As far as samples sizes go, this is as small as you’re going to get, but it’s still the best way to measure Nathan MacKinnon‘s place amongst NHL 1st overalls this early in his high scoring career.
Since 2004, the 1st overall selection has been a forward nine times out of ten. This summer the Colorado Avalanche kept the draft-a-forward trend alive when they chose MacKinnon over highly touted defenceman Seth Jones (who looks great so far in Nashville).
MacKinnon has 7 points in his first 6 NHL games. Pretty darn good beginning to a career, I’d say. But how foretelling are the first six games of a kid’s NHL career? Here is a look at the first half dozen games played by every 1st overall since Alex Ovechkin was chosen by the Washington Capitals back in 2004.
Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals
I’ll never forget the return of hockey in 2005-06. My buddies and I sat down to watch the Leafs first game of the season against the Ottawa Senators. Even before they had proven anything, the Ovechkin/Crosby watch was on. In the first frame of a game between Ontario’s two, the CBC cut to a clip of Ovie throwing a massive body check. It was obvious right from the start he was different than most kids who enter the NHL at 19. Ovie was ready for the league immediately.
Because of the 2004-05 lockout, Ovechkin’s career began two seasons after he became eligible. So, he was a year older than almost everyone else on this list – most of whom jumped into the NHL limelight at the age of 18.
Alex Ovechkin lived up to the hype right off the bat. He scored two goals in his first NHL game, en route to becoming only the fourth player in league history to record 50 or more goals as a rookie.
After 6 games played, Alex Ovechkin scored 4 goals, 3 assists for 7 points. He finished the season with 52 goals, 54 assists – 106 points in 81 games.
Watch Alex Ovechkin’s first NHL goal.
Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins
A mysterious behind-closed-doors lottery ultimately determined which NHL franchise would draft hockey’s greatest superstar since Mario Lemieux, and it just so happened that Mario’s team won it.
Sidney Crosby was drafted 1st overall by the Pens in 2005. In his first season, he played on the same ice as Lemieux, impressively scoring 102 points while Mario watched closely. But how did he do in his first 6?
Just like Ovechkin, Crosby registered at least one point in each of his first 6 NHL games.
After 6 games played, Sidney Crosby scored 2 goals, 8 assists for 10 points. He finished the season with 39 goals, 63 assists – 102 points in 81 games.
Watch Sidney Crosby’s first NHL goal, as Lemieux smiles from the bench.
Erik Johnson of the St. Louis Blues
Erik Johnson holds three rare distinctions on this list. 1) He is the only defenceman picked 1st overall in the last ten years. 2) Other than Ovie who missed his 18 year old season by default, EJ did not play a single game in his first year of NHL eligibility like the others. He is also, the only 1st choice who is no longer with the franchise that drafted him.
Johnson was traded to the Colorado Avalanche on February 19, 2011. He is still with the Avs, no doubt providing mentorship for the young Nathan MacKinnon.
It’s never insightful to judge any player strictly on point production, which is especially true for young defencemen. That being said, Erik Johnson’s NHL career started off on the right foot – he scored a point in each of his first two pro games. And then he hurt his foot and missed ten straight.
It took 16 St. Louis Blues games for Johnson to dress in 6.
After 6 games played, Erik Johnson had 1 goal, 3 assists for 4 points. He finished the season with 5 goals, 28 assists – 33 points in 69 games.
Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks
Kane joined a Hawks team that was young, rebuilding, possibly years away from contending you may have even thought back in 2007-08. The 07′ 1st overall selection took to the ice in his first season of eligibility under head coach Denis Savard. Things happen fast when young talent is abundant, thus, the Hawks quickly became a powerhouse, winning the Stanley Cup in Kane’s 3rd year pro. Good omen for the hot starting Avs.
Kane’s career started at a much slower point producing pace than that of Ovechkin/Crosby. However, to put things in perspective, the Hawks weren’t getting a lot of goals to begin the 2007-08 season. After 6 games played the upstart boys from Illinois had only scored 11 goals. Patrick Kane was in on 36% of those goals.
After 6 games played, Patrick Kane had 0 goals, 4 assists for 4 points. He finished the season with 21 goals, 51 assists – 72 points in 82 games.
Watch Patrick Kane’s first NHL tally.
Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning
No player has scored more goals in the NHL since Steven Stamkos‘ became a pro player. However, in the first half of his first season, he wasn’t thrown the keys to the Ferrari like Ovechkin, Crosby and Kane. Stammer joined a club with Vincent Lecavalier at centre. 2008’s 1st overall pick had to wait for ice time.
