Re-imagining the 1990 NHL Draft

This month is the 25th anniversary of the 1990 NHL Entry Draft. It was one of the deepest drafts in NHL history. Headlining were four highly-touted forwards and a goalie All five were considered can’t-miss prospects; more on them in a bit. But the two biggest names selected in 1990 were Martin Brodeur and Jaromir Jagr.

So, let us pretend that we could re-do the first round of the 1990 NHL Draft, hindsight being 20/20 and knowing what we know now. Imagine we get a copy of Grays Sports Almanac, a la “Back to the Future: Part II,” photocopy it 21 times, go back in time (the hard part of this scenario), and give a copy to each NHL GM in 1990. Here is how the first round of that draft probably would have looked.

1 – Quebec Nordiques quebec_nordiques

Who they picked: Owen Nolan (RW)

Who they would have picked instead: Martin Brodeur (G), originally selected 20th overall

Custom card by Shellie Lewis.
Custom card by Shellie Lewis.

Why: Really, whichever team picked first in our revised draft had a tough choice to make — Jaromir Jagr or Martin Brodeur. Jagr has the most points of all players from the 1990 draft class, but Brodeur is the all-time leader in games played by a goaltender (1,266), in wins (691) and in shutouts (125). A great goal scorer like Jagr is truly special, but a goalie who rewrote the record books is even more so. Plus, Brodeur is French-Canadian, so he’d be loved in la belle province.

2 – Vancouver Canucks vancouver_canucks

Who they picked: Petr Nedved (C)

Who they would have picked instead: Jaromir Jagr (RW), originally selected 5th overall.

Custom card by Shellie Lewis.
Custom card by Shellie Lewis.

Why: With Brodeur off the table, selecting Jagr with the second pick is an easy choice. Jagr is the highest-scoring player from the 1990 draft class, with 722 goals, 1,080 assists and 1,162 points. He is fourth all-time in NHL scoring. And 25 years later, the guy is still playing.

3 – Detroit Red Wings detroit_red_wings

Who they picked: Keith Primeau (C)

Who they would have picked instead: Keith Tkachuk (RW), originally selected 19th overall.

Custom card by Shellie Lewis.
Custom card by Shellie Lewis.

Why: Tkachuk is second — a very distant second — in scoring among players drafted in 1990 with 1,065 points. He’s also second in goals (538) and fourth in assists (527) among 1990 players. Plus, the 17-year pro power forward really would have fit in nicely in the rough-and-tumble Norris (later Central) Division of the 1990s.

4 – Philadelphia Flyers philadelphia_flyers

Who they picked: Mike Ricci (C)

Who they would have picked instead: Doug Weight (C), originally selected 34th overall.

Custom card by Shellie Lewis.
Custom card by Shellie Lewis.

Why: Weight has the second-most assists (755) and third-most points (1,033) of 1990 players. He played in 1,238 games in 18 seasons and was named team captain two times in his career.

5 – Pittsburgh Penguins pittsburgh_penguins

Who they picked: Jaromir Jagr (RW)

Who they would have picked instead: Peter Bondra (C), originally selected 156th overall.

Custom card by Shellie Lewis.
Custom card by Shellie Lewis.

Why: With Jagr (plus the other three players) already selected, the next-best player available is Bondra, who is fourth in points (892) among players drafted in 1990. He’s also member of the 500-goal club, scoring 503 goals (also fourth among his draft class) in his 15-year career.

At this point, things get a little trickier. It would have been easy to rank the players by career points scored, and then draft them in that order. But that would be boring. So, I attempted to factor in overall value as a player, length of career and other qualities in determining the last 16 spots of the first round.

6 – New York Islanders new_york_islanders

Who they picked: Scott Scissons (C)

Who they would have picked instead: Sergei Zubov (D), originally selected 85th overall.

Why: Of all defensemen drafted in 1990, Zubov has the most career points with 771. He is also third among all 1990 players with 619 assists. Zubov could have been that defensive rock that the Islanders were sorely lacking since Dennis Potvin retired.

7 –  Los Angeles Kings la_kings

Who they picked: Darryl Sydor (D)

Who they would have picked instead: Owen Nolan (RW), originally selected 1st overall.

Why: Nolan was a fine player — but looking back, he certainly wasn’t better than Jagr, Brodeur or the other players above him on this list. He still competed in 1,200 games, and among 1990 players is fourth in goals (422) and fifth in points (885). Awesome numbers indeed, and worthy of being selected seventh overall.

8 – Minnesota North Stars minnesota_north_stars

Who they picked: Derian Hatcher (D)

Who they would have picked instead: Darryl Sydor (D), originally selected 7th overall.

