15th). There are a couple notables names in there as well as one or two you may recognize and that type of mixed return is a pretty good representation of the mixed bag teams typically get in these instances.

Note: This is the continuation of a series of Calgary Flames-focused articles I'll be writing leading up to the June 30 draft in New Jersey. To be alerted when future articles are posted, follow @DarrenHaynes_CP on Twitter.

Four 1st Round Picks - Four Times

There have been four occurrences of teams having four 1st round picks. Given they had no pick above No. 12, I'd say Colorado made out the best of this group, hands down, with a couple recognizable names for Flames fans in particular in that quartet of NHLers selected by Avs General Manager Pierre Lacroix:
  • 1999 Tampa Bay - C Tim Connolly (5th), LW Taylor Pyatt (8th), D Branislav Mezei (10th), D Kristian Kudroc (28th)
  • 1998 Colorado - LW Alex Tanguay (12th), D Martin Skoula (17th), D Robyn Regehr (19th), RW Scott Parker (20th)
  • 1972 Montreal - LW Steve Shutt (4th), G Michel 'Bunny' Larocque (6th), C Dave Gardner (8th), D John Van Boxmeer (14th)
  • 1970 Boston - RW Reggie Leach (3rd), LW Rick MacLeish (4th), D Ron Plumb (9th), D Bob Stewart (13th)

Three 1st Round Picks - A Look Back

The main focus of this article is to look at teams that had three 1st round picks to give Flames and Blue Jackets fans a glimpse into what this year's haul could turn out to be -- good or bad. I've examined the 17 occurrences of teams having made three 1st round picks since 1969 and below are the six best draft outcomes, the three worst draft outcomes, and three more recent instances in which it's still too early to tell.

Historical Footnote: While the NHL amateur draft began in 1963, until 1968 it was only used to claim players not already playing on junior teams sponsored by (and subsequently signed by) NHL teams. It wasn't until 1969 that the sponsorship model ended and the draft was conducted for all junior players. Also, the draft was renamed "entry" draft from "amateur" draft in 1980. The motivation for making the change that year was the draft was being used to facilitate the absorption of players who had played professionally in the World Hockey Association, which had just folded.

Six Best Outcomes

There has yet to be a team that has hit three home runs. Two standouts and a marginal-to-okay player has been the most common scenario and the results go down from there. Generally, if you get two impact NHL players from your three picks, teams should be very happy. The perfect storm will happen sometime, I'm sure, and could 2013 with such a deep draft class be the year? There will be lots of talk of that on draft day as teams gush superlatives about their selections but time will tell.

Here is my subjective ranking of the six best hauls from teams that have had three first rounders. Where those draft picks were in the 1st round was taken into consideration. e.g. 1st overall picks are expected to be great.

1. Buffalo Sabres - 1982
  • GM: Scotty Bowman
  • Size of 1st Round: 21 selections
  • 6th - D Phil Housley - 1,232 pts (338g, 894a) in 1,495 gm
  • 9th - LW Paul Cyr - 241 pts (101g, 140a) in 470 gm
  • 16th - LW Dave Andreychuk 1,338 pts (640g, 698a) in 1,639 gm
  • Results: Housley had a sensational career despite never winning a Stanley Cup. He ranks second all-time in points for an American-born player behind Mike Modano and second in games played by an American behind Chris Chelios. Housley played three seasons in Calgary. It was a quite career for Andreychuk, 14th all-time in the NHL in goals scored. 6th all-time in games played. After going 22 years without playing for a Stanley Cup champion, Andreychuk finally accomplished that feat in 2004 with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Cyr's career started off well with Buffalo but he ran into injury problems after being traded to the NY Rangers and he retired at age 29.

