Welcome to a brand new series here at The Hockey Writers called “Road to the Draft.” In this series, our draft contributors will count down from 32nd overall all the way to first overall and revisit each player taken with that pick between 2010 and 2021.
The focus of the series is on comparing players taken at the same spot in their respective draft years and evaluating the biggest success stories and failed projects. At fifth overall, the talent level available is high, but the potential to hurt the franchise long-term with a bad pick is equally as high as a result.
Related: THW 2021 NHL Draft Guide
In this story, we’ll take a look at the last 10 players to get selected fifth overall and analyze their careers over time, and write about what is expected from the fifth-overall pick of the 2021 NHL Draft. There are plenty of players chosen fifth overall that have had lengthy, productive careers, and the last 10 years of picks are no exception — the prospects that fall out of the top-four can occasionally outshine their higher-ranked peers, but a good number of selections have also underwhelmed after being drafted.
2010 – Nino Niederreiter (RW, New York Islanders)
Niederreiter’s selection at fifth overall is one that can be qualified as average; two of the three forwards drafted after him, Brett Connolly and Alexander Burmistrov, have played under their expectations so far, but Jeff Skinner was clearly the superior forward despite being selected seventh overall, as he won the Calder Trophy the following season with 31 goals and 32 assists in a full regular season. Niederreiter’s career so far has been impressive, with four 20-goal seasons and a high of 57 points in 2016-17. He spent six years with the Minnesota Wild before being dealt to the Carolina Hurricanes.
The Hurricanes traded Victor Rask to the Wild in a one-for-one trade that has been a steal for the team so far. When Niederreiter arrived with the Canes in the middle of the 2018-19 season, he fit directly into the team’s style, earning 30 points in only 36 games, while having only earned half a point per game with the Wild in that same season. He has now bounced back after a sub-par 2019-20 season (29 points in 67 games) with another 20-goal performance this past year, in a shortened 56-game 2020-21 campaign.
2011 – Ryan Strome (C, New York Islanders)
Strome’s selection at fifth overall harmed the Islanders’ long-term success profoundly throughout the 2010’s — the following four names selected were, in order: Mika Zibanejad, Mark Scheifele, Sean Couturier, and Dougie Hamilton. Although Strome is far from a bust, he was not at all the best prospect available at that position. His career with the Islanders started off quite well, however, with an 37-game, 18-point rookie season, followed by a sophomore year of 50 points.
After two sub-par seasons followed his hot start, the Islanders decided it was time to move on — they traded him to the Edmonton Oilers in a steal of a 1-for-1 swap, obtaining Jordan Eberle in return. The Oilers did nothing of much value with the former Islander, using another 1-for-1 swap with the New York Rangers to get rid of Strome in exchange for Ryan Spooner, who currently plays in Russia.
Strome has massively improved in the Big Apple, earning a career-high 59 points in only 70 games in 2019-20, followed by a 49-point performance in a COVID-shortened 56-game season in 2020-21. He seems to have earned a permanent roster spot with the team, and should continue to flourish while centering the likes of Artemi Panarin, Alexis Lafrenière and Kaapo Kakko.
2012 – Morgan Reilly (D, Toronto Maple Leafs)
Morgan Reilly’s selection at fifth overall in 2012 is a perfect example of how top-four NHL draft picks can sometimes be outshone by the talent left on the board. Reilly is unequivocally the best player among the top-5 draft picks in 2012 — former first-overall pick Nail Yakupov is a Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) regular now, Ryan Murray is more of a support-role defenseman, Alex Galchenyuk fell off after an impressive start with the Montréal Canadiens, and Griffin Reinhart is currently in the Deutsche Eishockey Liga (DEL), Germany’s top men’s league. Reilly’s top-pair minutes and offensive responsibilities on a Toronto Maple Leafs’ team desperately lacking blue line offense make him the most likely first-overall pick in a redraft of the top five.
He reached a career high in goals (20), assists (52) and points (72) in 2018-19, finishing third in scoring for defensemen behind Brent Burns and Mark Giordano. His elite skating and distribution make him a lethal power-play quarterback, and he can defend efficiently with his stick on the rush. His in-zone defense has always been a bit of a setback, but he compensates with one of the most complete offensive toolkits among NHL defensemen. Reilly is set to continue feeding pucks in Auston Matthews‘ and Mitch Marner‘s wheelhouses on the power play for the next decade or so.
2013 – Elias Lindholm (C, Carolina Hurricanes)
Moving on to 2013, Elias Lindholm’s selection at fifth overall was one that was expected after his draft-year performance in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL) put him in elite company, among names like Henrik and Daniel Sedin as well as Nicklas Bäckström for points as an 18-year-old in Sweden’s top level of men’s hockey. In retrospect, no one drafted after Lindholm, other than Sean Monahan (sixth), has played more games (581) or scored more points (367).
