20 Years of 1st Overall Draft Picks – Power Rankings

*this was updated during the 2023 offseason but doesn’t include Connor Bedard

Every year, the NHL welcomes the best teenagers in the world to the top league. Of course, in each draft, someone has to be selected first, and often, they have an immediate impact in the NHL and go on to have fantastic careers.

20 Years Draft Picks Power Rankings Leon Draisaitl, Mark Scheifele and Sidney Crosby
Leon Draisaitl, Mark Scheifele, and Sidney Crosby (The Hockey Writers)

That isn’t the case for every first-overall selection, but most of the time, a team is hoping for a franchise-altering player. This power ranking of the last 20 first-overall picks is based on a couple of things. First, I will be taking into account what a player has accomplished, as well as, what I believe they could accomplish. Basically, I’m assuming all these players are 18 years old and in the same draft to determine what order I would select them. Of course, hindsight always helps, and any close comparison will favor the player who has more achievements.

This is my opinion, so let me know who you think I have ranked too high and who I have too low.

1. Sidney Crosby – Pittsburgh Penguins, 2005

Career Stats and Achievements:

  • 1,190 GP – 550 Goals – 952 Assists – 1,502 Points
  • 3x Stanley Cup Champion
  • 2x Conn Smythe Trophy
  • 2x Art Ross Trophy
  • 2x Hart Memorial Trophy
  • 2x Ted Lindsay Award
  • 2x Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy
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Sidney Crosby is among the NHL greats. There is a legitimate argument for Crosby being a top-three all-time NHLer. The talent, the pedigree, the resiliency to overcome his mid-career injury troubles, and so much more. Crosby has been captain of the Pittsburgh Penguins for 16 years and isn’t slowing down – he had a great season in 2022-23 with 33 goals and 93 points – at 35 years old.

Sidney Crosby Pittsburgh Penguins
Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Crosby has been the face of the NHL for 17+ years, and every player who joins the NHL today and watched him as a kid must still be in awe of him. His leadership, offense, defense, dedication, and achievements make him a no-brainer for first overall.

2. Alex Ovechkin – Washington Capitals, 2004

Career Stats and Achievements:

  • 1,347 GP – 822 Goals – 663 Assists – 1,485 Points
  • 1x Stanley Cup Champion
  • 1x Conn Smythe Trophy
  • 9x Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy
  • 3x Hart Memorial Trophy
  • 2x Ted Lindsay Award
  • 1x Art Ross Trophy
  • 1x Calder Memorial Trophy

The greatest goal-scorer of all time is an easy second pick for me. Though Alex Ovechkin hasn’t passed Wayne Gretzky in career goals yet, he might one day hold the title. Selecting him here may be controversial, but when you take into account the longevity and consistency of his goal-scoring abilities, his leadership, and the physical elements of his game, very few players can match Ovechkin.

Alexander Ovechkin Washington Capitals
Alexander Ovechkin, Washington Capitals (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Ovechkin broke into the league and has become the greatest goal-scorer in NHL history. Being the third player to ever pass 800 goals, he has solidified himself as an all-time great in the history of the game. Passing Gordie Howe with goal number 802 cements this pick for me.

3. Connor McDavid – Edmonton Oilers, 2015

Career Stats and Achievements:

  • 569 GP – 303 Goals – 547 Assists – 850 Points
  • 5x Art Ross Trophy
  • 4x Ted Lindsay Award
  • 3x Hart Memorial Trophy

Connor McDavid has done so well since his draft year, he has become the undisputed top player in the league. He may not touch Gretzky’s points records, but he could challenge a few of them. McDavid has never finished a season under a point-per-game pace and seems to be getting better. His vision, hands, and skating are out of this world, and he can turn any game around in the blink of an eye.

Connor McDavid Edmonton Oilers
Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

The Oilers had a great run in the 2022 NHL Playoffs but fell short to the Colorado Avalanche in the Western Conference Final, getting swept 4-0. During that stretch, McDavid and teammate Leon Draisaitl were both scoring over two points per game and carrying their team. If McDavid can pick up a few more awards, he may move up this list, but for now, he sits third overall. He doesn’t have the same leadership or defensive ability as Crosby and isn’t as physical as Ovechkin, but he plays his own way and will dance through everybody.

4. Patrick Kane – Chicago Blackhawks, 2007

Career Stats and Achievements:

  • 1,180 GP – 451 Goals – 786 Assists – 1,237 Points
  • 3x Stanley Cup Champion
  • 1x Conn Smythe
  • 1x Hart Memorial Trophy
  • 1x Art Toss Trophy
  • 1x Ted Lindsay Award
  • 1x Calder Memorial Trophy

Patrick Kane has cemented himself as one of the greatest American-born players of all time. His production has been among the league’s best over the course of his career and was a huge part of his team’s success in the early 2010s, bringing three Stanley Cups to Chicago. He is ranked second in points in Chicago Blackhawks history, and if he sticks around longer than this season, he has a chance at the number one spot.

