Chins Up! Picking Fifth Ain’t So Bad

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The date was April 30, 2016 – a Saturday. Like many Canuck fans, I was huddled around the television watching as Bill Daly unveiled, in reverse, the order of the 2016 NHL draft. When it had become obvious the Canucks had dropped from the top three to their most likely pre-lottery position of fifth, I immediately moved to console myself with the knowledge that, historically, fifth overall has actually been a pretty decent position from which to select. If the Canucks had moved up to fifth from a lower position, instead of two spots down, I’m certain I would have been elated rather than disappointed.

Over the last several decades, the fifth overall selection has run the gamut from busts to Hall of Famers – which, come to think of it, describes essentially every top-five pick. First overall picks can either be Mario Lemieux or Patrik Stefan. Second overall picks either Evgeni Malkin or Dave Chyzowski. A third overall pick might get you Jonathan Toews of Neil Brady. You get the point. While the odds of hitting a home run increase with a higher pick, the truth of the matter is that no pick is ever guaranteed to be successful. There might be a drop off after the consensus top three picks this year, but both Matthew Tkachuk and Pierre Luc-Dubois project to be valuable – and possibly elite – pieces for whichever team selects them. And so, in honour of the Canucks holding the fifth overall pick in this year’s draft, let’s take some time to look back at five hits and five misses from that spot, shall we?

Swing and a Miss:

Ray Martyniuk – Montreal Canadiens, 1970 (Goaltender)

What they said about him then: Martyniuk and future Hall of Famer Bobby Clarke backstopped the hometown Flin Flon Bombers to back-to-back Western Canada Hockey League championships in 1969 and 1970. Labeled a “Can’t Miss Kid” and one of the best goaltending prospects by none other than coaching legend Scotty Bowman, Martyniuk was believed to have all the tools to become an all-star goaltender.

What they say about him now: The “Can’t Miss Kid” missed. Martyniuk fell out of favour early with Canadiens coach Claude Ruel and never played a game in the NHL. It probably didn’t help matters that he was situated behind both Ken Dryden and Rogie Vachon on the team’s goaltending depth chart. The Hockey News eventually named him the biggest draft bust of all-time. Ouch.

Shawn Anderson – Buffalo Sabres, 1986 (Defense)

What they said about him then: NHL teams weren’t exactly thrilled about the players at the top of the 1986 draft. “I don’t think there’s as big a scramble of teams trying to move up on the draft order as there is in years when there’s a couple of potential major stars available,” said Boston Bruin GM Harry Sinden. Nonetheless, Anderson, a defenseman for the Canadian National Team (yes, that used to exist) came highly touted. From the Toronto Star: “In skating and speed, he’s compared to Paul Coffey. Has unlimited offensive potential because of puckhandling and passing ability. Could stay with Olympic program until after ’88 Games.” Considered the best defenseman in his draft class, along with Zarley Zalapski, Anderson had committed to the University of Maine for the following season on a full scholarship.

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What they say about him now: The comparisons to Coffey were probably unfair, to say the least. Although he had committed to the University of Maine, Anderson turned pro the following season and put up 13 points in 41 games with the Buffalo Sabres and another seven points in 15 games with their AHL affiliate the Rochester Americans. Those 13 points and 41 games were, respectively, the most of each total he would ever score in an NHL season. Although he left the NHL for good after playing one game with the Flyers in 1995, he continued to play professional hockey in Europe until 2004.

Daniel Dore – Quebec Nordiques, 1988 (Right Wing)

What they said about him then: Penalty minutes and the ability to fight used to be important attributes in high-end draft picks. Case in point, Daniel Dore. From the Windsor Star: ““He’s physical, goes to the net and he’s really tough. Lacks creativity but he’s a good fighter and banger who could score 25-30 goals as a pro.” It would be difficult seeing a similar player being so highly rated today, but NHL teams valued these commodities in the 1980s. And from the Gazette in Montreal: “Drummondville’s Dore, who appears to be rated so highly because of his size – 6-foot-3 and 206 pounds. Dore, who picked up 218 penalty minutes, is considered tough. He’s obviously big and strong and is said to possess good hands. But he also scored only 24 goals and 39 assists for the Voltigeurs and is considered to be too defensive-minded.

What they say about him now: Bust. Dore would play exactly 17 games in the NHL (all with Quebec) and score all of two goals. He did record 59 penalty minutes in those games, for what it’s worth. He was out of hockey altogether by 1994, after playing a season with the Colonial League’s Chatham Wheels.

