By HOWARD BERGER
TORONTO (June 29) — The relevance of this blog increases chronologically and the purpose is to have some fun. As we know, the National Hockey League draft — even at the highest level — is often a crap-shoot. Steven Stamkos, Sidney Crosby and Mario Lemieux went No. 1 overall as did Patrick Stefan, Alexandre Daigle and Greg Joly.
Instant Hall–of–Famers… and instant flops.
On Friday night, in Sunrise, Fla., the Toronto Maple Leafs drafted forward Mitch Marner (London OHL) fourth overall — the club’s earliest first–round pick since 1989 (Scott Thornton, third). Marner is expected to become an elite offensive force in the NHL, as would most prospects chosen No 4. There are, however, no draft guarantees. Never have been. Never will be. Until a youngster confirms he can manage his skill–set in the world’s best hockey league, prior accomplishment is immaterial.
MITCH MARNER PULLS ON A MAPLE LEAFS JERSEY FOR THE FIRST TIME AFTER BEING DRAFTED FOURTH BY TORONTO ON FRIDAY NIGHT IN SUNRISE, FLA. BEHIND MARNER IS PENSIVE–LOOKING COACH MIKE BABCOCK. BRUCE BENNETT GETTY IMAGES
Since the advent of the universal draft in 1970, No. 4 picks have been emblematic of the entire process, with a mix of legendary players and obscure duds. As a vague, random indication of what the Maple Leafs may have landed in Marner, here is a run–down of the No. 4 draft selections between 1970 and 2014. You will smile and you will grimace.
1970 BOSTON: RICK MacLEISH C. PETERBOROUGH (OHL)
NHL TOTALS — GP: 846 G: 349 A: 410 PTS: 759 PIM: 434
Boston traded MacLeish to Philadelphia before he could develop into one of the most feared shooters in the NHL. Though he performed largely in the shadows of Bernie Parent, Bobby Clarke, Bill Barber and Reggie Leach, MacLeish was arguably the most gifted player among those that won consecutive Stanley Cups with the Flyers in 1974 and 1975. His deflection of Andre (Moose) Dupont’s shot from the point at 14:48 of the first period would be the only goal in Game 6 of the ’74 final, as Philadelphia defeated Boston to become the first of the 1967 expansion teams to win the Cup. A marvelous skater, MacLeish isn’t in the Hockey Hall of Fame, but many believe he should be.
1971 ST. LOUIS: GENE CARR C. FLIN FLON (WHL)
NHL TOTALS — GP: 465 G: 79 A: 136 PTS: 215 PIM: 365
A phenomenal talent in junior — teammate of Bobby Clarke and Reggie Leach with the Flin Flon Bombers — Carr was an average NHL forward. Despite outstanding speed, he never showed much offensive flair as a pro and was shuffled around, playing in St. Louis, New York (Rangers), Los Angeles, Pittsburgh and Atlanta. He is remembered mostly for a shock of blonde hair and for being the subject of The Eagles’ 1977 hit New Kid In Town. While in L.A., Carr hobnobbed with entertainment celebrities including Glen Frey of the renowned soft–rock group. Frey and Don Henley wrote New Kid In Town about their friend. Carr’s best season was a 17–goal, 54–point effort with Pittsburgh in 1977–78.
1972 MONTREAL: STEVE SHUTT L.W. TORONTO (OHL)
NHL TOTALS — GP: 930 G: 424 A: 393 PTS: 817 PIM: 410
Simply one of the best No. 4 draft picks of all time. After a prolific junior career with Toronto Marlboro line–mates Billy Harris and Dave Gardner, Shutt became an explosive scorer in Montreal’s Stanley Cup dynasty of the late–70’s. Skating opposite Guy Lafleur, with either Jacques Lemaire or Peter Mahovlich in the middle, Steve had seasons of 60, 49, 47 and 45 goals for the Canadiens of Scotty Bowman. Among left–wingers, only Alex Ovechkin and Luc Robitaille have scored more goals in a season than Shutt’s 60 in 1976–77. He went into the Hall of Fame in 1993.