Patrick Kane New York Rangers
Patrick Kane, New York Rangers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Kane has had a very healthy and consistent career. This, combined with his talents, legendary status, and both team and individual success make him easily one of the top picks among the last 20 first-overall picks. Many will point to the elite group of players on the Blackhawks’ roster during Kane’s career, contributing to the success, but during their near dynasty years, Kane was their best player.

5. Marc-Andre Fleury – Pittsburgh Penguins, 2003

Career Stats and Achievements:

  • 985 GP – 544 Wins – 0.913 Save Percentage
  • 3x Stanley Cup Champion
  • 1x William M. Jennings Trophy
  • 1x Vezina Trophy

Marc-Andre Fleury has been one of the league’s top goalies over the past 15 years. While it took 17 years to win his first Vezina Trophy, he has always been one of the most consistent goaltenders. With three Stanley Cups to his name, and another two Stanley Cup Final appearances, he has proven over and over again that he can get the job done.

Marc-Andre Fleury Minnesota Wild
Marc-Andre Fleury, Minnesota Wild (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Fleury sits third in all-time NHL wins – and could move into second next season – and he is also tied for third in all-time playoff wins with Grant Fuhr, behind Patrick Roy and Martin Brodeur on both lists. Fleury sits on a very short list of goaltenders to have this much regular season and playoff success.

6. Steven Stamkos – Tampa Bay Lightning, 2008

Career Stats and Achievements:

  • 1,003 GP – 515 Goals – 541 Assists – 1,056 Points
  • 2x Stanley Cup Champion
  • 2x Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy

Steven Stamkos Tampa Bay Lightning
Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

While he only played a short part of a game in the playoff run when he won his first Cup, it came at a crucial time. He was expected to be out for the entire playoffs, but came back in the Final, played three shifts, and scored a goal. The team rallied behind him and won the series. Over the next two playoff runs, he put up 37 points in 46 games. Additionally, Stamkos is one of only four players to hit 60 goals in a season since 2000. His leadership skills are unmatched, and outside of the year he almost went to Toronto in free agency, he has been one of the most loyal players around the league.

7. Auston Matthews – Toronto Maple Leafs, 2016

Career Stats and Achievements:

  • 481 GP – 299 Goals – 243 Assists – 542 Points
  • 2x Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy
  • 1x Hart Memorial Trophy
  • 1x Ted Lindsay Award
  • 1x Calder Memorial Trophy

Auston Matthews has room to move up this list. After coming off a 60-goal, Hart Trophy, and Ted Lindsay Award season, he challenged McDavid for the title of the best player in the NHL for a bit. He has incredible offensive ability and strong defensive play. He is already one of the best players in Maple Leafs’ history and will likely continue to be for many years to come.

Auston Matthews Toronto Maple Leafs
Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Matthews can change the pace of any game, and because of that, most nights, he is the most important player on his team. The only real knock against his game comes from the team’s lack of playoff success, but they are very close to crossing that first-round hump.

8. Nathan MacKinnon – Colorado Avalanche, 2013

Career Stats and Achievements:

  • 709 GP – 284 Goals – 475 Assists – 759 Points
  • 1x Stanley Cup Champion
  • 1x Calder Memorial Trophy
  • 1x Lady Byng Memorial Trophy

Nathan MacKinnon has been through it all. In his 10-year career, he was part of an Avalanche team that finished with 48 points, got stuck in the second-round hump, and also won a Stanley Cup. MacKinnon took a little while to establish himself as one of the top players in the NHL, but since his emergence in the 2017-18 season, he has been regarded as one of the top five players in the NHL, if not top three. MacKinnon is one of the most exciting players to watch in the entire league, as his explosive skating, puck-handling abilities, and passion for success are all on display each shift.

Nathan MacKinnon Colorado Avalanche
Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

MacKinnon has been the centerpiece of a team that includes stars like Gabriel Landeskog, Mikko Rantanen, and Cale Makar. MacKinnon, while not the captain, is the definition of a true leader. He drags his team into battle every game and makes sure everyone is playing to the best of their ability. There is no doubt that he is one of the NHL’s best, and has the potential to move up this list with quite a bit of time left in his career.

