Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin combined for 67 points in the playoffs last season. (Photo by Gregg Forwerck/NHLI via Getty Images)
So, after a life of following the game as a fan, you, to your surprise, have been named GM of your favorite team. To your further shock and awe, the NHL has voided all player contracts and a draft will be held to refill rosters. And you have the No. 1 pick.
Who do you choose? Who is the best player right now to begin a franchise around?
Until recently, the debate only included the game’s two young, most-marketable stars: Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin.
Crosby, with a lot of help, of course, proved last season he can lead a team to glory. His compete level is matched only by his sublime vision and his 15-goal playoff performance indicates he has the ability to be a high-end tallyman, too. At just 22, he’ll be a force for the next decade and a half.
Ovechkin is, perhaps, the most talented pure goalscorer in hockey’s history (his .676 GPG average puts him behind only Mike Bossy’s .762 and Mario Lemieux’s .754). He’s a danger to find the net every time he’s on the ice and doesn’t need talented wingers to produce. Like Crosby, Ovie’s age – he turns 24 today – means he has a long career in front of him.
But the discussion no longer begins and ends with Sid and Alex the Gr8; there are a handful of others who must be considered, starting with Crosby’s teammate: Evgeni Malkin.
Statistically, Geno was better than both Crosby and Ovechkin in 2008-09, leading the league in points in both the regular season and playoffs. Malkin, a youngster as well at only 23, also dispelled any thoughts that he disappeared when the games matter most by performing wonderfully in the post-season en route to grabbing the Conn Smythe Trophy.
Another thing to consider: Ovechkin has missed only three and Malkin only four games the past three seasons compared to 37 for Crosby. The Kid’s dogged style of play leaves him more susceptible to injuries, which could become more frequent as he gets older. Similarly, Ovechkin’s willingness to recklessly throw his body around hasn’t caught up to him yet, but if you’re looking for a safe bet to be in the lineup consistently, Malkin’s your man.
Players who can put up goals and points are much easier to come by than all-time defensemen and goalies, however, so do you use the No. 1 pick on someone who can patrol your blueline or crease for years to come?
Clearly it would be a much more risky proposition to take a young keeper like 21-year-old Steve Mason, but if you believe he can maintain his impressive Year 1 numbers, he could all but guarantee you winning seasons and keep you in the Cup hunt for the next decade.
Perhaps even more rare than an out-of-this-world goaltender is a game-changing blueliner; think Doug Harvey, Bobby Orr or Nicklas Lidstrom.
A player of this ilk can make up for all sorts of deficiencies in either end and, like a top-flight goalie, can win a game or series on his own.
But is there even a defenseman available who has these abilities? Despite an abundance of incredible young blueliners, only one has the potential to become a legend: Victor Hedman.
The smooth-skating behemoth has a once-in-a-lifetime combination of size and skill, but could you use the No. 1 pick on a player who hasn’t proven his worth and wasn’t even the top choice in his entry draft?
Probably not. The safe, smart bet would be to choose one of the Big 3.
Ray Shero is a lucky man.
Edward Fraser is the editor of thehockeynews.com. His blog appears Thursdays.
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