Collectors of hockey cards could get a good start on building a nice collection by following the annual National Hockey League Draft to determine who might be pictured on star cards of the future.
That's because the top draft picks often end up being stars, as one might expect, just as the teams that selected them hoped they would be. Increasingly, NHL teams are doing their homework before the draft, this year being held virtually on Oct. 9-10.
The NHL Draft began in 1963. Since then, nine former No. 1 picks have gone on to win the Hart Trophy as the NHL's most valuable player, according to a report in The Boston Globe.
The earliest was Guy LaFleur, top pick in 1971 by the Montreal Canadiens. He earned the Hart Trophy in 1976-77 and 1977-78. “Le Demon Blonde” also earned election into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Another Hall of Famer, Mario Lemieux, was the first pick in the 1984 draft, by the Pittsburgh Penguins. He won the Hart three times (1987-88, 1992-93 and 1995-96).
Eric Lindros was the first overall pick in the 1991 draft, by the Philadelphia Flyers. He earned his Hart Trophy in 1994-95 en route to enshrinement in the Hall of Fame.
The Boston Bruins’ No. 1 pick in 1997 was Joe Thornton, who spent five seasons in Boston before being traded to San Jose. In 14 years with the Sharks thus far, he’s won the Hart Trophy and the Art Ross Trophy, awarded to the NHL's leading scorer.
The Washington Capitals took Alex Ovechkin with the top pick in 2004. He’s won three Harts (2007-08, 2008-09 and 2012-13) to date, while leading the NHL in scoring seven times, plus winning many other NHL and international honors.
Pittsburgh had the top pick in 2005 and the prize was Sidney Crosby, who has two Hart MVP awards (2006-07 and 2013-14), plus a long list of scoring, leadership and other honors.
Patrick Kane became a member of the Chicago Blackhawks after he was the No. 1 pick in 2007. He won the Hart Trophy for his outstanding 2015-16 season.
The Edmonton Oilers took Taylor Hall with the No. 1 pick in 2010 but traded him to the New Jersey Devils in June 2016. He was the NHL's Hart winner in 2017-18, making it three straight years that a top pick won MVP honors.
In 2015, the Oilers’ No. 1 pick was the heralded Connor David, who earned the Hart Trophy in 2016-17.
Since the draft began, the No. 1 spot has yielded several other Hall of Famers, starting with Gilbert Perreault, who joined the Buffalo Sabres after the 1970 draft. He was the NHL's top rookie that year and went on to score 512 goals in 14 seasons in Buffalo to earn his Hall of Fame nod.
The New York Islanders took defenseman Denis Potvin in 1973, the Winnipeg Jets took forward Dale Hawerchuk in 1981, the Minnesota North Stars selected wing Mike Madano in 1988, and the Quebec Nordiques picked center Mats Sundin in 1989. All four ultimately reached the Hall of Fame.
Not yet in the Hall but worthy of some level of fame were other No. 1 picks like Bryan Berard (born in the U.S., Ottawa's pick in 1995), Ilya Kovalchuk (by Atlanta in 2001), Steven Stamkos (by Tampa Bay in 2008) and John Tavares (by the Islanders in 2009).
Of course, there were some No. 1 picks who didn't live up to the top billing including Claude Gauthier (Detroit pick in 1964 who never made it to the NHL), Andre Veilleux (by the New York Rangers in 1965, but no NHL games on his resume), and Rick Pagnutti (1967 top pick by the Los Angeles Kings who never skated in an NHL game). Nor will collectors find their images on hockey cards.
At the other end of the scale, some picks much lower in the draft beat the odds and emerged as stars, as Tom Brady did in the NFL (picked by the New England Patriots in the sixth round of the 2000 NFL Draft) and Mike Piazza did in MLB (picked by the L.A. Dodgers in the 62nd round of the 1988 MLB Draft). Here are a few low-round picks who not only made it to the NHL but reached the Hockey Hall of Fame:
Right-wing Brett Hull wasn't taken until the sixth round of the 1984 draft, the 117th player chosen, despite his high-scoring gene pool. Picked by Calgary, he enjoyed a 19-season NHL career that featured 714 goals, 11 All-Star selections and Hall of Fame induction in 2009.
Doug Gilmore lasted until the seventh round of the 1982 draft when the St. Louis Blues picked him. A top defensive forward, his 20-year career led to the HOF in 2011.
Left-wing Luc Robitaille was a ninth-round pick in 1984 but earned rookie-of-the-year honors in his first season with the Kings. He and teammate David Taylor are the lowest draft choices to record more than 1,000 NHL points. Robitaille went into the Hall of Fame in 2009. Only one Hall of Famer was taken before Robitaille in that draft. He was Tom Glavine, who also was such a good pitcher that he chose baseball over hockey. His great career led him to a different Hall of Fame, the one in Cooperstown.
Other Hall of Famers selected low in the NHL Draft include goalie Dominik Hasek, a 10th-round pick in 1983, and wing Pavel Bure, a sixth-rounder in 1989.
Several Hall of Famers went undrafted, difficult as that is to believe, including goalie Ed Belfour, centers Peter Stastny and Adam Oates, right wings Joe Mullen, Dino Ciccarelli and Martin St. Louis, and defenseman Borje Salming.
The biggest surprise of all, though, has to be the player often referred to as the greatest hockey player in history: Wayne Gretzky (with a conciliatory bow to Bobby Orr fans). “The Great One” wasn't actually drafted but signed a personal services contract with Edmonton of the World Hockey Association. The Oilers retained the rights to him when the team joined the NHL.
One of the most unusual stories about top draft picks involves Rejean Houle, the 1969 draft's No. 1 selection by the Canadiens. He had scored 53 goals in 54 games for the Montreal Junior Canadiens. And he went on to a solid career during 11 seasons with the big-league Canadiens and four with the Nordiques of the World Hockey Association, having 51-goal and 40-goal seasons with Quebec.
After retiring as a player, Houle moved on to the Canadiens front office, eventually serving as the Habs' general manager. It was in that position that his career attracted critics. First, he was widely criticized for some of the trades he made. Ironically, especially for a former top draft choice, critics complained that the only thing worse than his trades were the picks he made in the draft.