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Richard Jackman – Dallas Stars, 1996 (Defense)

What they said about him then: Described as a “Solid, two-way defenceman with character and poise,” Jackman was coming off a decent freshman season with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds where he had scored 42 points from the blueline. He was named to the OHL’s all-rookie team, to boot. The Hockey News called him a leader who could play in any situation.

What they say about him now: Not much. Jackman had a fairly insignificant NHL career, playing in 231 games and only 38 with the team that originally drafted him. He bounced around the league, playing in Boston, Toronto, Anaheim, Florida, and (most notably) Pittsburgh. Since leaving the NHL, he has played in Sweden, Switzerland, Austria, Slovakia, and the United Kingdom. Believe it or not, he’s still active, playing for Braehead Clan of the Elite Ice Hockey League (UK).

Stanislav Chistov – Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, 2001 (Left Wing)

What they said about him then: Ilya Kovalchuk, another Russian (who went first overall in that year’s draft), called Chistov an artist who “paints a picture on the ice that nobody can erase,” (I guess that’s a good thing?). A diminutive winger, Chistov had a nose for the net. “If Chistov were bigger,” wrote Dave Shoalts of the Globe and Mail, “He would be in the top three. He is a great skater who can make his moves with the puck at top speed. He has a nose for the net and is a constant threat to score.” Some believed that, if it weren’t for his size, Chistov would challenge Kovalchuk for number one.

What they say about him now: Three seasons. That’s all Anaheim – and the entire NHL – managed to get from Chistov. For all his offensive talent, he only scored 19 career goals. Although he was never quite worthy of the fifth overall selection, he at least managed to play in 17 more games than his compatriot, Alexander Svitov, who was drafted third. As a rookie, Chistov had a small role as part of the Mighty Ducks’ (read: J.S. Giguere’s) surprise run to the 2003 Stanley Cup Final. After that season, his NHL career faded quickly. However, he has been a rather productive KHL player since returning to Russia, permanently, in 2008.


Rick Vaive – Vancouver Canucks, 1979 (Right Wing)

What they said about him then: Vaive, who had played in the WHA for the Birmingham Bulls in 1978-79, was described as “a rugged forward who … has impressed scouts with his truculent on-ice deportment.” Vaive was also known as a goal-scorer from his days in Sherbrooke of the QMJHL, where had had notched 127 goals in 136 games over two seasons.

What they say about him now: Hey, we had to include the Canucks’ only fifth overall draft pick, right? Vaive’s conditioning was criticized by the Canucks coaching staff early in his rookie season, and he lasted only 47 games before being dealt along with Bill Derlago to Toronto for Dave “Tiger” Williams and Jerry Butler. He proceeded to score over 400 goals in the NHL – including three consecutive 50-goal seasons in the early 1980s. So he did fulfill the promise he demonstrated as a fifth overall selection, just not with the team that drafted him. Sigh.

Scott Stevens – Washington Capitals, 1982 (Defense)

What they said about him then: Most experts predicted the Capitals would go after the flashier Phil Housley at number five, but instead they went and surprised a few people with the “skillful and steady” defender from the Kitchener Rangers of the OHL. Stevens was a tough and physical presence who could also provide a little offence, scoring 42 points in 68 games.

What they say about him now: Hall of Famer. Punishing hitter. Three-time Stanley Cup champion and one of the greatest defensemen of his generation, if not all-time. Stevens made the Capitals out of training camp the following season and never looked back. He played over 1600 NHL games (and another 233 in the playoffs) and scored over 900 points. Some might say he warranted the pick.

Jaromir Jagr – Pittsburgh Penguins, 1990 (Right Wing)

What they said about him then: Jagr was considered by many scouts as the best player available prior to the 1990 draft, but it was widely assumed he would stay in his native Czechoslovakia for at least another season. Concerns about players from Eastern Europe were still pervasive in the early 1990s. “[Jagr] has been touted as the most talented player available. But the standard doubts about Eastern European players move him down in the draft,” wrote the Globe and Mail. Mike Beamish of the Vancouver Sun wrote that Jagr might be “the best of the bunch.”

What they say about him now: He was the best, give or take a Martin Brodeur. And he’s still playing! There is a very real chance that Jagr may finish his career with over 2000 points – which would make him only the second player in NHL history to reach that mark. Had he not played through three lockouts and three seasons with Omsk Avangard of the KHL, he would probably be there already. 