2. Washington Capitals - 2004
  • GM: George McPhee
  • Size of 1st Round: 30 selections 
  • 1st - LW Alex Ovechkin - 735 pts (371g, 364a) in 601 gm
  • 27th - D Jeff Schultz - 133 pts (11g, 64a) in 399 gm
  • 29th - D Mike Green - 277 pts (94g, 183a) in 433 gm
  • Results: As the No. 1 pick, Ovechkin has been the impact player everyone expected. Although his goal scoring prowess fell off for a couple years, he bounced back with a superb 2012-13 with 32 goals in 48 games. What made this a good haul for the Capitals was also picking up two full-time defencemen near the end of the first round -- a spot in the draft where teams often end up with nothing. Before injury issues surfaced, Green was arguably the NHL's most dangerous defenceman notching 31 goals in 2008-09. Like Ovechkin, Green seemed to regain his dynamic form last season. Schultz, Calgary-born just like Green, has been an NHL regular but was often a healthy scratch this past season and he recently asked to be traded.

3. Washington Capitals - 2002
  • GM: George McPhee
  • Size of 1st Round: 30 selections
  • 12th - D Steve Eminger - 359 pts (19g, 80a) in 488 gm
  • 13th - RW Alexander Semin - 452 pts (210 g, 242a) in 513 gm
  • 17th - RW Boyd Gordon - 122 pts (39g, 83a) in 486 gm
  • Results: Not having a top 10 pick yet still getting three NHLers is what lands this group third in my rankings. Long on potential, both Semin and Eminger have shone at times in their NHL career and have also looked very ordinary at other times. Huge expectations came with Eminger when he was drafted out of Kitchener where he won a Memorial Cup. After parts of five seasons with Washington, the carousel began with him seeing time with Philadelphia, Tampa Bay, Florida, Anaheim and NY Rangers within the span of three seasons. Semin can be best described as an enigma who has looked the equal to Alex Ovechkin at times yet will often disappear for prolonged stretches. His best season was a 40 goal, 84 point campaign with the Capitals in 2009-10. He signed with Carolina as a UFA and still only 29 years old, plenty of great seasons could still be ahead. Gordon has established himself as a leader, great face-off man and solid defensive player. He just completed his second season with Phoenix. 

4.  Pittsburgh Penguins - 1984
  • GM: Ed Johnston
  • Size of 1st Round: 21 selections
  • 1st - C Mario Lemieux - 1,723 pts (690g, 1033a) in 915 gm
  • 9th - D Doug Bodger - 528 pts (106g, 422a) in 1,071 gm
  • 16th - C Roger Belanger - 8 pts (3g, 5a) in 44 gm
  • Results: What can you say about Mario, one of the game's all-time greats. He certainly lived up to his billing being the No. 1 pick and just imagine how astounding his final career numbers would have been if he had been healthy his whole career and had played another 500 games. Back issues limited him to seasons of 26 games (1990-91) and 22 games (1993-94) during his prime. At age 32, he was forced from the game for three seasons after being diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma. Bodger was the guy that sweetened this draft haul for the Penguins. He played five steady seasons for Pittsburgh before being packaged up and sent to Buffalo in a trade for Tom Barrasso. Belanger played a half-season in Pittsburgh, joining them from the OHL, but then ended up in the minors the next two years where multiple injuries hampered him, eventually leading to an early retirement.  

5. Toronto Maple Leafs - 1973
  • GM: Jim Gregory
  • Size of 1st Round: 16 selections
  • 4th - RW Lanny McDonald - 1,006 pts (500g, 506a) in 1,111 gm
  • 10th - D Bob Neely - 98 pts (39g, 59a) in 283 gm
  • 15th - D Ian Turnbull - 440 pts (123 g, 317a) in 628 gm
  • Results: In Calgary, fans are familiar with the career of McDonald, who helped the Flames win their only Stanley Cup in 1989. His career began in Toronto where he strung together three 40-goal seasons before eventually being traded to the Colorado Rockies in a controversial trade that Leafs fans loudly protested. In his 10 seasons, Turnbull had some outstanding offensive years including 22 goals and 79 points in 1976-77. Turnbull is most famous for his record five-goal game that season vs Los Angeles, which amazingly come on five shots. Despite the numbers, Turnbull never lived up to the expectations of some fans, who wanted him to be grittier. Neely was a rambunctious fan favourite in his limited time yet he couldn't seem to impress the coaching staff. He was shifted to left wing after a few years then demoted to the minors where he spent a couple of seasons before retiring.

