Tuesday, June 4, 2013

2013 NHL Draft Part 2--Five classes with talent and varying degrees of depth

The 2013 NHL Draft will be upon us soon. The Buffalo Sabres, for the second season in a row, have four picks in first two rounds. They have the #8 and #16 in the first round, #38 and #52 in the second.

Many believe that the team should do anything they can to get into the top-3 this year to land a "franchise player." Sabres GM Darcy Regier is actively trying to move up, but going from 8th into the top-3 is nearly impossible, and as we'll see later, not many picks in the 4th-6th spots get moved.

Chances are the Buffalo Sabres will be drafting somewhere around #8.

The following series looks at past drafts from 1979-2003, bookending what are widely considered the best drafts ever over that 25-year span, and what that might mean for the Sabres in this year's draft.

In Part-1 of this series we looked at an overview of this years draft class. The consensus is that there is a strong top-three or four, an additional two or three game-changers just below them and quality, top-end talent down to the 10th slot or so.

A potential group of solid NHL'ers stretches into the low-20's while some see a group of solid prospects possibly going into the early part of the third round.

Where will this draft class stack up against the others?

Today:  Five draft classes lead by 1979

There are two draft classes that are widely regarded as the best ever--1979 and 2003.

In the 23 years between, there's an array of draft classes ranging from poor (1992, 1994, 1999) to top-heavy (1981, 1985, 1997.)

There was the 1984 draft that featured a "once in a generation player," Mario Lemieux, with a solid group featuring one HOF'er and a decent amount of All-Stars picked after.

Vincent Lecavalier (1998) was clearly the cream of his draft class with a significant drop-off to mostly serviceable players at #2 and below. Wendell Clark (1985) and Chris Phillips (1996) were at the head of a class that lacked stars, yet produced a large group of servicable NHL'ers with long careers.

While comparisons with 2003 abound, it's unlikely that the 2013 draft class will reach that standard and, consequently, will not reach the heights of the 1979 class.

If 2013 is as deep and talented as most say it is, the class will likely be tucked in just below those two.

Opinions vary as to which years come next, but for the sake of historical perspective, we'll be taking a look at the 1983, 1988 and 1990 draft classes chronologically, each of which are characteristically different and at least a notch below 1979 and 2003.

One common thread running through these five drafts is quality down to the eighth spot where Buffalo picks this year.


The 1979 draft class is widely considered the best draft class ever for quality and depth as it basically incorporated two classes into one. The NHL lowered the draft age that year from 19 to 18 yrs old.

That class lists three HOF'ers--Mike Gartner (#4 overall,) Ray Bourque (#8) and Michel Goulet (#20)--and boasts 12 All-Stars amongst the 21 players selected in the first round.

First overall selection Rob Ramage lead a list of 11 first round picks who played over 1000 NHL games. Four players had over 1000 points (Gartner, Bourque, Goulet, and #14, Brian Propp) while five scored over 400 goals (Gartner, Bourque, Goulet, Propp and #5 Rick Vaive.)

The first round also included players like Mike Foligno (#3,) Keith Brown (#7,) Laurie Boschman (#9,) Mike Ramsey (#11) and Brad McCrimmon (#15) who had long, productive careers. For posterity sake, Lindy Ruff was drafted by the Sabres with the 32nd pick in 1979.

Duane "Dog" Sutter (#17-overall) made strong contributions to the NY Islander dynasty of the early-80's. He was lucky enough to be drafted by the Isles and has the distinction of winning four Stanley Cups in his first four years in the league. Kevin Lowe (#21) was a cog in Edmonton winning five Stanley Cups in 13 seasons with that franchise.

Oh, and there was some guy named Wayne Gretzky who would have been in the draft via the WHA/NHL merger that year, but instead a deal was made where the Edmonton Oilers kept him and agreed to draft last in every round.

Picks in that 1979 draft also included All-Stars Pelle Lindberg (#35,) Mats Naslund (#37,) Dave Christain (#40,) Dale Hunter (#41,) Neal Broten (#42,) and the Captain's Captain, Mark Messier (#48.)


The 2003 draft class may end up surpassing the 1979 class when all's said and done. The players drafted that year are all in their primes right now and are making significant contributions on Stanley Cup winners and contenders.

Of the 32 first round picks, eight already have their names on the Cup:  G Marc-Andre Fleury (#1-overall,) C Eric Staal (#2,) Nathan Horton (#3,) Jeff Carter (#11,) Dustin Brown (#13,) Brent Seabrook (#14,) Ryan Getzlaf (#19,) Mike Richards (#24,) and Corey Perry (#28.)

The 2003 class also boasts 16 All-Stars of 30 first round picks including Thomas Vanek (#5,) Milan Michalek (#6,) Ryan Suter (#7,) Dion Phaneuf (#9,) Zach Parise (#17,) Brent Burns (#20,) and Ryan Kesler (#23.)

In the second round, Loui Eriksson (#33) was an All-Star for Dallas,  Boston's Patrice Bergeron (#45) has his name on the Cup as the Bruins top-line center, and Nashville's All-Star defenseman Shea Weber (#49) is considered one of the best defensemen in the league.

