One of the most successful athletes in history once said, “Being No. 2 sucks.”
On the contrary, for those looking forward to the Florida Panthers’ No. 2 pick in Sunday’s NHL Draft, Andre Agassi’s famous quote definitely does not apply.
Some of the league’s best hockey players have been passed over as the very top choice during their respective drafts, yet still flourished remarkably in the NHL.
This year’s draft has an extremely talented top three, including Seth Jones, Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin. Jones and MacKinnon have been battling for that top spot since draft talk started, but Jones clinched the top ranking in Central Scouting’s final list, almost sealing the deal that he would go to the Colorado Avalanche with the first pick. But recently the Avs’ Executive Vice President of Hockey Operations, Joe Sakic, said they would pass over Jones and select a forward, contradicting what many considered predetermined.
Here’s what we do know: Jones and MacKinnon both want their names to be the first ones called in the draft. But the reality is that only one of them will receive that “honor” as MacKinnon called it, so what happens to No. 2?
Does he stand in the shadow of No. 1?
Gabriel Landeskog didn’t.
Landeskog went second overall in the 2011 NHL Draft to the Colorado Avalanche. At the time, the Avalanche didn’t even know if he’d last long enough to get to them.
"We were hoping he'd still be available at that second pick of ours," said the Avs chief scout Rick Pracey to the Denver Post after the draft.
But when he was there after the Edmonton Oilers chose Ryan Nugent-Hopkins as their top choice, many were surprised.
"If I was Edmonton, I would have taken him," said Steve Spott, who coached Landeskog on the Kitchener Rangers, to the Denver Post in 2011. "He's going to help take Colorado back to where they used to be.”
So two years later, how is Landeskog doing?
Since then he has become the youngest captain in the history of the NHL, won the Calder Trophy for Rookie of the Year, and has played in 118 games for the Avalanche, recording 69 points (31-38-69). Some are saying he could become one of the Avs’ best captains in history, including his teammates.
"Gabe's a freak of nature," Avs defenseman Erik Johnson told the Denver Post. "He's from Sweden, but sounds North American. He's 20 years old and acts 40 years old. He definitely fits the bill for a captain.”
And Landeskog is just one example. Playoffs have been an area where these players have strived as well. Tyler Seguin, who was taken at No. 2 in the 2010 draft, just finished his playoff run as the Bruins lost to the Chicago Blackhawks for the Stanley Cup in game six.
Drew Doughty, picked second overall by the Los Angeles Kings in 2008, helped lead the Kings to their Stanley Cup win in 2012, and over the years has become one of the best defensemen in the league. The Kings media voted Doughty the team’s outstanding defenseman for several consecutive seasons, and many say he will become a franchise cornerstone. He’s played 364 games with the team, recording 184 points (49-135-184).
Doughty was also nominated for the Norris Trophy as the top defenseman, and just signed an eight-year, $56 million contract with the team. And to think, the Kings’ General Manager Dean Lombardi didn’t even expect Doughty to be part of the starting lineup in his first season. Now he’s getting a lot of ice time and says he will do whatever is needed to help his team.
“I love playing that much. I feel the more I play, the better I play,” Doughty told lakingsinsider.com.
Many other second picks have won awards just like Doughty, including the Hart Memorial Trophy for MVP. One of the many second overall picks who took home this award is Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins, who was drafted second in the 2004 draft. Malkin has also won the Art Ross Trophy as the top-scorer in the league, and the Conn Smythe Trophy for MVP during the playoffs. He’s been an explosive player in the NHL playing along Penguins captain Sidney Crosby — who Malkin has called the best player in the world — and was just signed to an eight-year $76 million contract. Just a few years ago Malkin impressed the Penguins right from the start, earning the Rookie of the Month honor after only six games.
“It's quite amazing to see what he's doing the first few games of his career in the NHL," said Hall of Famer and Penguins legend Mario Lemieux to CBC Sports at the time. "We knew he was a great talent, but not to that extent. From what I've seen so far, he's going to be a great player for many years to come."
We see a pattern here that shows going No. 2 instead of No. 1 doesn’t necessarily hurt a player. Some other names you might recognize are: Eric Staal, Jordan Staal, Bobby Ryan, Daniel Sedin, Patrick Marleau, Wade Redden, Chris Pronger, Brendan Shanahan — just to name a few that all went second.
All of these players have skated in hundreds of games, scored dozens of goals, and made names for themselves in such a way that many forget they even went second. That’s not important, it’s just a number after all.
So come Sunday when the Cats get their time on the clock to make that second choice, fans shouldn’t be worried. In this case, being No. 2 definitely does not “suck.”
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