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. It should certainly speed up the rebuild.
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. Today we look at the 2011-14 selections.
2011: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – Edmonton Oilers
(801 Games: Goals-Assists-Points) – (233-399-632)
Rebuild Status in 2011
Same as 2010. In fact, it’s basically the same song and dance until Connor McDavid is drafted in 2015.
Championship Window Length, Cup Hauls, and Nugent-Hopkins’s Factor in It
The last two seasons have seen the Oilers break through and finally put some success together. Nugent-Hopkins has been part of it, molding himself more into a two-way forward than the scoring one Edmonton envisioned they were getting upon drafting him. From a statistical standpoint, this season saw him post 104 points and 37 goals, both career highs. It’s to be determined if the cup haul begins, but the Oilers are in the midst of the championship window after years of trying to put it all together.
The numbers don’t stand out and certainly don’t reflect as a top overall pick should. Nugent-Hopkins certainly benefitted from McDavid’s arrival, and there was a lot of pressure on him to perform as is expected with first overall pick. Trade rumors were whispered from time to time, too. The 2022-23 season was the first where the offensive explosion many expected from him finally burst through. His role also changed as his career unfurled, though, into more of a defensive minded forward. Maybe it’s not fair, then, to saddle the expectations on him.
Regardless, the numbers so far don’t match up with what many expected when he was drafted. But his case is slightly different as he’s been a large piece of why Edmonton finally turned the corner.
Did the First Overall Pick Fare As Expected? Not statistically, but has been a big piece of the puzzle.
2012: Nail Yakupov – Edmonton Oilers
(350 Games: Goals-Assists-Points) – (62-74-136)
Rebuild Status in 2012
See above. It was the third straight season Edmonton secured the number one pick.
Championship Window Length, Cup Hauls, and Yakupov’s Factor in It
Of the players profiled, this will be the least impactful. More in the final assessment.
It was almost doomed from the start. The 2012 Draft remains one of the weakest on record in the top five where one would have to sift through the top ten to find some talent that’s still on NHL rosters today. Yakupov is a bust, one who didn’t seem to fit into the culture or truly represent what Edmonton was seeking. Out of the NHL since 2017-18, he’s posted pedestrian numbers in the KHL and will likely go down as one of the biggest busts in NHL history.
Did the First Overall Pick Fare As Expected? No
2013: Nathan MacKinnon – Colorado Avalanche
(709 Games: Goals-Assists-Points) – (284-475-759)
Rebuild Status in 2013
It’s not the Oilers! Once a perinneal contender, the Avalanche had fallen mightily and were desperately trying to rebuild. MacKinnon was the only first overall pick Colorado has had, and it was an absolute home run of a pick. The lone playoff run they made was an oasis in 2013-14, but ran concurrent with MacKinnon’s rookie campaign.
Championship Window Length, Cup Hauls, and MacKinnon’s Factor in It
The championship window didn’t officially open for Colorado until 2018, but MacKinnon played a huge role in Colorado’s playoff run in 2014. The Avalanche would miss the playoffs until 2017-18, where they lost in the first round. From there, the threw the championship window open and exited in the second round three straight seasons until finally winning the Stanley Cup last season. To state that MacKinnon had a role in it is an understatement. 24 points in 20 playoff games, and though he didn’t skate away with the Conn Smythe Trophy, he was a major factor in Colorado’s Cup run.
A few more Cups and MacKinnon is in the generational conversation.
After a brutal 2012 class of prospects, 2013 rewarded Colorado with a true game changer in MacKinnon. Though the Avalanche fell in the first round this season, he showed his magic again scoring some big goals to make it a series. It would be four years more before Colorado would see the playoffs again. But as they inched closer, it was MacKinnon putting the team on his shoulders many nights. There’s no doubting MacKinnon’s impact on the organization and he’ll likely see his number hanging over the ice someday.
Did the First Overall Pick Fare As Expected? Yes
2014: Aaron Ekblad – Florida Panthers
(625 Games: Goals-Assists-Points) – (111-218-329)
Rebuild Status in 2014
The Panthers heading into the 2014 Draft had only made the playoffs once in the past 13 seasons. Some of those seasons they had winning records but not enough points to qualify. Others were just downright brutal years. After their only playoff appearance (2011-2012) in those 13 seasons, Florida had two bad seasons with the latter earning them a lottery win and the top pick in the draft.
Championship Window Length, Cup Hauls, and Ekblad’s Factor in It
Ekblad’s factor is immense. He won’t have the statistics that forwards obviously have but to a borrow a phrase from the great Bill Clement when describing Chris Pronger and the Blues: “The Panthers need Ekblad like humans need oxygen.” The towering, bulking, hard shooting defenseman has been everything Florida expected and more. Even with great players being taken after him (Leon Draisaitl for example), there’s no re-thinking this pick. They were built around Ekblad, and they’re one game away from the Eastern Conference Finals as a result of it.
Ekblad will likely have his number retired for the impact he’s had on the organization, but he still has many years left. Yes, he was down statistically this year but an Eastern Conference Final appearance makes that moot. The Panthers who once were defensive liabilities have played tight, hard nosed hockey in the playoffs and are now reaping the benefits. It may have resulted in less points on the board but its desired effect of winning more games and going deeper into the playoffs has come true.
If this year does indeed result in Florida’s first Stanley Cup championship, Ekblad is 100% a major reason for it.
Did the First Overall Pick Fare As Expected? Yes