With the season nearly over and non-playoff teams now looking ahead to the draft, many fans are setting their hopes on winning the draft lottery. But while picking first is great, history shows there’s plenty of game-changing talent to be found at the second slot.
For 14 NHL teams, next year begins now. In a little over a week, fans of the NHL’s non-playoff teams will eagerly look to the future as the league runs its draft lottery to determine the owner of this summer’s first overall draft pick. This year, unlike years past, all 14 teams will have a shot at that top slot, meaning the league’s worst franchise has a better chance to lose the lottery, too.
But despair not, Buffalo Sabres fans: as one look around the league shows, second place isn’t so bad.
This list of active second overall picks is hardly second-rate.
10. Gabriel Landeskog, Colorado Avalanche, 2011
(No. 1 Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to Edmonton Oilers)
Still tabulating the votes on this one, but one guy’s team is playoff-bound while the other’s is stuck the NHL basement. Both players played with their big clubs right away, but where Gabriel Landeskog was named captain of the Avs in his sophomore season, Nugent-Hopkins has battled injuries. Nugent-Hopkins has more points in the last two seasons, but Landeskog has outscored him this season. They’ll both be good players, but it’s still a toss-up as to who will be better.
9. Tyler Seguin, Boston Bruins, 2010
(No. 1 Taylor Hall to Edmonton Oilers)
Tyler Seguin’s career will forever be linked to two players: Phil Kessel, thanks to that infamous Leafs-Bruins deal, and Taylor Hall, thanks to the year-long “Taylor or Tyler?” hype leading up to the 2010 draft. And while Edmonton eventually went for Taylor, Tyler won a Stanley Cup in his rookie year with Boston and is now an important piece for the Dallas Stars. Taylor’s team, on the other hand, may well draft first overall this year.
8. Dany Heatley, Atlanta Thrashers, 2000
(No. 1 Rick DiPietro to New York Islanders)
Yeesh. Dany Heatley or Rick DiPietro? Nowadays, you might take a bag of pucks, but over the course of their respective careers, there’s no contest. Dany Heatley hit big numbers with two 50-goal seasons in Ottawa playing alongside Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson, while the only big numbers DiPietro ever hit were the $67.5 million big ones Charles Wang threw at him – and the subsequent buyout he got to not play for the Islanders. Heatley is now a shadow of his former self, but even today, he’s easily the better choice.
7. Jason Spezza, Ottawa Senators, 2001
(No. 1 Ilya Kovalchuk to Atlanta Thrashers)
Speaking of Spezza, of the top two drafts in 2001, one guy’s the captain of his NHL team and among the better playmaking centers in the league. The other is a former Atlanta Thrasher and New Jersey Devil who now plays in the Kontinental League. One day, 2001 first overall pick Ilya Kovalchuk is going to write one hell of a book about leaving the Devils, but until then, Sens fans can be sure their big pivot won’t be bolting for Russia any time soon.
6. Eric Staal, Carolina Hurricanes, 2003
(No. 1 Marc-Andre Fleury to Pittsburgh Penguins)
Two words: Stanley Cup. That’s what Eric Staal brought to Carolina as a 21-year-old in 2006. With Pittsburgh snagging Marc-Andre Fleury at the top spot, the Hurricanes were able to select the top-ranked skater at the No. 2 position in what’s gone down as one of the best draft years ever. There’s no understating how important a big, talented first-line center can be in today’s NHL.
5. Patrick Marleau, San Jose Sharks, 1997
(No. 1 Joe Thornton to Boston Bruins)
In 1997, the Boston Bruins had a choice with the first overall pick: Joe Thornton or Patrick Marleau? In 2005, the San Jose Sharks said, “Why not both?” Boston took Thornton and left Marleau to San Jose, but 17 years later, both have been captains and scoring dynamos for the Sharks. And Boston? They got a whole bunch of guys named Who in that Thornton trade.
4. Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings, 2008
(No. 1 Steven Stamkos to Tampa Bay Lightning)
This one’s kind of like comparing the Fleury/Staal picks. It's apples and oranges, but six years later, Drew Doughty has a Stanley Cup ring and two gold medals, while Steven Stamkos has had plenty of individual success as a goal-scoring machine for the Lightning. He'd probably have a gold of his own if not for that broken leg, too. Tampa drafted a superstar forward in 2008, while the Kings found their own superstar defenseman at the second slot. Everybody wins.
3. Daniel Sedin, Vancouver Canucks, 1999
(No. 1 Patrik Stefan to Atlanta Thrashers)
Poor Atlanta. This was the draft they still write songs about, when Brian Burke acquired the second and third overall picks to draft Daniel and Henrik Sedin, and the Atlanta Thrashers selected Patrik Stefan (now a player agent) with the top choice. Vancouver has enjoyed a decade-and-a-half of the Sedin twins and their identical stats (and beards, and personalities, and everything), while the Thrashers… Well, they’re not the Thrashers anymore.
2. Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins, 2004
(No. 1 Alex Ovechkin to Washington Capitals)
What would you prefer on your resume: Art Ross, Hart, Calder, Ted Lindsay and Maurice Richard trophies, or the Stanley Cup? First overall pick Alex Ovechkin has all of them, except that last one. Evgeni Malkin – eternal second fiddle to Sidney Crosby – is only missing the Rocket Richard hardware. Not bad for the kid picked second in 2004.
1. Chris Pronger, Hartford Whalers, 1993
(No. 1 Alexandre Daigle to Ottawa Senators)
Chris Pronger will probably never play again, but until he signs his retirement papers or his contract with Philadelphia runs out, we’ll count it. In 1993, Ottawa drafted can’t-miss prospect Alexandre Daigle with the first overall pick, and Brian Burke (this guy again?) made Pronger a Hartford Whaler with the second choice. One guy was a total bust, while the other is a can’t-miss Hall of Famer. Can you guess which is which?