The Red Wings’ history of first-round draft picks is not favorable. In the grand scheme of things, the early rounds of the draft are practically irrelevant: consider superstars Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk – both selected in the deep rounds – and the franchise’s 11 Stanley Cups, which rank second in NHL history.
That said, it’s still interesting to glance at the Wings’ history of first-round selections. For such a dominant organization that’s among the best in all of professional sports, its quite humorous – and impressive – that the Wings have had 39 first-round picks, and just one stayed for his entire career: Steve Yzerman. (Niklas Kronwall can become the second player to exceed 10 full seasons in Detroit and finish his career in a Wings jersey.)
Here’s a look at the rest of the first-round history:
The NHL Draft began in 1963 and Red Wings general manager Sid Abel was responsible for the following busts who never donned the Winged Wheel: Claude Gauthier (1st overall, 1964), George Forgie (3rd overall, 1965), Ron Barkwell (9th overall, 1967) and Steve Andrascik (11th overall, 1968).
Those players never even competed in an NHL game.
Abel also missed on Steve Atkinson (6th overall, 1966), who never played in Detroit and finished his 302-game career as a minus-52, as well as Serge Lajeunesse (12th overall, 1970), who played parts of three seasons in Detroit and was minus-44 in 97 games.
Abel made a solid selection with Jim Rutherford (10th overall, 1969), but he was not protected in the NHL intra-league draft during the spring of 1971, and was claimed by Pittsburgh. He later returned to Detroit, but spent his entire career behind bad teams amid the “Dead Wings Era.”
Pete Mahovlich, the second overall pick of the inaugural 1963 draft, scored nine goals in 82 games across four seasons, then was traded to the Montreal Canadiens in June of 1969 at the budding age of 23.
Big mistake for Detroit.
Mahovlich would score 34 goals or more five times and factored into four Stanley Cup titles (1971, ’73, ’76, ’77).
Mike Foligno, selected third overall in 1979, had a fantastic start in Detroit. He had 36 goals and 35 assists in his 1979-80 rookie year, then 28 goals and 35 assists in his sophomore campaign. In December of 1981 he was traded to Buffalo along with – ironically – two players who were previously first-round picks: Dale McCourt (1st overall, 1977) and Brent Peterson (12th overall, 1978). Foligno tilted the scale in the six-player trade. (Detroit received Danny Gare, best known as “the captain before Steve Yzerman,” along with Jim Schoenfeld and Derek Smith, who were both out of Detroit after the 1982-’83 season.) Foligno would play the longest of anyone, another 12 seasons, including a six-year stretch in which he scored 27 goals or more from 1983-84 to 1988-89 to cement himself as a Buffalo Sabres legend.
Then there is Marcel Dionne, the second overall pick of the 1971 draft. He scored 28 goals his rookie year and recorded 121 points in 1975. He asked for a raise which forced a trade to the Los Angeles Kings, who paid him $300,000 a year, one of the league’s top salaries. When Dionne returned to Detroit for the 1980 all-star game at Joe Louis Arena, the Wings’ faithful booed him heavily. Dionne, to his credit, smiled and laughed, understanding the jeers.
“If it wasn’t for the money, Detroit was the place to play. I loved it,” Dionne told mlive.com in July of 2012. “But I watched guys like Gordie Howe play 26 years for the Red Wings, and I saw what the organization was doing to him.”
Hey, Jimmy Devellano has been on record several times saying he wanted to draft Pat LaFontaine instead of Stevie Yzerman. LaFontaine was a Waterford product who Devellano viewed as a player who could connect with locals and put fans in the Joe Louis Arena seats.
Thankfully, LaFontaine was selected third overall by the New York Islanders, and Yzerman fell into Devellano’s lap the very next pick.
From there, it was all downhill for Devellano’s draft record.
In 1984, he selected Shawn Burr instead of Shayne Corson, who went one pick later and was a three-time all-star. In 1985, he took Brent Fedyk instead of Dave Manson, who turned into a perennial tough guy and two-time all-star on the blue line for Chicago.
Then came a couple of head-scratchers: With the 11th pick in 1987, Devellano took defenseman Yves Racine. Four picks later, Quebec selected a future Hall of Famer by the name of Joe Sakic.
And with the third overall pick in 1990, Devellano selected Keith Primeau (619 career points). Two picks later, Jaromir Jagr (1,688 career points) was taken by Pittsburgh.
Other first-round draft picks under Devellano from 1983-’90: Joe Murphy (1st overall, 1986); Kory Kocur (17th overall, 1988); Mike Sillinger (11th overall, 1989). To be fair, the drafted players hovering around Murphy, Kocur and Sillinger’s slots did not fare any better, so Devellano deserves a break here. (And Sillinger, who was traded to Anaheim in 1995 that brought Stu Grimson to Detroit, turned into a solid competitor who played 1,049 career games.)
Technically, someone could criticize Devellano for selecting Murphy instead of Jimmy Carson (2nd overall, 1986), since Carson averaged 95 points a season during his opening three years. But it’s a moot point: Carson came to Detroit in a blockbuster trade that involved Murphy during the 1989-90 season.
Tomorrow: Bryan Murray made a series of blunders with the Wings’ first round picks