Mario Lemieux and the 20 Best 1st Overall NHL Draft Picks

Scott WeldonCorrespondent IJune 1, 2011

Mario Lemieux and the 20 Best 1st Overall NHL Draft Picks

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    Mario Lemieux the best Number One Pick of all time
    Mario Lemieux the best Number One Pick of all timeGregory Shamus/Getty Images

    The NHL first began to get their teams together to draft unallocated players back in 1963. It was originally called the NHL amateur draft and used to draft any unsigned non-professional player. The NHL teams have always drafted in the opposite order of their finish in the previous NHL season. It has been used as a method of equalizing talent levels in the NHL and providing every team with the opportunity to share the available talent.

    By 1979, the amateur draft was ready to become the NHL entry draft. Professional players from the defunct WHA (world hockey association) were included in the draft. The draft had been modified to include all amateur players between the ages of 18 to 20. Older players from Europe were eligible to be drafted as well.

    By 1980, the draft was a public event, and not long after it was televised.

    The NHL entry draft has become a means for ensuring the opportunity for bad teams to get better.

    Having the No. 1 pick in the entry draft is becoming more and more important. A recent BR article highlighted the fact that the last 15 first overall picks have all had significant NHL careers. That wasn't always the case:

    This is my list of who I think were the 20 best No. 1 picks of all time (1963). 

    Special thanks to hockey data base ( for the career statistics for each of these former No. 1 overall draft picks.   


The List

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    For completeness' sake, here is a list of all of the first overall draft picks in NHL history. The Montreal Canadiens lead the way with five first overall picks, followed by the New York Islanders with four, the Washington Capitals, Minnesota North Stars, Boston Bruins, Quebec Nordiques, Pittsburgh Penguins, Ottawa Senators and Detroit Red Wings all with three.

    The video above gives you an idea of the level of expectation placed on the heads of these young men who get drafted first overall.      

    NHL Amateur Draft

    1963 - Mtl Garry Monahan

    1964 - Det Claude Gauthier

    1965 - NYR Andre Veilleut

    1966 - Bos Barry Gibbs

    1967 - LA Rick Pagnutti

    1968 - Mtl Michel Plasse

    1969 - Mtl Rejean Houle

    1970 - Buf Gilbert Perreault

    1971 - Mtl Guy Lafleur

    1972 - NYI Billy Harris

    1973 - NYI Denis Potvin

    1974 - Was Greg Joly

    1975 - Phi Mel Bridgeman

    1976 - Was Rick Green

    1977 - Det Dale McCourt

    1978 - Min Bobby Smith

    NHL Entry Draft

    1979 - Col R  Rob Ramage

    1980 - Mtl Doug Wickenheiser

    1981 - Winn Dale Hawerchuk  

    1982 - Bos Gord Kluzak

    1983 - Min Brian Lawton

    1984 - Pitt Mario Lemieux

    1985 - Tor Wendell Clark

    1986 - Det Joe Murphy

    1987 - Buf Pierre Turgeon  

    1988 - Min Mike Modano

    1989 - Que Mats Sundin

    1990 - Que Owen Nolan

    1991 - Que Eric Lindros

    1992 - TB Roman Hamrlik

    1993 - Ott Alexandre Daigle

    1994 - Fla Ed Jovanovski

    1995 - Ott Byran Berard

    1996 - Ott Chris Phillips

    1997 - Bos Joe Thornton

    1998 - TB Vincent Lecavalier

    1999 - Atl Patrick Stefan

    2000 - NYI Rick Dipietro

    2001 - Atl Ilya Kovalchuk

    2002 - Clb Rick Nash  

    2003 - Pit Marc-Andre Fleury

    2004 - Was Alexander Ovechkin

    2005 - Pit Sidney Crosby

    2006 - StL Erik Johnson

    2007 - Chi Patrick Kane

    2008 - TB Steven Stamkos

    2009 - NYI John Tavares

    2010 - Edm Taylor Hall

    2011 ?

20. Roman Hamrlik (D)

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    MONTREAL, CANADA - APRIL 26:  Zdeno Chara #33;Rich Peverley #49 and David Krejci #46 of the Boston Bruins battle for a loose puck in the crease against Roman Hamrlik #44 and Carey Price #31 of the Montreal Canadiens in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Q
    Phillip MacCallum/Getty Images

    Regular Season

    GP: 1,311 G: 153 A: 471 PTS: 624


    GP: 97 G: 2 A : 34 PTS: 36


    Roman Hamrlik, like most of these first overall draft picks, was highly regarded when the Tampa Bay Lightning selected him in 1992. He was a big defenseman who it was felt could make a quality offensive contribution in the NHL.

