While it’s indisputable that NHL teams are more likely to find a superstar in the first few picks of the draft than they are later on, USA TODAY Sports research shows that quality picks can be found deep into the first round.
In many cases, we found multiple desirable players at each pick throughout NHL draft history. In fact, many noteworthy players — Evgeni Malkin (2), Daryl Sittler (8), Joe Sakic (15) and Larry Robinson (20), for example — were bumped out by other players taken in other years at the same draft position.
Here is our list of the best pick — 1 through 31 — by draft position:
No. 1 Mario Lemieux
1984 by Pittsburgh Penguins
Lemieux, Wayne Gretzky, Gordie Howe and Bobby Orr are generally accepted as the four greatest players in NHL history. Gretzky, Howe and Orr did not come to the NHL through the draft system that we know today.
No. 2 Marcel Dionne
1971 by Detroit Red Wings
Fifth on the NHL scoring list with 731 goals, Dionne scored 50 or more goals six times in the 1970s and early 1980s. He is mostly remembered for playing with the Los Angeles Kings. He won an NHL scoring title while playing on the Kings’ Triple Crown line with Charlie Simmer and Dave Taylor.
No. 3 Denis Savard
1980 by Chicago Blackhawks
Savard had a seven-season period in the 1980s in which he scored 30 or more goals seven times and posted five seasons of 100-plus points. He was a showy, enterprising offensive player with plenty of tricks up his sleeve. Remember the Savardian Spin-O-Rama?
No. 4 Steve Yzerman
1983 by Red Wings
Had two distinct stages of his career: In the first, he was a dominant offensive performer, a game-breaker, a show-stopper. In the second, he was the gritty, two-way player who led the Red Wings to three Stanley Cup championships (1997, 1998 and 2002).
No. 5 Jaromir Jagr
1990 by Penguins
Only Gretzky had more points during his career. Jagr totaled 1,921 points from 1990 to 2018, winning five scoring championships and one Hart Trophy as the league’s most valuable player. With his flowing hair and impish demeanor, he was among the league’s most fascinating personalities.
No. 6 Paul Coffey
1980 by Edmonton Oilers
Coffey is one of the most dynamic puck-moving defensemen in NHL history. He topped 100 points five times in his career, with a high of 126 in 1983-84. Legendary coach Scotty Bowman said Coffey always looked he was gaining speed even when he was coasting.
No. 7 Bernie Federko
1976 by St. Louis Blues
Considered one of the NHL’s most underrated players of the 1980s, Federko had 1,130 points in 1,000 games. He was a slick puck-handler who scored 30 or more goals seven times.
No. 8 Ray Bourque
1979 by Boston Bruins
The defenseman scored 17 or more goals for 15 consecutive seasons from 1979-94. He won five Norris trophies and was the league’s rookie of the year in 1979-80. He won a Stanley Cup with the Colorado Avalanche, and his No. 77 was retired by both the Bruins and Avalanche.
No. 9 Brian Leetch
1986 by New York Rangers
Considered one of the top five American-born players, Leetch won two Norris trophies, one Conn Smythe Trophy and a Calder Trophy. He was a speedy puck-moving, risk-taking defenseman.
No. 10 Teemu Selanne
1988 by Winnipeg Jets
Selanne scored 76 goals to set a rookie scoring record that might never be broken. Finishing his NHL career with 684 goals, Selanne is the greatest Finnish player in league history.
No. 11 Jarome Iginla
1995 by Dallas Stars
After being traded to the Calgary Flames in the Joe Nieuwendyk trade, Iginla established himself as one of the game’s top power forwards. He never scored fewer than 28 goals in a season for the Flames from 1998 to 2012. He netted 52 in 2001-02.
No. 12 Marian Hossa
1997 by Ottawa Senators
Hossa scored 525 goals and won three Stanley Cup championships. He was a strong two-way forward who reached the 40-goal mark for three different teams (Atlanta Thrashers, Ottawa and Detroit).
No. 13 Ron Duguay
1977 by Rangers
With his flowing longish hair, Duguay was as stylish and colorful as he was talented. He had a career-best 40 goals for the Rangers in 1981-82 and a career-high 89 points for the Red Wings in 1984-85.
No. 14 Rick Middleton
1973 by Rangers
Acquired by the Bruins for Ken Hodge, Middleton became one of the top scorers in Bruins history. Starting in 1979-80, Middleton had season goal totals of 38, 40, 44, 51, 49 and 47. His consistency was his trademark.
No. 15 Mike Bossy
1977 by New York Islanders
Bossy helped the Islanders win four consecutive Stanley Cup championships from 1980-83 and scored 50 or more goals for nine consecutive seasons. He retired at 30 because of injury.