The Edmonton Oilers are set to enter the 2015-16 season with the game’s most heralded prospect to come along in the last 10 years.
Connor McDavid is the ‘next one.’ Drafted first overall like Sidney Crosby, Eric Lindros, and Mario Lemieux before him. He’s the next 18-year-old who’s expected to put a franchise on his shoulders and dominate the National Hockey League like so few others have.
Wayne Gretzky called McDavid “the best player to come into the league in the last 30 years.” Lindros says he’s “spectacular.” Crosby says McDavid should ready himself for endless comparisons to Gretzky.
With McDavid and No. 2 overall pick Jack Eichel of the Buffalo Sabres expected to battle for rookie supremacy next season, here’s a look at the five best debut seasons by first overall draft picks.
Pittsburgh Penguins (1st overall 2005)
The Pittsburgh Penguins emerged victorious in the Sidney Crosby Sweepstakes coming out of the lost 2004-05 season. Crosby took up residence in teammate and Penguins’ co-owner Mario Lemieux’s guesthouse to begin his NHL career.
Crosby totalled 39 goals and 102 points to lead a very bad 2005-06 Penguins team in scoring in his rookie season. He led the NHL in scoring the following season and took home his first Hart Memorial Trophy as well.
Winnipeg Jets (1st overall 1981)
The Winnipeg Jets finished the 1980-81 season with a 9-57-14 record. The franchise’s fortunes took a turn for the better after selecting Dale Hawerchuk, fresh off a 183-point season with the QMJHL’s Cornwall Royals, first overall at the 1981 draft.
Hawerchuk scored 45 goals and 103 points in his first season, helping the Jets finish .500 and reach the post-season for the first time since they arrived in the NHL. He captured 45.5 per cent of the vote to beat out Barry Pederson and Grant Fuhr for the Calder Memorial Trophy.
Pittsburgh Penguins (1st overall 1984)
Lemieux racked up 133 goals and 282 points, both CHL records, in his final junior season with the Laval Voisins. “Le Magnifique” helped the Penguins begin a long climb back to respectability and to a position of financial stability in his rookie season.
He scored 43 goals and 100 points in 1984-85. He was named most valuable player of the 37th NHL All-Star Game in Calgary after totalling two goals and an assist. Lemieux won the Calder Memorial Trophy, the first of many pieces of NHL hardware he would take home over his 17-year playing career.
Quebec Nordiques (1st overall 1991)
The Nordiques infamously made Lindros the first overall pick in 1991, after he had made it clear he would not play for the franchise. “The Big E” would spend the 1991-92 campaign with the OHL’s Oshawa Generals and the Canadian National Team while awaiting a trade.
The Nordiques flipped Lindros to the Flyers in a blockbuster deal at the 1992 draft. Lindros’ rookie season in 1992-93 was overshadowed by Teemu Selanne’s record-breaking performance, but the former’s dominance was apparent from the get-go. Lindros played in just 61 games, scoring 41 goals and 75 points.
Washington Capitals (1st overall 2004)
Ovechkin arrived to reinvigorate the Capitals franchise following the 2004-05 season that was snuffed out by a lockout. He scored 52 goals and 106 points and filled highlight packages on a nightly basis with his speed, sniping ability, and willingness to throw his body around.
Talk about a good year for rookies, Ovechkin edged out Crosby, Dion Phaneuf, and Henrik Lundqvist to capture the Calder Memorial Trophy.