Welcome to a brand new series here at The Hockey Writers called “Road to the Draft.” In this series, our draft contributors will count down from 32nd to 1st overall and revisit each player taken with that pick between 2010 and 2020.
The goal of this series is to reflect on some of the biggest steals and some of the biggest busts taken in the first round over the past ten years, as well as to shine a light on who was selected with the corresponding pick at the 2021 NHL Draft.
Related: THW’s 2021 NHL Draft Guide
There’s a good mix of players who were taken fourth overall. Star power is evident in this edition, as several players are on the path to becoming bonafide superstars, while others are just starting to catch their stride.
Beyond the ten-year purview, fan favorites and NHL legends such as Steve Yzerman, Lanny McDonald, and Paul Kariya were selected fourth overall. More recently, Roberto Luongo, Nicklas Backstrom, and Alex Pietrangelo became members of the class; the latter two are still playing.
2010 – Ryan Johansen (Center, Columbus Blue Jackets)
Johansen has been a dependable top-six center throughout his career. He got his start with the Columbus Blue Jackets after a strong stint in the Western Hockey League (WHL) with the Portland Winterhawks, where he had 25 and 40-goal seasons. He was traded to Nashville, for another player on this list, during the 2015-16 season.
Johansen has scored 60-plus points three times, 70-plus points once, and has a career 56 Corsi for percentage (CF%). His team is a lot more successful with him on the ice than without. He sees occasional penalty killing time but is consistently out on the power play. However, he’s seen a drop in offensive production over the past two seasons.
He’s signed through the 2024-25 season at $8 million per year. The Predators will be in good shape if he has a bounce-back offensive season.
2011 – Adam Larsson (Defenseman, New Jersey Devils)
Larsson is mostly remembered for the one-for-one trade that sent him from the Devils to the Edmonton Oilers. It’s a shame because he’s had several solid seasons as a shutdown defenseman and should bring stability to the Seattle Kraken’s blue line after he was selected in the expansion draft.
He is likely to slot into their top-four and should offer their more offensive defensemen the leeway to play a puck-moving game. The expansion draft was defense-heavy, and signing Larsson to a four-year deal right off the bat says a lot about the Kraken’s confidence in him going forward.
2012 – Griffin Reinhart (Defenseman, New York Islanders)
Reinhart has size, at 6-foot-4, and showed decent offensive potential in junior, but couldn’t translate his game to the NHL. He’s played just 37 NHL games, recording two assists, and hasn’t played in North America since the 2018-19 season.
Despite that he only played eight games – and registered one assist – with the Islanders, Reinhart helped make them the contender they are today. He was traded to the Oilers for two draft picks in the 2015 Draft, one of which turned into their star center Mathew Barzal.
2013 – Seth Jones (Defenseman, Nashville Predators)
Jones has turned into what every general manager hopes for from a fourth-overall pick. He plays in all situations, can put up points, and can lead. He was drafted following a strong 17-year-old season with the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks. It wasn’t until he was traded for fellow Winterhawk alumnus Johansen that he caught fire.
Jones scored double-digit goals in his first two full seasons in Columbus, and his strong play secured him an eight-year, $76 million contract with the Chicago Blackhawks. Many have criticized the deal; however, arriving in Chicago with a chip on his shoulder will be good motivation for Jones to help a team with an aging core make it back to the playoffs.
2014 – Sam Bennett (Center, Calgary Flames)
Bennett needed a change of scenery to excel. After a strong junior career with the Ontario Hockey League’s (OHL) Kingston Frontenacs, he stepped into the NHL and played a minor, bottom-six role with the Calgary Flames; he was also consistently more effective in the postseason.
Offensively, Bennett had a career-worst season in 2019-20. Despite another strong postseason, his offensive production dipped again in 2020-21 before he was traded to the Florida Panthers. The change worked and he scored six goals and 15 points in 10 games, before adding on another five points in five playoff games. Bennett’s play earned him a four-year, $17.7 million contract with the Panthers.
