Predicting the fortunes of an 18-year-old is hardly an exact science, but developing one is getting close. That wasn't the case 10 years ago when Alexandre Daigle was picked first overall in the 1993 draft.
The hype surrounding Daigle may have embellished his talents, and the fact he was the first French-Canadian picked first overall since Pierre Turgeon in 1987 -- by a team in the nation's capital, no less -- only intensified the pressure, but the Senators did nothing to alleviate the situation on or off the ice.
Weeks after the draft, Daigle signed a contract reportedly worth $12.5 million over five years -- a pact that equally freaked out and enraged other GMs and led to the current rookie salary cap. The Senators in turn, hung the franchise's fortunes around his neck, despite having a more talented player in their stable -- Alexei Yashin, who they picked second overall the year before in their first draft.
On the ice, the Senators were hopeless. After finishing tied for the fewest points with 24 (10-70-4) in 1992-93, their inaugural season, the Senators finished last the following three seasons and were more concerned about looking for quick fixes than they were developing players. The team's condition is one of the reasons why Bryan Berard refused to sign and played another season in junior after being picked first by the Senators in 1995.
By the end of the 1996-97 season, Daigle had 156 points (67 goals, 89 assists) in 263 games, but was a minus-130. By January of the following season, the Senators had traded Daigle and the rest of the NHL decided a conservative approach was the best way to handle a No. 1 draft pick.
Below are notable picks from the 1993 draft and a synopsis of how the No. 1 picks since Daigle have fared:
Notable picks: 2, Chris Pronger, Hartford; 4, Paul Kariya, LW, Anaheim; 7, Jason Arnott, C, Edmonton; 10, Jocelyn Thibault, G, Quebec; 11, Brendan Witt, D, Washington; 14, Adam Deadmarsh, RW, Quebec; 17, Jason Allison, C, Washington; 21, Saku Koivu, C, Montreal; 23, Todd Bertuzzi, LW, Islanders; 35, Jamie Langenbrunner, C, Dallas; 39, Brendan Morrison, C, New Jersey; 40, Bryan McCabe, D, Islanders; 71, Vaclav Prospal, C, Philadelphia; 90, Eric Daze, LW, Chicago; 111, Miroslav Satan, LW, Edmonton; 164, Todd Marchant, LW, Rangers; 227, Pavol Demitra, RW, Ottawa
1994: Ed Jovanovski, D, Florida Panthers
How high were expectations for Jovanovski? He was labeled a underachiever when he was dealt to Vancouver in January, 1999. He was 22. Despite helping the Panthers to the Stanley Cup final in 1996, Jovanovski contributed little offensively and made lots of mistakes -- but so did the rest of the Panthers. At the time, it looked as if the Panthers won the seven-player trade in which they acquired Pavel Bure. Now, almost five years later, Jovanovski has developed into one of the NHL's dominant all-around defensemen, a perennial All-Star and an Olympian.
Notable picks: 2, Oleg Tverdovsky, D, Anaheim; 3, Radek Bonk, C, Ottawa; 5, Jeff O'Neill, C, Hartford; 6, Ryan Smyth, LW, Edmonton; 13, Mattias Ohlund, D, Vancouver; 26, Dan Cloutier, G, Rangers; 44, Jose Theodore, G, Montreal; 51, Patrik Elias, LW, New Jersey; 72, Chris Drury, C, Quebec; 87, Milan Hejduk, RW, Quebec; 133, Daniel Alfredsson, RW, Ottawa; 286, Kim Johnsson, D, Rangers
1995: Bryan Berard, D, Ottawa Senators
Berard was billed as the total package -- a combination of offensive skill, physical nastiness and the desire to be on the ice with the game on the line. However, instead of joining the Senators for the 1995-96 season, he returned to the Detroit Jr. Whalers for another season. His reluctance to sign forced the Senators to trade his rights to the Islanders on Jan. 23, 1996, a five-player trade which included the second pick in the 1995 draft, defenseman Wade Redden. Berard joined the Islanders the following season and won the 1996 Calder Trophy, joining Mario Lemieux as the only No. 1 picks in the last 20 years to capture the award. The Islanders, who proved to be as disorganized as the Senators, traded Berard to Toronto on Jan. 9, 1999. He missed the end of the 1999-2000 season and all of 2000-01 recovering from an eye injury suffered on March 11, 2000.
