Looking Back: The 2006 NHL Draft

Looking Back:
The 2006 NHL Draft

2006 NHL Entry Draft Portraits

The Blues had the first overall pick in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft. With their first overall selection the team chose defenseman Erik Johnson. Since that day, Johnson has skated in 148 games for the Blues and recorded 72 points at the professional level. Looking back, was Johnson the right choice for the Blues, or should they have gone a different route? How have the other picks from the 2006 Draft panned out and how does Johnson stand up to other former number one selections?

Before we dive into this, let’s make a few things clear.

1. I am not judging Erik Johnson yet as the sample size is still far too small. He has looked great in his rookie season, but missed an entire season due to a freak golf cart accident. Johnson returned in 2009-10, but obviously felt the effects of not skating competitively for an entire year. Rust, fatigue and conditioning all were factors likely limiting Johnson’s 09-10 season. It still will take a few more season until we really can analyze Johnson.

2. Hindsight is 20-20, maybe even 20-15. Looking back, it’s hard to predict how players would perform at the NHL level. Obviously, Johnson’s knee injury was one no one saw coming and set the defender back a couple years in his development. Johnson was ranked by many as being the player that should have been selected number one, and the Blues were clearly trying to address a need at the blueline of a strong, puck moving defender. No one faulted them for picking Johnson first overall, but now we are starting to move into the territory of deciding if their pick was a gem or a bust.

Now, on with the discussion.

2004: Alexander Ovechkin
2005: Sidney Crosby
2006: Erik Johnson
2007: Patrick Kane
2008: Steven Stamkos

Which of these five skaters, all chosen in the first round of their respective drafts, just doesn’t appear to fit in with the others?

This isn’t really a fair comparison, but I figure it’s important to show what level of talent went in drafts around Erik Johnson. The Blues were unlucky in the fact they missed out on Ovechkin by two years and on Crosby by one, but that shouldn’t take away from the fact this team had a number one overall pick and an opportunity to change it’s future with it.

I don’t fault the Blues for trying to build from the back and moving forward, but it is tough to see how the other top picks in the 2006 NHL draft have moved on to great success.

2006 NHL Draft
1. Erik Johnson
2. Jordan Staal
3. Jonathan Toews
4. Nicklas Backstrom
5. Phil Kessel

Above are the five names that jumped off the board first. Clearly, this year had a considerable drop off in talent when you compare it to the 2004 Draft or the 2005 Draft. Still, looking back, Chicago got a great find in Toews and Kessel has proven that while he has holes in his game, he can score at a very high clip – a fact Toronto is really counting on.

Johnson clearly has talent and could be a fantastic player at his position. However, I feel the Blues were victim of two things: 1) a down draft year and 2) eying a position a bit too close rather than scoping overall talent.

I’m confident that if healthy, Johnson can man the blueline and be a solid offensively producing defender for years to come. However, his defensive abilities have really been hit or miss and he seems lost in terms of using his size correctly. These are all areas he can, and should improve on, but they leave me wondering if he will ever live up the first pick billing.

Now imagine for a moment that the Blues had gone a different route and looked for a forward rather than help at the defense, and went with either Toews, Backstrom or Kessel.

Toews: 222 games, 83 goals, 108 assists – 191 points
Kessel: 292 games, 96 goals, 85 assists – 181 points
Nicklas Backstrom: 246 games, 69 goals, 189 assists – 258 points

Perhaps these numbers only look extremely appealing because the Blues’ offense took the majority of the 2009-10 season off. Perhaps it is just because Erik Johnson’s defensive game still has a long way to go.

Either way, it’s fun to look back and think what might be. Erik Johnson still has a lot to live up to but also has a long way to go. I have no doubt he will be a fantastic player, but I wonder if five years from now he will be labeled a solid pick or a bust.

As always, you can leave your thoughts in the comments or shoot me an e-mail at stlfrozennotes@gmail.com.