6. Buffalo Sabres - 1983
  • GM: Scotty Bowman
  • Size of 1st Round: 21 selections
  • 5th - G Tom Barrasso - 369 wins, 38 shutouts in 777 gm
  • 10th - RW Normand Lacombe - 115 pts (53g, 62a) in 319 gm
  • 11th - C Adam Creighton - 403 pts (187g, 216a) in 708 gm
  • Results: Barrasso went straight from high school to the NHL where he won 26 games as an 18-year-old in 1983-84. During his sixth season with the Sabres, he was traded to Pittsburgh where he helped them win two Stanley Cups. He ranks 15th all-time in wins. Creighton, who was a standout in Junior winning the Memorial Cup with Ottawa, played 708 games in the NHL but the 6-foot-5 centre never seemed to meet expectations at any of his NHL stops. Buffalo traded him to Chicago where he had his best year in 1989-90 with 34 goals and 70 points. The Blackhawks then grew impatient and dealt him to the NY Islanders. Expected to be a power forward, Lacombe spent a majority of his career shuttling back and forth between the NHL and the minor leagues. He won a Stanley Cup with Edmonton in 1988. 

Three Worst Outcomes

1. Boston Bruins - 1969
  • GM: Milt Schmidt
  • Size of 1st Round: 13 selections
  • 3rd - LW Don Tannahill - 63 pts (30g, 33a) in 111 gm
  • 4th - RW Frank Spring - 34 pts (14g, 20a) in 61 gm
  • 11th - C Ivan Boldirev - 866 pts (361g, 505a) in 1052 gm
  • Results: Despite playing just 13 games with Boston, who had a stacked team, Boldirev would go on to have a great NHL career recording 20-or-more goals nine times in his 15 seasons. His best years came playing alongside Grant Mulvey and Darcy Rota in Chicago. Boldirev played the third most games of the entire 1969 draft class behind Bobby Clarke and Butch Goring. Where this potentially lucrative draft failed the Bruins was their paltry return on their top two picks, getting only 172 combined NHL games from picks No. 3 and 4. Tannahill spent his three of his seasons with the Boston organization in the minors, eventually moving to the WHA for three years, two of them with the Calgary Cowboys.

2. Edmonton Oilers - 2007
  • GM: Kevin Lowe
  • Size of 1st Round: 30 selections
  • 6th - C Sam Gagner - 258 pts (91g, 167a) in 414 gm
  • 15th - D Alex Plante - 2 pts (0g, 2a) in 10 gm
  • 21st - C Riley Nash - 10 pts (4g, 6a) in 37 gm
  • Results: Gagner's been solid as the youthful veteran playing in the shadows of all the Oilers recent No. 1 draft picks. Has he been 'No. 6 overall' good? Compared to others in his draft class, that case could be made, for sure. However, the same definitely cannot be said for Plante. The former member of the Calgary Hitmen had brief cups of coffee with the Oilers in three straight seasons beginning in 2009-10 but he didn't get the call this year and his time with Edmonton may have come to an end. Nash is now with Carolina after refusing to sign with the Oilers and eventually being traded for the Hurricanes 46th overall pick in the 2010 NHL Draft. Halfway through his third season in the AHL, Nash got the call up last year and played 32 games with Carolina, scoring four goals.