    His first full season with the Lightning was his fourth year in the league. It was also his best offensive season in the NHL by far, as he had 16 goals and 65 points. He only ever scored 16 goals in a season again once. He never scored as many as 50 points in a season ever again. 

    Despite that, Roman Hamrlik has carved a quality NHL career for himself. He brings a little of everything to the mix. He can be physical, though, he is never domineeringly so. He has offensive skills and still will run the power play in Montreal on occasion, but has never really been a top quality NHL offensive defenseman. He plays a good defensive game, but is neither fast enough nor nasty enough to be a quality shutdown defenseman. 

    Still, Hamrlik grades out ahead of 28 of the first overall picks of all time. Though, look for Steven Stamkos, John Tavares and maybe even Erik Johnson to pass him in pretty quick order once they get a few more years under their belts.    

19. Patrick Kane (RW)

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    CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 24: Patrick Kane #88 of the Chicago Blackhawks shoots the puck in front of Alexandre Burrows #14 of the Vancouver Canucks in Game Six of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the United Center
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Regular Season

    GP: 317 G: 103 A: 200 PTS: 303   


    GP: 45 G: 20 A: 28 PTS: 48


    Calder Memorial Trophy, Stanley Cup

    Patrick Kane is almost too recent a No. 1 overall draft pick (2007 Chicago Blackhawks) to make the top-20 list. If I include him with his 103 goals in 317 National Hockey League games, how do I exclude Steven Stamkos with his 119 goals in 243 games. None the less, I've done it.

    Patrick Kane is a hugely talented young hockey player who should climb his way up this list for years to come. He is almost a point-a-game player in the regular season and more than a point-a-game player in the playoffs. He was a central member of the Chicago Blackhawks team that won the city's first Stanley Cup since 1961. He has a Stanley Cup-winning goal to his credit.  

    I've nudged Patrick ahead of a few other players like Hamrlik, Rob Ramage, Mel Bridgman, Steven Stamkos, Rejean Houle, Marc-Andre Fleury, Joe Murphy and Rick Green, who all had or are having quality NHL careers. Kane's career to date, I think, has been just a little bit better.  

18. Rick Nash (RW)

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    Regular Season

    GP: 592 G: 259 A: 229 PTS: 488


    GP: 4 G: 1 A: 2 PTS: 3


    Maurice "Rocket" Richard Trophy

    Rick Nash has a little longer track record than Patrick Kane. He is not quite the point machine that Kane is, but he is a better goal scorer.

    Nash is the definitive NHL power forward. His strength and speed can be seen in the video clip above from recent world hockey championships. He scored goals number six and one on the above list.

    Rick Nash tied for the league lead in goals scored during the 2003/04 season sharing the Rocket Richard trophy with Jarome Iginla and Ilya Kovalchuk.

    Nash has had very little opportunity to showcase his game in the playoffs. Columbus has only managed to make the playoffs once and then they were swept in four games by Detroit. If the team gets better, look for Nash's numbers to get better. Still in his prime, Rick Nash plays a game that is made for playoff success.

17. Owen Nolan (RW)

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    Regular Season

    GP: 1,200 G: 422 A: 463 PTS: 885


    GP: 65 G: 21 A: 18 PTS: 39 


    Owen Nolan was the first overall pick of the Quebec Nordiques in 1990. He, like Rick Nash, was a definitive NHL power forward.

    He had two seasons in Quebec where he looked to be one of the toughest snipers in the league. He scored 42 and then 36 goals while getting more than 180 minutes in penalties each of those years.

    A devastating knee injury in 1995 scrubbed that season for him and hampered him for the rest of his career.

    Owen Nolan is one of many of these very talented first overall picks who never won a Stanley Cup. After Quebec moved to Colorado for the 1995-96 season, Owen Nolan was traded to the San Jose Sharks for offensive defenseman Sandis Ozolnish. He missed out on the first Colorado Stanley Cup that year. Playing the rest of his career with San Jose, Toronto, Phoenix, Calgary and Minnesota, he never really got close again to the Stanley Cup Finals.

