From 32 down to 16, readers have spoken on who they think deserves to be considered the best first overall pick in the NHL since 1985. Now, the second round of matchups are set and it’s up to you – the readers – to once again vote on who you think should come out on the other side.
How it Works
For those of you who missed the first round, here’s how this works. We’ve ranked the first overall picks from 1985 to 2016 and created matchups based on their rankings. Nico Hischier, the 2017 first overall pick, has been excluded because we felt that we haven’t seen enough of the young Devil’s forward to this point.
The first round matchups have been tallied and the winners have been re-ranked. Once again, readers will have a chance to vote on each matchup by commenting on the article or reaching out on Twitter at @AndrewGForbes or @Tape2TapeTHW with their vote for as many of the matchups as they feel comfortable. Polls will also be posted by the latter Twitter account – with those numbers taken into account as well.
From there, the list will be cut in half from 16 to eight until we finally reach one champion that you – as the readers – vote upon. With that, here’s how the remaining players stack up.
(1) Joe Thornton vs. (16) Auston Matthews
Thornton was drafted first overall by the Boston Bruins in 1997. To date, he’s tallied 1,418 points in 1,485 regular season games played with the Bruins and Sharks. Having won the 2005-06 Hart and Ross trophies, Thornton has left his mark on the NHL as one of the best playmakers in the game.
He ranks 12th all-time in assists (1,026) and 18th in league history in points (1,418). He’s the second highest when it comes to active players behind only Jaromir Jagr (1,921).
In the first round, Thornton received 94 percent of the 31 votes in his matchup against 1999 pick Patrik Stefan.
His second-round matchup has him lined up against current Maple Leafs’ star Auston Matthews. Matthews was drafted first overall by Toronto in 2016 and went on to win the Calder trophy that year as the NHL’s top rookie. He finished the year with 40 goals and 69 points on his way to leading the team back into the playoffs.
So far, Matthews has notched 58 goals and 101 points in 114 career regular season games. That’s a point-per-game average of 0.89 in comparison to Thornton’s 0.95 career average.
Matthews defeated Roman Hamrlik in the first round by collecting 92 percent of the votes.
(2) Mike Modano vs. (15) Steven Stamkos
Minnesota North Stars’ 1988 pick, Mike Modano, had an illustrious NHL career. In 1,499 regular season games, he tallied 561 goals and 1,374 points. He won his only Stanley Cup with the Dallas Stars in 1998-99 and has since been named to the NHL’s 100 as well as inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2014.
Modano holds the NHL records for most goals and points during the regular season by an American-born player and also holds the record for most playoff points by a U.S.-born player.
In the first round, Modano was matched up against Ottawa’s 1993 pick – Alexandre Daigle. Modano collected 92 percent of the 51 votes that were tallied.
On the other side of this matchup is Lightning star, Steven Stamkos. Up to now, Stamkos has collected 632 points in 626 regular season games. While he’s dealt with a number of major injuries over his short career, the 27-year-old Canadian is still averaging 0.99 points per game.
He has twice won the Rocket Richard trophy in 2009-10 and 2011-12 when he tallied 51 goals and 60 goals respectively. He’s hit the 40-goal mark in four seasons and is on pace for his first 100-point season.
In what was one of the closest matchups of the first round, Stamkos beat out the Islanders’ John Tavares, collecting 65 percent of the 40 votes.
(3) Mats Sundin vs. (14) Marc-Andre Fleury
Over his career, Mats Sundin was a leader on the ice. In 1,346 regular season games played, he recorded 1,349 points. While he never won a Cup, the big Swede did leave his mark on the NHL.
He retired as the all-time leader in a number of categories by a Swedish-born player – including goals (564), points (1,349), power play goals (160), shorthanded goals (31) and game-winning goals (96), while finishing second in regular season games played (1,346) and third in regular season assists (785).
He was named to the NHL 100 list and inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2012.
Looking back on his first matchup, Sundin topped goaltender Rick DiPietro by collecting 91 percent of the 32 votes tallied.
In his second-round matchup, Sundin will take on another goaltender in Vegas’ Marc-Andre Fleury.