Stamkos had 0 points in his first 6 NHL games. I wonder how many geniuses were screaming, “BUST, BUST.” The truth is, throughout his first few months in the league, head coach Barry Melrose gave Stamkos approximately 6 minutes of ice a night. It’s hard to produce offensively from the bench. Melrose didn’t last long, and neither did Stamkos’ lack of production.
After 6 games played, Steven Stamkos had 0 goals, 0 assists for 0 points. He finished the season with 23 goals, 23 assists – 46 points in 79 games.
Watch Steven Stamkos score his first goal in the NHL. It’s a rocket.
John Tavares of the New York Islanders
John Tavares entered the National Hockey League with a bunch of hype surrounding his name. What made his entry to the league even more fascinating was his status as saviour for a New York Islanders franchise with a recent track record of doing basically everything wrong.
While pre-draft rankings argued defenceman Viktor Hedman was a strong choice at #1, the Isles stuck to the philosophy that you never draft a defenceman first overall.
Tavares played his premiere game in The Show against Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins. He showed up in a big way, recording 1 goal and 1 assist.
After 6 games played, John Tavares had 3 goals, 5 assists for 8 points. He finished the season with 24 goals, 30 assists – 54 points in 82 games.
Watch John Tavares score his first NHL goal and assist in his first game against Crosby’s Penguins.
Taylor Hall of the Edmonton Oilers
Taylor Hall represents the first of three straight 1st overall selections by the Edmonton Oilers. Right from the start, his talents were obvious, but it ain’t easy making the transition from junior to pro at such a young age.
Hall has always been an unrefined raw talent. In his first few games as an NHL player, he didn’t fare well on the scoreboard, but the high end promise that earned him #1 in the draft was on display as soon as he took the ice in his very first NHL game. The guy’s got skill.
After 6 games played, Taylor Hall had 0 goals, 1 assist for 1 point. He finished the season with 22 goals, 20 assists – 42 points in 65 games.
Watch Oilers star Taylor Hall record his first ever goal in the NHL.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins of the Edmonton Oilers
With their second straight 1st overall pick, the Oilers drafted another forward – this time a much needed centreman. RNH played pro right away, and he looked very strong in his rookie season. In only his 3rd game as an Oiler, the young centre scored 3 goals. Re-live the rookie hat trick magic here.
After 6 games played, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins had 4 goals, 1 assist for 5 points. He finished the season with 18 goals, 34 assists – 52 points in 62 games.
Check out Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scoring his first NHL goal.
Nail Yakupov of the Edmonton Oilers
With this selection, the Edmonton Oilers became only the second team in NHL history to draft 1st overall three years in a row, and the first team to do it under the draft lottery system.
Leading up to the 2012 draft, many speculators proposed the idea the Oilers may choose to trade their 3rd straight #1 for a defenceman. An interesting proposition, rather than choose Nail Yakupov, the best available player, another forward, and winger to boot. They held firm and kept their pick, choosing the speedy Russian 1st overall.
When the Nordiques won the Stanley Cup in 1996, only five seasons after picking the third of their three straight firsts, they did so without any of them in the lineup. Mats Sundin 89′, Owen Nolan 90′ and Eric Lindros 91′ were all shipped out of Quebec/Colorado young, for various reasons and a massive collection of returning pieces.
One thing worth noting, however, is that the Avalanche franchise made strategic moves to fill holes in their lineup by dangling the young assets they acquired with top choice. Another thing worth noting – they already had a young Joe Sakic, something the Oilers don’t possess.
In his 3rd ever NHL game, Yakupov scored a late tying goal, then exploded into controversial celebration. Watch the clip here.
After 6 games played, Nail Yakupov scored 4 goals, 0 assists for 4 points. He finished the season with 17 goals, 14 assists – 31 points in 48 games.
Watch Nail Yakupov’s first goal in the NHL.
Nathan MacKinnon of the Colorado Avalanche
MacKinnon’s early success is comparable to the best players on this list. His 1 goal and 7 assists as an NHLer do much in proving he is pro ready, in spite of the miniscule body of work we have at our disposal.
The way he moves around the ice is reminiscent of Sidney Crosby more than anyone else on this list – which is a great compliment for the stable youngster, already possessing physical maturity beyond that of most kids his age.
There are many reasons why the Avalanche are off to a great start this year, their record an impressive 6-0-0. Nathan MacKinnon is not riding passenger – he is a key contributor in the Avs early season triumphs, and a difference maker moving forward if he maintains his current pace. History suggests he’ll be fine.
Here is MacKinnon’s first NHL goal.