Since 1969, players have typically entered the National Hockey League through the Amateur Draft or Entry Draft. Those taken early come with expectations – a definition of how their career is supposed to end up. Others, who are taken later in the draft, sometimes have unexpected careers. They surprise everyone who passed on them – and even some of those who ended up picking them.
Now, when it comes to the fourth overall pick, there’s a rich history that accompanies it. In fact, there have been 46 fourth overall picks since the draft era started in earnest in 1969. Of those 46 picks, 26 teams have picked fourth in the draft.
- Four times: New York Islanders and Vancouver Canucks
- Three times: Washington Capitals, Los Angeles Kings, Philadelphia Flyers and Columbus Blue Jackets
- Two times: Pittsburgh Penguins, Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins, St. Louis Blues, Detroit Red Wings and Anaheim Ducks
- One time: Minnesota North Stars, New York Rangers, Montreal Canadiens, Hartford Whalers, Winnipeg Jets, Quebec Nordiques, Edmonton Oilers, Florida Panthers, Carolina Hurricanes, Minnesota Wild, Atlanta Thrashers, New Jersey Devils, Nashville Predators and Calgary Flames
History of the Fourth Overall Pick
In 46 years of draft history, the fourth overall pick has led to some very interesting choices. In 1979, the Washington Capitals selected Mike Gartner. The following year, the Kings took Larry Murphy. And in 1981 the Hartford Whalers nabbed Ron Francis. Even in 1997, the Islanders chose Roberto Luongo at fourth – a pick that continues to excel in the NHL.
Of the 46 players taken fourth overall since 1969, all played in the NHL at some point in their career. These 46 players averaged about 616 regular season games during their careers and about 395 points.
Now, some of those players didn’t even come close to these averages, while others doubled and nearly tripled the totals. Some like Steve Yzerman (drafted fourth overall in 1983) are Hall of Famers. Others like Nicklas Backstrom (drafted in 2006) and Alex Pietrangelo (drafted in 2008) are still playing in the league – and will likely push these numbers up.
The Maple Leafs at Number Four
Toronto’s picked fourth in the NHL draft twice since 1969. Both times the player has seen time in the NHL – including one Hall of Fame career.
The first time the Leafs held this spot in the draft, they picked Lanny McDonald in 1973. McDonald went on to play 17 seasons in the NHL racking up 1,111 regular season games and 1,006 points (500g-506a) over his career.
McDonald won the Bill Masterton trophy (1982-83), the King Clancy trophy (1987-88) and the Stanley Cup with the Calgary Flames in 1989. He was such a valuable player that he was the first player in Flames history to have his number retired by the team.
As a Leaf from 1973 to 1980, he played 477 regular season games tallying 459 points (219g-240a). He helped Toronto to five playoff seasons – scoring 37 points (20g-17a) in 45 games. While he never brought a Cup to Toronto, he’s still one of the most recognized Leafs of all-time.
Secondly in 1984, the Maple Leafs drafted Al Iafrate with their most recent fourth overall pick. While Iafrate was plagued with injuries throughout his 12-year career, he did put up some great numbers as an NHL defenceman.
Playing with the Leafs from 1984 to 1991, Iafrate played 472 games for the Leafs during the regular season with 250 points (81g-169a). He had two seasons of over 50 points including a 63-point season for Toronto in 1989-90.
Over his entire career, Iafrate notched 463 points (152g-311a) in 799 regular season games to go along with 1,301 penalty minutes. While he did retire at the age of 32, he had a relatively successful journey in the NHL for a defenceman that missed two seasons in the middle of his career.
Maple Leafs and the 2015 Fourth Overall Pick
As rumours circle surrounding the upcoming draft, one of the questions surrounding the Leafs is whether they will use their fourth overall pick or trade it.
“We’re open for everything,” said Mark Hunter in a piece by the Toronto Star’s Kevin McGran. “As of right now, we’ll likely draft with the fourth pick. But we’ll see what happens.”
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) June 7, 2015
As they should. Look at what they’ve done with the fourth pick in the past. McDonald and Iafrate were both impactful players during their careers – both as Leafs and with other franchises. Is that not enough?
Think of these former fourth overall picks: Larry Murphy, Ron Francis, Steve Yzerman, Stu Barnes, Mike Ricci, Paul Kariya, Roberto Luongo, Nicklas Backstrom, Alex Pietrangelo, Ryan Johansen and – most recently – Sam Bennett.
While it will be a difficult decision, following Arizona’s already tough choice at three, the Leafs need to consider the history of the pick and the depth of the draft. Picking fourth is a great opportunity for the Leafs to start their much-needed rebuild – it’s a pick they simply can’t pass up.
For more, follow Andrew on Twitter at @AndrewGForbes or his THW column at @Tape2TapeTHW.
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.