NHL Draft Best Picks: 1980s

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The NHL draft is just under a week away. With any draft, talent can be found all throughout. With that in mind, let’s look back at past decades to see the best pick per round to create the absolute best draft class of the decade. This series will look at the drafts from the 1970s, 80s, 90s, and 00s. In this edition, we look at the 1980s.

NHL Draft Best Picks of the 1980s

While the number of rounds for the majority of NHL drafts in the 80s was 12 rounds, this article will only pick 10 rounds.

NHL free agent frenzy

Round 1 – Mario Lemieux (1984)

On the surface, there should have been a bit more deliberation over this pick. There are seven other Hall of Fame players to consider. Then again, you don’t always need to overthink things. Mario Lemieux is the easy choice for the best first-round pick of the 1980s.

Despite being limited by back issues and cancer, Lemieux sits eighth all-time in points with 1,723. Amazingly he was able to produce these totals in only 915 games. His 690 goals are 11th all-time. For some context, everyone ahead of him on the all-time list has played in at least 1,200 games. Based on his 1.88 points per game, if he plays in 300 more games he could have collected 564 more points. That would give him 2,287 and the all-time lead. Now, this is just a fantasy projection but it’s to put in context just how dominant Lemieux was.

On top of his incredible production and perseverance, Lemieux won two Stanley Cups, two Conn Smythes, Six Art Ross Trophies and three Hart Trophies. When he was forced to retire (the first time) due to his back issues in 1997, he had the mandatory Hall of Fame waiting period waived and was elected to the Hall the same year. He also holds one of the most unique records in hockey history, scoring five goals in a game in five different ways. They are even strength, powerplay, shorthanded, penalty shot and empty net.

Other Notable First-Round Picks

Round 2 – Chris Chelios (1981)

The pick for round two was pretty clear as well. The only real challenge to Chris Chelios was Joe Nieuwendyk but Chelios had a far superior career. During his 26-year NHL career, Chelios amassed several accolades. He won three Stanley Cups, and three Norris Trophies. He holds the record for most regular-season games played by a defenceman (1,651) and most games played in the playoffs (266).

Chelios was a hard-nosed defender that made life difficult for the opposition’s best players. He played a physical and intimidating game but could also produce as his 948 career points attest.

Round 3 – Nicklas Lidstrom (1989)

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This might have been the most difficult pick to make. How can you pick between two all-time greats that were part of a classic rivalry? Well, it came down to the slimmest of margins but Nicklas Lidstrom is the pick over Patrick Roy.

Nick Lidstrom had an exceptional career with the Detroit Red Wings. He won four Stanley Cups, a Conn Smythe and seven Norris Trophies. He is the fourth player to win the Norris three years in a row and he did it twice (2001-03, 2006-08). Lidstrom was the first European-born and trained player to win the Norris, the Conn Smythe, captain a team to the Stanley Cup and reach 1,000 career points.

Lidstrom is fourth all-time in points by a defenseman with 1,142. His 264 goals and 878 assists are good for eighth and sixth all-time among defensemen.

Round 4 – Sergei Fedorov (1989)

Sergei Fedorov was a force in the NHL. While there are other Hall of Fame players to debate here (Rob Blake, Mark Recchi and Jari Kurri), Fedorov was the choice. He might not have the points of some of the other players drafted in the fourth round, but he is the most decorated. He is a three-time Stanley Cup champion, a Hart Trophy winner and a two-time Selke Trophy winner. Fedorov is the only player to win both the Hart and Selke in the same year. He is the first European player to win the Hart and the first Russian player to reach 1,000 points.

Famously, he was a member of the Russian Five of the Detroit Red Wings. It was the first time a line was comprised completely of Russian players. Fedorov was joined by Igor Larionov and Vyacheslav Kozlov as forwards and flanked by Viacheslav Fetisov and Vladimir Konstantinov on defence.

Round 5 – Alexander Mogilny (1988)

Alexander Mogilny was the obvious choice in the fifth round. Outside of his historical significance to the game (the first Russian player to defect to join the NHL), he was a star in the league. In 990 games he scored 473 goals and 1,032 points. In 1992 he scored 78 goals, the fifth-best for a single season. While not in the Hall of Fame as of now, there is a huge swell of support for Mogilny to be inducted, so it seems to be only a matter of time. In 2000 Mogilny won the Stanley Cup with the New Jersey Devils.

Round 6 – Brett Hull (1984)

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Brett Hull was an incredible goal scorer. His 741 goals are fifth all-time. Between 1989-90 and 1991-92, Hull scored 228 goals, the second-most by any player in the NHL. His 86 goals in the 1991 season are third-most for a single season of all time. Hull scored at least 50 goals in five consecutive between 1989-90 and 1993-94.

He is a two-time Stanley Cup champion and a Hart Trophy winner. He also famously (or infamously) scored the 1999 Stanley Cup clinching overtime winner for the Dallas Stars. In 1,269 games Hull scored 1391 points.

Round 7 – Doug Gilmour (1982)

Hall of Fame center Doug Gilmour is the runaway seventh-round pick. The Stanley Cup champion amassed 1,414 points in 1,478 games. Gilmour is the Toronto Maple Leafs all-time leader in assists (95) and points (127) in a single season. He also won the Selke Trophy in 1992-93.

Round 8 – Theoren Fleury (1987)

Theo Fleury was a feisty little player who could also score, a lot. Think Brad Marchand. In his career, he scored 455 goals and 1,088 points in 1,084 games. He also won a Stanley Cup with the Calgary Flames in 1989. Despite his small stature (5’6″) Fleury never backed down from any challenge and played with tons of grit.

Round 9 – Luc Robitaille (1984)

Luc Robitaille is the highest-scoring left winger in NHL history with 668 goals and 1,394 points. He is a Stanley Cup champion and a Calder Trophy winner. The Hall of Fame winger was a consistent goal scorer, notching at least 40 goals through his first eight seasons. Then between 1998-2002, he was able to score at least 30 goals.

Round 10 – Dominik Hasek (1983)

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Perhaps the best pick, especially based on value is Dominik Hasek in the 10th round. It’s pretty rare to find this kind of talent this late. Granted part of it had to do with Hasek being from Czechoslovakia and players from the Eastern Block were not allowed to play in the NHL but still, it’s an incredible pick.

The Dominator would win two Stanley Cups, two Hart Trophies (nominated five times), six Vezinas, and three Jennings. He is arguably the greatest goalie in NHL history.

Fun Fact

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Nick Lidstrom, Chris Chelios, Sergei Fedorov, Brett Hull, Luc Robitaille and Dominik Hasek (not to mention notable first-round picks Steve Yzerman and Brendan Shanahan) were all members of the 2002 Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings. While Doug Gilmour and Theo Fleury both played on the 1989 Cup champion Calgary Flames.