2015 – Mitch Marner (Right Wing, Toronto Maple Leafs)
Marner has become a playmaking force in the NHL. He was fantastic for the Ontario Hockey League’s (OHL) London Knights before he stepped into the Toronto Maple Leafs lineup and produced. He put up 19 goals and 61 points in 77 games as a rookie and missed out on the Calder Memorial Trophy to teammate Auston Matthews.
Marner has continued to improve, and he’s been a point-per-game player since his career-high 26-goal and 94-point season in 2018-19. He had a career-high 1.22 points per game last season. However, despite his regular-season success, he hasn’t been able to help the Maple Leafs past the first round thus far in his career, including this season which was another in a long line of recent playoff collapses.
2016 – Jesse Puljujärvi (Right Wing, Edmonton Oilers)
It looks like Puljujärvi will be sticking around the NHL for a while. He became a restricted free agent after playing most of three seasons in Edmonton, but when the Oilers refused to trade him upon request, he returned to the Finnish Elite League (SM-liiga). He had a strong showing there before re-signing with the Oilers this past season.
Puljujärvi is coming off a career year with 15 goals and 25 points in 55 games. He also enjoyed career highs in both ice time and power-play time and could develop into a mid-six piece for the Oilers for years to come.
2017 – Cale Makar (Defenseman, Colorado Avalanche)
Makar has come every bit as advertised. Compared to some of the players taken ahead of him in the 2017 Draft, he is a steal for the Avalanche. The 22-year-old Calder Trophy winner has earned every cent of his new contract and the sky’s the limit especially given the strong team around him.
Makar has 94 points in 101 games in his two-season NHL career, though neither has been a full season because of the pandemic. He has been a point-per-game player since the 2019-20 postseason and will be a perennial Norris Trophy candidate for years to come.
2018 – Brady Tkachuk (Left Wing, Ottawa Senators)
Tkachuk is well on his way to becoming one of the most entertaining young players in the league. He plays with an edge and is a constant thorn in the opposition’s side, but he also brings skill to the Ottawa Senators’ top-six.
He led the NHL in fights this past season, yet he also scored 20-plus goals in his first two seasons and was on pace to replicate that in the COVID-shortened season in 2020-21. Tkachuk is popular among his teammates and could be in line to be the next Senators captain.
2019 – Bowen Byram (Defenseman, Colorado Avalanche)
Byram could be the next piece on an already deep Avalanche blue line. He was an alternate captain in his final two seasons with the WHL’s Vancouver Giants and scored 40 goals and 123 points in 117 games.
He stepped right into the NHL following his final season in Vancouver, and despite only tallying two assists in his first 19 NHL games, he had a strong World Junior tournament where he captained Team Canada and scored five points in seven games. He also has some bite to his game, already dropping before he’s scored his first NHL goal. He and Makar, also on this list, should be staples on the Colorado defense for years.
2020 – Lucas Raymond (Left Wing, Detroit Red Wings)
Raymond is a goalscorer who has yet to make the jump to North America but is likely to come over next season. He was a point-per-game player at the World Juniors and played the last two seasons for Frölunda HC of the Swedish Hockey League (SHL). He scored six goals and 18 points in 34 games this past season.
Raymond is known for his offensive skills, his forechecking ability, and hockey sense. He should be a key part of the Detroit Red Wings’ rebuild going forward. He will likely spend time in the American Hockey League next season, as he needs to transition to North American ice. However, if he can play top minutes with players like Tyler Bertuzzi and Dylan Larkin when he reaches the NHL, he should have a successful rookie season.
2021 – Luke Hughes (Defenseman, New Jersey Devils)
Hughes is the most recent draftee and one of three Hughes brothers, along with Jack and Quinn, to be selected in the top-10. He’s a strong skating and mobile defenseman who uses his 6-foot-2 frame to protect the puck.