9. John Tavares – New York Islanders, 2009

Career Stats and Achievements:

  • 1,029 GP – 427 Goals – 548 Assists – 975 Points

John Tavares has been one of the league’s most consistent players for years. His net-front presence, willingness to get into the dirty areas and leadership skills are among the biggest impacts he makes on the ice. Being captain of his hometown Maple Leafs is a huge task, and he has handled that incredibly well.

John Tavares Toronto Maple Leafs
John Tavares, Toronto Maple Leafs (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Many people question the decision to give him $11 million per year on a long-term contract, however, he has deserved every penny of it with the Maple Leafs. He has been productive in the regular season and in the playoffs. Some individual hardware added to the resume would better cement his legacy, but he doesn’t need it to prove his impact in the NHL.

10. Jack Hughes – New Jersey Devils, 2019

Career Stats and Achievements:

  • 244 GP – 87 Goals – 120 Assists – 207 Points

Jack Hughes is one of the NHL’s top young stars. His production keeps climbing each season, and he will, without a doubt, be a first-line center for a long time. A huge part of why the New Jersey Devils found success in 2022-23, the 22-year-old smashed career highs.

Related: The Worst First-Overall Draft Picks In NHL History

His ceiling is sky-high, and he can become a true first-line center and make a big impact in the playoffs with the Devils. Hughes is a massive part of his team’s success this season, and he is showing he can lead the team with on-ice dominance. It is certainly possible that Hughes works his way into the conversation for some individual awards, such as the Hart and Art Ross trophies. Adding a few of these awards to his resume will help create a case for him to move up this list.

11. Rasmus Dahlin – Buffalo Sabres, 2018

Career Stats and Achievements:

  • 355 GP – 46 Goals – 187 Assists – 233 Points

Rasmus Dahlin has emerged as a top-tier defenseman. His ability to take over a game is unmatched among defensemen his age. He has shown that he is responsible defensively, but his ability to take over any game with his offensive capabilities is where his game truly shines the brightest. With a group of defensive-minded defensemen, such as Owen Power and Mattias Samuelsson, he managed to focus on what he does best.

Rasmus Dahlin Buffalo Sabres
Rasmus Dahlin, Buffalo Sabres (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

I ranked Dahlin over Aaron Ekblad (see below) because Dahlin has already reached Eklblad’s level of skill and play but has a lot more room for development and growth. Dahlin will almost certainly climb this list and could win a Norris Trophy or two over the next few years.

12. Aaron Ekblad – Florida Panthers, 2014

Career Stats and Achievements:

  • 625 GP – 111 Goals – 218 Assists – 329 Points
  • 1x Calder Memorial Trophy

Ekblad has been a very important part of the Florida Panthers’ recent success. The number one defenseman has great offensive upside, while still providing a very strong defensive impact. He might not be a game-breaker, but he is consistently reliable and will provide. Coming off a career year of 57 points in 61 games in 2021-22, expectations are high for him moving forward.

Aaron Ekblad Florida Panthers
Aaron Ekblad, Florida Panthers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Ekblad is worthy of a first-overall selection and a few more seasons at this level of play, and he can jump a bit higher on this list, which isn’t a knock against him. The Panthers depend on Ekblad for a majority of their back-end contributions. When Ekblad misses significant time with injury, it has an impact on the entire roster, which is a testament to how valuable he is.

13. Nico Hischier – New Jersey Devils, 2017

Career Stats and Achievements:

  • 381 GP – 109 Goals – 177 Assists – 286 Points

It took Nico Hischier a few years to come into his own, but he is now emerging as a top two-way center. His defensive impacts are a great complimentary piece to the Devils’ roster, and is earning himself a spot in the Selke Trophy conversation. On top of the defensive play, his offense is also starting to take shape. Hischier is showing that he can be a 70+ point player in the NHL, and with the young Devils team he is on, that skillset will take him and the team a long way in the NHL.

Hischier, who is the current captain of the Devils, takes a lot of pride in his leadership. When the team is struggling, he is the first one to speak to the media, and when they are winning, he gives credit to all of his teammates. The leadership and two-way skills make Hischier a very valuable player and will be an integral part of the team’s success.

14. Owen Power – Buffalo Sabres, 2021

Career Stats and Achievements:

  • 87 GP – 6 Goals – 32 Assists – 38 Points

Owen Power should be a fantastic defenseman for the Sabres for many years to come. He is a towering six-foot, six-inch tall right-handed defenseman. Power has a great defensive game, and is molding into a great shut-down defenseman who has a touch of offensive upside. Though Power elected to return to the NCAA after being drafted, he has broken into the NHL and really made a name for himself.

