Just Take the Best Player: 2000-2003

Taking the best player available sounds pretty easy. Spend all that money on scouting and analysis, and then on draft day, have all the players ranked and take the best one that’s on the board. What if you even have the first overall pick? You’re the team who can have any player you want with no worry that some other team is going to grab the player before you get to pick. Should be really easy, right? How many times in the 17 drafts that have been analyzed here so far, did the team with the first overall pick take the best player available?

Answer: 9

So approximately only half the time, the team with the number one overall pick was able to identify the best player available. Some were even missed badly. Some years, every team whiffed on the best player available, as that player wasn’t even taken until after the first round. Let’s look at the players take and who should have been take first overall.


The first draft I’ve tracked, 2000, was an interesting year. A goalie was the first pick in the draft and a goalie was the best player available in the draft. Sounds like it should be a slam dunk. You’d also think the best player would be taken somewhere in the first 200 picks. But he wasn’t. In this draft, Rick DiPietro from Boston University was selected first overall by the Islanders and in 2006, signed a 15 year contract. A contract that would have expired only this year. But the best player available was taken 205th overall, in the 7th round, by the other New York City team, the Rangers, Henrik Lundqvist. The rest of the top five selected were Dany Heatley by Atlanta, Marian Gaborik by Minnesota, Rostilav Klesla to Columbus and Raffi Torres to the Islanders. The best players available after Lundqvist were Gaborik, Heatley, then Justin Williams by the Flyers at 28 and Lubomir Visnovsky, taken by the Kings at 118. We have two players selected after the top 100 and one that barely made it into the first round that were among the top five players.

1Rick DiPietroIslanders205Henrik LundqvistRangers
2Dany HeatleyThrashers3Marion GaborikWild
3Marian GaborikWild2Dany HeatleyThrashers
4Rostilav KleslaBlue Jackets28Justin WilliamsFlyers
5Raffi ToresIslanders118Lubomir VisnovskyKings
2000 Actual Draft and Top 5 Best Available


The 2001 draft was only marginally better, but by a slim margin. The top five players selected were: Ilya Kovalchuk to Atlanta, Jason Spezza to Ottawa, Alexander Svitov to Tampa Bay, Stephen Weiss to Florida and Stanislav Chistov to Anaheim at #5. These look like a couple pretty big whiffs at what should be some easy selections. The top five players available in this draft were, Craig Anderson to the Blackhawks at 73, Mike Smith to Dallas at 161, Spezza at 2, Kovalchuk at 1 and Jason Pominville to Buffalo at 55. That’s three players that any team could have easily had with their first round pick. We’re only looking at the first five picks in a draft and it already seems like it’s hard to take the best players.

1Ilya KovalchukThrashers73Craig AndersonBlackhawks
2Jason SpezzaSenators161Mike SmithStars
3Alexander SvitovLightning2Jason SpezzaSenators
4Stephen WeissPanthers1Ilya KovalchukThrashers
5Stanislav ChistovDucks55Jason PominvilleSabres
2001 Actual Draft and Top 5 Best Available


In 2002, we can say that three of the top five players were selected in the top 5. The draft order this year was Rick Nash to Columbus, Kari Lehtonen to Atlanta, Jay Bouwmeester to Florida, Joni Pitkanen to the Flyers and Ryan Whitney to the Penguins. However the order of the best players available in the top five is Lehtonen at 1, Cam Ward was taken 25th by Carolina, Duncan Keith at 54 by the Blackhawks, Nash 4th and Boumeester fifth. The sixth best player available in this draft was Dennis Wideman, who’d been selected 241st overall by Buffalo.

1Rick NashBlue Jackets2Kari LehtonenThrashers
2Kari LehtonenThrashers25Cam WardHurricanes
3Jay BoumeesterPanthers54Duncan KeithBlackhawks
4Joni PitkanenFlyers1Rick NashBlue Jackets
5Ryan WhitneyPenguins3Jay BoumeesterPanthers
2002 Actual Draft and Top 5 Best Available


This draft finally had the best player chosen first, but then a couple other misses. The Pittsburgh Penguins drafted first overall and got their franchise goalie, Marc-Andre Fleury. Next up was Carolina, taking Eric Staal, then Florida drafting Nathan Horton. At 4, Columbus took Nikolai Zherdev and Buffalo finished the top five by taking Thomas Vanek. If we look at the top five available, it starts with Fleury but then goes to Brent Burns, selected 20th by Minnesota, then Shea Weber taken 49th by Nashville. Nashville also got the fourth best player in this draft at 7 overall with Ryan Suter. In fifth place, and just barely beating out Staal is the 45th overall pick to the Boston Bruins, Patrice Bergeron.

1Marc-Andre FleuryPenguins1Marc-Andre FleuryPenguins
2Eric StaalHurricanes20Brent BurnsWild
3Nathan HortonPanthers49Shea WeberPredators
4Nikolai ZherdevBlue Jackets7Ryan SuterPredators
5Thomas VanekSabres45Patrice BergeronBruins
2003 Actual Draft and Top 5 Best Available

Additional years coming soon.