Hughes will be attending the University of Michigan next season. With the emergence of Ty Smith, the Ryan Graves acquisition, and Dougie Hamilton signing, Hughes should be walking into a Devils defensive corps that can help the team become contenders. He has the potential to be a top-two defenseman like his older brother Quinn.
ALL TIME PLAYERS TAKEN 4th OVERALL
1963 – Al Osborne (Right Wing, New York Rangers)
1964 – Richie Bayes (Center, Chicago Blackhawks)
1965 – Joe Bailey (Forward, Boston Bruins)
1966 – John Wright (Center, Toronto Maple Leafs)
1967 – Wayne Chessman (Defenseman, Minnesota North Stars)
1968 – Garry Swain (Center, Pittsburgh Penguins)
1969 – Frank Spring (Right Wing, Boston Bruins)
1970 – Rick MacLeish (Left Wing, Boston Bruins)
1971 – Gene Carr (Center, St. Louis Blues)
1972 – Steve Shutt (Left Wing, Montreal Canadiens)
1973 – Lanny McDonald (Right Wing, Toronto Maple Leafs)
1974 – Clark Gillies (Left Wing, New York Islanders)
1975 – Bryan Maxwell (Defenseman, Minnesota North Stars)
1976 – Fred Williams (Center, Detroit Red Wings)
1977 – Jere Gillis (Left Wing, Vancouver Canucks)
1978 – Bill Derlago (Center, Vancouver Canucks)
1979 – Mike Gartner (Right Wing, Washington Capitals)
1980 – Larry Murphy (Defenseman, Los Angeles Kings)
1981 – Ron Francis (Center, Hartford Whalers)
1982 – Ron Sutter (Center, Philadelphia Flyers)
1983 – Steve Yzerman (Center, Detroit Red Wings)
1984 – Al Iafrate (Defenseman, Toronto Maple Leafs)
1985 – Jim Sandlak (Right Wing, Vancouver Canucks)
1986 – Zarley Zalapski (Defenseman, Pittsburgh Penguins)
1987 – Wayne McBean (Defenseman, Los Angeles Kings)
1988 – Darrin Shannon (Left Wing, Pittsburgh Penguins)
1989 – Stu Barnes (Center, Winnipeg Jets)
1990 – Mike Ricci (Center, Philadelphia Flyers)
1991 – Scott Lachance (Defenseman, New York Islanders)
1992 – Todd Warriner (Left Wing, Quebec Nordiques)
1993 – Paul Kariya (Left Wing, Anaheim Mighty Ducks)
1994 – Jason Bonsignore (Center, Edmonton Oilers)
1995 – Chad Kilger (Center, Anaheim Mighty Ducks)
1996 – Alexandre Volchkov (Right Wing, Washington Capitals)
1997 – Roberto Luongo (Goaltender, New York Islanders)
1998 – Bryan Allen (Defenseman, Vancouver Canucks)
1999 – Pavel Brendl (Left Wing, New York Rangers)
2000 – Rostislav Klesla (Defenseman, Columbus Blue Jackets)
2001 – Stephen Weiss – (Center, Florida Panthers)
2002 – Joni Pitkanen (Defenseman, Philadelphia Flyers)
2003 – Nikolai Zherdev – (Right Wing, Columbus Blue Jackets
2004 – Andrew Ladd (Left Wing, Carolina Hurricanes)
2005 – Benoit Pouliot (Left Wing, Minnesota Wild)
2006 – Nicklas Backstrom (Center, Washington Capitals)
2007 – Thomas Hickey (Defenseman, Los Angeles Kings)
2008 – Alex Pietrangelo (Defenseman, St. Louis Blues)
2009 – Evander Kane (Left Wing, Atlanta Thrashers)
Sean Raggio lives for hockey. He will be covering the Seattle Kraken, and is a co-host of “What’s Kraken” for THW. Sean gained experience in writing for television, print and radio while studying journalism at Quinnipiac University and being an active member in the student media organizations there. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to reach out on Twitter! A link can be found at the bottom of his articles, such as this one.