Why: Sydor played 1,291 games, which is over 200 more than any other defenseman drafted in 1990. You don’t play that long if you’re not effective. His 409 assists puts him at ninth overall among 1990 draftees.

9 – Washington Capitals washington_capitals

Who they picked: John Slaney (D)

Who they would have picked instead: Derian Hatcher (D), originally selected 8th overall.

Why: Slaney scored the game-winning goal for Canada in the gold medal game at  the World Junior Championships in 1991, but ended up spending most of his career in the minors. Hatcher, a big, physical defenseman, played the third-most games (1.045) and scored the third-most points (331) among 1990 defenseman. Plus, his older brother Kevin was playing for Washington, so the Capitals would have snapped Derian up had he been available. (The Caps even gave the oldest Hatcher brother, Mark, a shot at making their team in 1988.)

10 – Toronto Maple Leafs toronto_maple_leafs

Who they picked: Drake Berehowsky (D)

Who they would have picked instead: Vyacheslav Kozlov (LW), originally selected 45th overall.

Why: Berehowsky was a journeyman who split much of his career between the NHL and the minors. Kozlov scored 356 goals and 497 assists, both marks are fifth among 1990 players. His 1,182 games puts him at seventh-most games of all 1990 players.

11 – Calgary Flames calgary_flames

Who they picked: Trevor Kidd (G)

Who they would have picked instead: Alexei Zhamnov (C), originally selected 77th overall.

Why: Kidd was the highest-drafted goalie in 1990, but had an average NHL career. finishing fifth in wins (140), GAA (2,84) and save percentage (.901) among the 11 goalies drafted in 1990. And while Zhamnov is the next-best available scorer in this mock draft, here’s a key stat: his 719 points in 807 games gives him an average of 0.890 points-per-game — putting him at a higher points-per-game average than anyone except Jagr.

12 – Montreal Canadiens montreal_canadiens

Who they picked: Turner Stevenson (RW)

Who they would have picked instead: Peter Nedved (C), originally selected 2nd overall.

Why: Stevenson played 11 seasons and could have played longer if not for a hip injury. But his numbers were just OK, scoring 190 points in 644 games. Nedved, though not the second-best player in this draft, still had an admirable career. He is seventh in goals (310), tenth in assists (407) and ninth in points (717) among 1990 draftees.

13 – New York Rangers newyork_rangers

Who they picked: Michael Stewart (D)

Who they would have picked instead: Robert Lang (C), originally selected 133rd overall.

Why: Stewart is one of the two first-rounders from 1990 to never play in the NHL. Lang ended his career as the tenth-best scorer among 1990 players, with 261 goals and 442 assists for 703 points in 989 games.

14 – Buffalo Sabres buffalo_sabres

Who they picked: Brad May (LW)

Who they would have picked instead: Felix Potvin (G), originally selected 31st overall.

Why: May had a long career — his 1,041 games played are the 14th most out of the 250 players drafted in 1990 — but enforcers in the 1990s were a dime a dozen. Potvin was a solid goaltender who had a decent career, appearing in 640 games (second to Brodeur) over 12 seasons.

15 – Hartford Whalers hartford_whalers

Who they picked: Mark Greig (RW)

Who they would have picked instead: Geoff Sanderson, originally selected 36th oveall.

Why: Greig skated only 125 games in the NHL, and another 1,000 games between the minors and Europe. Sanderson — who was actually selected by Hartford in the second round of the 1990 draft — is a first-rounder by comparison, playing in 1,104 NHL games and scoring 700 points.

16 – Chicago Blackhawks chicago_blackhawks

Who they picked: Karl Dykhuis (D)

Who they would have picked instead: Mikael Renberg (LW), originally selected 40th overall.

Why: Since the whole point of this article is to pretend, let’s also pretend that Mike Keenan, then coach and general manager of the Blackhawks, wasn’t biased against European players. Thus, Renberg would have been a good choice late in the first round. His 464 points in 661 games gives him a points-per-game average of 0.71, which is highest among all players available at this point in the draft. And after 30-year old Michel Goulet, the Blackhawks had absolutely no depth at left wing, so Renberg would have fit in nicely.

17 – Edmonton Oilers edmonton_oilers

Who they picked: Scott Allison (C)

Who they would have picked instead: Keith Primeau (C), originally selected 3rd overall.

Why: Allison is the other 1990 first-round draft pick to not play in a single NHL game. Primeau, who falls from 3rd to 17th in this mock draft, played in 909 games, scoring 266 goals — tenth among 1990 draftees.

