The beauties and the busts

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:47 AM ET

John Tavares or Victor Hedman?

It's the classic toss-up: Who do the New York Islanders select with the first pick in the NHL entry draft, the gifted and prolific scorer who generated an avalanche of points in junior and is considered by virtually everyone to be a impact player in the NHL, or the big stud defenceman who's projected to play 29 minutes a night for the next 10 years?

It's a high-stakes question, to which many believe there is no wrong answer. Of course, that's what they said in 1993, when the Ottawa Senators went with the sure-fire goal scorer instead of the big blueliner. To this day, calling Alexandre Daigle's name rather than Chris Pronger's is considered one of the worst draft day blunders in NHL history.

One of the worst? When a mistake of that enormity is not the consensus No.1, it illustrates how easy it is to make a mistake when trying to predict whether an 18-year-old child star has what it takes to succeed in the real world.

There's no such thing as a sure thing. Ask the Minnesota North Stars, who took Brian Bellows ahead of Steve Yzerman and Cam Neely, or the Montreal Canadiens, who spent a first pick on Doug Wickenheiser instead of hometown hero Denis Savard or Paul Coffey.

Why did 10 guys go ahead of Jarome Iginla in the 1995 draft, and 55 get picked before Zdeno Chara in 1996, and why did all 30 teams pass on Martin St. Louis for all nine rounds of his draft year?

Picking teenagers is a process where hindsight can be as embarrassing as it is crystal clear, and second-guessing draft day decisions five years later is like shooting pigs in a pen. Every single season there's a guy who went late when he should have gone in the top 10, and a guy who went in the top 10 who didn't have the spine or heart to ever be a good pro.

"A lot of it is up to the kid," Oilers assistant GM Kevin Prendergast once said. "It's a big step to the NHL and they have to be willing to do what it takes to get there. You can draft them based on what they've done in junior and how they performed in an interview, but you can't crawl into their heads and you can't predict the future."

The Islanders are under no small amount of pressure to make the right call here. Their franchise is stuck in the mud and they have some deep, ugly scars to remind them of draft day failures past. In back-to-back-to-back summers, 1989, 1990 and 1991, they botched high picks and suffered the consequences for years.

In 1989, the struggling Isles needed to rebuild their fallen dynasty, and the second pick overall gave them that chance. They took highly-touted 50-goal scorer Dave Chyzowski, rating him ahead of Bill Guerin (5th), Bobby Holik (10th) and netminder Olaf Kolzig (19th). Czyzowski managed 31 career points in 126 NHL games.

A year later, with the sixth pick overall, the Isles were proud to select, from the Saskatoon Blades, winger Scott Scissons. Scissons, who had 250 points in three WHL seasons, played two NHL games, considerably fewer than Derian Hatcher (8th), Keith Tkachuk (19th) and netminder Martin Brodeur (20th).

In 1991, picking fourth overall, they took Scott Lachance ahead of Peter Forsberg (6th), Brian Rolston (11th) and Markus Naslund (16th).

They say a bad run of drafts will begin hurting you three years down the road, when the kids you picked to lead the next generation are supposed to be hitting their prime. It held true for the Isles -- from 1995 to 2001 they missed the playoffs all seven years. How good would they have been with Guerin, Forsberg and Brodeur? We'll never know.

The Edmonton Oilers are all too familiar with the perils of a drafting drought. A whopping 12 of 15 first round picks (all of them taken inside the top 20) between 1988 and 2002 flopped -- Francois Leroux, Jason Soules, Scott Allison, Tyler Wright, Joe Hulbig, Jason Bonsignore, Steve Kelly, Michel Riesen, Michael Henrich, Jani Rita, Alexei Mikhnov, and Jesse Niinimaki.

They won two playoff series from 1993 to 2004.


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