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NHL - US Sports: Five best first overall picks in Draft history

With the 2022 NHL Draft on the horizon, and discussion ongoing about who will be drafted first by the hosting Montreal Canadiens, we take a look at the best ever first overall picks who changed the fortunes of their franchise immediately. 

2022 NHL draft

The 2022 NHL draft takes place in Montreal on 7th and 8th July. Centreman Shane Wright is the 2/7 favourite to be selected first, and if he has anything like the impact of the players listed above, the future will be a bright one for the Canadiens.

What

2022 NHL Draft

Where

Bell Centre, Montreal

When

7th and 8th July 2022

How to watch

ESPN, ESPN+, NHL Network

Guy Lafleur (1971)

There have been numerous debates about who should get picked first in NHL draft history, but perhaps the toughest was in 1971 for the Canadiens.

Forced to choose between Hall of Famers, Guy Lafleur and Marcell Dionne the Canadiens opted for winger Lafleur who justified their choice by leading the team to five Stanley Cup titles in the 1970's.

He was named the most valuable player in the playoffs in 1977 and twice in the regular season (1977 and 1978).

Lafleur was the first player in NHL history to score 50 goals in six consecutive seasons as well as 50 goals and 100 points in six consecutive seasons.

To this day, he remains Montreal's franchise leader with 1,246 points (518 goals, 728 assists) in 961 games.

Denis Potvin (1973)

After Potvin was drafted in 1973 by the New York Islanders, he quickly established himself as one of the best defencemen ever to play the game.

The three-time Norris Trophy winner led the New York Islanders to four straight Stanley Cups (1979 to 1982), matching Lafleur's mid-70s achievement with the Canadiens.

New York's final Cup victory saw them sweep an Edmonton Oilers team led by Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Jari Kurri et al with Potvin playing a pivotal part.

Elected to the Hall of Fame in 1991, Potvin ended his 12 season NHL career with 1,052 points (310 goals, 742 assists) in 1,060 games. He made 185 appearances in the playoffs with 164 points (56 goals, 108 assists).

Sidney Crosby (2005)

Few number-one picks have entered the NHL with as much expectation as centreman Sidney Crosby.

A Memorial Cup Champion in 2005 with Rimouski Océanic, the Pittsburgh Penguins were the lucky team to acquire him and his impact was immediate.

Crosby began his glittering NHL career in 2005/06 becoming the youngest player ever to reach 100 points.

From missing the playoffs for four straight seasons (2001-06), led by Crosby, Pittsburgh have put together a remarkable run of 16 straight playoff appearances, the longest-active streak in all major North American professional sports.

During that stretch, Captain Crosby has led the club to four Stanley Cup Finals, lifting the Cup three times (2009, 16 and 17).

Twice the Conn Smythe Trophy winner, Crosby has ten more individual awards to his name so far.

Since entering the league, no NHL player has more regular-season (1,409) or playoff points (201) than Crosby.

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Mario Lemieux (1984)

Before Crosby, there was Lemieux for the Pittsburgh Penguins. Picked first in 1984, the 6'4" Hall of Famer isn't just one of the best first rounders of all-time but also considered one of the best players to ever play in the NHL.

Despite battling injuries and a bout of cancer, Lemieux was a dominant force for the Penguins, leading the NHL for points six times with his personal best of 199 coming at just 23 years-old.

Lemieux finished his career with ten 100-plus seasons, a litany of personal trophies and was a two-time Stanley Cup Champion (1991 and 1992).

In each championship season he won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player in the playoffs.

Alex Ovechkin (2004)

Selected first by the Washington Capitals in 2004, Ovechkin has proven to be one of, if not the greatest goal-scorer in NHL history.

A nine-time winner of the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy as the NHL's top scorer, Ovechkin is chasing, and likely to reach Wayne Gretzky's all-time goal record of 894.

The 36-year-old Russian currently sits on 780, scored in 1,274 games and is showing no signs of slowing down hitting 50 for the ninth time in his 17-year NHL career last season.

Ovechkin has also scored 72 times in 147 playoff games with his greatest achievement coming in 2017/18 when he scored 15 times in 24 games, Captaining the Capitals to their first ever Stanley Cup.

He was named the Conn Smythe Trophy winner, which tops a list of individual awards which also includes three Hart Memorial Trophy's as the regular season MVP.

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