3. Montreal Canadiens - 1976
  • GM: Sam Pollock
  • Size of 1st Round: 18 selections
  • 12th - LW Peter Lee - 245 pts (114g, 131a) in 431 gm
  • 13th - LW Rod Schutt - 169 pts (77g, 92a) in 286 gm
  • 18th - RW Bruce Baker - 0 gm
  • Results: Lee was the OHL's MVP with the Ottawa 67s in 1975-76 and his record of 213 career goals in the OHL stood until John Taveras broke it in 2009. He played two years in the minors for Montreal while the Canadiens won the Stanley Cup both of those years. He was dealt to Pittsburgh as part of the trade for rising star Pierre Larouche. With the Penguins, the England-born forward was a good player on a bad team. It was a similar story for Schutt, who played two games with Montreal before finding his way to Pittsburgh also, where he played alongside Lee and Greg Malone for three seasons. Schutt then began having back problems, which eventually led to his retirement. Baker, a junior teammate of Lee, played five years with the Canadiens organization, all of them in the AHL.

Three Outcomes - Too Early To Judge

St. Louis Blues - 2007
  • GM: Larry Pleau
  • Size of 1st Round: 30 selections
  • 13th - C Lars Eller - 77 pts (33g, 44a) in 209 gm
  • 18th - D Ian Cole - 11 pts (2g, 9a) in 67 gm
  • 26th - C David Perron - 198 pts (84g, 114a) in 340 gm
  • Results: If Cole becomes a top four defenceman as some still expect, Perron avoids any further concussion issues, and Eller continues to establish himself in Montreal, this could turn out to be the best of all the three 1st round pick scenarios. Cole's presence on the blue-line is what gave St. Louis the ability to part with Mark Cundari in the Jay Bouwmeester trade. However, much of this story is still to be written.

Florida Panthers - 2010
  • GM: Dale Tallon
  • Size of 1st Round: 30 selections
  • 3rd - D Erik Gudbranson - 12 pts (2g, 10a) in 104 gm
  • 19th - C Nick Bjugstad - 1 pt (1g, 0a) in 11 gm
  • 25th - D Quinton Howden - 0 pt in 18 gm
  • Results: Lots of potential with this trio too. As is seemingly always the case with defencemen, Gudbranson is just now settling into his young NHL career. Having just finished up at University of Minnesota in 2012-13, Bjugstad could make an impact as a full-time NHLer as soon as next season. Howden, after a successful WHL career with Moose Jaw, has one AHL season under his belt and is still considered a solid prospect.

Ottawa Senators - 2011
  • GM: Bryan Murray
  • Size of 1st Round: 30 selections
  • 6th - C Mika Zibanejad - 21 pts (7g, 14a) in 51 gm
  • 21st - RW Stefan Noesen - 0 gm
  • 24th - LW Matt Puempel - 0 gm
  • Results: Zibanejad has shown flashes in young career that he could turn out to be a very exciting NHL player. Noesen and Puempel just finished off their fourth years in the OHL and will be beginning their professional careers imminently.

Other Outcomes - Somewhere in the Middle

Here are the rest of the results from teams that have had three 1st round draft picks. GM Dave Taylor and the Kings in 2003, getting Dustin Brown at No. 13 and Brian Boyle at No. 26 is probably the best of the rest even though Los Angeles only got a 3rd round draft pick from New York when Boyle was dealt to the Rangers.

Toronto's trio in 1989 -- all three hailing from the OHL's Belleville Bulls, could easily be in the conversation for worst outcomes. Those three picks came during the short tenure as Leafs GM for Gord Stellick.
  • 2003 Los Angeles - RW Dustin Brown (13th), C Brian Boyle (26th), LW Jeff Tambellini (27th) 
  • 1989 Toronto - C Scott Thornton (3rd), RW Rob Pearson (12th), D Steve Bancroft (21st)
  • 1981 Montreal - RW Mark Hunter (7th), D Gilbert Delorme (18th), LW Jan Ingman (19th)
  • 1978 Philadelphia - D Behn Wilson (6th), C Ken Linseman (7th), RW Dan Lucas (14th)
  • 1971 Montreal - RW Guy Lafleur (1st), RW Chuck Arnason (7th), LW Murray Wilson (11th)

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