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A look back at the history of the third overall pick in the NHL Entry Draft

From Hall of Famers to some major whiffs, the third overall pick has yielded a variety of players over the years.

2012 NHL Entry Draft - Round One Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Drafting third overall in the NHL is one of the biggest chances a team has to alter the course of its franchise. The talent of the players available is almost unmatched, and with just one selection a team can flip the switch from bottom-feeder to perennial contender, assuming they hit on the right prospect.

Since 2000, there has been a wide range of players grabbed at third overall, from multiple-time Stanley Cup champions to utter busts at the NHL level. Going back even beyond that, the list is filled with players enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

This article will compile a recent history of the third overall pick. We will also take a look back at the past picks the Montreal Canadiens have made at third overall, though there haven’t been many of them.

Canadiens history

Prior to this season, the Canadiens have selected third overall just twice in their long history in the NHL. The most recent was in 2012 when the Canadiens, under the eye of newly minted GM Marc Bergevin, selected Alex Galchenyuk, a centre from Sarnia in the OHL. In the six seasons that followed, Galchenyuk played up and down the lineup, at both centre and wing, producing a 30-goal campaign in 2015-16.

While there were stretches of inconsistency or slumps, one thing was clear, and it was that Galchenyuk possessed high-level talent, and with some stability he could explode into a true NHL star. Despite signing a three-year extension in 2017, Galchenyuk was shipped to Arizona in exchange for Max Domi, making him the second top-10 pick Marc Bergevin has moved in his tenure.

In his 418 games as a Hab, the Belarusian-American posted 108 goals and 147 assists — not awful numbers by any stretch, but the 24-year-old is capable of another level on the ice, and will look to reach it with his new team.

To find the only other third overall pick the Canadiens ever made, we have to travel all the way back to the 1968 Amateur Draft. Montreal possessed the first three picks, and with their third and final one selected Jim Pritchard of the WCHL’s Winnipeg Jets. Pritchard only played two games in the WHA, the closest he would ever get to the NHL, and left hockey following the 1976-77 season in the NAHL with the Johnstown Jets.

NHL History

As we delve into the expanded history of the third overall pick, it’s worth noting that this list goes as far back as the draft year of the oldest currently active player, but these are some of the bigger names from before the 2000 draft.

1980: Denis Savard

Stats: 1196 GP, 473 G, 865 A

A member of the 1993 Canadiens Stanley Cup-winning team, the Hockey Hall of Famer and nine-time All-Star made his name with the Chicago Blackhawks before being traded for Chris Chelios in 1990.

1983 Draft: Pat LaFontaine

Stats: 865 GP, 468 G, 545 A

One of the all-time greats for both the New York Islanders and Buffalo Sabres, Pat LaFontaine was a prolific scorer who gained recognition in a very offensively oriented era. Playing at the same time as Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky, LaFontaine performed at a high level right up until his forced retirement.

1991 Draft: Scott Niedermayer

Stats: 1263 GP, 172 G, 568 A

Ending his career with two Olympic golds, a World Juniors gold, a Conn Smythe, a Norris Trophy, and four Stanley Cups, Niedermayer might be the best third overall pick of all time.

1995 Draft: Aki Berg

Stats: 606 GP, 15 G, 70 A

Sometimes you get Scott Niedermayer, sometimes you get Aki Berg, and that’s the way she goes folks.


2000 Draft: Marian Gaborik

Stats: 1035 GP, 407 G, 408 A

We’re going way back to look at the oldest active number three overall pick in the NHL, current Ottawa Senators player Marian Gaborik. Originally drafted by the Minnesota Wild out of the Slovak league, Gaborik would become the face of that franchise for nearly a decade, leaving in the summer of 2009 to ink a deal with the New York Rangers.

Gaborik continued his strong play through three seasons in the Big Apple, topping 40 goals twice, but was traded to Columbus in 2012. The next season (2013-14) he played 22 games for the Blue Jackets and was then traded to Los Angeles at the deadline, spending over three years in California.