He was traded from the Hurricanes to the Calgary Flames in a five-player blockbuster deal involving Dougie Hamilton and Noah Hanifin, among others. His production with his new team skyrocketed, with a career-high 78 points in 81 games, and he seemed on track for similar production in 2020-21 with 47 points in 56 games. He is regularly one of the Flames’ top offensive contributors and should continue to be throughout 2021-22.
2014 – Michael Dal Colle (LW, New York Islanders)
Another Islanders’ fifth-overall pick, Dal Colle’s selection this high was likely a mistake, as the forward has only played 111 games and scored 21 points so far — the least among the top 10 of his draft class. He was initially touted as one of the top-potential prospects in his draft year after a 67-game, 95-point season in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), but he has since stagnated as a prospect, growing his game very little since being selected.
His most prolific NHL season came in 2019-20, when he scored a meager 10 points in 53 games. With names such as William Nylander and Nikolaj Ehlers having been called soon thereafter, Dal Colle’s selection has harmed the team so far, as they haven’t found him a full-time role in Long Island as of yet.
2015 – Noah Hanifin (D, Carolina Hurricanes)
In a 2015 Draft crop that was the most talent-rich round of selections in recent years, the Hurricanes opted for Noah Hanifin out of the United States National Team Development Program (USNTDP). The Boston-native then went to play NCAA hockey close to home in Boston College for a year, and then immediately made the jump to the NHL. His career so far has not been flashy in the slightest, but Hanifin has put up some decent numbers for an defenseman focused more on chance suppression, with a high of 33 points (5 goals, 28 assists) in 80 games in 2018-19, in his first post-trade season with the Flames.
His 153 points in 436 games so far don’t scream fifth-overall pick, but his contributions on defense more than compensate for that. He was an integral part of the aforementioned Lindholm trade, in which he was dealt to the Flames, and will likely be a staple of the team’s blue line for the next decade or so.
2016 – Olli Juolevi (D, Vancouver Canucks)
Juolevi’s selection at fifth overall is another pretty bad one; his 23 games played so far are fifth-last among 2016’s first-round picks, in a draft year that was exceptionally shallow yet had a couple of big names available in the top end. Among the players the Vancouver Canucks overlooked, we find Matthew Tkachuk, Clayton Keller and Mikhail Sergachev. Unlike these names, the Finnish left-handed blueliner has struggled to stick to an NHL lineup so far and has only earned five points in his career to date.
He just signed a one-year, $750K contract to stay in Vancouver, and could possibly have a last shot at putting his career on the right track on the Canucks’ thinning blue line. The value the team overlooked, however, puts them in an unfortunate situation, especially with defensemen and wingers being their top priority at the moment.
2017 – Elias Pettersson (C, Vancouver Canucks)
The Canucks’ second fifth-overall pick in a row went much better than the first, with the selection of Elias Pettersson coming after a top-four of Nico Hischier, Nolan Patrick, Miro Heiskanen and Cale Makar. The Swedish center has earned the highest point totals of his draft class so far, with 153 points in 165 games, despite having played 65 fewer games than Hischier, who comes in second with 146 points in 230 games and was selected first overall. In 2017, the talk of the draft was the Hischier-Patrick debate for the top pick of the draft, but the best forward of the crop was picked three slots later.
Pettersson has locked up the Canucks’ top-line center role for the foreseeable future, and forms a deadly one-two punch with Bo Horvat pivoting the second line. The team now needs to add wingers for Pettersson to pass to, and if they manage to do so, the Canucks could be set to compete for a playoff spot sooner than later.
2018 – Barrett Hayton (C, Arizona Coyotes)
Heading into the 2018 pick, it becomes harder and harder to evaluate busts and steals, given that some players need more than three years to show what they’re capable of at their best. That being said, Barrett Hayton has played the fewest number of NHL games (34) and scored the fewest number of points (seven) among the top eight, and top prospects were selected right after him such as Filip Zadina, Quinn Hughes and Adam Boqvist. The Arizona Coyotes needed a center, and after Jesperi Kotkaniemi was picked up at third overall by the Canadiens, he was the only high-profile center left to take in that range.
His 2020-21 season was not reassuring, either, with only 10 points in 26 American Hockey League (AHL) games, while players Arizona overlooked were currently playing top minutes with their respective NHL clubs. He scored three points in 14 games with the Coyotes last season, and will hope to carve out a full-time role with the team in 2021-22. At 21, there’s still some room to grow and improve.
2019 – Alex Turcotte (C, Los Angeles Kings)
Turcotte’s selection at fifth overall in 2019 is one that made total sense for the team at the time: with an aging Anze Kopitar, the need for a top-line center for the future was clear. What the team didn’t know, however, is that they would obtain the second-overall pick the very next year, at which point center Quinton Byfield would be the best player available. This created a bit of a logjam at center within the Kings’ pipeline and Turcotte found himself playing on the left wing for most of the AHL season.
