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You don't need a first-overall pick to win the Stanley Cup

All four conference finalists have at least one first-overall pick but that doesn't mean it's a prerequisite to win the Cup.
Connor McDavid - Codie McLachlan CP
Connor McDavid may be the best player in the NHL but he hasn't taken the Edmonton Oilers to the Stanley Cup yet.

The four conference finalists in the Stanley Cup Playoffs have a few things in common. 

All four tallied over 100 points during the regular season. Each had at least one player who averaged over 1.25 points per game. They each have a right-handed defenceman in the lineup that they drafted in the first round.  

One other thing the Tampa Bay Lightning, New York Rangers, Edmonton Oilers, and Colorado Avalanche have in common is that they each have at least one first-overall pick in the lineup.

For the Lightning, it’s their captain Steven Stamkos, who was picked first overall way back in 2008. The Rangers have a first-overall pick of a more recent vintage: Alexis Lafreniere in 2020. 

The Oilers and Avalanche each have two. The Oilers have Connor McDavid and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, the only two of their four first-overall picks in the last 12 years that are still with the team. 

The Avalanche have Nathan MacKinnon, who they picked first overall in 2013, and Erik Johnson, picked first overall by the St. Louis Blues in 2006 and acquired via trade in 2011. 

That means the winner of the Stanley Cup will be going to a team with a first-overall pick in the lineup. It’s pretty easy to look back at Stanley Cup winners and convince yourself that a first-overall pick is a prerequisite to winning, with the Pittsburgh Penguins led by first-overall picks Sidney Crosby and Marc-Andre Fleury, the Washington Capitals led by Alex Ovechkin, and the Chicago Blackhawks led by Patrick Kane.

If a first-overall pick is necessary to win the Stanley Cup, that’s bad news for the Vancouver Canucks, who have never once picked first overall.

Fortunately, it’s not the case.

You don’t have to go far to find a counter-example. Just three years ago, the Blues won the Cup without a first-overall pick in the lineup.

As mentioned above, the Blues did pick first overall in 2006, taking Erik Johnson, but he was long gone by the time the Blues won the Cup in 2019. The player they traded Johnson for, Kevin Shattenkirk, was also long gone — traded to the Washington Capitals in 2017. 

The highest draft pick in the Blues lineup was Alex Pietrangelo, who they drafted fourth overall in 2008 — a right-handed defenceman drafted in the first round, take notes.

The Los Angeles Kings didn’t have a first-overall pick in either of their Cup wins in 2012 and 2014, though Drew Doughty was a second-overall pick and Marian Gaborik, acquired via trade for their second Cup run, was a third-overall pick.

Then there’s a team with whom Canucks fans are all-too-familiar: the 2011 Cup-winning Boston Bruins.

The Bruins didn’t have a first-overall pick in the lineup in 2011. Sure, they had 2010 second-overall pick Tyler Seguin but he was a healthy scratch for the first two rounds of the playoffs and was largely a non-factor in the Stanley Cup Final. They also had Nathan Horton, acquired via trade, who was a third-overall pick in 2003. 

Really, that Bruins team was led by second-round picks Patrice Bergeron, Milan Lucic, and David Krejci, third-round picks Zdeno Chara and Brad Marchand, and ninth-round pick Tim Thomas. The ninth round of the draft doesn’t even exist anymore.

Besides, the Bruins having a second and third-overall pick in the lineup wasn’t an advantage; the Canucks also had second and third-overall picks in the lineup: the Sedins.

You can keep going back for more and more examples. The Detroit Red Wings in 2008 were led by third-round pick Nicklas Lidstrom, sixth-round pick Pavel Datsyuk, and seventh-round pick Henrik Zetterberg. The highest-drafted player in their lineup, unless I’m mistaken, was Daniel Cleary at 13th overall.

Certainly, it doesn’t hurt your chances to win a Stanley Cup to add an elite talent with a first-overall pick, but it’s also not necessary to win a Cup and doesn’t guarantee playoff success — just ask the Toronto Maple Leafs or, until this season, the Edmonton Oilers.

The current Canucks obviously don’t have a first-overall pick or even a second-overall pick like the 2011 Bruins or 2012/2014 Kings. They don’t even have a fourth-overall pick like the St. Louis Blues.

They do, however, have 2017 fifth-overall pick Elias Pettersson and 2018 seventh-overall pick Quinn Hughes. Pettersson might not be the equivalent of a first-overall pick — Cale Makar would likely still get picked ahead of him in a redraft of 2017— but Hughes could be the best player from the 2018 draft, battling it out with Andrei Svechnikov.

At this point, Pettersson and Hughes are the closest thing the Canucks have to first-overall picks. At the very least, not having a first-overall pick shouldn’t be the thing that keeps the Canucks from winning a Stanley Cup in the future.