While it’s indisputable that NHL teams are more likely to find a superstar in the first few picks of the draft than they are later on, USA TODAY Sports research shows that quality picks can be found deep into the first round.
In many cases, we found multiple desirable players at each pick throughout NHL draft history. In fact, many noteworthy players — Evgeni Malkin (2), Daryl Sittler (8), Joe Sakic (15) and Larry Robinson (20), for example — were bumped out by other players taken in other years at the same draft position.
Here is our list of the best pick — 1 through 31 — by draft position:
No. 1 Mario Lemieux
1984 by Pittsburgh Penguins
Lemieux, Wayne Gretzky, Gordie Howe and Bobby Orr are generally accepted as the four greatest players in NHL history. Gretzky, Howe and Orr did not come to the NHL through the draft system that we know today.
The Pittsburgh struck it big in the draft with Mario Lemieux, right, and Jaromir Jagr. (Photo: David Maxwell, AFP)
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No. 2 Marcel Dionne
1971 by Detroit Red Wings
Fifth on the NHL scoring list with 731 goals, Dionne scored 50 or more goals six times in the 1970s and early 1980s. He is mostly remembered for playing with the Los Angeles Kings. He won an NHL scoring title while playing on the Kings’ Triple Crown line with Charlie Simmer and Dave Taylor.
No. 3 Denis Savard
1980 by Chicago Blackhawks
Savard had a seven-season period in the 1980s in which he scored 30 or more goals seven times and posted five seasons of 100-plus points. He was a showy, enterprising offensive player with plenty of tricks up his sleeve. Remember the Savardian Spin-O-Rama?
No. 4 Steve Yzerman
1983 by Red Wings
Had two distinct stages of his career: In the first, he was a dominant offensive performer, a game-breaker, a show-stopper. In the second, he was the gritty, two-way player who led the Red Wings to three Stanley Cup championships (1997, 1998 and 2002).
No. 5 Jaromir Jagr
1990 by Penguins
Only Gretzky had more points during his career. Jagr totaled 1,921 points from 1990 to 2018, winning five scoring championships and one Hart Trophy as the league’s most valuable player. With his flowing hair and impish demeanor, he was among the league’s most fascinating personalities.
No. 6 Paul Coffey
1980 by Edmonton Oilers
Coffey is one of the most dynamic puck-moving defensemen in NHL history. He topped 100 points five times in his career, with a high of 126 in 1983-84. Legendary coach Scotty Bowman said Coffey always looked he was gaining speed even when he was coasting.
No. 7 Bernie Federko
1976 by St. Louis Blues
Considered one of the NHL’s most underrated players of the 1980s, Federko had 1,130 points in 1,000 games. He was a slick puck-handler who scored 30 or more goals seven times.
No. 8 Ray Bourque
1979 by Boston Bruins
The defenseman scored 17 or more goals for 15 consecutive seasons from 1979-94. He won five Norris trophies and was the league’s rookie of the year in 1979-80. He won a Stanley Cup with the Colorado Avalanche, and his No. 77 was retired by both the Bruins and Avalanche.
No. 9 Brian Leetch
1986 by New York Rangers
Considered one of the top five American-born players, Leetch won two Norris trophies, one Conn Smythe Trophy and a Calder Trophy. He was a speedy puck-moving, risk-taking defenseman.
No. 10 Teemu Selanne
1988 by Winnipeg Jets
Selanne scored 76 goals to set a rookie scoring record that might never be broken. Finishing his NHL career with 684 goals, Selanne is the greatest Finnish player in league history.
Teemu Selanne scored 76 goals as a Winnipeg Jets rookie and later starred with the Anaheim Ducks. (Photo: Denis Brodeur, NHLI via Getty Images)
No. 11 Jarome Iginla
1995 by Dallas Stars
After being traded to the Calgary Flames in the Joe Nieuwendyk trade, Iginla established himself as one of the game’s top power forwards. He never scored fewer than 28 goals in a season for the Flames from 1998 to 2012. He netted 52 in 2001-02.
No. 12 Marian Hossa
1997 by Ottawa Senators
Hossa scored 525 goals and won three Stanley Cup championships. He was a strong two-way forward who reached the 40-goal mark for three different teams (Atlanta Thrashers, Ottawa and Detroit).
No. 13 Ron Duguay
1977 by Rangers
With his flowing longish hair, Duguay was as stylish and colorful as he was talented. He had a career-best 40 goals for the Rangers in 1981-82 and a career-high 89 points for the Red Wings in 1984-85.
No. 14 Rick Middleton
1973 by Rangers
Acquired by the Bruins for Ken Hodge, Middleton became one of the top scorers in Bruins history. Starting in 1979-80, Middleton had season goal totals of 38, 40, 44, 51, 49 and 47. His consistency was his trademark.