    The injuries and the teams he played on lead to Owen's big NHL moment happening at an All-Star Game. The video above shows Owen Nolan calling his hat-trick goal versus Dominic Hasek. He had already set an All-Star Game record by scoring two goals eight seconds apart, earlier.    

16. Vincent Lecavalier (C)

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    BOSTON, MA - MAY 27:  Vincent Lecavalier #4 of the Tampa Bay Lightning reacts after their 1 to 0 loss to the Boston Bruins in Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at TD Garden on May 27, 2011 in Boston, Mass
    Elsa/Getty Images

    Regular Season

    GP: 934 G: 351 A: 442 PTS: 793


    GP: 63 G: 24 A: 28 PTS: 52 


    Maurice "Rocket" Richard Trophy, Stanley Cup

    Vincent Lecavalier is a truly extraordinary NHL center who always seems to get light regard when compared to other stars in the league. Part of the burden that comes with being a first overall selection is the expectation that you could be the best player ever to play the game. Ask Alexandre Daigle how those expectations can wear on you. 

    Lecavalier, who still is only 30, has been viewed with great disappointment in some corners, mostly I think because he isn't one of the best players ever. He is just a great player.

    Lecavalier was a leader on the Lightning's Stanley Cup-winning team in 2004. He was the team captain this year as they made it to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals before the Bruins finished them off.

    Vincent has one of the hardest slap shots in hockey and is surprisingly tough, as this Stanley Cup Final tussle with power forward Jarome Iginla shows. These abilities provide a nice counterpoint to his playmaking and stick-handling abilities.   

    Lecavalier had his best season in 2006/07 when he lead the league with 52 goals and scored a career best 108 points to finish third in league scoring. He was the league's second All-Star team center that year behind only Sidney Crosby.   

15. Ilya Kovalchuk (LW)

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    NEWARK, NJ - APRIL 10: Ilya Kovalchuk #17 of the New Jersey Devils skates against the Boston Bruins at the Prudential Center on April 10, 2011 in Newark, New Jersey.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    Regular Season

    GP: 702 G: 369 A: 333 PTS: 702 


    GP: 9 G: 3 A: 5 PTS: 8


    Maurice "Rocket" Richard Trophy

    Ilya Kovalchuk is a first overall draft pick who came straight out of the box from Russia to the NHL ready to score.

    After 10 NHL seasons, Kovalchuk is seen as one of the most successful snipers in the league today. Kovalchuk has scored more than 40 goals in an NHL season six times and 52 goals twice. He tied for the league lead in goal scoring in 2003/04 with Jarome Iginla and fellow first overall pick Rick Nash, with 41.  

    Kovalchuk had very little opportunity for playoff success in Atlanta. He joined what was a perennial playoff organization in the New Jersey Devils; however, during his first full season with the Devils, they missed the playoffs for the first time in 14 years. The fear has to be that his huge cap-cramping contract and the rapid decline of bulwark goalie Martin Brodeur might signal the beginning of an era of non-playoff Devil teams.

    Kovalchuk has been a point-a-game player so far in his career. He has scored 369 goals in 702 games, which places him third all time in goals per game among the first overall picks with .526 goals per game. He trails only Mario Lemieux (.754 G/G) and Alexander Ovechkin (.634 G/G).     

14. Alexander Ovechkin (LW)

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    Regular Season

    GP: 475 G: 301 A: 313 PTS: 614


    GP: 37 G: 25 A: 25 PTS: 50


    Calder Memorial Trophy, Art Ross Trophy, Hart Memorial Trophy, Maurice "Rocket" Richard Trophy, Lester B. Pearson Trophy

    Alexander Ovechkin is one of the most exciting players ever to play hockey. The highlight reel of goals above is just a sample of what he can do at the highest level of hockey.

    Last year at age 25, Alexander suffered through his worst season in the NHL. The Washington Capitals chose to concentrate on a more defensive team game. Ovechkin scored a mere 85 points. His 32 goals were his worst total since he scored 46 in his second season.

    He appeared to peak in 2007/08 when he lead the league in goal scoring and total scoring and was the league's and player's choice for league MVP.

    The fear right now is that he may have burned himself out and made himself too much of a target in his young career. Look for Ovechkin to rebound offensively at the grand old age of 26 and have perhaps his best season in 2011/12.

    He and his Capitals have yet to make it beyond the second round of the playoffs and that is where true success will be measured.

