In yesterday’s article, I described a methodology by which team’s draft success could be objectively measured. Armed with these instruments, I have proceeded to list the 10 most successful team draft-years of all time, to see what we could learn from the teams that have succeeded in the past. Today we will complete with the seven most successful drafts ever.
#7: Quebec Nordiques, 1979. Value: 193
Key players: Michel Goulet (20), Dale Hunter (41), Anton Stastny (83)
I mentioned earlier that the 1979 draft was the best ever, and this won’t be the last time we hear from it before the article is over. In 1979, the Quebec Nordiques were a castaway from the WHA, joining the NHL as an expansion franchise. The NHL decided to get the 4 WHA franchises to pick in the last 4 spots in the draft, behind even powerhouses like the Islanders and Canadiens. No worry: the Nordiques would spend their first pick on Michel Goulet, who had already played Junior in the city of Quebec and became one of the most efficient goal-scorers of the 80s. Their other picks, while not as spectacular, were nevertheless highly successful: their 2nd round pick was Dale Hunter, who would combine for 1020 points and a 156 career GVT with 3565 penalty minutes. The Nordiques would also add Anton Stastny, and by signing his older (and better) brother Peter the following year, they would build the core of their team for most of the 80s. The Nordiques would be one of the NHL’s better teams until 1988, mostly on the strength of this draft.
#6: Edmonton Oilers, 1979. Value: 203
Key players: Mark Messier (48), Glenn Anderson (69), Kevin Lowe (21)
Any time you draft the greatest leader in hockey history, a 500-goal, 196-GVT winger and the defensive linchpin of 6-Stanley Cup winning teams, you’ve had a good draft. It’s incredible to think that Messier is not even a slam-dunk as the best player available in the 1979 draft (more on that later), but he remains one of the greatest team leaders in any sport and the NHL’s 3rd-greatest playoff performer of all time. While Wayne Gretzky would always be the offensive engine of the Oilers, Messier would be their heart and soul. Joining him would be Glenn Anderson, who would have been the main offensive threat on any other team in the league, but on the Oilers he was 4th. Kevin Lowe would be the defensive defenseman on those Oilers teams, holding the fort while the others filled the opposing net. Amazingly, all three of these players would win 6 Cups together, 5 with the Oilers and then the 6th with the New York Rangers in 1994.
#5: Boston Bruins, 1979. Value: 210
Key players: Ray Bourque (8), Brad McCrimmon (15), Keith Crowder (57), Mike Krushelnyski (120)
Of all the players ever available through the NHL’s entry draft, if I had the choice to guarantee one pick to my team, my choice would be Ray Bourque in 1979. Ray Bourque did everything you could ever ask for in a player you drafted: he produced immediately, he produced consistently, and he produced for a long time. Bourque’s career GVT of 560 is 3rd all-time in NHL history, behind only Wayne Gretzky and Gordie Howe; elite company indeed. Bourque’s presence would keep the Bruins among the league upper echelons for his first 17 seasons, with two Stanley Cup finals but no successes; his happy ending would be found with the Colorado Avalanche in 2001.
Amazingly, Bourque’s presence makes Brad McCrimmon, one of the best defensive defensemen of the 80s and 90s, almost an afterthought, even though his career defensive GVT is 22nd all-time. Keith Crowder would stay with the Bruins for 9 years, while Mike Krushelnyski would move to Edmonton and taste success before being a part of the biggest trade in league history, moving to Los Angeles with Wayne Gretzky in 1988.
#4: Montreal Canadiens, 1987. Value: 213
Key players: Eric Desjardins (38), John LeClair (33), Mathieu Schneider (44), Andrew Cassels (17)
Unlike all the other drafts on this list, the Canadiens draft in 1987 distinguishes itself in three ways. First of all, there are no real superstars on this list, only several very good players. Second of all, all of these players took a long time to achieve their full potential. Third of all, related to the second reason, none of these players would reach their greatest heights with the Canadiens. Of the four, Desjardins came closest, playing over 6 seasons with the Canadiens including one immortal performance in game 2 of the 1993 Stanley Cup Finals, where he scored his second goal of the game on the Marty McSorley illegal-stick penalty, then capped the hat trick in overtime. John LeClair would also be part of that Cup-winning team, but after 4 years the Canadiens lost patience with him and traded him, Desjardins and Gilbert Dionne for Mark Recchi. LeClair, upon meeting Eric Lindros, immediately became one of the best power forwards in the game, a title he would keep for most of the next decade. Mathieu Schneider played four seasons in Montreal, steadily improving each year, which inexplicably earned him a trade to the New York Islanders with Kirk Muller for a package that included Pierre Turgeon. Andrew Cassels would only play one full season for the Canadiens before being traded to the Hartford Whalers, but he would go on to score 732 points and 122 GVT in 16 seasons.
