The Tampa Bay Lightning made Steven Stamkos the number one pick in the NHL Draft. Stamkos is a high scoring center from the Ontario Hockey League. If you live in Canada or a hockey town elsewhere then this comes as no surprise – Stamkos has been pegged as the top pick for five years or so. He’s got a ridiculous scoring touch, he’s strong and versatile, and he is frequently compared to Joe Sakic. He’ll make the team next year as the second center, and he is already the heavy favorite to be rookie of the year.
Recent history points to a successful career for Stamkos. Since 2000, the roster of number one picks is impressive. Rick DiPietro is the number on goalie for the Islanders, and he really came into his own this year. Ilya Kovalchuk is a scoring machine. So is Rick Nash. Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury was the playoff star for Pittsburgh this year. 2004 pick Alexander Ovechkin and 2005 pick Sidney Crosby are in a duel to be called the best player in the league. Last year’s top choice, Patrick Kane, was rookie of the year this year. Of all the picks since 2000 the only one who isn’t a certified star is defenseman Erik Johnson of St. Louis, and he put together a pretty solid rookie year in his own right.
Since Mario Lemieux was taken in 1984 there have really only been two guys, Alexander Daigle and Patrik Stefan, who haven’t put together very solid careers. Clearly it is much easier to assess top talent in hockey than any of the other major sports. Since 1984 in the NFL there have been eight or ten duds from the top spot, and the NBA has had at least five. Baseball is about as bad as football.
The Lightning remind me of the Bulls. They both have the top pick in their drafts, and they will both add a player who is as close to a lock as there is. Both teams had truly terrible years, but they both have good foundations of talent and were much better the previous year. Both of their top picks will contribute early and often this year and will elevate their new teams immediately. Both teams have also made much needed coaching changes. Both teams strike me as teams that are going to be much, much better next year. In fact, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see both of them in the playoffs, and at least at the start of their seasons I will bet them accordingly.