    For all his "struggles" so far, Alexander Ovechkin is currently second in goals per game in the regular season and the playoffs among all the first overall picks of all time. He trails only the incomparable Mario Lemieux. He is third in points per game behind Lemieux and Sidney Crosby.

    Alexander Ovechkin is likely to be very near the top of this list by the time his career is over.      

13. Sidney Crosby (C)

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    PITTSBURGH, PA - JANUARY 01:  Alex Ovechkin #8 of the Washington Capitals and Sidney Crosby #81 of the Pittsburgh Penguins are seperated by a referee during the 2011 NHL Bridgestone Winter Classic at Heinz Field on January 1, 2011 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylva
    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    Regular Season

    GP: 412 G: 215 A: 357 PTS: 572 


    GP: 62 G: 30 A: 52 PTS: 82


    Art Ross Trophy, Hart Memorial Trophy, Lester B. Pearson Trophy,  Maurice "Rocket" Richard Trophy, Stanley Cup

    Sidney Crosby is arguably the best No. 1 overall pick behind only Mario Lemieux, another Pittsburgh Penguin first overall pick. The Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia native has played in six short seasons (with last season cut in half due to injury) and yet he sits 18th in scoring among the 48 players picked first overall in NHL history. Having scored 654 points in 474 NHL games gives him 1.38 points per game, the second best total behind Lemieux among the elite 48.

    Crosby has captained his team to one Stanley Cup victory already. He will turn just 24 this summer. The sky appears to be the limit for young Crosby.

    The only cloud on the horizon involves how completely he will recover from the concussion that literally knocked him out of the last half of this NHL season. Hopefully the effects of this injury will not dog Crosby the way Owen Nolan's early career knee injuries effected his long term success.    

12. Eric Lindros (C)

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    13 Apr 1998:  Center Eric Lindros of the Philadelphia Flyers in action during a game against the Buffalo Sabres at the Marine Midland Arena in Buffalo, New York. The Sabres defeated the Flyers 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Craig Melvin  /Allsport
    Craig Melvin/Getty Images

    Regular Season

    GP: 760  G: 372 A: 493 PTS: 865


    GP: 53 G: 24 A: 33 PTS: 57


    Hart Memorial Trophy, Lester B. Pearson Trophy

    Eric Lindros was one of the most talented big men ever to play the game. He was the third first overall pick in a row taken by the Quebec Nordiques. When he refused to sign with them they engineered a trade with the Philadelphia Flyers that helped turn them into a perennial Stanley Cup contender, albeit as the Colorado Avalanche. Eric Lindros didn't have the same sort of luck.  

    During the lockout shortened 1994-95 season he won the MVP award from the league and the players association. He tied for the league scoring lead with Jaromir Jagr. He lost the Art Ross trophy because he had scored fewer goals than Jagr (29 to 32). Petr Bondra lead the league that year with 34 goals.

    Eric Lindros never played a complete NHL regular season. He was often injured, and in fact, he missed the entire 2000/01 season with a concussion. Over his 14-year career he missed 353 games, more than four full seasons.

    He played 81 games with the New York Rangers in 2002/03 but at a much reduced intensity level. The successive concussions had taken a huge toll on his talent and ability to perform at a high level.

    The Big E might have been served better career-wise by staying in Quebec. The Legion of Doom line might have quivered in their skates if forced to face Eric Lindros, Owen Nolan and Mats Sundin playing together for Quebec. 

    Despite the loss of four seasons and the deterioration of his skills through injury, Lindros still manages to be the sixth best point per game player among these first overall draft picks.            

11. Ed Jovanovski (D)

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    GLENDALE, AZ - NOVEMBER 03:  Ed Jovanovski #55 of the Phoenix Coyotes skates with the puck during the NHL game against the Nashville Predators at Arena on November 3, 2010 in Glendale, Arizona. The Coyotes defeated the Predators 4-3.  (Photo by
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Regular Season

    GP: 1,019 G: 133 A: 348 PTS: 481


    GP: 69 G: 11 A: 19 PTS: 30


    Ed Jovanovski was the Florida Panthers first overall pick in 1994. They gave up on him in the middle of his fourth season, trading him to Vancouver for the much more exciting Pavel Bure.

    Jovanovski has been one of the NHL's better shutdown defensemen during his 15-year career. A punishing hitter, he has also proven to be more than capable of quarterbacking a team's power play. He did this in Florida, Vancouver and Phoenix.