About the only thing separating 2003 from 1979 is time. Ten years from now, especially with the LA Kings (Brown, Carter and Richards,) the Boston Bruins (Horton and Bergeron) and the Chicago Blackhawks (Seabrook) perenial Cup-favorites, and with Suter, Weber, Perry and Parise as perenial All-Stars, this class has the potential to eclipse the number of HOF'ers from the 1979 class.


Although the 1983 lacks the depth of 1979 and 2003, there are three HOF'ers in the top-nine:  Pat LaFontaine (#3-overall,) Steve Yzerman (#4,) and Cam Neely (#9.)

The first-overall pick of the draft, Brian Lawton, had a spotty career, but high-school drafteeTom Barrasso (#5) won two Stanley Cups with the Pittsburgh Penguins and John McLean (#6) was alternate captain with the New Jersey Devils when they won their first Stanley Cup in 1995 and had a long, productive career.

Russ Coutnall (#7) and Dave Gagner (#12) both were All-Stars and had very long careers of 15-plus seasons.

Pound-for-pound, the top-nine has players to rival that of 1979 and 2003, but there's a severe drop-off in talent beyond those nine until you get to the second round. And even then, it's spotty.

The 26th pick in that draft, which would still be in the first round today, was 1995 Conn Smythe winner, Claude Lemieux. Philadelphia's Peter Zezel (#41) would score at a .70 pts/game clip for 15 seasons. Bob Probert (#46) would protect fellow Red Wings (including Yzerman) and Blackhawks for 19 seasons and was an All-Star.


The 1988 draft class is top-heavy, like 1983, but stretches one pick farther in depth. It's a stronger group and boasts more 1000-game players (seven) than 1983 (three) in the top-10 picks.

Three players from that draft class will likely make it into the Hall of Fame:  Mike Modano (#1-overall,) 2013 HOF-elligible, Rod Brind'Amour (#9) and Teemu Selanne (#10.) A fourth, Jeremy Roenick (#8) scored 513 goals and had 1216 points in 1363 games, albeit without a Stanley Cup ring like the other three.

After Sellane at #10 this draft falls off the edge of a cliff until redemtion is found at the top of the fourth round. Only two made any kind of contribution to the NHL--Tim Taylor (second round, #36) played in nearly 800 NHL games while Steve Heinze (third round, #60) played 694.

Fourth-rounders Mark Recchi (#67) and Rob Blake (#70) both have their names etched on the Cup, with the latter a possible candidate for the HOF. Tony Amonte (#68) was a perennial All-Star from 1997-2001 and scored over 30 goals six years straight (1995-2001) in the "clutch and grab" era of the NHL. He had the misfortune of being traded late in the 1994 season from the eventual Stanley Cup winning NY Rangers.

Pick #70, it should be noted, is in the upper portion of the third round today. Also of note, the Sabres' third-round pick this year will be the 69th.


There's a mini-battle as to which draft class is better--1988 or 1990.

Although the first round of the 1990 NHL draft doesn't boast the four potential HOF'ers like 1988, there was a lot of depth in the first round with a total of nine players playing at least 1000 games.

The 1990 draft also has five All-Stars in the top-eight picks, with one sure-fire HOF'er in Jaromir Jagr (#5-overall.)

Other All-Stars include Owen Nolan (#1,) who played 18 seasons in the league and had the misfortune of being traded early in the season the year the Colorado Avalanche won their first Cup. Keith Primeau (#3) played 15 productive years mainly with Detroit and Philadelphia, unfortunately without a Stanley Cup.

Daryl Sydor (#7) won a Stanley Cup with Dallas while Keith Tkachuk (#19) had a robust, 19-year career amassing over 500 goals and over 1000 assists.

Were it not for injuries and a change in the NHL that left him as a "pylon," 8th overall pick Derian Hatcher, would garner a lot more attention for his leadership and physical play. Sandwiched between fellow bad-asses Scott Stevens and Chris Pronger during his playing days, Hatcher captained the Dallas Stars to the franchise's first Stanley Cup in 1999.

The gem of the draft was Martin Brodeur (#20,) considered one of the best goalies of all time. Brodeur, like Jagr is still playing and will be a sure-fire, first-ballot HOF'er once he completes his stellar career.

Other notables include Felix "The Cat" Potvin (#31) who played 16 years in the league and Doug Weight (#34) who has his name on the Cup as a member of the Carolina Hurricanes.

The 1990 draft class had plenty of quality and depth, although not quite the first-line quality and depth of 2003. In a few years, after HOF elligible players are elected to the hall, this class may end up being veiwed as the third-best behind the 1979 and 2003 draft classes.

As mentioned in part 1 of this series, the overall consensus is that the 2013 draft class has a lot of depth with elite/top-end talent stretching as far down as the 10th pick.

Using the five drafts encapsulated above, if this holds true, it would seem as if Buffalo has a good chance of landing a top-end player in the 8th spot should they be unable to trade up.

Next:  The 8th-overall picks from 1979 to 2003.

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