1973 TORONTO: LANNY McDONALD R.W. MEDICINE HAT (WHL)
NHL TOTALS — GP: 1,111 G: 500 A: 506 PTS: 1,006 PIM: 899
The first of three No. 4 draft selections for the Leafs and a pretty good guy for Mitch Marner to emulate. After a struggle in his first two seasons, McDonald became one of the greatest scorers in franchise history. Playing alongside Darryl Sittler, he erupted for seasons of 37, 47, 46 and 43 goals before a ridiculous trade in December 1979 by recycled general manger Punch Imlach sent Lanny to the Colorado Rockies. It destroyed the Maple Leafs for more than a decade, until Doug Gilmour arrived. McDonald later went to Calgary and scored 66 goals in 1982–83. After winning the 1989 Stanley Cup as captain of the Flames, Lanny retired and was inducted into the Hall of Fame three years later.
1974 NEW YORK ISLANDERS: CLARK GILLIES L.W. REGINA (WHL)
NHL TOTALS — GP: 958 G: 319 A: 378 PTS: 693 PIM: 1,023
Another Hall–of–Famer at No. 4 — the big, at times menacing left–winger on the New York Islanders top forward unit with Bryan Trottier and Mike Bossy during the Stanley Cup dynasty of the early–80’s. Islanders won four consecutive championships with Gillies contributing six seasons of at least 33 goals. He was best left alone. If pestered by an opposing player, Gillies could become a monster on skates with pummeling hits and one–sided fisticuffs. He went into the Hall of Fame in 2002.
1975 MINNESOTA: BRYAN MAXWELL D. MEDICINE HAT (WHL)
NHL TOTALS — GP: 331 G: 18 A: 77 PTS: 95 PIM: 745
This No. 4 selection epitomized arguably the most mediocre first round in NHL draft history. Mel Bridgman, Barry Dean and Ralph Klassen were chosen ahead of Maxwell and all four were marginal NHLers (Bridgman being the best, with Philadelphia and Calgary). Maxwell skated for Minnesota, St. Louis, Winnipeg and Pittsburgh — his best season with the Jets in 1982–83 when he had seven goals and 20 points. ‘Nuff said.
1976 DETROIT: FRED WILLIAMS C. SASKATOON (WHL)
NHL TOTALS — GP: 44 G: 2 A: 5 PTS: 7 PIM: 10
Unquestionably the worst No. 4 pick in early draft history might be a cautionary tale for the Leafs, as Williams — like Marner — was a prolific scorer in junior. He had 31 goals and 118 points with the Saskatoon Blades in 1975–76 and was therefore drafted ahead of Blades teammate Bernie Federko, who out–pointed Williams by a mere 1,123 in the NHL. Brian Sutter, Randy Carlyle and Kent Nilsson were also taken well behind ol’ Freddie. Called up by the Red Wings in October 1976, Williams scored in his debut against Washington. Let’s hope he kept the puck.
1977 VANCOUVER: JERE GILLIS L.W. SHERBROOKE (QMJHL)
NHL TOTALS — GP: 386 G: 78 A: 95 PTS: 173 PIM: 230
Another example of a junior sensation that failed to reach his potential in the big league. Gillis had 55 goals and 140 points with Sherbrooke in 1976–77 and it prompted the Canucks to draft him ahead of (gulp) Doug Wilson and Mike Bossy. He was a decent rookie, scoring 23 goals for Vancouver. But, that was it. Gillis never popped more than 13 goals in a season. After retiring from hockey, he became a movie stuntman.
1978 VANCOUVER: BILL DERLAGO C. BRANDON (WHL)
NHL TOTALS — GP: 555 G: 189 A: 227 PTS: 416 PIM: 247
For NHL fans too young to remember Bill Derlago, I can tell you, unequivocally, that he was the Mitch Marner of junior hockey in 1976–77 and 1977–78. Centering a forward line in Brandon with Brian Propp and Ray Allison, Billy D erupted for 96 goals and 178 points; and then followed with 89 goals and 152 points. He was unstoppable. But, after registering eight points in nine games to start his NHL career, a severe knee injury derailed him and the Canucks, oddly, gave up on Derlago and line–mate, Rick Vaive — trading both to the Leafs in February 1980. Centering Vaive in Toronto, Derlago had seasons of 74 and 84 points, as Vaive became the first Leaf to score 50 goals. Billy D followed with 40 goals in 1983–84 and 31 in 1984–85 but was often accused of being lazy off the ice. His career fizzled after being traded to Boston in late–1985.
