Broph: Joe Nieuwendyk’s decision to retire Wednesday reminded me again of one of my favorite pieces of hockey trivia: What was the single most effective draft choice in NHL history?
I’d argue it was the Atlanta Flames’ decision to select Kent Nilsson in the fourth round, 64th overall, in the 1976 entry draft. One year after trying to draft Nilsson in the 12th round (but getting his first name wrong and choosing the mythical Torbjorn Nilsson instead), the Flames picked the right Nilsson and received 10 mostly effective years of service out of him. Nilsson still holds the team’s single-season-points record of 131, set in their inaugural season in Calgary, 1980-81, and was one of the most dynamic crowd-pleasing players in team history.
When Badger Bob Johnson eventually tired of Nilsson’s playoff ineffectiveness, general manager Cliff Fletcher swapped his rights to the Minnesota North Stars for a pair of second-round picks, one of which produced Nieuwendyk, the other Stephane Matteau (who would go on to win a Stanley Cup with Mike Keenan in New York in 1994).
Nieuwendyk dazzled almost from the get-go and scored 192 goals in his first four full NHL seasons; he, along with Gary Roberts and Hakan Loob were the 1a line on the Flames’ 1989 Stanley Cup-winning team and took turns scoring big goals in the playoff along with the other scoring line on the team, Doug Gilmour between Joe Mullen and Colin Patterson.
In the fall of 1995, Nieuwendyk got into a contract dispute with the Flames, which was resolved only when then GM Al Coates traded him to the Dallas Stars for a prospect named Jarome Iginla. Iginla, already in his 10th season with Calgary, won’t turn 30 until next July.
On the Flames’ all-time scoring list, Nieuwendyk ranks third (616 points in 577 games), Iginla fourth (599 in 733 games) and Nilsson sixth (562 in 425). Not a bad return for one middle-round choice in a draft that took place almost 30 years ago.
You could perhaps make a case for the Toronto Maple Leafs’ first choice in the 1985 when they selected Wendel Clark, a future captain. Clark gave the Leafs 441 points in 608 games, 15th on the Leafs’ all-time list, before Fletcher again – this guy can really get a return on his investment, can’t he? – flipped him to the Quebec Nordiques for Mats Sundin, their current captain. Sundin started the year third on the Leafs’ all-time scoring list (833 points in 832 games), but he is just four shy of tying Dave Keon for second on the all-time list and assuming he comes back to play next year, will eventually pass Darryl Sittler for top spot, probably by this time next year.
Can anybody find a similar drafting/trading thread elsewhere around the league?