NHL Draft Best Picks: The 1990s

NHL Draft

The NHL draft is today! 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 1990s.

NHL Draft Best Picks of the 1990s

During the 90s the NHL draft ranged from 12 to nine rounds. To simplify this list will be limited to eight rounds. As you will read, the 90s saw an explosion of European players into the NHL. It’s reflected in this list. There are no North American players to make the best picks of the 90s list.

Another thing to keep in mind is that scoring was very suppressed for the majority of these players’ careers so some of the totals might not look as impressive as others but they didn’t call it the dead puck era for nothing.

Round 1 – Jaromir Jagr (1990)

As has been typical of this exercise the first round was the most difficult to choose from. Currently, there are eight first-round picks from the 90s in the Hall of Fame. Two others are on their way. The only reason they aren’t is that they are still playing professionally and are ineligible. Joe Thornton just wrapped up his 26th season in the NHL with the Florida Panthers. The other player is our pick for the best first-round pick of the 90s Jaromir Jagr. While he has not played in the NHL since 2017, he still plays professionally in Czechia. Whenever he does call it a career, he will be on the fast track to the Hall of Fame.

Jagr has had quite a career in the NHL. He holds the NHL record for game-winning goals (135), points (1,921) and assists (1,142) by a right-winger, most single-season points (149) and assists (87) by a right-winger, and most career goals (766), assists and points by a European born player. he holds the record for most consecutive seasons with 30 goals (15 – tied with Mike Gartner and Alex Ovechkin) and most consecutive seasons with at least 70 points (15)  and the greatest hockey flow of all time. Jagr is second all-time in points, third all-time in goals and fifth in assists.

On top of his incredible production and longevity, he is a two-time Stanley Cup champion, a Hart Trophy winner, and a five-time Art Ross Trophy winner.

Other Notable First-Round Picks

Round 2 – Patrik Elias (1994)

The second-round pick took a minute to figure out. There was no clear-cut favourite. Many solid players but no Hall of Famers (yet). In the end, Patrik Elias gets the call. In his 18-year career, all with the New Jersey Devils, Elias owns pretty much every Devils statistical record. Most points (1,025), goals (408) and assists (617) in the regular season. Most goals (45), assists (80) and points (125) in the postseason. He is also a two-time Stanley Cup champion.

Round 3 – Zdeno Chara (1996)

Zdeno Chara was the clear choice in the third round. “Big Z” just completed his 25th NHL season which is why he is not in the Hall of Fame but once he decides to hang up his skates, he will be on his way. Chara stands a hulking 6’9″ is the tallest player to ever play in the NHL. While the expectation would be for Chara to be a bit uncoordinated on skates, it is not the case. Chara uses his size to intimidate and punish the opposition whenever he can. While he enjoyed punishing opponents, Chara was a weapon on the power play. He possessed one of the hardest shots in the league but should it call for it be quite the screen in front of a goalie.

Currently, Chara has played in 1,680 games (a record for defencemen) and scored 280 goals, 680 points and accumulated 2,085 penalty minutes. Chara became the third ever Slovakian captain of an NHL team when the Boston Bruins named him captain in 2005. He won a Stanley Cup and a Norris Trophy during his career as well. Still, his career (as of the writing of this article) is not over, so who knows what else is coming for the 45-year-old Chara.

Round 4 – Milan Hejduk (1994)

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Milan Hejduk was a reliable goal scorer in his time in the NHL. He scored at least 20 goals in 11 of his 14 seasons in the league. In 2002-03 he netted 50 goals, capturing the Rocket Richard Trophy for leading the league in goal scoring. He won the Stanley Cup in 2001 with Colorado. In 1,020 games, Hejduk scored 375 goals and 805 points.

Round 5 – Sergei Zubov (1990)

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Sergei Zubov was a player ahead of his time. The clear fifth-round pick in the 90s NHL draft. A true puck-moving defenseman who would have excelled in today’s NHL. Unfortunately, Zubov played in an era where defence reigned so his numbers are quite depressed. Also not helping was playing on Ken Hitchcock’s Dallas Stars team which prioritized defensive play as well. Still, Zubov was an elite defender in both ends of the ice. He holds the Dallas Stars record for career points by a defenseman with 553.

After the 2005 NHL lockout, the league made changes to promote offence. Zubov responded with the second-best offensive output of his career with 13 goals and 71 points and was nominated for the Norris Trophy. In 1999 he won a Stanley Cup with the Stars. The Hall of Fame defender was truly an elite puck-moving defender who unfortunately played in the wrong era.

Round 6 – Pavel Datsyuk (1998)

Pavel Datsyuk was an incredible 200-foot player. Dubbed the ‘Magic Man’ for his incredible stickhandling and creativity, Datsyuk constantly wowed audiences with his play. While his incredible offensive skill was evident, he was also an elite defender. He would win three consecutive Selke Trophies between 2008-2010. He also won four consecutive Lady Byng Awards from 2006-2009. To top it off he won two Stanley Cups in his career as well. In 953 games he scored 314 goals and 918 points. While Datsyuk is not currently in the Hall of Fame he has not become eligible yet as he just retired from professional hockey in 2021 (playing his last five seasons in the KHL).

Round 7 – Henrik Zetterberg (1999)

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Henrik Zetterberg is a Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe winner. In his career, he played 1,082 games and scored 337 goals and 960 points. He was a consistent high-end forward. Between 2005 and 2012 he scored at least 20 goals and at least 68 points. Zetterberg’s career was cut short by a degenerative back issue in 2018 but only officially retired in 2021 so he is not yet eligible for the Hall of Fame. While not a slam dunk, there is a case for Zetterberg to get it. Still, he is far and away the pick for the best seventh-round pick.

Round 8 – Peter Bondra (1990)

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Peter Bondra is the easy pick for the eight-round. Playing the majority of his hockey in the ‘dead puck’ era, Bondra was an extremely consistent goal scorer. In 13 of his first 14 seasons, Bondra posted at least 20 goals. He led the league in goal-scoring twice, although this was prior to the creation of the Rocket Richard Trophy. In his career, he played in 1,083 games and scored 503 goals.