Notable picks: 2, Wade Redden, D, Islanders; 5, Daymond Langkow, C, Tampa Bay; 7, Shane Doan, RW, Winnipeg; 9, Kyle McLaren, D, Boston; 10, Radek Dvorak, RW, Florida; 11, Jarome Iginla, RW, Dallas; 87, Sami Kapanen, RW, Hartford; 91, Marc Savard, C, Rangers.
1996: Chris Phillips, D, Ottawa Senators
The Class of 1996 was thin to begin with, so the excitement surrounding the first pick was duly muted. The lower expectations -- at least lower than that surrounding Jovanovski and Berard -- and an additional year of seasoning in junior are part of the reason why Phillips isn't considered a bust. He has yet to turn his 6-foot-3, 215 pound frame into a game factor, but he's been a reliant presence on the Senators' blue line with a career plus-33 rating.
Notable picks: 9, Ruslan Salei, D, Anaheim; 13, Derek Morris, D ; Calgary; 15, Dainius Zubrus, RW, Philadelphia; 21, Marco Sturm, C, San Jose; 56, Zdeno Chara, D, Islanders; 59, Tom Poti, D, Edmonton; 179, Pavel Kubina, D, Tampa Bay; 204, Tomas Kaberle, D, Toronto; 239, Sami Salo, D, Ottawa
1997: Joe Thornton, C, Boston Bruins
Thornton epitomized the dilemma the NHL has with its current relationship with junior leagues -- he was too good to be sent back to junior, but not quite ready for the NHL. Fortunately, Thornton landed under Pat Burns in the Bruins' coaching rotation and was deployed conservatively his rookie year, registering only seven points in 55 games. His offensive output jumped to 41 points the next season and gradually grew until last year when he hit 101 points in 77 games after scoring only 68 in 66 games the season before. Because he was able to develop slowly, without having the team's future hinge on his every shot on goal, Thornton has developed into one of the league's top centers.
2, Patrick Marleau, C, San Jose; 3, Olli Jokinen, C, Los Angeles; 4, Roberto Luongo, G, Islanders; 5, Eric Brewer, D, Islanders; 8, Sergei Samsonov, LW, Boston; 12, Marian Hossa, LW, Ottawa; 25, Brenden Morrow, LW, Dallas; 69, Maxim Afinogenov, RW, Buffalo; 119, Magnus Arvedson, LW, Ottawa; 130, Kyle Calder, LW, Chicago; 136, Mike York, C, Rangers
1998: Vincent Lecavalier, C, Tampa Bay Lightning
Apparently, former Lightning owner Art Williams hadn't been paying attention to the Daigle chronicles when he declared Lecavalier the Michael Jordan of hockey. Much like Daigle's first year in the league, the Lightning were a team with little direction, having employed three different GMs and coaches since the '98 draft. Though he led the team in scoring in 1999-2000, Lecavalier was becoming the latest posterboy for too much too soon and hit bottom when, after a training camp holdout, coach John Tortorella stripped him of the captaincy the following October and he became trade fodder that December. Since then, Lecavalier and his game have matured -- he hit 30 goals for the first time last season -- and he's developed into a legitimate offensive threat.
Notable picks: 2, David Legwand, C, Nashville; 3, Brad Stuart, D, San Jose; 10, Nikolai Antropov, C, Toronto; 12, Alex Tanguay, C, Colorado; 22, Simon Gagne, C, Philadlephia; 64, Brad Richards, C, Tampa Bay; 71, Erik Cole, LW, Carolina; 164, Ales Kotalik, RW, Buffalo; 183, Tyler Arnason, C, Chicago
1999: Patrik Stefan, C, Atlanta Thrashers
Looking back, the 1999 draft wasn't nearly as deep as 1996. Stefan was pretty much the consensus No. 1, but concussion problems limited him to only 25 and 33 games the previous two seasons in the now-defunct International Hockey League and warded off any would-be suitors for the Thrashers' first ever pick. Selliing Stefan to Atlanta fans was easy -- until the season started. Selling him now is more difficult. After amassing only five goals in 72 games his first year, Stefan hit career highs in goals (13) and points (34) last season, his fourth in the NHL.
