With just five days before the NHL draft, we’re ranking the BEST fifth overall picks since 2000. Like any pick, there’s been a fair share of misses over the last 22 years, but some great picks in the fifth spot as well. Here are our favourites.
5 – Thomas Vanek (’03)
The fifth overall pick in one of the best drafts in NHL history, Thomas Vanek enjoyed a long, successful run that ended with 789 points in over 1000 games played. Although he bounced around quite a bit in the second half of his career, Vanek found ways to stay productive until the end, adding 36 points in 64 games in his last season with Detroit.
The Austrian forward’s best years came in Buffalo, where he was drafted. In just his second year with the team (06/07), Vanek reached career highs in goals (43), assists (41) and points (84). Buffalo was a great team that year, and the 22-year-old Vanek played a large role on the team alongside guys like Danny Briere, Jason Pominville and Maxim Afinogenov. Unfortunately, the Sabres would lose in the Eastern Conference Finals, and Vanek never got the chance to play for a Stanley Cup.
4 – Blake Wheeler (’04)
In a draft remembered best for Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin, Blake Wheeler was taken fifth overall by the Phoenix Coyotes. He never suited up for the Yotes, however, and played the first two and a half years of his career with Boston before a trade sent him to the Thrashers/Jets organization. It took Wheeler a little longer than Vanek to produce the big numbers, but they sure came once he was in Winnipeg.
From 2013 to 2019, Wheeler never dipped below 61 points in a season. He also only missed four regular season games during that time span. In 2017, Wheeler hit his career-high in points with 91 before leading the Jets to the Western Conference Finals. Like Vanek, however, a trip to the Stanley Cup Final was not in the cards, and he hasn’t made it back to the Conference Finals since. He’s 36 now, but still has plenty in the tank following a 55-point season. Next year, he most likely won’t be with Winnipeg, but he’ll have his sights set on passing the 1000-point mark with the new team. Currently, Wheeler has 922 points in over 1100 career games.
3 – Elias Pettersson (’17)
The most recent draftee in this countdown, Petterson was a home run pick for the Canucks a year after the Olli Juolevi selection. 6 years later, he leads the class in goals, assists and points. Despite playing on a disappointing Canucks team, Pettersson exploded in the 2022/23 season and put up 102 points in 80 games. Going into the year, there were a few people who were starting to doubt if he would ever take the next step into superstardom, but Pettersson certainly proved them wrong.
As he’s only 325 games into his NHL career, it’s tough to compare Pettersson to the rest of the names on this list. However, he’s already the only 5th overall pick from the 2000s to go over 100 points in a season and at just 24 years old, he truly has the potential to be a longtime superstar in the league.
2 – Phil Kessel (’06)
When it comes to NHL careers, not many people can match Phil Kessel. He’s a three-time Stanley Cup champion, sits at 992 career points, and has the league’s longest ironman streak of all time. Although he never reached the triple digit club like Petey, Kessel went through 11 straight seasons of at least 50 points in his prime, peaking at 92 with the 2018 Penguins.
He may not look like most top-of-the-line athletes, but Kessel has proven himself to be exactly that over a long, illustrious career with the Bruins, Maple Leafs, Penguins, Coyotes and Golden Knights. Out of everyone in the 2006 Draft Class, Phil is currently only 40 career points behind Nicklas Backstrom and 10 behind Claude Giroux. That puts him ahead of guys like Jonathan Toews and Brad Marchand.
1 – Carey Price (’05)
Coming in as the best fifth overall draft pick since 2000, we have Carey Price. Spending his entire career in Montreal, Price was terrific from the jump and never looked back. Before his NHL days even began, he was named the MVP of the 2007 World Juniors after leading Team Canada to a gold medal with a GAA of just 1.14.
Over 12 seasons with at least 35 games played, Price’s save percentage never dipped below .900. He was the cornerstone of the Canadiens franchise for over a decade and was a 6-time All Star. In his prime in 2014, Price also became one of two goalies to win the Hart Trophy in the last 23 years after an incredible season in which he had a GAA of 1.96 and an SVP of .933 over 66 games. He never won a ring, but without Price in net, the Canadiens almost certainly would not have made the Stanley Cup Finals in 2021. He’s possibly a future Hall of Famer, and Montreal won’t soon forget his contributions to the team and to the city.
This year’s draft looks to be a deep one! Will the Canadiens draft another future star on Wednesday with the fifth pick? Will they have the opportunity to take Russian phenom Matvei Michkov? We’ll find out soon.