Back in 1970 when the Vancouver Canucks joined the NHL, it didn’t really matter that they were destined to stink like rank limburger for seasons on end because fans like me were thrilled just to have a team.
As fans, we accepted the simple fact we’d have to make due with cheering for cast-offs from other teams like Andre Boudrias, Wayne Maki, Rosaire Paiement and a big defenceman named Pat Quinn while opponents kicked the Canucks teeth in some nights and beat them for fun on others.
Back then — as is the case with NHL expansion teams of any era — it was understood it would take time for the Canucks to compete and that slowly, by building through the draft and stockpiling talent, things would get better. At least that was the plan.
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Of course, Vancouver fans got reminded right out of the gate there are no guarantees in the draft and that, for example, there can and often is a huge difference between having the first pick and the second.
In 1970, the Buffalo Sabres, who entered the NHL the same season as the Canucks, got the first pick in what was called the Amateur Draft thanks to the spin of a wheel. They used it to select Gilbert Perreault. The Canucks picked second and took Dale Tallon.
Scarred for life by that unfortunate outcome before I was even a teenager, and more than a decade before I started writing about hockey for a living, it doesn’t take a lot of arm-twisting to convince me that picking first is better than picking second.
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Thus, I don’t give a whiz if Taylor Hall, Tyler Seguin and Cam Fowler are rated neck-and-neck going into the 2010 Entry Draft. If the Edmonton Oilers are going to stink badly enough to be a lottery team, and that’s a gimme, then it makes sense they finish 30th in the Dive For Five, giving themselves the best chance to pick first.
Tallon. F*ck me.

Wait a second

Now, I get it that teams have whiffed completely with the first pick in the Entry Draft. Likewise with the second and the third pick, the fourth and the fifth, etc. History also shows teams picking second or third or even fourth or fifth have ended up with better players than the team picking first.
That accepted, and still shuddering every time I think of Perreault shoving it up the backsides of Vancouver fans on the way to the Hall of Fame with 1,326 points in 1,191 games, if the Oilers are going to do this DFF thing right, then I want them on greased skids from now until April.
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Just looking back 20 years to 1989, and without even taking into account the last four drafts, there’s plenty of examples of the contrast between picking first and second.
  • 2005: The Pittsburgh Penguins picked Sidney Crosby, who has played 335 games, has tallied 159-291-450 and has a Stanley Cup ring. The Anaheim Ducks picked second and selected Bobby Ryan, who has 56-47-103 in 133 games. Crosby will be a HOFer. Ryan is a good, young player.
  • 2002: The Columbus Blue Jackets picked Rick Nash first, while Atlanta took goaltender Kari Lehtonen. Nash is a franchise player with 213-183-396 in 488 games despite having next-to-nothing in terms of offensive support on mostly bad teams. Lehtonen, often injured, is not.
  • 1998: Tampa Bay selected Vincent Lecavalier first, while Nashville picked second and took David Legwand. Lecavalier has 312-397-709 in 831 games and a Stanley Cup ring. Legwand has been a journeyman.
  • 1996: Ottawa took Chris Phillips from the Prince Albert Raiders with the first pick, while San Jose took Andrei Zyuzin. Phillips has played more than 800 NHL games, all with the Senators, and has been a solid top-four guy. Zyuzin played 496 games in parts of 10 seasons. Who remembers him?
  • 1991: The Quebec Nordiques took Eric Lindros first overall, then flipped him to Philadelphia for Peter Forsberg, Steve Duchesne, Kerry Huffman, Mike Ricci, Ron Hextall, Philadelphia’s 1st round choice (Jocelyn Thibault) in the 1993 Entry Draft, $15,000,000 and future considerations. San Jose took Pat Falloon, who never came close to living up to the pick in 575 NHL games, including a stint with the Oilers.
  • 1989: Quebec used the first pick to take Mats Sundin, who played 1,346 games and had 1,349 points. The New York Islanders took Dave Chyzowski with the second pick. Chyzowski finished 1,318 points back of Sundin with 31 points in 126 games.

Getting it right

The Sabres got it right with the first pick in 1970 and made it to the playoffs in their third season and the Stanley Cup final in their fifth campaign. Starting with the year they reached the Cup Final, the Sabres had at least 100 points if five of the next six seasons.
The Canucks got it wrong with the second pick and didn’t win more than 24 games in their first four seasons. They missed the playoffs in six of their first eight seasons and were knocked out in the first round the two years they did make the post-season.
I said it before and I’ll say it again, the DFF should be primarily about clearing cap space and freeing up options for GM Steve Tambellini. Landing a blue-chip prospect like Hall, Seguin or Fowler should be an aside.
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That said, the importance of getting it right at the 2010 Entry Draft and adding that pick to strong drafts that have landed the Oilers Jordan Eberle and Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson is significant.
In that context, even allowing that Hall, Seguin and Fowler could all be hits, misses or a combination, there’s something to be said for taking the first swing at the podium next June.
— Listen to Robin Brownlee every Wednesday and Thursday from 4 to 6 p.m. on Just A Game with Jason Gregor on TEAM 1260.