With a burgeoning contract and production slipping, Gaborik was packaged off to Ottawa in exchange for Dion Phaneuf, in a move that would have made waves a decade earlier. With three years at $4.875 million left, it’s unclear what the Senators will do with his contract for the time being.

2001 Draft: Alexander Svitov

Stats: 179 GP, 13 G, 24 A

Well, sometimes teams hit home runs and land a player like Gaborik who can dominate the league as an offensive dynamo. Then sometimes you do what the Tampa Bay Lightning did and draft a player like Svitov who put up 21 total points in two seasons in Russia, and had penalty minutes in the triple digits. Svitov would play more than 30 NHL games in only two seasons, spending much of his time in the AHL with the Lightning’s affiliates, where he used up most of his development time in the penalty box.

After heading to Columbus in 2006 for one year, he returned home to the Russian league. He played for Avangard Omsk for three years, then spent three seasons with the KHL club in Ufa. He most recently captained Ak Bars Kazan, featuring Habs great Andrei Markov, to a Gagarin Cup victory over the heavily favoured CSKA Moscow.

2002 Draft: Jay Bouwmeester

Stats: 1106 GP, 84 G, 314 A

Speaking of recognizable names, if it seems like Jay Bouwmeester has been around for a long time, it’s because he has, for 16 seasons in fact. Coming out of the WHL, Bouwmeester made the Florida Panthers roster in his rookie year, and suited up for all 82 games.

By the time this past season ended, Bouwmeester had played every game in nine of his 16 seasons, and in 70 games or more in 12 of them, which is impressive longevity for a defender. He was also part of a gold medal squad for Team Canada in the 2014 Sochi Olympics, and of the disappointing Canadian group in the 2006 Games where Canada failed to medal. He is still chugging along as a member of the St. Louis Blues, and has one year left on the five-year deal he signed in 2014.

2003 Draft: Nathan Horton

Stats: 626 GP, 203 G, 218 A

A name most Habs fans would be happy to never hear again, is that of 2003 third overall pick Nathan Horton. A nasty power forward with some scoring touch, Horton broke into the league with the Florida Panthers in 2003. He would amass five straight 20 goal seasons for the team in Sunrise before joining the Boston Bruins for three years where he and Milan Lucic tortured the league as a tandem.

He broke the hearts of Habs fans everywhere with his overtime winning goal in the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs, en route to hoisting the Cup in Vancouver that year. He was also a victim of one of the nastiest blindside hits in recent memory as Aaron Rome left Horton unconscious on the ice with a late shot to the head in the Cup Final. Even though Horton would return to health, a severe issue with his back soon forced him out of playing entirely, and he currently sits on the Maple Leafs’ LTIR list, after being swapped for David Clarkson’s disastrous contract.

2004 Draft: Cam Barker

Stats: 310 GP, 21 G. 75 A

2004 was the year Alex Ovechkin became a household name in North America, and right behind him was Evgeni Malkin. The duo would become a part of one of the fiercest on-ice rivalries between the Capitals and Penguins for years to come. Meekly behind them at third overall was Cam Barker. If you don't remember Cam Barker it’s because he had an entirely unremarkable career as an NHL defender, and has spent the last five years playing in Russia/Switzerland. It’s not as if the draft was swimming with talented defenders, but just two picks after Barker was picked, the Coyotes selected Blake Wheeler who, as it stands currently, has more career assists than Barker has NHL games.

2005 Draft: Jack Johnson

Stats: 788 GP, 66 G, 212 A

No, the Habs should not sign him this off-season.

Drafted extremely high out of the U.S. National Development Team, Johnson had a lot of promise as a defender who could skate and generate some offence, which was true. This issue with Johnson is that he cannot defend his way out of a paper bag, and is looking for a significant pay raise. Coming off a monster seven year deal, Johnson isn’t as well off as one might expect, thanks to some awful things his family has done. As a result, he’s looking for one last major payday before he can ride off into the sunset.

