With the draft on the horizon, we thought it would be a good time to remind you of which teams have never picked first in the NHL Entry Draft.
Written by former contributor James Tanner and originally published on Sept. 7, 2015.
It’s no secret that the first-overall draft pick represents a massive chance for teams to become annual Stanley Cup competitors.
The Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals, St. Louis Blues, Chicago Blackhawks and Tampa Bay Lightning all picked first overall during a five-year period between 2004 and 2008 and it’s no coincidence that all five teams have been among the NHL’s most competitive throughout the 2010s. Sure, you have your exceptions — the Detroit Red Wings and Los Angeles Kings come to mind — but for the most part, picking first overall is a key component to icing a great team.
With that being said, let’s take a look at the nine franchises who have never picked first in the draft.
While the Ducks have a Stanley Cup and the pleasure of having dressed Scott Niedermayer, Teemu Selanne, Chris Pronger, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, and Paul Kariya, they’ve never had the top pick. The highest the Ducks ever picked was second, and they did it twice: in 2005 (Bobby Ryan), and in 1994 (Oleg Tverdovsky). Their 2021 first-round pick — Mason McTavish — was the No. 3-overall selection.
The Flames joined the NHL out of Atlanta in 1972 and have never picked first overall. Amazingly, before picking Sam Bennett fourth overall in 2014, the highest they’d ever picked while in Calgary was sixth in 1992 when they chose Cory Stillman.
As the Atlanta Flames, they picked second the first two years of their existence, selecting Jacques Richard in 1972 and Tom Lysiak in 1973. Their best pick was Brett Hull in the 1984 draft after he had been passed over with no one taking him in each of the two previous drafts. Unfortunately, that was also the year Mario Lemieux was picked, so we can’t even say the Flames got a de facto No. 1 that year!
Long live the Whale. Who knows what would have happened if the owners of the NHL’s best all-time jerseys had been a little luckier in the draft? Would they have won a Stanley Cup in Hartford and subsequently saved the Whale? It’s possible, but if the Whalers couldn’t succeed with Ron Francis (fourth overall pick in 1981) as the face of their franchise, there’s a good chance no one could have brought a championship to Hartford.
The franchise has picked second four times since joining the NHL:
- 1983 – Sylvain Turgeon
- 1993 – Chris Pronger
- 2003 – Eric Staal
- 2018 – Andrei Svechnikov
One final note: The Whalers/Hurricanes franchise has been in existence since 1979 and are the third-oldest team to have never picked first in the draft.
The Wild have only been around since 2000-01, so the fact that they’ve never picked first isn’t really a mathematical surprise in a now 32-team league. The highest they have picked was when they took Marian Gaborik third in 2000.
The Predators joined the NHL two years before the Wild, and like the Wild, they’ve never had the top pick. They did once have the No. 2 pick once and selected David Legwand. The best draft they have had, however, is the 2003 draft when they used their first pick on Ryan Suter at No. 7 and Shea Weber at No. 49.
San Jose Sharks
Founded in 1991, the Sharks wasted their first and (tied for) highest-ever draft pick, second overall, on Pat Falloon. They would go on to select six straight middling-to-terrible first-round picks—including wasting another No. 2 on Andrei Zyuzin in 1996—until 1997, when they selected Patrick Marleau second overall.
The No. 1-overall pick in 1997 ended up joining the Sharks in 2005. You may have heard of him: Joe Thornton. Because of this, the Sharks’ annual status as Stanley Cup competitors can be attributed to essentially getting the top two picks in a draft that had two No. 1-worthy top picks. Both players will go to the Hall of Fame and, much like the Ducks, the Sharks’ presence on this list is a mere technicality.
Though the 2021 NHL Draft was the only draft the Seattle Kraken participated in, they did come close to choosing first overall. Instead, the Kraken wound up with the second-overall pick and chose center Matty Beniers out of the University of Michigan.
The Canucks joined the NHL in 1970 and are the longest-serving NHL team to never have the top pick in the draft. In their first draft, they picked Dale Tallon at No. 2 and didn’t pick that high again until 1988, when they took Trevor Linden.
In 1999, they made up for never getting the first pick by selecting both Daniel and Henrik Sedin with the No. 2 and 3 selections. That is the year when Patrik Stefan was the top pick, so the Canucks essentially got two No. 1-overall picks.
Vegas Golden Knights
When the Vegas Golden Knights entered the league in 2017, the franchise was awarded the sixth-overall pick after the NewJersey Devils, Philadelphia Flyers, and Dallas Stars snuck into the top three. There, the Golden Knights chose center Cody Glass.
Fortunately or unfortunately, that’s the closest Vegas has come to a No. 1-overall selection. They’ve been a playoff team since joining the NHL and have not had the luxury of a lottery pick.
Tony Wolak is based in the Washington D.C. area and covers the Detroit Red Wings for THW. As a former junior and college hockey player, Tony has a unique perspective on Red Wings topics.