NHL Draft: Who selects the No. 1 pick and from where?

The 56th NHL Draft is taking place tonight. For the third time in franchise history, the Buffalo Sabres will select the top pick in the draft, assuming they don’t trade the pick away. However, what does history have to say about who most often selects the first overall pick and from where?

Which teams have most often had the No. 1 pick?

The Montreal Canadiens have selected the No. 1 pick the most times out of any NHL franchise, having done so five times. This is despite the fact that the last time they selected the top pick was in the 1980 NHL Draft. The Edmonton Oilers have moved up the list quickly, with all four of their No. 1 selections coming this decade (2010, 2011, 2012 and 2015).

Teams to never select the No. 1 pick: Anaheim Ducks, Calgary Flames, Carolina Hurricanes, Minnesota Wild, Nashville Predators, San Jose Sharks, Vancouver Canucks, Vegas Golden Knights.

Number of times each team selected the No. 1 overall pick

*The Arizona Coyotes only No. 1 selection came when they were the Winnipeg Jets in 1981.

*One of the New Jersey Devils No. 1 selections came when they were the Colorado Rockies in 1979.

*Both of the Winnipeg Jets No. 1 selections came when they were the Atlanta Thrashers (1999 and 2001).

All three of the Dallas Stars No. 1 selections came when they were the Minnesota North Stars (1978, 1983 and 1988).

*Three of the Colorado Avalanche’s No. 1 selections came when they were the Quebec Nordiques (1989, 1990 and 1991).

What amateur/professional leagues have produced the most No. 1 picks?

From 1963 to 1978, the NHL Amateur Draft allowed for any amateur player under 20 to be drafted. Due to the absorption of teams from the rival WHA (World Hockey Association) the draft rules were changed in 1979 so that players who had previously played professionally could be drafted by teams. That year the draft’s name was changed to be the NHL Entry Draft.

Click here for larger version of pie chart below

AmateurProfessional Leagues that produced No. 1 overall picks in the NHL Draft

American College/High School Players

Only two players have been taken No. 1 overall and played NCAA Divison 1 hockey (Highest level of American College Hockey). They were Joe Murphy (Michigan State Spartans) who was taken in the 1986 draft and Rick DiPietro (Boston University Terriers) who was taken in the 2000 draft.

Brain Lawton is the only player to be taken No. 1 overall out of an American high school. He was drafted in 1983 after playing for Mount St. Charles High School in Woonsocket, Rhode Island.

Overseas League Players

Russia: In 2001 when IIya Kovalchuk was selected he was playing in Vysshaya Liga (RUS-2), the second-highest league in the country. Alexander Ovechkin was taken in 2004 from the Russian Superleague League (RSL), now know as the KHL, the highest league in the country.

Sweden: In 1989 when Mats Sundin was selected he was playing in HockeyAllsvenskan (SWE-2), the second-highest league in the country.

Czech Republic: In 1992 when Roman Hamrlik was selected he was playing in the Czechoslovak First Ice Hockey League, now known as the Czech Extraliga.

Switzerland: In 2016 when Auston Matthews was selected he was playing in the National League (NLA), the highest league in the country.

What amateur/professional teams have produced the most No. 1 picks?

The London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) have had the most players of any team taken No. 1 with five. These players are Rick Green (1976), Rob Ramage (1979), Rick Nash (2002), Patrick Kane (2007) and John Tavares (2009).

Team League # of players
London OHL 5
Cornwall OHL 2
Ottawa OHL 2
Sarnia OHL 2
Windsor OHL 2
Halifax QMJHL 2
Montreal QMJHL 2
Rimouski QMJHL 2
Prince Albert WHL (formerly WCHL) 2
Regina WHL (formerly WCHL) 2

Where are No. 1 picks born?

Out of the 55 players that have been selected No. 1 in the NHL draft, 40 (72.72%) of them were born in Canada. Brian Lawton was the first non-Canadian player to be taken No. 1 in the 1983 draft. From that draft onwards 20 of the players taken No. 1 overall have been Canadian, while 15 have been non-Canadian.

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Non-Canadians taken No. 1 overall by place of birth

America: Brian Lawton (1983), Mike Modano (1988), Bryan Berard (1995), Rick DiPietro (2000), Erik Johnson (2006), Patrick Kane (2007), Auston Matthews (2016)

Russia: IIya Kovalchuk* (2001), Alexander Ovechkin* (2004), Nail Yakupov (2012)

*Both were born back when Russia was part of the Soviet Union.

Czech Republic: Roman Hamrlik* (1992), Patrik Stefan* (1999)

*Both were born back when it was Czechoslovakia. They were both born in cities that are now part of the Czech Republic.

United Kingdom (Northern Ireland): Owen Nolan (1990)

Sweden: Mats Sundin (1989)

Switzerland: Nico Hischier (2017)

What provinces were Canadian players born in?


*Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (2011) is the only No. 1 to be born in British-Columbia.

Ontario (18) and Quebec (11) dominated the provinces of Canada, having produced 29/40 (72.5%) of the countries No. 1 picks. However, considering that these two account for almost 60% of Canada’s population, it is no surprise.

Cities who have produced multiple No. 1 overall picks

There are a few cities in Canada that have managed to produce multiple No. 1 overall picks. They, along with the players from them, are listed in the table below.

City Province Player (Year Drafted)
Montreal Quebec Claude Gauthier (1964), André Veilleux (1965), Michel Plasse (1968), Mario Lemieux (1984)
Rouyn Quebec Réjean Houle (1969), Pierre Turgeon (1987)
London Ontario Joe Murphy (1986), Eric Lindros (1991)
Toronto Ontario Billy Harris (1972), Dale Hawerchuk (1981)
Windsor Ontario Ed Jovanovski (1994), Aaron Ekbald (2014)
Calgary Alberta Chris Phillips (1994), Taylor Hall (2010)
Halifax Nova Scotia Sidney Crosby (2005), Nathan MacKinnon (2013)


Info and sources:

Featured Image: “2017 NHL Draft” by Brandon Zeman is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

https://www.hockey-reference.com/draft/ (Use to note team that drafted player, as well as the league and team that picked them). For the few players with no league listed I used Google to find that information.

https://www.hockey-reference.com/teams/index.html (Used to note current teams that never had a No. 1 overall pick)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_first_overall_NHL_draft_picks (Used to find place of birth for No. 1 overall picks)

http://www.hockeydraftcentral.com/1965/65001.html (Used to find Andre Veilleux’s place of birth)

Map of player’s place of birth made using https://mapchart.net/

All other graphs and tables made using Google Spreadsheet in Google Docs