    Injuries have chipped away at the veteran defender over the years, mostly because of the highly physical style he has played.

    He is yet another NHL first overall pick who has never won a Stanley Cup. 

10. Joe Thornton (C)

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    VANCOUVER, CANADA - MAY 24:  Joe Thornton #19 of the San Jose Sharks looks to play the puck out of the defensive zone against the San Jose Sharks Henrik Sedin #33 of the Vancouver Canucks hooks Thornto's stick in Game Five of the Western Conference Finals
    Harry How/Getty Images

    Regular Season

    GP: 995 G: 306 A: 695 PTS: 1,001 


    GP: 109 G: 18 A: 64 PTS: 82


    Art Ross Trophy, Hart Memorial Trophy

    Joe Thornton has had a very good NHL career. In fact, some think he has been one of the best  NHL players of the last decade.

    Joe had his best season in 2005/06 when the Bruins decided to trade him to the San Jose Sharks. He lead the league in scoring that year with a career best 125 points and was also the League MVP.

    His numbers have steadily declined since that time. Still, he has 1,001 career regular season points, which puts him 10th among all the first overall picks. He is sure to pass Bobby Smith and Denis Potvin in career points next year.

    Joe Thornton is another of these players who was chosen first overall in the NHL who has not won a Stanley Cup. Worse for Joe, he has been the best player on the two teams he has played for and he has been blamed for both Boston's and San Jose's postseason failures.

    A big, deliberate playmaker, Thornton's game seems to unravel in the playoffs when other faster players work to shut him down. He is a 1.006 point per game player in the regular season but only a .743 point per game player in the playoffs.

    He still has time to erase that inequity and change the way he is perceived in the NHL. This season saw him score 17 points in 18 playoff games and play with a more intense, nastier energy. If Thornton were to lead the Sharks to a Stanley Cup victory next a year, a lot of the past performances will be forgiven and forgotten.

    At age 32, his opportunities to change that perception will be dwindling.        

9. Bobby Smith (RW)

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    EDMONTON, CANADA - NOVEMBER 22:  Bobby Smith #15 of the Montreal Canadiens looks on prior to taking on the Edmonton Oilers in the Molson Canadien Heritage Classic Megastars Game on November 22, 2003 at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton, Canada. (Photo by J
    Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images

    Regular Season

    GP: 1,077 G: 357 A: 679 PTS: 1,036 


    GP: 184 G: 64 A: 96 PTS: 160 


    Calder Memorial Trophy, Stanley Cup

    Bobby Smith was the Minnesota North Star's first overall draft pick in 1978. He followed that up by winning the Rookie of the Year award in his first season. The next year he, Steve Payne and rookie Dino Ciccarelli helped lead the young Minnesota North Stars into the Stanley Cup Finals versus a dynasty to be, the New York Islanders. Minnesota lost in five games.

    Smith was always a quality offensive performer but never an all-time great. Still, he was a huge contributor when the Montreal Canadians won a Cup in 1985-86 and again when they lost to Calgary in the finals during the 1989 playoffs.

    Smith returned to Minnesota to help take the North Stars again to the Stanley Cup Finals. This time they lost to the juggernaut that was the Pittsburgh Penguins in six games.     

8. Mike Modano (C)

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    DALLAS - JANUARY 22:  Mike Modano #9 of the 1999 Dallas Stars Stanley Cup team walks with the Stanley Cup during the 1999 Dallas Stars Stanley Cup Reunion at the American Airlines Center on January 22, 2007 in Dallas, Texas.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty
    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    Regular Season

    GP: 1,499 G: 561 A: 813 PTS: 1,374 


    GP: 176 G: 58 A: 88 PTS: 146 


    Stanley Cup 

    Mike Modano is one of the most talented American-born players ever to appear in the NHL. He was important in the 1991 Minnesota North Star Cup run and critical to the Dallas run in 1999 as well as the Stanley Cup win in 2000.

    Mike Modano has had the longest NHL career of any first overall pick. He is third in goals scored and second in points behind Mario Lemieux.

    A talented playmaker and sniper, Modano scored 50 goals back in the 1993/94 season. He has scored more than 20 goals in an NHL season on 16 separate occasions.

    Mike Modano scored 76 points as a rookie in 1989/90 and the Stars organization could never regret taking him first overall.