Owen Power Buffalo Sabres
Owen Power, Buffalo Sabres (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Power is always good defensively, which is a tough feat for a rookie defender, but he can surprise you with his offense at times as well. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Power become one of the league’s top two-way defensemen, similar to Victor Hedman.

15. Taylor Hall – Edmonton Oilers, 2010

Career Stats and Achievements:

  • 822 GP – 264 Goals – 429 Assists – 693 Points
  • 1x Hart Memorial Trophy

Taylor Hall might be one of the most interesting cases. At his peak, he was voted league MVP, winning the Hart Trophy. Though at a point where he was struggling in his career, he was traded for Anders Bjork and a second-round draft pick. Hall has seemingly found a long-term home with the Boston Bruins as a middle-six winger. His production has been around the 60-point pace for a while, but he hasn’t shown that he can be the type of player you want to build a team around.

Taylor Hall, Boston Bruins
Taylor Hall, Boston Bruins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

It’s possible his career would have turned out differently had he not played for a terrible Oilers team. Still, he seems to be having a great bounce-back season after a couple of down years in Arizona and Buffalo, and seems to have found a home in Boston.

16. Alexis Lafreniere – New York Rangers, 2020

Career Stats and Achievements:

  • 216 GP – 47 Goals – 44 Assists – 91 Points

Alexis Lafreniere’s career has been a bit disappointing. He was a highly-touted prospect, expected to have a very high offensive upside. However, he hasn’t been given an extended opportunity at the top of the Rangers’ lineup because of wingers like Artemi Panarin and Chris Kreider who are ahead of him. Recently he’s been playing on the top line, so hopefully, we will finally see his offensive breakout.

Lafreniere has been a versatile asset and has bounced around the lineup, proving he can play wherever he is needed. Lafreniere has the potential to move up this list, but he hasn’t proven he can translate his game to the NHL as expected.

17. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – Edmonton Oilers, 2011

Career Stats and Achievements:

  • 801 GP – 233 Goals – 399 Assists – 632 Points

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is a good NHL player, there is no doubt about that. With good production, two-way play, versatility, and consistency, he has been a valuable asset to the Oilers for most of his career. While not getting a lot of opportunity at the top of the lineup, Nugent-Hopkins is always depended upon for his two-way efforts. He is capable of generating some offense, but his back-checking and defensive efforts make up for any lack of production you may look for out of a first-overall pick.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins Edmonton Oilers
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Edmonton Oilers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Most teams in the NHL would benefit from adding a player like Nugent-Hopkins. A great middle-of-the-lineup asset, who is willing to put everything on the line to help his team win. Every game, you can see the level of dedication he has to the game.

18. Juraj Slafkovsky – Montreal Canadiens, 2022

Career Stats and Achievements:

  • 39 GP – 4 Goals – 6 Assists – 10 Points

Juraj Slafkovsky is the most recent first-overall draft pick, which was a bit of a surprise. It’s hard to place him on this list because we don’t know what he’s capable of. What we do know, however, is that his pedigree points to success. After being named the most valuable player at the 2022 winter Olympics in Beijing, many teams had their eyes on him. He has the potential and talent to become one of the top power forwards in the NHL

19. Erik Johnson – St. Louis Blues, 2006

Career Stats and Achievements:

  • 920 GP – 88 Goals – 249 Assists – 337 Points
  • 1x Stanley Cup Champion

Erik Johnson has had a solid NHL career as a shut-down defenseman. While being stylistic with the puck was never a selling point, he was great at shutting down the opposition’s offense, and sending the puck back the other way. After a very long career, he finally won a Stanley Cup with the Avalanche last season. It is always tough to rank defensive defensemen since stats aren’t a good way of measuring their ability, but regardless of point totals, Johnson was always serviceable.

However, Johnson is not the type of player I would want to build a franchise around. Johnson was a great complimentary piece in the top four for the majority of his career, but never a dominant top defenseman.

20. Nail Yakupov – Edmonton Oilers, 2012

Career Stats and Achievements:

  • 350 GP – 62 Goals – 74 Assists – 136 Points

Nail Yakupov might go down as one of the worst first-overall picks of all time. He only suited up for 350 NHL games before heading to the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL), and he was also the end of a trio of first-overall selections by the Oilers. After four seasons in Edmonton, he was traded to the St. Louis Blues for Zach Pochiro and a third-round pick (Cameron Crotty), neither of which have played an NHL game.

Next Up: Second Overall

Most of this list is made up of dominant players who changed the future of their franchise. These players were the most valued picks in their draft for a reason. Each of these players were selected at the top of their draft for a reason. Some didn’t turn out the way their team expected, while some developed much further than many predicted.

This series will continue with second-overall selections.