Fleury was drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins first overall in 2003. Up until this season, he was the franchise’s goaltender and led the team to multiple Stanley Cups (2009, 2016 and 2017). At the time he was drafted, he was just the third goalie to be taken first overall, joining DiPietro (2000) and Michel Plasse (1968).
Fleury ranks 26th all-time in regular season games played (702), 15th all-time in regular season wins (383) and 13th in playoff wins (62).
Fleury notched another win in the first round taking 65 percent of the votes to beat former Leafs’ fan favourite Wendel Clark.
(4) Pierre Turgeon vs. (13) Patrick Kane
The Sabres grabbed Pierre Turgeon first overall in 1987. From there, the native of Rouyn, Quebec, went on to score 515 goals and 1,327 points in 1,294 regular season games – an average of 1.03 points per game.
He won the Lady Byng in 1992-93 when he notched 132 points and 26 penalty minutes in 83 games played with the Islanders. He finished his career ranked 32nd all-time in points – among some of the greatest players to play in the NHL.
Turgeon topped Erik Johnson in the first round, collecting 83 percent of the 29 votes that were tallied.
Up next, is Blackhawks’ sniper Patrick Kane who outlasted Joe Murphy in the first round with 92 percent approval rating from the voters.
To date, Kane has recorded 302 goals and 792 points in just 780 regular season games for the Blackhawks – who drafted the 29-year-old first overall in 2007.
Kane’s trophy case has filled up over his NHL career – with the 2015-16 Art Ross, 2015-16 Ted Lindsay, 2015-16 Hart, 2012-13 Conn Smythe, 2007-08 Calder sitting alongside three Stanley Cups (2010, 2013 and 2015).
While he’s still playing, Kane was also named to the NHL 100 list thanks to his on-ice accomplishments.
(5) Alex Ovechkin vs. (12) Rick Nash
In 2004, the Capitals drafted their franchise player in Ovechkin. Since then, he’s remained one of the most prolific scorers in the NHL. He’s already surpassed the 500-goal plateau and could very well hit the 600-goal mark this season, while his point total has crept to 1,078 in just 962 regular season games.
One Art Ross, six Maurice Richard trophies, three Ted Lindsay awards, three Hart trophies and a Calder trophy – the awards he’s earned over his career speak for themselves. Still, Ovechkin hasn’t been able to capture the Stanley Cup. But that didn’t stop the NHL from naming him to their top 100 list last season and it certainly won’t stop him from one day entering the Hall of Fame.
He’s scored more goals than any other Russian-born player to play in the NHL and sits second in points behind Sergei Fedorov. Which is likely why Ovechkin scored 94 percent of the votes in the first round against fellow Russian Nail Yakupov.
That said, he’s up against Rick Nash this time around. Nash was drafted two years before Ovechkin in 2002 by the Columbus Blue Jackets and has gone on to put up 788 points in 1,029 career regular season games.
Like Ovi, Nash hasn’t hoisted the Cup in his career, but he does have a couple other awards to his name. Those include the 2003-04 Maurice Richard trophy and the 2008-09 NHL Foundation Player Award.
Nash earned 54 percent of the votes in his first-round matchup with Ed Jovanovski – barely topping the long-time NHL defenceman on his way to the second round.
(6) Sidney Crosby vs. (11) Connor McDavid
In arguably the most difficult second-round matchup, Sidney Crosby takes on another franchise player in Connor McDavid.
Crosby was drafted by the Penguins in the memorable 2005 draft when a lottery was held to see who would be rewarded with the first overall pick. And Crosby hasn’t disappointed. Even with the number of injuries he’s dealt with over his career, Crosby remains one of the best players to take to the ice in the NHL.
Who was a better 1st overall pick? #THW
— Tape2Tape (@Tape2TapeTHW) January 7, 2018
In 825 regular season games, he’s scored 397 goals and 1,067 points. That’s an average of 1.29 points per game over his career. He’s 65th all-time in league scoring, but has made the Penguins a perennial contender.