1979 WASHINGTON: MIKE GARTNER R.W. NIAGARA FALLS (OHL)
NHL TOTALS — GP: 1,432 G: 708 A: 627 PTS: 1,335 PIM: 1,159
This one turned out rather well, as Washington chose the top–scoring fourth pick in NHL draft history. Gartner had a year of pro under his belt with Cincinnati of the World Hockey Association in 1978–79 before the Capitals could grab him as a 20–year–old, which was still the minimum draft age in 1979. He went on to score 708 goals for the Caps, Minnesota, the Rangers, Maple Leafs and Phoenix. Only Wayne Gretzky, Gordie Howe, Brett Hull, Marcel Dionne and Phil Esposito lit the lamp more often. Oddly, Mike reached the 50–goal plateau only once — with Washington in 1984–85. But, he scored at least 40 goals in eight different seasons and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2001.
1980 LOS ANGELES: LARRY MURPHY D. PETERBOROUGH (OHL)
NHL TOTALS — GP: 1,615 G: 287 A: 929 PTS: 1,216 PIM: 1,084
Another dandy selection at No. 4 in a top–heavy first round. Murphy was chosen just after Denis Savard (Chicago) and two ahead of Paul Coffey (Edmonton). He went on to become the fifth–highest–scoring defenceman of all time with 1,216 points, behind only Raymond Bourque, Coffey, Al MacInnis and Phil Housley. He had a marvelous rookie season in L.A. with 16 goals and 76 points but finished runner–up in Calder Trophy balloting to Peter Stastny of Quebec. On four occasions, Murphy topped the 70–point plateau; his most prolific season an 85–point effort with Pittsburgh in 1992–93. He went into the Hall of Fame in 2004.
1981 HARTFORD: RON FRANCIS C. SAULT STE. MARIE (OHL)
NHL TOTALS — GP: 1,731 G: 549 A: 1,249 PTS: 1,798 PIM: 979
Without question, the top No. 4 pick in NHL draft history. More than a decade after retiring as a player, the current GM of the Carolina Hurricanes stands fourth all time in NHL points (1,798), trailing only Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier and Gordie Howe. His 1,249 assists are second to Gretzky in league annals. Only Howe and Messier appeared in more NHL games. Ronnie “Franchise” — as he was known — might be GM of a club today still in Hartford had the Whalers not absurdly dealt him to Pittsburgh in March 1991 for a player we’ll get to momentarily. With the Penguins, he joined Jaromir Jagr and Mario Lemieux in the most celebrated threesome to win the Stanley Cup (1991 and 1992); Francis, Jagr and Lemieux still the fourth, sixth and eight–leading point–men of all time. Ron was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2007.
1982 PHILADELPHIA: RON SUTTER C. LETHBRIDGE (WHL)
NHL TOTALS — GP: 1,093 G: 205 A: 328 PTS: 533 PIM: 1,352
No NHL team erred by deploying a member of the Sutter hockey clan from Viking, Alta. But, the Flyers came as close as possible in the 1982 draft, simply because Scott Stevens and Phil Housley were the next two players chosen. Ron Sutter and his identical–twin brother Rich (born Dec. 2, 1963) were each selected in the ’82 first round — Rich No. 10 by Pittsburgh. Both were serviceable and largely unspectacular. Ron’s best NHL season was a 60–point effort for the Flyers in 1985–86. He later scored 26 and 22 goals before bouncing around for a decade between St. Louis, Quebec, the Islanders, Boston, San Jose and Calgary.
1983 DETROIT: STEVE YZERMAN C. PETERBOROUGH (OHL)
NHL TOTALS — GP: 1,514 G: 692 A: 1,063 PTS: 1,755 PIM: 924
A very close second to Ron Francis among No. 4 picks in NHL draft history and also a current GM — of the Eastern Conference–champion Tampa Bay Lightning. Stevie Y sits eighth on the all–time points list, three rungs beneath Francis. He is seventh in assists and ninth in goals. On six occasions, he topped the 100–point mark and had two monster seasons — 65 goals and 155 points in 1988–89; 58 goals and 137 points in 1992–93. Yzerman captained the Detroit Stanley Cup teams of 1997, 1998 and 2002. He went into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot in 2009.