Notable picks: 2, Daniel Sedin, C, Vancouver; 3, Henrik Sedin, LW, Vancouver; 17, Barret Jackman, D, St. Louis; 26, Martin Havlat, C, Ottawa; 52, Adam Hall, F, Nashville; 86, Sebastien Caron, G, Pittsburgh; 91, Mike Comrie, C, Edmonton; 232, Alexander Khavanov, D, St. Louis
2000: Rick DiPietro, G, New York Islanders
At first, the Rick DiPietro experiment seemed like a recipe for disaster. Besides making the Boston University freshman the first goalie taken first overall in the NHL draft, the Islanders traded promising netminder Roberto Luongo in order to acquire the pick. DiPietro, who forfeited his remaining three years of eligibility to enter the draft, played only 34 games his first professional season -- 14 with the Chicago Wolves and 20 with the Islanders, posting a less-than-stellar 3.49 goals-against average and an .878 save percentage in the NHL. After a full season and three quarters in the minors, DiPietro was called up late last season and posted a 2.97 GAA and .894 save percentage in 10 games. The experience toned down DiPietro's swashbuckling ways, as he's produced a 1.98 GAA and .912 save percentage through his first 10 games of 2003-04.
Notable picks: 2, Dany Heatley, LW, Atlanta; 3, Marian Gaborik, LW, Minnesota; 4, Rostislav Klesla, D, Columbus; 20, Alexander Frolov, LW, Los Angeles; 28, Justin Williams, R W, Philadelphia; 118, Lubomir Visnovsky, D, Los Angeles; 171, Roman Cechmanek, G, Philadelphia; 232, Lubomir Sekeras, D, Minnesota.
2001: Ilya Kovalchuk, RW, Atlanta Thrashers
GM Don Waddell had no shortage of suitors for his No. 1 pick. Not only is the dynamic Kovalchuk impervious to the pressure, he's got the confidence and attitude that thrives on it. He led all rookies in goals (29) and was neck-and-neck with teammate Dany Heatley for the 2002 Calder Trophy before suffering a season ending shoulder injury on March 10, 2002. He improved to 38 goals in 82 games last season, and led the NHL this season with 13 goals through 15 games. Previously criticized for his defensive deficiencies, Kovalchuk has become more responsible in his own end under Thrashers coach Bob Hartley.
2002: Rick Nash, LW, Columbus Blue Jackets
Though Nash was thrown in the deep end right away, he was surrounded by a core of veterans his first season and hasn't been saddled with the typical expectations of a first-overall pick. He has been improving as each season progresses and possesses a power-forward type game. While in Calgary, Nash was compared to Flames All-Star Jarome Iginla. "I've got a long ways to go. If I'm that good in five years, that'd be pretty good," Nash told the Calgary Sun.
2003: Marc-Andre Fleury, G, Pittsburgh Penguins
The Penguins first overall pick since Mario Lemieux, Fleury made the jump immediately from junior hockey, not an easy task for a goalie. So far, he's been able to handle the pressure of playing the most important position in the NHL and being the future of the franchise. Despite playing for a last-place team, Fleury has accounted for all three of the Penguins' wins, has a 2.58 GAA and ranks eighth in the league with a .927 save percentage.
Noteable picks: 2, Eric Staal, C, Carolina; 3, Nathan Horton, C, Florida; 6, Milan Michalek, F, San Jose; 13, Dustin Brown, RW, Los Angeles; 20, Brent Burns, RW, Minnesota; 45, Patrice Bergeron, C, Boston; 46, Dan Fritsche, C, Columbus