The Chicago Blackhawks have basked in the glory of winning the top overall pick in the 2023 NHL Draft. It’s expected they take Connor Bedard with that pick and become the envy of every other team in the league.
Beyond that, though, how guaranteed is it that they become a generational impact?
Chicago Hockey Now has gone through every single first overall pick dating back to the start of the Cap Era. Everything comes with context, and will be explained in its spot. This will be a multi-piece series over the course of several days.
Setting the Parameters
This is set to look at each of the first overall picks dating back to when Sidney Crosby was taken by the Pittsburgh Penguins to kick off the salary cap era.
It will examine where the respective organization was in its rebuild, how long it took for them to get to the playoffs, whether they ever won it all, and how that individual player factored in.
The old saying of “not all that glitters is gold” is essentially what’s being applied here. Without further ado, here’s a look the top picks from 2005-2007.
With all the hype surrounding Connor Bedard’s impending selection by the Blackhawks, how have other top overall selections fared?
2005: Sidney Crosby – Pittsburgh Penguins
(1190 Games: Goals-Assists-Points) – (550-952-1502)
Crosby was the first true generational talent of the Cap Era and has lived up to the expectations. Teams were all given a shot at him since the draft was on the heels of the lockout that wiped the 2004-05 season from existence. Crosby was as good as advertised and by the end of the 2022-23 season, had three Stanley Cup Championships and a treasure trove of awards to his name. He’ll easily be a first-ballot hall of fame choice.
Rebuild Status in 2005
The Penguins were fortunate to draft Evgeni Malkin and Marc-Andre Fleury in years prior and then would add Jordan Staal after Crosby. In short, their prospect pool was loaded, thanks to two first overall picks and two second overall picks in four consecutive years.
They would only have one poor year (2005-06) with Crosby before becoming a playoff team in 2006-07. By the 2007-08 season, they were runners up in the Stanley Cup Final. From drafting Crosby to the playoffs, it was merely one year. This is likely one of the largest anomalies of the Cap Era drafting but it also is due to the timing of it.
Championship Window Length, Cup Hauls, and Crosby’s Factor in It
The Penguins were runners up in 2008, but came back in 2009 to defeat the Detroit Red Wings in seven games to win the Stanley Cup. From there, the Penguins wouldn’t win again until back-to-back wins in 2016, and 2017. Their window opened during the 2007-08 season, spanning 16 seasons. Things are murky now, with a new management team likely coming in and making the tough choices. But technically, with Malkin and Crosby still in tow, they could maybe make a final run.
Crosby was the main driver of why Pittsburgh won three Cups during the span. When he bowed out of a season due to concussion issues, there was serious concern Pittsburgh was maybe cooked. Crosby recovered, and three seasons later, won another Cup.
Crosby is the first of the generational player hype and has lived up to every ounce of it. Without him, there are not an additional three Cups in the Steel City. He will go down as one of the greatest players in NHL history.
2006 – Erik Johnson – St. Louis Blues
(920 Games: Goals-Assists-Points) (88-249-337)
Rebuild Status in 2006
The Blues had been dynamite in the 90s and early 2000s but struggled to break through in the playoffs, be it losing to the bitter rival Detroit Red Wings or falling terribly short of expectations as in 1999. By 2006 when they picked Johnson first overall, the Blues were in the midst of an overhaul.
Championship Window Length, Cup Hauls, and Johnson’s Factor in It
This is where it gets interesting. The Blues would not have Johnson in the full time lineup until the 2007-08 season, where he finished 12th in Calder voting. In Johnson’s brief stint in St. Louis, the Blues would make the playoffs once and then miss again, precipitating the trade to Colorado. The Blues window would open a season later, but it was a smattering of playoff misses that would be heavy in first round exits (usually to arch-rival Chicago) before finally winning the Cup in the most unlikely fashion in 2018-19. Johnson by then was already in Colorado, where he would finally get Cup win his last season. Not even the trade netted St. Louis what it needed, making Johnson’s impact on the Cup win eight seasons later almost nothing.
Johnson was considered the smart pick at the time, but the Blues would miss out on Jordan Staal, Jonathan Toews, Nicklas Backstrom, and Phil Kessel, all taken next in that order. Johnson’s career was likely altered after an offseason accident with a golf cart back in 2008, which forced him to miss the bulk of the season. Johnson was dealt to the Avalanche in 2011 along with St. Louis’ first-round pick, netting three players including Kevin Shattenkirk. Hardly generational, and really not impacting much, St. Louis and Johnson were better off without each other.
2007 – Patrick Kane – Chicago Blackhawks
(1180 Games: Goals-Assists-Points) (451-786-1237)
Rebuild Status in 2007
The Blackhawks were starting to emerge with a younger core, and both foundational pieces, Jonathan Toews and Kane would play their first full season in Chicago during the 2007-08 season. To show just how long ago it was, Blackhawks legend Dennis Savard was the bench boss in his second year.
Championship Window Length, Cup Hauls, and Kane’s Factor in It
Kane’s number will hang in the rafters one day because of the effect he had on the team. Within a season of his rookie debut, the Blackhawks were in the Western Conference Final. A season later, Kane potted the game-winning goal to clinch the Stanley Cup. The Blackhawks would go on to win three Stanley Cups in six seasons before a number of factors chipped away at the core, and a rebuild began.
Without question, Kane was one of the main drivers of the team’s success and may very well go down as one of the–if not the–greatest American hockey player of all time.
Kane’s importance to the Blackhawks organization is undeniable. He will go down as one of the top five in franchise history–his name up there with Stan Mikita, Bobby Hull, and Jonathan Toews. If there is a Mount Rushmore of Blackhawks, Kane is there.
His numbers may not be equivalent to Crosby’s or later on, McDavid’s, but Kane scored some of the franchise’s most iconic goals. From the game-winning goal to clinch the 2010 Stanley Cup, to the game-winner against Los Angeles to clinch the Western Conference Final in 2013, Kane always had the knack to make the big play or score the big goal.
Blackhawks know Kane is a sure bet Hall of Famer. There’s no doubt his #88 will hang in the rafters one day.