Being drafted first overall is a memory that lasts a lifetime. There have been 56 players with the honor of being the top pick in the NHL Draft. Of those players, eight were American and three were from the New England area.
Of those three players, two hailed from the high school powerhouse program Mount Saint Charles in Woonsocket, Rhode Island, while the third hailed from the St. Sebastian’s Prep School in Needham, Massachusetts. All three played for over a decade in the NHL.
1983: Brian Lawton, Minnesota North Stars
Lawton became the first and only American-born high school player to be selected No. 1 when the North Stars picked him. He was ranked first by the NHL Central Scouting Bureau before his selection.
Lawton spent 12 years in the league playing for six different teams. The first six years of his career were in Minnesota before he bounced around over the final six.
He split time in the 1988-89 season between the New York Rangers and Hartford Whalers. The following year, he played the first 14 games of the season with the Whalers, then played 13 games with the Quebec Nordiques and 8 with the Boston Bruins. After two seasons with the San Jose Sharks, he was traded to the New Jersey Devils following the 1992-93 season. He retired before donning the Devils uniform. He is now an analyst for the NHL Network.
It was an up and down career for the left-shot Lawton, who never lived up to the expectations of the top pick. In 483 career games, he scored 112 goals and had 154 assists. His best season production-wise was in the 1986-87 season when he scored 21 goals and 23 assists for the North Stars.
1995: Bryan Berard, Ottawa Senators
Twelve years after Lawton was chosen first overall, Berard, who was also a standout at Moun Saint Charles High School, was selected No. 1 by the Senators. A physical defenseman, Berard was another top pick that played for multiple teams over 13 years.
Ottawa grew impatient with Berard’s development and a year after drafting him, they traded him to the New York Islanders for his first of two stints on Long Island. He spent two and a half years with the Islanders before being dealt to the Toronto Maple Leafs for their 1998-99 run to the Eastern Conference Final. Early in his career, he was considered one of the best two-way defensemen in the NHL.
In his playoff run with the Maple Leafs, he scored one goal and had nine assists in 17 games in 1999, all on the power play. Unfortunately, that was the only playoff run of his career, as he played in just three postseason games for the Bruins in 2003, his only other playoff experience. Over the next six seasons, he bounced between five different teams (Rangers, Bruins, Chicago Blackhawks, Columbus Blue Jackets and the Islanders for a second time) before retiring after the 2008-09 season.
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In March of 2000, Berard suffered a gruesome injury when a young Senators forward Marian Hossa struck him in the right eye on the follow-through of a shot. He needed multiple surgeries before he could return to the ice.
A tough defenseman at 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds, Berard won the Calder Memorial Trophy in his rookie season. He was also named to the NHL All-Rookie Team in 1997 when he had a career-best eight goals and 40 assists. Berard played in 619 games and scored 76 goals (41 on the power play) and 247 assists. However, he did have a woeful minus-98 for his career.
2000: Rick DiPietro, New York Islanders
A highly talented goaltender from Winthrop, Massachusetts and the St. Sebastian’s Prep School, DiPietro was selected first overall by the Islanders after his freshman year at Boston University. He had an up-and-down 13-year career, battling injuries and receiving criticism for one of the biggest contracts in NHL history.
Mike Milbury was the Islanders general manager in 2000 when DiPietro was selected. As a freshman at BU, he made the Hockey East All-Rookie Team, was a Hockey East Rookie of the Year and team co-MVP. In his final collegiate game, he made 77 saves in a quadruple overtime loss to St. Lawrence University in the NCAA Tournament.
After playing 30 games in his first three years in the NHL, because of injuries, DiPietro had the best three-year stretch of his career from 2003-2007. He had an 85-61-19 record over that span and had his career-best 2.36 goals-against average (GAA) in 2003-04. He won 30 games or more the next two seasons for the Islanders, one which ended in a first-round playoff exit in 2004.
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Following the 2005-06 season, the Islanders gave DiPietro a 15-year, $67.5 million contract, which was a disaster. He dealt with injuries over the next seven years, ranging from groin injuries, multiple concussions, a knee injury, and a hip injury.
To make matters worse, he went 32-19-9 in his first year of the contract, but was below .500 the remainder of the deal. He had a 40-55-14 record over the next six seasons while battling his list of injuries. On Feb. 2, 2011, he fought Pittsburgh Penguin goalie Brent Johnson at the end of a game. He was knocked out with one punch from Johnson and suffered a broken jaw.
In February of the 2012-13 season, they sent DiPietro to the American Hockey League in Bridgeport, Connecticut hoping he could find his game after three bad games that season. He gave up 12 goals with a 4.09 GAA and a .855 save percentage (SV%) in three outings, but ultimately, New York decided it wasn’t going to work out that summer.
On July 1, 2013, the Islanders moved on from DiPietro and his contract. They placed him on unconditional waivers and used a compliance buyout on his contract. He finished 131-136-36 with a 2.87 GAA and a .902 SV% for the Islanders.
In the 56 years of the NHL Draft, three first overall picks were from New England. Though they had long careers, all three never achieved the success they might have hoped for, but they will always be remembered as the top picks from their draft class.