1984 TORONTO: AL IAFRATE D. BELLEVILLE (OHL)
NHL TOTALS — GP: 799 G: 152 A: 311 PTS: 463 PIM: 1,301
The last time before Friday that Toronto selected fourth in the NHL draft. It landed an obscenely–talented player with terrific wheels and one of the hardest slapshots ever. Sadly for the Leafs, Iafrate could never quite mesh what rested above his shoulders to that which rested beneath. Otherwise, he would likely be mentioned today among the top blue–liners in league history. It was a peculiar draft in ’84 as Hall–of–Famers Patrick Roy, Brett Hull and Luc Robitaille were all chosen after the first round. Hard to believe that such notables as Terry Carkner, Trevor Steinburg, Roger Belanger, Dave Pasin and Duncan MacPherson were selected in the opening round. Iafrate had seasons of 52 and 63 points in Toronto. He rang up 25 goals and 66 points with Washington in 1992–93.
1985 VANCOUVER: JIM SANDLAK R.W. LONDON (OHL)
NHL TOTALS — GP: 549 G: 110 A: 119 PTS: 229 PIM: 821
The last time, before Mitch Marner, that a London junior prodigy went fourth in the NHL draft. Sandlak was hard–nosed and very average with the puck. Vancouver might have done just a tad better by choosing Joe Nieuwendyk of Cornell University, though the NHL scouting fraternity blew it big–time with Nieuwy, who sat until Cliff Fletcher grabbed him 27th overall for Calgary. Only once did Sandlak score 20 goals for the Canucks — in 1988–89. He had a career–best 40 points that season.
1986 PITTSBURGH: ZARLEY ZALAPSKI D. CANADIAN NATIONAL TEAM
NHL TOTALS — GP: 637 G: 99 A: 285 PTS: 384 PIM: 684
The Penguins erred spectacularly with this No. 4 selection, as Brian Leetch went ninth to the New York Rangers. But, Pittsburgh made up for its mistake in a resounding way by off–loading Zalapsky, John Cullen and Jeff Parker on Hartford in the Mar. 4, 1991 deal that landed Ron Francis. Double Z had a couple of good years for the Whalers — 20 goals and 57 points in 1991–92, then 51 assists and 65 points in 1992–93. But, he and Francis weren’t from the same hockey planet.
1987 LOS ANGELES: WAYNE McBEAN D. MEDICINE HAT (WHL)
NHL TOTALS — GP: 211 G: 10 A: 39 PTS: 49 PIM: 168
Oy vey. This pick rivals Alexandre Volchkov in 1996 and Fred Williams in 1976 for the worst–ever at No. 4 in the NHL draft. The Kings (and others) overlooked a fellow named Joe Sakic (15th Quebec) in the first round. McBean played all of 60 games in Los Angeles and had six assists. He later erupted for 19 points with the New York Islanders in 1990–91.
1988 PITTSBURGH: DARRIN SHANNON L.W. WINDSOR (OHL)
NHL TOTALS — GP: 506 G: 87 A: 163 PTS: 250 PIM: 344
Oy vey, again. Two years after overlooking Brian Leetch for Zarley Zalapski, the crack Penguins’ scouting staff rated Shannon higher than (are you ready?): Jeremy Roenick, Teemu Selanne, Mark Recchi, Rob Blake and Alexander Mogilny. This time, Hartford slammed down the telephone when Pittsburgh called. Can you imagine how Selanne or Mogilny would have fared on Mario Lemieux’s flank? Shannon actually had a couple of decent years later in his career, but with Winnipeg — 60 points in 1992–93 and 58 points in 1993–94.
1989 WINNIPEG: STU BARNES C. TRI–CITY (WHL)
NHL TOTALS — GP: 1,136 G: 261 A: 336 PTS: 597 PIM: 438
The Jets landed a much–serviceable player at No. 4 in 1989 but the “oy vey” factor was still applicable given that Nicklas Lidstrom and Sergei Fedorov were later chosen by Detroit; Pavel Bure by Vancouver. Winnipeg didn’t allow Barnes to develop before trading him to Florida on Nov. 25, 1993. Six times, he would score 18 or more goals in a season; his career–best being 30 with Pirttsburgh in 1997–98.
1990 PHILADELPHIA: MIKE RICCI C. PETERBOROUGH (OHL)
NHL TOTALS — GP: 1,099 G: 243 A: 362 PTS: 605 PIM: 979
After seasons of 54 and 52 goals in junior, Ricci was a justifiable No. 4 pick in 1990, but the Flyers probably wish they would have chosen Jaromir Jagr, who went fifth to Pittsburgh. Had Philly taken Jagr, it may not have traded with Quebec for Eric Lindros and who knows where Ricci would have landed? As it were, Lindros refused to report to Quebec after the Nordiques made him the No. 1 draft choice in 1991. Ultimately, Quebec traded Lindros to the Flyers in a mega–swap for Ricci and the rights to Swedish forward Peter Forsberg. Ricci had seasons of 27 and 30 goals for the Nordiques but never attained the potential expected of him as a junior. He later played for Colorado, San Jose (above) and Phoenix, retiring after the 2006–07 campaign.
