Connor McDavid is supposed to be hockey’s Next Big Thing. Dare we say, the Next Great One? Like Eric Lindros and Sidney Crosby before him, McDavid is being looked at as the NHL’s next superstar to carry its torch Wayne Gretzky once lifted to unprecedented heights. So it’s no wonder the Oilers made the 18-year-old Canadian the No. 1 overall pick in last summer’s draft. We have already seen him suffer a serious injury, missing nearly half his rookie season with a broken clavicle. But when he has been on the ice, he has certainly been dazzling. But before the Hockey Hall of Fame starts chiseling out his bust, let’s see if the talent on the ice can match the hype off it. And before we talk Hall of Fame, let’s take a quick skate down short-term memory lane and see how the last decade of No. 1 overall picks have fared in the NHL.
Andy DevlinAndy Devlin
2004 & 2005: Alexander Ovechkin, Washington Capitals; Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins
Arguably the game’s two biggest stars right now, playing on the East Coast and the most recognizable stars to the United States audience. Ovechkin (left), the rough-and-tumble sniper, and Crosby, the smooth-as-silk playmaking and scoring machine, are connected by more than talent and draft position. Ovechkin was the last No. 1 pick before the 2004-05 lockout erased a season, Crosby was the first No. 1 pick after it ended. They have won half of the 10 Hart Trophies (league MVP) awarded since they entered the league (Ovechkin leads 3-2, and may very well win another this season). And they are the NHL’s two leading scorers in that span (Ovechkin leads there, too). But Crosby has the edge in two big categories: He has the only Stanley Cup between the two, and won it the year the Pens beat the Caps in their only playoff meeting, in 2009.
Justin K. AllerJustin K. Aller
2006 & 2007: Erik Johnson, St. Louis Blues; Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks
When Johnson (left) and Kane went No. 1 in consecutive years, it marked the first (and to date only) time in NHL Draft history Americans went first overall in back-to-back drafts. Since then, their careers have gone in far different directions. Johnson is a physical force on the blue line, but in Colorado -- where the Blues traded him in 2011. Johnson’s most notable moment may be the golf-cart accident he suffered in the 2008 preseason that tore two knee ligaments and cost him the season. Kane is now one of the most feared scorers in the league, a three-time Stanley Cup champion and a Calder Trophy (rookie of the year) winner. After an offseason dogged by a sexual-assault allegation, Kane learned in November he would not face criminal charges. Since then, he has been putting together one of the best individual seasons in recent memory.
L-R: Dave Reginek, Bill SmithL-R: Dave Reginek, Bill Smith
2008 & 2009: Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning; John Tavares, New York Islanders
This pair of Canadians entered the NHL after Sidney Crosby had established himself as the face of the league. Neither has won the Calder Trophy, neither has won the Hart, neither has a Stanley Cup. But the accomplishments and flashes of greatness exhibited by Stamkos and Tavares have them firmly planted as superstars. Stamkos has eclipsed 40 goals four times in his seven seasons (and has 51- and 60-goal seasons to his name); Tavares has established himself as the no-doubt top player in the U.S.’ biggest market. Last season was perhaps the best for both players; Stamkos led the Lightning to their first Stanley Cup Final since winning the last Cup before the lockout (2004); Tavares was a first-team All-Star and Hart Trophy runner-up, and has led the Islanders to the postseason twice in the past three seasons after a five-season absence.
Mike StobeMike Stobe
2010-12: Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Nail Yakupov, Edmonton Oilers
Here’s where it gets ugly … and where the last draft lottery really burns hockey fans and the rest of the NHL. Long gone are the days of Gretzky, Messier, Kurri, Coffee and five Cups in seven seasons in Edmonton. Now, the Oilers sport the longest playoff drought in the NHL at nine seasons. Their ‘reward’ for such futility came in the way of three straight No. 1 overall picks … who have thus far proved to be 1) a tough, undersized player who struggles to stay healthy (Hall, left), 2) a supposed franchise-type center nowhere near the level of player the Oilers are expecting (Nugent-Hopkins, center), and 3) a forward who was dead last in the NHL in plus-minus last season (-35) and who some thought would return to Russia to play (Yakupov). With that miserable track record, no wonder so many were outraged when they landed No. 1 again.
It is far too early to levy much judgment on the careers of these two. But hey, they each won the Calder Trophy for league’s top rookie; that’s something none of the three Oilers selected No. 1 overall before them can claim. McKinnon stormed on the scene two seasons ago, his speed and scoring helping spark Colorado and rookie head coach Patrick Roy to a surprising playoff berth (McKinnon had two goals -- including an overtime winner -- and 10 points in a seven-game loss to Minnesota in the first round). Ekblad did not lead the Panthers to the playoffs last season, but Florida did eclipse 90 points for the first time in three seasons and just the third time since the 1999-2000 season. And among the names of previous defensemen to win the Calder? Try Brian Leetch, Gary Suter, Ray Borque and Bobby Orr.
L-R: Michael Martin, Eliot J. SchechterL-R: Michael Martin, Eliot J. Schechter