Overall, the pick isn't that awful if the player manages to stick in the best league in the world despite some glaringly obvious flaws in his game.

2006 Draft: Jonathan Toews

Stats: 791 GP, 292 G, 382 A

Jonathan Toews, Captain Serious himself, is the next person on this trip down memory lane, and quite frankly might be one of the most successful third overall picks as well. With three Stanley Cup rings, a Conn Smythe, and Selke to his name, plus two World Juniors gold medals, one World Championship gold medal (and a silver too), and two Olympic gold medals, it’s hard to find a major team trophy that Toews hasn’t won. Add in the fact that he’s topped 20 goals and 50 points in every NHL season he’s played, and it’s hard to find many players to match that resume overall.

2007 Draft: Kyle Turris

Stats: 609 GP, 149 G 213 A

Turris is a bit of an interesting case. He spent parts of four seasons with the then Phoenix Coyotes, before asking to be traded six games into the 2011-2012 season. He landed with the Ottawa Senators and quickly saw his career take off as one of the Senators more efficient offensive stars. Following the departure of long time captain Daniel Alfredsson, Turris became a fan favourite in his stead. Then as part of the massive Matt Duchene (more on him shortly), Turris was sent packing to the Nashville Predators, where he inked a massive six year deal with the club. Not a bad place to end up if you’re Turris, jumping ship from a disastrous Ottawa club, to one of the top teams in the league, while getting a brand new deal.

2008 Draft: Zach Bogosian

Stats: 552 GP, 49 G, 121 A

Drafted by the now defunct Atlanta Thrashers club, the defensive defender from upstate New York has had a hard time keeping himself in the lineup since his days in Atlanta. A combination of injuries, and just god awful teams hampered some early development with the Thrashers and then the Jets. As it looked like things were getting back on track, Bogosian was packaged with Evander Kane and traded to the hapless Buffalo Sabres in exchange for Tyler Myers, Joel Armia, and picks. He has two more years left on his contract with the Sabres, and will head to UFA status afterwards. 500 NHL games isn’t an easy accomplishment, and it’s rather funny to see that he was traded for a player taken nine spots after him in the same draft. What might sting the most about this is that at 15th overall in the same year, the Senators selected none other than Erik Karlsson who has transformed himself into, arguably, the NHL’s best defencemen.

2009 Draft: Matt Duchene

Stats: 654 GP, 201 G, 276 A

Part of one of the biggest trades in recent memory, Duchene is a highly skilled centre who spent his entire career in the Colorado Avalanche organization before being traded to Ottawa this year. Over 200 goals and 276 assists isn’t an easy feat, and neither were the Olympic gold medal and two World Championship gold medals he won as part of Team Canada. Originally thought to be a major trade target for the Canadiens, it looks like Duchene will be a leading piece as the Senators begin to tear down and rebuild their entire NHL team in the coming seasons.

2010 Draft: Erik Gudbranson

Stats: 391 GP, 14 G, 40 A

Call this one confusing, call it bad, call it whatever you want, but Florida drafting a defensive defender at third overall looks awful. It looks even worse when players like Vladimir Tarasenko, Ryan Johansen, Jeff Skinner and Jaden Schwartz were on the board at the time. On the bright side, he’s no longer the headache of the Florida Panthers despite Dale Tallon’s attempts to re-acquire him in a trade, and even more silver lining, at least they didn’t waste the pick on Dylan McIlrath?

2011 Draft: Jonathan Huberdeau

Stats: 385 GP, 95 G, 172 A

Part of the Panthers ongoing effort to rebuild the franchise, Huberdeau was drafted with high expectations. When he’s been healthy, and the Panthers have built the team up properly, Huberdeau has been an incredible force in the NHL, creating highlight reel goals, and becoming a proficient play-maker overall. Coming off a career best season in 2017-2018, the Panthers will be looking for him to improve even more on his 69 point effort as attempt to claw their way back into the playoffs. At just 25 years old he’s entering his prime and, if last season is any indication, the best may be yet to come with the Quebec native.