1991 NEW YORK ISLANDERS: SCOTT LACHANCE D. BOSTON U.
NHL TOTALS — GP: 819 G: 31 A: 112 PTS: 143 PIM: 567
Another miss at No. 4, though Lachance was a decent blue–liner for the Islanders over parts of eight seasons. But, Peter Forsberg was still available and went sixth to Philadelphia. Lachance had his best year as a rookie, with seven goals and 24 points in 1992–93. It is expected the Buffalo Sabres will have better luck with the Boston University alumnus it chose on Friday night — Jack Eichel — right after Connor McDavid.
1992 QUEBEC: TODD WARRINER L.W. WINDSOR (OHL)
NHL TOTALS — GP: 453 G: 65 A: 89 PTS: 154 PIM: 249
The fourth pick of a fairly mediocre first round in ’92 is best known for accompanying Mats Sundin to Toronto in the multi–player trade consummated just prior to the 1994 NHL draft in Hartford. Warriner was a third and fourth–line player with terrific speed and no hands. His best season was a 12–goal effort for the Maple Leafs in 1996–97. But, Todd will tell his grandchildren that he scored the first NHL goal at the Air Canada Centre in a Leafs victory over Montreal, Feb. 20, 1999.
1993 ANAHEIM: PAUL KARIYA L.W. UNIVERSITY OF MAINE
NHL TOTALS — GP: 989 G: 402 A: 587 PTS: 989 PIM: 399
The best No. 4 draft pick since Steve Yzerman a full decade earlier, Kariya starred for the Mighty Ducks over parts of nine seasons — his career ultimately abbreviated by a series of concussions. A brutal two–handed crosscheck to the head from Chicago defenseman Gary Suter on Feb. 1, 1998 prevented Kariya for playing at the Winter Olympics, two weeks later, in Nagano, Japan. He did, however, score three big goals at the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City, helping Canada break a 50–year gold medal drought in men’s hockey. Fast and creative, Kariya had seasons of 108, 101 and 99 points for Anaheim. He scored 50 goals in 1995–96 and later played for Colorado, Nashville and St. Louis.
1994 EDMONTON: JASON BONSIGNORE C. NIAGARA FALLS (OHL)
NHL TOTALS — GP: 79 G: 3 A: 13 PTS: 16 PIM: 34
The Oilers made up for this colossal blunder at No. 4 by drafting Ryan Smyth (Moose Jaw WHL) two picks later. An obscure Swede named Daniel Alfredsson was also available, but he slipped all the way to 133rd before Ottawa nabbed him. Bonsignore remains the biggest draft bust in Edmonton history. It looked, for awhile, that he might have company in Nail Yakupov, but the No. 1 pick in 2012 has started to come on. Hockey scouts the world over were mesmerized by Bonsignore’s 6–foot–4, 220–pound frame. Perhaps he should have been a weight–lifter.
1995 ANAHEIM: CHAD KILGER C. KINGSTON (OHL)
NHL TOTALS — GP: 714 G: 107 A: 111 PTS: 218 PIM: 363
Also coveted for his size (6–foot–4, 224 pounds), Kilger had virtually no hands and no finish in the NHL after a 42–goal, 95–point last season of junior. It wasn’t until his final three seasons — 2005–06 to 2007–08 as a Maple Leaf — that he scored “regularly” in double figures, with 17, 14 and 10 goals. Unquestionably a another draft bust at No. 4.
1996 WASHINGTON: ALEXANDRE VOLCHKOV C. BARRIE (OHL)
NHL TOTALS — GP: 3 G: 0 A: 0 PTS: 0 PIM: 0
My easy choice, and shared by many, for being not only the worst No. 4 selection in NHL draft history, but the biggest opening–round calamity of all time. And, another cautionary tale for scouts and hockey fans, as Volchkov showed much promise in junior with Barrie — putting up seasons of 37 goals and 82 points. His NHL “career” consisted of three games with the Caps in 1999–2000… and zeroes across the board.