Carey Price – Montreal Canadiens, 2005 (Goaltender)

What they said about him then: Price, of the WHL’s Tri-City Americans, was the top-rated goalie prospect heading into the 2005 draft. Even so, his selection at number five raised a few eyebrows. “I wasn’t really expecting to go this high,” Price joked at the time, “but I’ll take it.” Canadiens GM Bob Gainey believed that Price had single-handedly propped up a weak Tri-City team with his stellar play. “He’s helped his team win games they shouldn’t have,” he said. With Price maintaining a .920 save percentage, Gainey was probably right.

What they say about him now: In a draft widely known as the “Sidney Crosby sweepstakes,” that Montreal managed to find another franchise player at fifth overall should not be understated. Price has lived up to expectations and then some. He has won both a Hart and a Vezina Trophy, and backstopped Team Canada to Olympic Gold in 2014. The consensus “best goalie on the planet” has certainly made Montreal fans forget the Martyniuk pick in 1970. Okay, maybe just partially forget.

Phil Kessel – Boston Bruins, 2006 (Right Wing)

What they said about him then: Kessel began the 2005-06 season as the likely first overall selection in the 2006 draft. As the season wore on, his ranking slipped somewhat – but no one denied his high-end offensive ability. “He has the fastest feet in this draft and the skills to score breathtaking goals as well as find ways to set them up,” wrote The Province. He was considered the best pure scorer in the draft and its most exciting talent.

What they say about him now: Pretty much the same thing, except now he’s got a Stanley Cup to his name. Long a favourite whipping boy of the Toronto media, Kessel’s on-ice production has been stellar, and consistent with his draft selection. He has scored over 30 goals on five occasions and led the 2016 Stanley Cup champion Penguins in playoff scoring – ahead of both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Kessel still fits the bill as an exciting, dynamic scorer, and was entirely worthy of the fifth overall selection.

So there’s hope, after all, Canucks fans. Let’s just hope that whomever the Canucks pick on Friday develops into something closer to a Jagr or Stevens than a Martyniuk or Dore.

  • Chowderhead

    Canucks are in a position to draft a player like Pavel Zacha or Dylan Larkin. Let’s put it another way…if New Jersey or Detroit said “Here, you can have this player for free”, would we say no? Hell no, we’d be crapping our pants. We’re getting a Top 6 LW or C, which coincidentally are the two positions that the Sedins play…

      • TrueBlue

        Weeelllll… I mean, he went to college for a year after being drafted and then made the team out of camp in very un-Detroit-like fashion.

        Unless by “Detroit system” you mean playing for Michigan. Then sure, it’s possible 🙂

        • TrueBlue

          Ok, bad example 🙂 but it seems like the accepted wisdom is that if a player is drafted in the 2nd round he has an X chance of becoming and NHLer and a Y chance if he’s chosen in the third round, etc. but I’m wondering if likelihood changes based on the team that chooses him?

          Like, does Zack Kassian become a Zack if he gets picked by Detroit or Tampa? Or maybe these teams don’t acquire him because they can tell that he’s a Zack?

          • TrueBlue

            I think there’s some merit to the nature vs nurture argument for sure. Can even come down to which teammates you have around you, which Is why I can begrudgingly accept some of Benning’s Dorset-ier moves.

  • TrueBlue

    Entertaining article, thanks!

    Still wish we had a 2nd, but the 5th pick is really interesting… my only fear is Montreal trading with Edmonton to pick Dubois, will Benning take Juolevi over Tkachuk? I love me some Tkachuk, and defensemen typically take a lot longer to pay dividends.

    Also, I’d be lying if I wasn’t hoping for a highly unlikely series of events to unfold in which Edmonton & Montreal make a trade for the 4th pick ahead of time, Jarmo opts to ‘reach’ for Tkachuk, Montreal sticks with Dubois, and Puljujarvi falls to us.

    Time to dust off the old rally cap…

  • TrueBlue

    The great thing about picking 5th this year is….

    The draft is so strong, you are picking a potential #1 in any other year. Tkachuk and Dubois just need another year, the top three have played pro hockey.

    Difference to me is Stamkos, Crosby, Ovie, Taveres, Toews…, some have won cups, some haven’t, but they are all great players.

    Surround great players with compliments and “Goaltending” and you have something.

    Asking a CA question…. Would anyone trade Demko to get into the top 3….

    I wouldn’t!