He earned 21 points in 32 games in that league with Byfield and others manning the center positions, using his elite playmaking and vision to locate teammates seamlessly all over the ice. He has a refined two-way game that he had trouble showcasing with consistency against men this season, but he showed flashes of high-end defensive responsibility. Within the next few years, Turcotte should get a solid shot at a top-6 role with the Kings, especially as their veterans begin to retire.
2020 – Jake Sanderson (D, Ottawa Senators)
Sanderson’s selection at fifth-overall was expected of the Ottawa Senators, who opted against the higher-ranked Jamie Drysdale in favor of a more defensive-minded blueliner. The team has no intention of making a Cup run anytime soon, and Sanderson’s game has a lot of room to grow and expand beyond his current product, so the Senators could afford to take their time with him. Drysdale is more NHL-ready and has already played 24 NHL games, but Sanderson could very well have a higher ceiling.
His 15 points in 22 games at the collegiate level point towards a budding offensive game, and Sanderson’s skating and defending are already among the top of his class. There’s some work to do with this prospect, and the talent Ottawa left on the board might come back and hurt them, but they could have a solid prospect on their hands.
2021 – Kent Johnson (C, Columbus Blue Jackets)
The Columbus Blue Jackets went for raw upside with their selection of Kent Johnson, as the forward has the most electrifying offensive game of his draft class. The skills he can pull off when rushing at defensemen, his quick-twitch stickhandling in tight, along with high-end vision and passing, make for an offensive package that is regularly entertaining to watch. Johnson’s below-average skating and defensive involvement will hold him back if they aren’t rectified, but his ceiling offensively makes the risk worth taking for the Blue Jackets.
He is committed to Michigan for 2021-22, and will look to work with the team’s high-end development and training staff to work out the kinks in his game, and hopefully become the offensive catalyst that he can be.
ALL-TIME PLAYERS TAKEN 5TH OVERALL
1968 – Jim Benzelock (RW, Minnesota North Stars)
1969 – Dick Redmond (D, Minnesota North Stars)
1970 – Ray Martinyuk (G, Montréal Canadiens)
1971 – Richard Martin (LW, Buffalo Sabres)
1972 – Jim Schoenfeld (D, Buffalo Sabres)
1973 – John Davidson (G, St. Louis Blues)
1974 – Cam Connor (RW, Montréal Canadiens)
1975 – Rick Lapointe (D, Detroit Red Wings)
1976 – Bjorn Johansson (D, California Golden Seals)
1977 – Mike Crombeen (RW, Cleveland Barons)
1978 – Mike Gillis (LW, Colorado Rockies)
1979 – Rick Vaive (RW, Vancouver Canucks)
1980 – Darren Veitch (D, Washington Capitals)
1981 – Joe Cirella (D, Colorado Rockies)
1982 – Scott Stevens (D, Washington Capitals)
1983 – Tom Barrasso (G, Buffalo Sabres)
1984 – Petr Svoboda (D, Montréal Canadiens)
1985 – Dana Murzyn (D, Hartford Whalers)
1986 – Shawn Anderson (D, Buffalo Sabres)
1987 – Chris Joseph (D, Pittsburgh Penguins)
1988 – Daniel Doré (RW, Québec Nordiques)
1989 – Bill Guerin (RW, New Jersey Devils)
1990 – Jaromir Jagr (RW, Pittsburgh Penguins)
1991 – Aaron Ward (D, Winnipeg Jets)
1992 – Darius Kasparaitis (D, New York Islanders)
1993 – Rob Niedermayer (C, Florida Panthers)
1994 – Jeff O’Neil (C, Hartford Whalers)
1995 – Daymond Langkow (C, Tampa Bay Lightning)
1996 – Richard Jackman (D, Dallas Stars)
1997 – Eric Brewer (D, New York Islanders)
1998 – Vitaly Vishnevsky (D, Anaheim Ducks)
1999 – Tim Connolly (C, New York Islanders)
2000 – Raffi Torres (LW, New York Islanders)
2001 – Stanislav Chistov (LW, Anaheim Ducks)
2002 – Ryan Whitney (D, Pittsburgh Penguins)
2003 – Tomas Vanek (LW, Buffalo Sabres)
2004 – Blake Wheeler (RW, Phoenix Coyotes)
2005 – Carey Price (G, Montréal Canadiens)
2006 – Phil Kessel (RW, Boston Bruins)
2007 – Karl Alzner (D, Washington Capitals)
2008 – Luke Schenn (D, Toronto Maple Leafs)
2009 – Brayden Schenn (C, Los Angeles Kings)
Catch Up on the Series So Far
- NHL Draft History – 32nd Pick Overall
- NHL Draft History – 31st Pick Overall
- NHL Draft History – 30th Pick Overall
- NHL Draft History – 29th Pick Overall
- NHL Draft History – 28th Pick Overall
Lebanese-Canadian hockey writer/Scout. I follow the draft very closely, working with both The Hockey Writers and DobberProspects to provide draft coverage and continue furthering my knowledge of hockey.