1997 NEW YORK ISLANDERS: ROBERTO LUONGO G. VAL–D’OR (QMJHL)
NHL TOTALS — GP: 864 RECORD: 401—331—105 GAA: 2.50 SV% .919
It isn’t easy to find a picture of Roberto Luongo with his original team, as the only netminder to be taken fourth in NHL draft history played just 24 games for the New York Islanders in 1999–2000. After selecting another goalie, Rick DiPietro, first overall in 2000, Islanders GM Mike Milbury traded Luongo to Florida. It was with Vancouver, however, that Luongo made his biggest impact in the NHL. He had seasons of 47, 40 and 38 wins — backstopping the Canucks to the 2011 Stanley Cup final and a Game 7 loss to the Bruins. He was in net for Team Canada when Sidney Crosby won gold in overtime against the U.S. at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Luongo is now in his second stint with Florida.
1998 VANCOUVER: BRYAN ALLEN D. OSHAWA (OHL)
NHL TOTALS — GP: 721 G: 29 A: 107 PTS: 136 PIM: 839
Scouts had visions of Scott Stevens and Derian Hatcher when Vancouver took big Allen at No. 4 in 1998. He was, after all, 6–foot–5, 220 pounds and could be an ogre on the ice. In the end, however, he barely resembled the aforementioned stars and had a journeyman (though honorable) career with Vancouver, Florida, Carolina, Anaheim and Montreal. Methinks the Leafs are hoping for more with Mitch Marner.
1999 NEW YORK RANGERS: PAVEL BRENDL R.W. CALGARY (WHL)
NHL TOTALS — GP: 78 G: 11 A: 11 PTS: 22 PIM: 16
Back to the “oy vey” list we go with this No. 4 pick… and, again, despite little warning, as Brendl had superb seasons of 40, 73 and 59 goals with Calgary of the Western Hockey League. In the NHL, however, he was an unmitigated flop — in the Williams/Volchkov genre. Imagine that Henrik Zetterberg was chosen 206 rungs after Brendl, whose best season was five goals and eight points with Carolina in 2002–03.
2000 COLUMBUS: ROSTISLAV KLESLA D. BRAMPTON (OHL)
NHL TOTALS — GP: 659 G: 48 A: 111 PTS: 159 PIM: 620
The fourth pick of an average first round at the turn of the century, Klesla battled injury to appear in parts of nine seasons with Columbus and was never close to being an elite player. A much better choice on the blue line would have been Niklas Kronwall of Djurgarden (Sweden), who went 29th to Detroit. Klesla teamed with Adam Foote on the Blue Jackets’ defense for a couple of years. His best season was nine goals and 22 points in 2006–07. He is now back in the Czech Republic.
2001 FLORIDA: STEPHEN WEISS C. PLYMOUTH (OHL)
NHL TOTALS — GP: 732 G: 156 A: 237 PTS: 423 PIM: 341
A reliable, productive center–man well worthy of his No. 4 selection in a first round that yielded little beyond Ilya Kovalchuk, Jason Spezza and Weiss. Had seasons of 61, 60 and 57 points in Florida, where he played parts of 11 seasons. Currently playing under a five–year, $24.5 million contract he signed in July 2013 as an unrestricted free agent with Detroit. Slowing down after hernia surgery in December of that year, Stephen had only nine goals in 52 games last season.
2002 PHILADELPHIA: JONI PITKANEN D. KARPAT (FINLAND)
NHL TOTALS — GP: 535 G: 57 A: 225 PTS: 282 PIM: 484
A decent pick at No. 4 by the Flyers, behind Jay Bouwmeester of Florida and ahead of Ryan Whitney, Scottie Upshall and Joffrey Lupul. Pitkanen played with offensive flair in Philadelphia, Edmonton and Carolina, ringing up seasons of 46 (twice), 43 and 41 points. He had 13 goals in 58 games with the 2005–06 Flyers. A broken heel suffered in 2013 ended his NHL career. He is now trying to make a comeback in his native Finland.
2003 COLUMBUS: NIKOLAI ZHERDEV L.W. CSKA MOSCOW
NHL TOTALS — GP: 421 G: 115 A: 146 PTS: 261 PIM: 225
Blue Jackets GM Doug MacLean (now of Sportsnet fame here in Canada) claimed he had Zherdev rated as the No. 1 prospect in 2003, ahead of Marc–Andre Fleury, Eric Staal and Nathan Horton, who were drafted before him. MacLean took Zherdev at No. 4 while Jeff Carter, Zach Parise, Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Kesler and Corey Perry were still available; all went later in the opening round. Zherdev became a decent scorer with Columbus — putting up seasons of 27 and 26 goals. An acrimonious contract negotiation after 2005–06 appeared to stall his creativity. He followed with just 10 goals in 71 games. Zherdev bounced back and forth between the Kontinental Hockey League in Russia and the NHL — playing for the Rangers and Philadelphia. When all is said and done, my old pal Doug probably wishes he’d looked elsewhere in the 2003 draft.