For those of you keeping score, this means that in the span of less than a year, less than two seasons after winning the Stanley Cup, the Canadiens traded away Eric Desjardins, John LeClair, Mathieu Schneider, Kirk Muller, Mike Keane and Patrick Roy. Raise your hand if you think these were good moves.
#3: Calgary Flames, 1984. Value: 237
Key players: Brett Hull (117), Gary Suter (180), Gary Roberts (12), Paul Ranheim (38)
We are now at the third most successful draft of all time, and it’s saying something that the third-best player the Flames drafted this year was Gary Roberts. Amazingly, Brett Hull, one of the five best goal scorers in NHL history, wasn’t chosen until the 6th round. Despite scoring at a point-per-game pace in his rookie year, the Flames would trade him to St. Louis for Rob Ramage and Rick Wamsley, and the rest is history. Gary Suter is somehow not remembered as an elite defenseman, yet he had explosive offensive skill that made up for his unexceptional defensive play, much like Mike Green today. Yes, Gary Roberts was drafted in 1984, despite the fact that he was still playing as recently as this season, and put together a 200 career GVT during this time. Paul Ranheim was a decent winger who played for 15 seasons in the NHL. From 1986 to 1993, the Flames were the NHL’s elite regular season team, even though they only managed two successful playoff runs. Suter and Roberts were among the big reasons why; had they kept Hull as well, who knows how good they could have been.
#2: Detroit Red Wings, 1989. Value: 317
Key players: Sergei Fedorov (74), Nicklas Lidstrom (53), Vladimir Konstantinov (221), Dallas Drake (116), Mike Sillinger (11)
To draft one MVP caliber player in a draft is wonderful; to draft two is insane. I have already referred to this draft as marking the beginning of the Red Wings dynasty, and now you can see why: after all, how often can you draft a player like Mike Sillinger in the first round? Sillinger has had a decent career and is still playing, but he pales compared to the players the Red Wings would draft further down the line. The Wings were either smart enough or lucky enough to anticipate a paradigm shift and exploit it before anybody else: that European players, especially Russians, would soon start coming to the NHL en masse, making it more valuable to draft them. Vladimir Konstantinov would be a formidable presence for the Red Wings, having 7 great years before sustaining massive injuries in a car crash after celebrating the Wings’ first Stanley Cup win. Sergei Fedorov, for those who only know him as the Capitals’ greybeard, was considered the most complete center in the NHL in his prime, much like Pavel Datsyuk today. Nicklas Lidstrom is merely the best defenseman of his generation, one of the best ever.
Look at the GVT the Red Wings obtained in this draft, as compared to the previous entries on the list. This draft set the base for a decade of Red Wings dominance. Yet we’re only at #2! What team draft group could be better?
#1: Edmonton Oilers, 1980. Value: 338
Key players: Paul Coffey (6), Jari Kurri (69), Andy Moog (132), Walt Poddubny (90)
After obtaining Messier and Anderson in 1979, the Oilers followed that up with the greatest draft in history in 1980. The 1980 draft would prove to be the second-strongest ever, and the four best players available were Coffey, Kurri, Larry Murphy and Denis Savard. The Oilers would get two of them: Coffey would turn out to be the greatest offensive defenseman since Bobby Orr, and would quarterback the Oilers offense. Kurri would come over from Finland, a move that was relatively rare at the time, and would immediately click with Wayne Gretzky to form the most dangerous pairing of the 80s. Their combined numbers are mind-boggling: 2660 GP, 997 Goals, 1932 Assists, 2929 Points, 680 GVT. Coffey ranks second in career scoring among defensemen behind Bourque. Kurri was the original “Best European in the NHL ever” before players like Lidstrom, Hasek and Jagr came along to claim his title.
Andy Moog would become one of the best goaltenders of his time, probably a better goaltender than Grant Fuhr despite popular opinion to the contrary. He would play 7 seasons with the Oilers before being traded to Boston and leading them to both the Presidents’ Trophy and the Stanley Cup finals within 3 years.
That’s the key to successful drafting. As long as you can pick out the next Coffey, Kurri, Lidstrom or Fedorov, you’re set, and a lot of Stanley Cups will come your way. Just don’t trade all your good players away like Montreal.
Tom Awad is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
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