The Best Player From Every NHL Draft Since 1979
The NHL draft has given us some of the greatest players to ever lace up the skates. For years, franchise and elite players were drafted by teams around the league and those players left a mark so strong that their presence is still felt on the ice today.
Throughout these drafts, there have been busts and steals with some teams absolutely loving their draft picks and others regretting them completely. There were even some draft years where multiple hall of famers came about and this makes ranking the best player from each individual draft extremely difficult. For the sake of including some of these incredible players, some of the draft years on this list will have an honourable mentions section.
It is interesting to see where some of these NHL legends began their career and which teams had the luxury of drafting them. Making the NHL is not an easy accomplishment and finishing an NHL career with more than 1000 career games played and collecting a point per game pace throughout that sequence is undeniably remarkable. Goalies are not forgotten either. In the past, the NHL had much more high scoring games based on the fact that the game has evolved a ton. Nets, equipment and rinks have all been tweaked and altered to become what they are today. This made the goalie’s job much more difficult back then, especially with those extremely skilled players skating across the ice. That is why they will not be overshadowed and at times will be included in the honourable mentions section of that particular draft year on this list.
38. MARK MESSIER (1979)
Messier had a noteworthy career. Sitting number two in the all-time leaders of points and games played, Mark was not shy to put pucks in back of the net and setting up some highlight reel plays. He collected 1887 points in 1756 career games and within that span, he also collected 6 Stanley cups; 5 with the Edmonton Oilers and 1 with the New York Rangers. Mark was a remarkable player whose legacy will live on. The Edmonton native served his hometown team with pride for 12 seasons and he is greatly appreciated by hockey fans around the world.
Honourable Mention: Ray Bourque
37. PAUL COFFEY (1980)
The 1980 draft showcased quite a few players who were able to surpass the 1000-point mark but surprisingly, the highest point total came from defensemen Paul Coffey. He was drafted with the 6th pick by the Edmonton Oilers. The three-time Norris winning defensemen is one of the best offensive players on the back end to ever play the game.
Paul was already turning heads with 89 points in 80 games in just his second season. He drew even more attention to himself after putting up five 100+ point seasons after that. With a career-high 48 goals and 138 points in the 1985-86 season, Coffey was becoming a superstar and any team that had him surely benefitted from his services. It is not surprising that he was able to lift the Stanley Cup four times throughout his career as his play was difficult to be countered by his opponents and he showed passion in the way he handled himself on the ice.
Honourable Mentions: Jari Kurri, Denis Savard, Bernie Nicholls
36. RON FRANCIS (1981)
The 1981 draft featured some more extremely talented players. Ron Francis was one of those unique players who possessed an insane amount of talent. The Hartford Whales drafted him with the third pick. With a career spanning over four different teams and 1400 total games, Ron was able to help the Pittsburgh Penguins capture two Stanley Cups. He was often overshadowed on a Penguins team that featured the great Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr but aside from all of that, he was still a potent offensive threat to his opponents.
Francis was able to put up solid numbers his entire career and his play only started declining as age caught up to him. He sits top five in all-time points and number two in all-time assists. His career is something that will be remembered for years especially for the Hartford Whalers and the Pittsburgh Penguins where he spent a majority of his career.
Honourable Mentions: Dale Hawerchuk, Al MacInnis, Grant Fuhr
35. SCOTT STEVENS (1982)
Stevens helped capture all 3 of the Devils’ Stanley Cups and within his 13-year career with the Devils, he put up some remarkable numbers as a defender. He put up a career high 78 points in 80 games in the 1993-94 season while also obtaining a plus minus of +53. Not only was he able to put up points, he was one of the biggest hitters the NHL had ever seen. His hits were able to rock players completely off their feet and they often set the tone of the game. His services were greatly appreciated by Marty Brodeur, who was in net during his presence on defence.
Honourable Mentions: Doug Gilmour, Dave Andreychuck, Phil Housley
34. STEVE YZERMAN (1983)
The 1983 draft featured another three-time Stanley Cup winner and one of the Detroit Red Wings’ best player of all time. He was taken with the fourth pick by Detroit, and Steve Yzerman made his mark on the NHL quite early. At less than the age of 25, he was already looking like a future Hall of Famer as his 155-point season would prove. He put up three more 100+ point seasons after that and ended his career with an astonishing 1755 points, good for 7th all time.
Steve left a huge presence on the Red Wings’ fan base. He was the team captain for over 20 years and his stellar play led to many playoff appearances for the Wings who were on a hunt for glory. Not many players are able to star in more than 190 playoff games but Steve did so, and he acquired three Stanley Cup rings in the process. Today, Yzerman’s days are spent as being the general manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Honourable Mentions: Pat LaFontaine, Dominik Hasek
33. MARIO LEMIEUX (1984)
The 1984 NHL draft featured one of the best players that the game of hockey has ever seen, as he was taken with the first overall pick by the Pittsburgh Penguins. Mario Lemieux is one of the only players that comes anywhere close to the legend Wayne Gretzky. His stats do not lie and looking at some of his spectacular performances as a Pittsburgh Penguins, it is hard to imagine how this hockey player was human.
Lemieux put up a career high 199 points in 76 games in the 1988-89 season. He put up nine more 100+ point seasons after that and what makes it even more incredible was the fact that he only starred in a total of 915 career games. Injuries limited his playing time and he still managed to finish with 1723 points by the end of his career. Mario is a hockey legend who will not be forgotten. One could only imagine what Mario could have accomplished if he stayed completely healthy throughout his career.
Honourable Mentions: Patrick Roy, Brett Hull
32. JOE NIEUWENDYK (1985)
The Calgary Flames got a real bargain when they drafted Ontario native Joe Nieuwendyk with the 27th pick of the 1985 draft. Joe wasted no time showing greatness in his first full season with the Flames, putting up 92 points and winning the Calder. His career only took off from there.
Nieuwendyk won his first Stanley Cup when he was just 22 years of age. He put up many more solid seasons in his 9-year tenure with the Calgary Flames. He was then traded to the Stars where his presence still held a large value. He helped the Stars capture two Stanley Cups which added more glory to his resume. The 1985 draft was quite weak but Joe proved his worth and showcased some memorable highlights throughout his career.
31. BRIAN LEETCH (1986)
Leetch continued his skillful career and notched a career high 102 points at just 23 years of age in the 1991-92 season. Two years later, he was able to win his first and only Stanley Cup for the New York Rangers. He posted a shocking 34 points in 23 games in that postseason and his stellar play finally ended up in glory. In total, he served the Rangers for 17 years and is one of the best players to ever wear a Rangers’ jersey, especially on the backend.
Honourable Mention: Vincent Damphousse