2004 CAROLINA: ANDREW LADD L.W. CALGARY (WHL)
NHL TOTALS — GP: 691 G: 185 A: 235 PTS: 420 PIM: 434
The Hurricanes did well with this No. 4 pick but did not have enough patience with Ladd after a knee injury and emergency appendectomy hampered his first two NHL seasons. He was dealt to Chicago at the trade deadline in 2008; stayed healthy, and contributed to the Blackhawks’ 2010 Stanley Cup victory, which busted a 49–year championship drought for the franchise. In a salary cap purge, the Hawks traded Ladd to Atlanta and it’s with the Thrashers/Winnipeg Jets that he’s evolved into a reliable scorer, with seasons of 29, 28, 24 and 23 goals. Andrew is captain of the Jets — a carryover from Atlanta.
2005 MINNESOTA: BENOIT POULIOT L.W. SUDBURY (OHL)
NHL TOTALS — GP: 429 G: 95 A: 99 PTS: 194 PIM: 285
Not a good pick, as it turned out, at No. 4 by Minnesota, which bypassed (among others) Carey Price, Anze Kopitar, Tuukka Rask, T.J. Oshie, James Neal, Paul Stastny and Kris Letang. For three seasons, Pouliot yo–yo’d up and down between Minnesota and Houston of the American Hockey League, scoring just nine NHL goals. He has since bounced around among the Canadiens, Boston, Tampa Bay, the Rangers and Edmonton, where he scored a career–high 19 goals last season.
2006 WASHINGTON: NICKLAS BACKSTROM C. BRYNAS (SWEDEN)
NHL TOTALS — GP: 577 G: 145 A: 427 PTS: 572 PIM: 298
Superb choice by the Capitals; one of the best–ever No. 4 selections. Only Jonathan Toews (third to Chicago) and Claude Giroux (22nd to Philadelphia) have accomplished as much (to this point) among 2006 draft picks. Selected just after Toews and just before Phil Kessel (Boston). Has been an elite playmaker throughout his eight–year career, with seasons of 68, 66, 61 and 60 assists — the latter total leading the NHL this past season. Backstrom helped set up 33 of Alex Ovechkin’s league–leading 53 goals. If Marner turns out like this, Mark Hunter will one day be added to Legends Row at Air Canada Centre as a builder.
2007 LOS ANGELES: THOMAS HICKEY D. SEATTLE (WHL)
NHL TOTALS — GP: 202 G: 7 A: 41 PTS: 48 PIM: 68
The Kings would take this one back in a heartbeat, mainly because a sequence of injuries destroyed any chance of Hickey making the hockey club in his early NHL years. Only upon being claimed off waivers by the New York Islanders just prior to the lockout–abbreviated schedule of January–April 2013 did Hickey become a durable presence (he’s missed just 10 of 214 regular–season games; one game in the past two seasons). Los Angeles, as it turned out, would have fared better with defenceman Karl Alzner, who went to Washington one draft pick later.
2008 ST. LOUIS: ALEX PIETRANGELO D. NIAGARA (OHL)
NHL TOTALS — GP: 386 G: 44 A: 174 PTS: 218 PIM: 133
Drafted behind Steven Stamkos, Drew Doughty and Zach Bogosian — and just in front of Luke Schenn — Pietrangelo could be a stout example of what the Maple Leafs bypassed in Noah Hanifin on Friday. Big and rangy (6–foot-3, 201 pounds), he has been a force on the St. Louis blue line since cracking the NHL full time in 2010–11. A 12–goal, 51–point performance in 2011–12 landed him on the NHL’s second All–Star team. He again had 51 points in 2013–14. Pietrangelo, Shattenkirk and Jay Bouwmeester provide St. Louis with an enviable Top 3 on defense.