7. Mats Sundin (C)

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    Regular Season

    GP: 1,346 G: 564 A: 785 PTS: 1,349


    GP: 91 G: 38 A: 44 PTS: 82


    The big, multi-talented Swede is another of these hugely talented first overall picks who lead just about any team they were on, but for one reason or another, didn't win a Stanley Cup.

    Mats joins Dale Hawerchuk, Pierre Turgeon and Gilbert Perreault on the list of some of the most talented players in hockey history who never won a Cup. Marcel Dionne would have made the list if only he was chosen first overall.

    A consummate scorer and playmaker, Mats Sundin was the first overall pick of the Quebec Nordiques back in 1989. He had his best season with them in only his third year in the league with 47 goals and 114 points.

    During his 18-season NHL career, mostly spent in Toronto, he scored fewer than 30 goals in a season only five times.      

6. Pierre Turgeon (C)

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    10 Mar 2001: Pierre Turgeon #77 of the St. Louis Blues takes a shot against Chris Osgood #30 of the Detroit Red but hits the post during the overtime period at the Savvis Center in St. Louis, Missouri. The St.Louis Blues and the Detroit Red Wings tied at
    Elsa/Getty Images

    Regular Season

    GP: 1,294 G: 515 A: 812 PTS: 1327


    GP: 109 G: 35 A: 62 PTS: 97


    Lady Byng Memorial Trophy

    Pierre Turgeon was another big, talented first overall pick who never managed to win a Stanley Cup despite playing on six different NHL teams. He was taken first overall by Buffalo in 1987.

    Turgeon was generally considered more of a playmaker than a sniper, but he managed a career year in 1992/93 with the Islanders that would rival anyone's best year. He had 58 goals and 132 points that season. Turgeon lead his team past the Washington Capitals that year. Unfortunately, he was subsequently attacked from behind by Dale Hunter and was never the same that playoff year. 

    A healthy Turgeon may have helped the Islanders past the Montreal Canadiens and into the Stanley Cup Finals versus the Gretzky and the Kings that year. Instead, they lost to Montreal and Patrick Roy in five games. 

5. Dale Hawerchuk (RW)

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    INGLEWOOD, CA - 1988:  Dale Hawerchuk #10 of the Winnipeg Jets skates against the Los Angeles Kings during their game at the Great Western Forum circa 1988 in Inglewood, California.  (Photo by Mike Powell/Getty Images)
    Mike Powell/Getty Images

    Regular Season

    GP: 1,188 G: 518  A: 891 PTS: 1,409


    GP: 97 G: 30 A: 69 PTS: 99


    Calder Memorial trophy

    Dale Hawerchuk was the No. 1 overall pick of the Winnipeg Jets in the 1981 NHL entry draft. Hawerchuk had 45 goals and 103 points as a rookie in the 1981/82 NHL season and won the Calder trophy.

    Hawerchuk was one of those great NHLers like Gilbert Perreault who almost always lead the teams he was on but never managed to win a Stanley Cup. He came closest with the 1996/97 Philadelphia Flyers, who lost in four straight games in the finals to the Detroit Red Wings.

    Dale Hawerchuk's hockey highlight came in the 1987 Canada Cup when Mike Keenan finally settled on a first line for the finals versus the Soviet Union. The line consisted of three centers: Mario Lemieux, Wayne Gretzky and Dale Hawerchuk. It was Hawerchuk who won the faceoff that lead to the series-winning goal by Mario Lemieux. It was that line that lead Canada to their victory in the best of the Canada Cup tournaments.

    Hawerchuk also stands out as the only non-Quebecer among the top six players on this list.  

4. Guy Lafleur (RW)

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    Regular Season

    GP: 1,127 G: 560 A: 793 PTS: 1,353


    GP: 128 G: 58 A: 76 PTS: 134


    Two Lester B. Pearson trophies, two Hart trophies, three Art Ross trophies, Conn Smythe trophy, five Stanley Cups

    Guy Lafleur was, of course, the poster child for Sam Pollock's campaign to trade veterans to the six new 1967 expansion teams for their first-round draft picks. He convinced the then-owner of the California Golden Seals, sports promoter and Oakland Athletics owner, Charlie Finley, to trade their first-round pick in 1971 and Francois Lacombe ( to the Montreal Canadiens for their first-round pick in 1970 and 24-year-old left winger Ernie Hicke. (  

    This trade has been called one of the worst in hockey history. The Seals took forward Chris Oddleifson with the Canadiens' first-round pick. He was a talented winger who had a reasonable nine-year NHL career, but he never played for the Seals.