He’s won three Stanley Cups (2009, 2016 and 2017) and twice was named the playoff MVP earning him the Conn Smythe trophy. Add to that his two Hart trophies, his three Ted Lindsay awards, his two Art Ross trophies, his two Maurice Richard trophies and his Mark Messier Leadership award and it’s no wonder he was named to the NHL’s 100 list.
He tossed Chris Phillips aside in his first round matchup, earning 93 percent of the votes.
His dance partner this round, however, is McDavid. While we haven’t seen nearly as much of the Oilers’ star to this point, what we have seen so far is impressive.
He has 195 points in 169 regular season games and has already started filling his mantle with hardware. The Art Ross, Ted Lindsay and Hart Memorial trophies in his sophomore season showed just how talented this kid really is, and he’s continued that in his third season with the Oilers.
While he knocked off Taylor Hall in the first round with a 91 percent approval rating, he might have a tough time doing it again against a guy like Crosby.
(7) Vincent Lecavalier vs. (10) Ilya Kovalchuk
A 1998 pick for the Tampa Bay Lightning, Vincent Lecavalier would eventually wear the ‘C’ for the club that picked him first overall. He tallied 949 points in 1,212 regular season games and added 56 in 75 career playoff games – capturing one Cup in 2003-04.
On top of that, Lecavalier earned the Maurice Richard trophy in 2006-07 as well as the King Clancy and NHL Foundation Player awards in 2007-08 before retiring following the 2015-16 season. He finished his career among the top 100 point-getters all-time in the NHL and needed just 51 more points to hit the 1,000-point plateau.
Still, he topped Bryan Berard in the first round with the biggest differential as he earned 97 percent of the votes.
On the other side of this matchup is Ilya Kovalchuk. Drafted in 2001 by the Atlanta Thrashers, he had one of the best shots in the league for a number of years. That was until he left the NHL to head back to Russia – joining the KHL.
Still, Kovalchuk finished with 417 goals and 816 points in 816 regular season games – earning the Maurice Richard trophy in 2003-04 when he scored 41 goals. He’s sixth all-time in goals and eighth in points among Russian-born skaters – which could change if he finds a way to return to the NHL before his hockey career is over.
He earned 79 percent of the votes over Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon in their first-round matchup.
(8) Owen Nolan vs. (9) Eric Lindros
In the final matchup of the second round, Quebec’s 1990 first overall pick in Owen Nolan takes on their 1991 first overall pick in Eric Lindros.
Nolan notched 885 points in 1,200 career regular season games. He played for a number of teams after spending most of his career with the Nordiques and Sharks. While he doesn’t have the same kind of hardware as some of the others on this list, he did play a major leadership role on many of the teams he was a part of.
That’s likely why he earned 83 percent of the votes in his first-round matchup with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
Who was a better 1st overall pick? #THW
— Tape2Tape (@Tape2TapeTHW) January 7, 2018
As for Lindros, he was a power forward that changed the role within the game. A long-time Flyer, his career was cut short thanks to a number of concussions. Still, he managed 865 points in 760 regular season games – an average of 1.14 points per game.
He earned both the Ted Lindsay and Hart Memorial trophies in 1994-95 when he tallied 70 points in just 46 games for the Flyers, but notched his career high the following season when he recorded 115 points in 73 games.
He knocked off Aaron Ekblad in his first-round matchup, securing 87 percent of the votes to advance to the second round.
With that, readers now have a week to place their votes for each matchup before the bracket is condensed from 16 to just eight first overall picks. Votes can be placed by responding to this article in the comments section below or by reaching out on Twitter.
Have thoughts about the column? Let me know on Twitter at @AndrewGForbes or @Tape2TapeTHW.
Tape2Tape is a column looking at some of the biggest stories from around the world of hockey. Discussing different topics, it focuses on delivering some opinion to hockey’s biggest fans. Whether you agree or disagree, we would love to hear your thoughts.
Andrew is in his 8th year reporting for The Hockey Writers covering the Toronto Maple Leafs. He began his broadcasting with CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada team as well as being part of their coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. He’s the former play-by-play voice of the London Jr. Knights for Rogers TV and currently hosts the Sticks in the 6ix podcast. You can follow him on Twitter at @AndrewGForbes.