18 – Vancouver Canucks vancouver_canucks

Who they picked: Shawn Antowski (C)

Who they would have picked instead: Bryan Smolinski (C), originally selected 21st overall.

Why: Considering that the Canucks got to pick Jaromir Jagr in this mock draft, they could pick Taro Tsujimoto with their 18th pick and it wouldn’t have mattered. Smolinski, who was actually drafted three spots back at 21st overall, was ninth in goals (274) among 1990 players.

19 – Winnipeg Jets winnipeg_jets

Who they picked: Keith Tkachuk (RW)

Who they would have picked instead: Mike Ricci (C), originally selected 4th overall.

Why: Ricci was ranked as the top prospect by NHL Central Scouting in 1990, but he fell to the fourth overall pick on draft day. And now, he falls another 15 spots to 19th overall. His 605 points in 1,099 games isn’t great, but keep in mind that Ricci successfully transitioned his role and became defensive forward midway in his 14-year career, so it isn’t all just about points.

20 – New Jersey Devils new_jersey_devils

Who they picked: Martin Brodeur (G)

Who they would have picked instead: Craig Conroy (C), originally selected 123rd overall.

Why: Since Brodeur went first overall in this alternate timeline, that doesn’t leave much left for the Devils once they get their first choice at number 20. So, they’ll have to settle for defensive forward Conroy, who didn’t break into the NHL until he was 25, and yet managed to play 1,009 games. He scored 542 points, which is 15th among 1990 draftees and better than anyone else available. Heck, that puts him in the top 6% of all players selected. Plus, he was a two-time Selke Trophy finalist for best defensive forward; they would have loved him in Jersey!

21 – Boston Bruins boston_bruins

Who they picked: Bryan Smolinksi (C)

Who they would have picked instead: Ken Klee (D), originally selected 177th overall.

Why: With Smolinksi going to the Canucks, the Bruins have to pick someone else. Klee, a defenseman, was an NHL regular from 1994-95 to 2008-09, playing in 934 games over 14 seasons. He scored 55 goals during his career, but if you trust Wikipedia, 13 of them were game-winners — which give him the highest percentage of GWGs in NHL history.

Before you tell me that this guy is better than that guy, or that the team a player ends up on factors into his success, keep in mind that this is all just for fun. Of course Jagr’s numbers would have been different — perhaps lower, perhaps higher — if he wasn’t playing with Mario Lemieux. Maybe Brodeur wouldn’t be the all-time leader in shutouts if he had to play for the Nordiques. Then again, it is fun to imagine what a forward line of Trevor Linden, Pavel Bure and Jaromir Jagr would have been like. That said, please leave a comment, and let me know what you think.

ALSO...my wonderful girlfriend Shellie wasted spent all her free time on Thursday Photoshopping the five fake cards you see in this article. If you’ve read this to the end, please leave a shout out to her in the comments. ■

Author: Sal Barry

Sal Barry is the editor and webmaster of Puck Junk. He is a freelance hockey writer, college professor and terrible hockey player. Follow him on Twitter @puckjunk

10 thoughts on “Re-imagining the 1990 NHL Draft”

  1. What a great post … I have really enjoyed reliving the 1990 draft!! I was really into hockey that year and I remember collecting every single card release … I always thought it would have great if UD had included a rookie card for other draft picks passed the first 5 selection … and have a Brodeur UD rookie card! Now I can only imagined if been Brodeur selected first by the Nordiques … this would have become a classic card for every collector from La Belle Province ..!!!

  2. thanks for this, sal. i think of this draft often (we didn’t scout europe in 1990 like we do today; there were so many unknowns regarding jagr), but i’ve only taken the time to consider those first four forwards. you’ve taken this discussion to an entirely new place. (a special thanks to shellie for her efforts.)

  3. This was a great article – i thoroughly enjoyed it – big shout out to Shellie, you did a good job. If you have time – do an article on the sharks and who they should have drafted… they continually miss on good prospect s- most notably, recently – tuevo teravainen… funk dat

  4. I would definitely put Jagr at #1 instead of Brodeur. Brodeur has a lot of wins and shutouts but those are more team stats than individual stats, and he was playing for a really good, defensive-minded team his whole career. Look at an ‘individual’ stat like save percentage – Brodeur is only 27th all time in that category. If the Devils had drafted Felix Potvin, Ed Belfour, Curtis Joseph, or any other top netminder from that period, it’s likely THEY would be the career leader in wins/shutouts by virtue of how strong the Devils neutral zone trap was during the 90s and early 2000s. Jagr is in the top 5 scoring in NHL history and holds the most points in a season for a Wing – that makes him the clear #1 for this draft in my book.

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