    The piece de resistance of this deal involved Pollock trading skilled veteran center Ralph Backstrom to the Kings in 1971 for a couple of career minor leaguers to keep them out of the basement in the West that year. The stratagem worked, as the Kings finished ahead of the Seals. California's first-round pick was the first pick overall that year and Montreal used it to choose Guy Lafleur.

    Lafleur was one of the greatest NHL players of all time. Back in 1997, Hockey News had Lafleur as No. 11 on their list. He won five Stanley Cups in Montreal, leading the team during their four in a row streak from 1976 to 1979.           

3. Gilbert Perrault (C)

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    Regular Season

    GP: 1,191 G: 512 A: 814 PTS: 1,326 


    GP: 90 G: 33 A: 70 PTS: 103


    Calder Memorial Trophy, Lady Byng Memorial Trophy

    A spinning wheel made Gilbert Perreault the Buffalo Sabres' first NHL amateur draft pick back in 1970.

    Instead of entertaining fans in Vancouver for 17 years, Perreault was destined to be the face of the franchise in Buffalo for that time. 

    Gilbert Perreault was recently chosen by TSN in Canada as the fifth most skilled hockey player of all time.

    Perreault, when he got going, was unstoppable. He was a smaller, faster Mario Lemieux, without quite the same finish that Super Mario had. Gilbert Perreault could do things at a speed that most players couldn't manage standing still.

    Perreault was one of the most talented players ever to not win a Stanley Cup.   

2. Denis Potvin (D)

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    UNIONDALE, NY - MARCH 02:  Denis Potvin of 'The 'Core of the Four' New York Islanders Stanley Cup championships take part in a ceremony prior to the Islanders game against the Florida Panthers on March 2, 2008 at the Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York
    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    Regular Season

    GP: 1,060 G: 310 A: 742  PTS: 1,052


    GP: 185 G: 56 A: 108 PTS: 164


    Calder Memorial Trophy, three James Norris Trophies, four Stanley Cups

    Denis Potvin was the New York Islanders' first-round pick, and the first overall pick, in the 1973 NHL amateur draft. Islanders GM Bill Torrey famously resisted many attempts by the Montreal Canadiens to get him to trade away his first-round pick that year.

    The selection of Denis Potvin started the Islanders on their trip to greatness.

    Denis came out of juniors ready to play NHL hockey. He had 54 points in 77 games as a rookie defenseman for the 1973/74 Islanders. They missed the playoffs as they had in their inaugural season. While Denis Potvin was an Islander they never missed the playoffs again.

    By his third season, Potvin scored 31 goals and 98 points in 78 regular season games. He won his first James Norris trophy as the league's best defenseman. Potvin lead Islander teams that had very little else to recommend them at the time on long runs in the playoffs.

    During the 1975 playoffs, he helped the Islanders become only the second team in NHL history to come back from a three-games-to-none deficit in a playoff series to defeat the Pittsburgh Penguins in seven games.     

    He was that rare combination of offensive skill and defensive nastiness. He was one of the fastest skaters in the league and had one of the hardest shots

    Behind only Bobby Orr and Paul Coffey, he is often considered the third best offensive defenseman in NHL history.

    Denis Potvin played like he was made of a slightly denser material than other human beings, so that when he hit you, he practically passed through you.

    Potvin was a leader as the Islanders embarked on their four-Cup dynasty from 1980 to 1983. 

1. Mario Lemieux (C)

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    Regular Season

    GP: 915  G: 690 A: 1,033 PTS: 1,723


    GP:107 G: 76 A: 96 PTS: 172 


    Calder Trophy, four Lester B. Pearson Trophies, three Hart Memorial Trophies, six Art Ross Trophies, two Conn Smythe Trophies, two Stanley Cups, Bill Masterton Trophy

    Some rankings you have to agonize over, some are so easy it barely takes you a second. This was the latter.

    Mario Lemieux was one of the most talented players ever to play the game. He was one of the games most prolific regular season and playoff scorers. He had 172 points in a mere 107 playoff games and was one of the best PPG players in NHL history.

    Mario Lemieux is simply the best No. 1 overall pick of all time.