No. 15 Mike Bossy
1977 by New York Islanders
Bossy helped the Islanders win four consecutive Stanley Cup championships from 1980-83 and scored 50 or more goals for nine consecutive seasons. He retired at 30 because of injury.
No. 16 Dave Andreychuk
1982 by Buffalo Sabres
From 1983 until 1997, Andreychuk never scored fewer than 22 goals in a season. He finished his NHL career with 640 goals, 15th all-time, and leads the league with 274 power-play goals. He won a Stanley Cup with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2004.
No. 17 Bobby Clarke
1969 by Philadelphia Flyers
Gap-toothed Clarke was the captain of the Flyers’ Broad Street Bullies that won back-to-back Stanley Cups in the 1970s. He was a skilled, prickly, fiery leader who would do whatever was required to achieve success on the ice.
No. 18 Ken Daneyko
1982 by New Jersey Devils
The rugged, stay-at-home defenseman won three Stanley Cups and his No. 3 has been retired by the Devils.
No. 19 Keith Tkachuk
1990 by Winnipeg Jets
A prototypical power forward, he scored back-to-back 50-goal seasons and scored at least 30 goals in nine of his 14 seasons. His 536 goals rank second among American-born players.
No. 20 Martin Brodeur
1990 by Devils
He leads the NHL in wins (691) and shutouts (125), won three Stanley Cups and changed NHL rules because of his puckhandling prowess. The trapezoid rule, which prevents goalies from playing the puck in the corners behind the net, was instituted because Brodeur was acting like a third defenseman.
Martin Brodeur won three Stanley Cups with the New Jersey Devils and is the all-time leader in wins and shutouts. (Photo: Ed Mulholland, USA TODAY Sports)
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No. 21 Tuukka Rask
2005 by Maple Leafs
He never played a game in Toronto, being traded for Andrew Raycroft, who didn't last long with the Maple Leafs. Rask went on to become the winningest goalie in Bruins history, won a Vezina Trophy in 2013-14 and led the Bruins to the Stanley Cup Final in 2013 and 2019. He also was on the Bruins' 2011 Stanley Cup team.
No. 22 Bryan Trottier
1974 by Islanders
He and Bossy were the high-powered forwards who led the Islanders to four consecutive Stanley Cups. Trottier topped 100 points six times and had at least 40 goals five times. He was in the top five in Hart Trophy voting five times, winning in 1978-79, and also helped lead the Penguins to back-to-back championships in the 1990s.
No. 23 Ray Whitney
1991 by San Jose Sharks
The only 1,000-point scorer among 23rd-overall picks, he totaled 1,064 points over 22 seasons. He won a Stanley Cup with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006.
No. 24 T.J. Oshie
2005 by Blues
A solid second-liner, he also is known for his prowess in the shootout. His offensive numbers picked up after his trade to the Washington Capitals, where he had a 33-goal season (2016-17) and won a Stanley Cup (2017-18).
No. 25 David Pastrnak
2014 by Bruins
He is developing into one of the top offensive players, with 231 points over the last three seasons. He scored 39 points over the last two postseasons. Playing on the top line with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, he was a key to the Bruins reaching the Stanley Cup Final this season.
No. 26 Claude Lemieux
1983 by Montreal Canadiens
He was a clutch scorer in the playoffs and won Stanley Cups with the Canadiens, Devils (twice) and Avalanche. He won the Conn Smythe Trophy with 13 playoff goals in 1994-95. Though he sometimes stepped over the line, notably his check from behind on Kris Draper, he was a top agitator who kept players off their games.
No. 27 Joe Nieuwendyk
1985 by Calgary Flames
He scored 51 goals twice and 45 goals twice during his first four full seasons with the Flames. He won three Stanley Cups — one in Calgary, one in Dallas, where he captured the Conn Smythe Trophy with six game-winning goals in the 1999 playoffs, and one in New Jersey.
No. 28 Justin Williams
2000 by Flyers
He won three Stanley Cups – one with the Hurricanes and two with the Kings – and was playoff MVP in 2014 after scoring 25 points in 26 games. He has the nickname "Mr. Game 7" because he has gone 8-1 and scored 15 points in Game 7s.
No. 29 Stephane Richer
1984 by Montreal Canadiens
The speedster had two 50-goal seasons and led the league with 11 game-winning goals in 1987-88. He won a Stanley Cup as a rookie and also in 1994-95 with the Devils.
No. 30 Randy Carlyle
1976 by Maple Leafs
The defenseman led all scorers from that draft position. His numbers picked up when he went to Pittsburgh. He won the Norris Trophy in 1980-81 with an 83-point season. Traded to Winnipeg in 1983-84, the All-Star topped 12 goals in his first four seasons with the Jets.
No. 31 Dave "Tiger" Williams
1974 by Maple Leafs
He's known mostly as the all-time leader with 3,971 penalty minutes. But his 241 goals, 271 assists and 513 points top all scorers taken at that draft position.
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