2009 ATLANTA: EVANDER KANE C. VANCOUVER (WHL)
NHL TOTALS — GP: 361 G: 109 A: 113 PTS: 222 PIM: 385
Drafted behind John Tavares, Victor Hedman and Matt Duchene, this young man has a bushel–full of talent and some baggage to off–load in Buffalo. His term with the Atlanta/Winnipeg franchise ended somewhat acrimoniously on Feb. 11 of this year when he was dealt to the Sabres in the multi–player swap that landed Tyler Myers with the Jets. He had become a bit rebellious under coach Paul Maurice, who attempted discipline last season by scratching him healthy for a Feb. 3 game in Vancouver. Maurice had used the same tactic the previous April at Toronto. As it happened, Kane required season–ending shoulder surgery and was traded several days after the revelation. Once healthy, he is expected to help anchor a strong and deep center unit in Buffalo with Tyler Ennis, Jack Eichel and 2014 No. 2 draft pick Sam Reinhart.
2010 COLUMBUS: RYAN JOHANSEN C. PORTLAND (WHL)
NHL TOTALS — GP: 271 G: 73 A: 94 PTS: 167 PIM: 119
Part of a strong and deep first round in 2010 that included Taylor Hall, Tyler Seguin, Erik Gudbranson, Jeff Skinner and Vladimir Tarasenko. Young Johansen needs not take a back–seat to any of them, having developed into an elite pivot the past two years. His early–career high of 71 points this past season placed him 16th in the NHL, ahead of Ryan Getzlaf and Jonathan Toews. In 2013–14, he became just the third Blue Jackets player to crack the 30–goal plateau (with 33). Impressive size (6–foot–3, 223 pounds) has been a factor in his development.
2011 NEW JERSEY: ADAM LARSSON D. SKELLEFTEA (SWEDEN)
NHL TOTALS — GP: 192 G: 6 A: 45 PTS: 51 PIM: 78
The top–rated European by Central Scouting in 2011, Larson was chosen after Ryan Nugent–Hopkins, Gabriel Landeskog and Jonathan Huberdeau. He has yet to make an impact in the NHL while playing for a mediocre Devils team. Hasn’t used his size (6–foot–3, 220 pounds) effectively. A still–early flip–side here to those (like me) that argue Maple Leafs should have taken Hanifin ahead of Marner.
2012 NEW YORK ISLANDERS: GRIFFIN REINHART D. EDMONTON (WHL)
NHL TOTALS — GP: 8 G: 0 A: 1 PTS: 1 PIM: 6
After one professional season spent with Bridgeport of the AHL, the Islanders traded Reinhart to Edmonton during the draft Friday night for the Oilers first–round pick (No. 16 Matthew Barzal) and a second–rounder, later flipped to Tampa Bay. Reviews are mixed on Reinhart. Some believe he can evolve into a big (6–foot–4, 212 pounds) point–producer on the Edmonton blue–line while others contend he’ll never be a Top 2 NHL defenseman. Time will tell whether this was a good move for the Oilers, or if the club should have taken Barzal instead. With the benefit of hindsight, the Islanders could have selected Morgan Rielly, Filip Forsberg or Olli Maatta ahead of Reinhart in 2012.
2013 NASHVILLE: SETH JONES D. PORTLAND (WHL)
NHL TOTALS — GP: 159 G: 14 A: 38 PTS: 52 PIM: 44
To this point, as competent a young player as any chosen in the 2013 opening round (Nathan MacKinnon went first, to Colorado). Jones has quickly become an anchor on the Predators blue–line. At 6–foot–4, 205 pounds, he is quick and decisive with the puck and improved by a plus–26 last season (to +3). Was logging roughly 25 minutes per game late in the schedule. Another “for” vote in the Hanifin–over–Marner debate.
2014 CALGARY: SAM BENNETT C. KINGSTON (OHL)
NHL TOTALS — GP: 1 G: 0 A: 1 PTS: 1 PIM 0
If first impressions are accurate, this kid is going to be a dynamo. Upon recovering from shoulder surgery, he was summoned to the Flames for the final match of last season. It required all of 33 seconds for him to set up a goal by Michael Ferland against Winnipeg. Bennett saw full–time duty in the playoffs and scored three goals in 11 games, as Calgary knocked off Vancouver before falling to Anaheim.
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So, there you have it.
From all–time stiffs (Fred Williams, Wayne McBean, Alexandre Volchkov) to all–time legends (Ron Francis, Steve Yzerman, Lanny McDonald), hockey has run the gamut with the No. 4 draft selection. Maple Leaf fans are anxious to determine how Mitch Marner sizes up (no pun intended).
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