2012 Draft: Alex Galchenyuk

Stats: 418 GP, 108 G, 147 A

See the opening section for all you need to know about the Canadiens’ last third overall pick.

2013 Draft: Jonathan Drouin

Stats: 241 GP, 42 G, 99 A

2013 was a very, very stacked draft year, and coming in at third overall is current Canadiens centre Jonathan Drouin, originally drafted by the Tampa Bay Lightning. An absolute dynamo for the Halifax Mooseheads in the QMJHL, Drouin posted back-to-back 100+ point seasons before joining the professional ranks in 2014. From there he clashed with his head coach over playing time, even outright refusing to report to the AHL, and sat out most of one season before finally joining the Syracuse Crunch. After a successful campaign, where he tallied 53 points, Drouin was shipped to Montreal in a blockbuster deal for Mikhail Sergachev. He has had his ups and downs while learning to play centre in Montreal, but it’s clear the high-end skill is there, and that he could use a supporting piece or two.

If you’re also wondering how the 2013 Draft affected the Canadiens, newly acquired Max Domi was drafted 12th overall, and trade deadline acquisition Kerby Rychel was taken 19th by Columbus.

2014 Draft: Leon Draisaitl

Stats: 269 GP, 75 G, 132 A

While the Edmonton Oilers are the McDavid show these days, you would be unwise to forget about Drai(saitl). A high scoring German centre out of the WHL, Draisaitl was part of a tightly contested top five, which went off the rails when Vancouver decided Jake Virtanen was better than William Nylander or Nikolaj Ehlers. After a weird start to his rookie year (the Oilers refused to let Draisaitl represent his country at the World Juniors tournament), they sent him back to the WHL anyways. He proceeded to torch the league in the 32 games he played. When he joined the Oilers for the 2015-2016 season he, along with Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, and a rookie Connor McDavid, led the Oilers potent offence, something that would be a staple going forward.

2015 Draft: Dylan Strome

Stats: 28 GP, 4 G, 6 A

Count this one under “too early to tell” for now, but looking at the success of the players drafted immediately after Strome, it’s not hard to think Arizona picked the wrong guy. Mitch Marner has become a human highlight reel for the Leafs, and Noah Hanifin, Zach Werenski and Ivan Provorov are proving to be legit top pairing defenders for their teams. At least the Coyotes didn’t blow the chance to land Oliver Kylington, Kyle Connor, and Mathew Barzal and end up whiffing on two of their three picks in a row.

2016 Draft: Pierre-Luc Dubois

Stats: 82 GP, 20 G, 28 A

Confusing at the time, but making more sense now, is the Blue Jackets’ third overall pick in 2016. It was widely assumed that Jesse Puljujarvi would be drafted right after his countrymen Patrik Laine, but Columbus shocked everyone in taking Dubois instead. A large, high-scoring centre in the QMJHL, Dubois looked lethargic in the start to his post-draft season. A trade to Joel Bouchard’s Blainville-Boisbrian Armada seemed to spark his game, and the next year in his first NHL season he played in all 82 games. The sky is the limit for Dubois, who has a number of great pieces around him to help him reach the next level in his career, even if he was rumored to be a major trade target of the Canadiens this past year.

2017 Draft: Miro Heiskanen

Stats: 0 GP, 0 G, 0 A

Heiskanen is making a name for himself in Finland in his first post-draft season, and Dallas Stars fans should be drooling at what he will bring to the table when he suits up in North America.

2018 Draft: ???

Stats: ???

It could be Filip Zadina.

It could be Brady Tkachuk.

It could be Quinn Hughes, or Jesperi Kotkaniemi. The options at number three are enticing, and quite frankly there isn’t a bad pick for the Canadiens staff to make here this year.

As you can see, third overall has turned out some pretty incredible players, and the Canadiens are more than likely in line for one them this year as well.