To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first NHL Draft, NHL.com assembled a 13-member panel to select the best first-round picks of all time, based on selection number. NHL.com will feature one of the top first-round picks each day, beginning with the best No. 30 pick on June 1 and culminating with the all-time No. 1 pick on June 30, the day of the 2013 NHL Draft.
Today: The best No. 14 pick: Brian Propp, Philadelphia Flyers, 1979; Sergei Gonchar, Washington Capitals, 1992 (tie)
They come from backgrounds as far apart as their hometowns of Lanigan, Saskatchewan, and Chelyabinsk, Russia. But each developed into an NHL All-Star and borderline Hall of Famer.
They played in a combined eight Stanley Cup Finals, skated in a total of nine NHL All-Star Games, and played significant roles with whichever team they skated for.
Their careers have been so strong that NHL.com's Dream Draft panel was split, with Brian Propp and Sergei Gonchar receiving four votes each and sharing the title of best No. 14 first-round pick.
The Flyers selected Propp after a season that saw him total 94 goals and 100 assists in 71 games with the Brandon Wheat Kings of the Western Canadian Junior Hockey League. The left wing was plugged directly into the Flyers' lineup as a 19-year-old to start the 1979-80 season, and his first linemates were future Hall of Fame member Bobby Clarke and 60-goal scorer Reggie Leach.
Propp was an immediate contributor with 34 goals, 75 points and a plus-45 rating in 80 games, a season that saw the Flyers post a League record 35-game unbeaten streak. He added 15 points in 19 Stanley Cup Playoff games to help the Flyers reach the 1980 Final, where they lost to the New York Islanders.
Propp set career bests in 1984-85 with 43 goals and 97 points, and the Flyers, the youngest team in the League, finished atop the NHL standings with 53 wins and 113 points. He added 18 points in 19 playoff games and the Flyers again advanced to the Cup Final, where they lost to the Edmonton Oilers. He helped the Flyers return to the Final in 1987, only to again lose to the Oilers.
Propp piled up goals with the Flyers, scoring at least 30 eight times and at least 40 four times in 10 full seasons in Philadelphia. He was traded to the Boston Bruins during the 1989-90 season and helped them win the Presidents' Trophy and advance to the Cup Final, where they lost to the Oilers.
He signed with the Minnesota North Stars in July 1990 and again reached -- but lost -- the Cup Final, this time to Mario Lemieux and the Pittsburgh Penguins. Propp finished his NHL career with 1,004 points in 1,016 games, and his 22 points in the Stanley Cup Final are the most for a player who never won the Cup.
"Versatile, consistent and reliable were labels that Propp justly earned," NHL Senior Director of News Services Greg Inglis said. "He was a prolific goal-scorer and a talented setup man, yet also responsible in his own end. He could score off the rush, beat the goaltender from the circle, or push the puck home in heavy traffic."
Gonchar was one of the early arrivals to the NHL after the breakup of the Soviet Union. After two seasons with Dynamo Moscow, he came to North America at the end of the 1993-94 season to play in the American Hockey League playoffs with the Portland Pirates. He started the 1994-95 season in the AHL, and made his NHL debut for the Washington Capitals on Feb. 7, 1995. Gonchar had seven points in 31 NHL games that season, then made his presence felt in a big way the following season, with 15 goals and 41 points in 78 games.
In 1997-98 he had 21 points in 72 regular-season games, then finished third among defenseman in the 1998 Stanley Cup Playoffs with 11 points to help the Capitals advance to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time, where they lost to the Detroit Red Wings.
During the next five seasons, from 1998-99 to 2002-03, Gonchar was one of the top offensive defensemen in the League, averaging 20 goals and 54 points, including 26 goals and 59 points to lead NHL defensemen in 2001-02.
He was traded to the Boston Bruins late in the 2003-04 season, then signed with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2005. Gonchar played a leading role on Pittsburgh's blue line and had a huge hand in helping countryman Evgeni Malkin adjust to the NHL. Gonchar also helped the Penguins reach the Stanley Cup Final in 2008, and in 2009 had 14 points in 22 games to help the Penguins win the Cup.
Gonchar signed as a free agent with the Ottawa Senators in 2010, and this month was traded to the Dallas Stars, with whom he signed a new two-year contract. An offensive force as well as a reliable defensive presence as he nears his 40th birthday, his 217 goals and 775 points are the most among active NHL defensemen and in the top 20 all-time.
"He's won a Stanley Cup, he's a terrific player," NHL Network analyst and former NHL general manager Craig Button said. "In my view that puts him on the cusp of the Hall of Fame. I think he should be in the discussion."
Voting: Brian Propp, Philadelphia (1979) 4; Sergei Gonchar, Washington (1992) 4; Rick Middleton, New York Rangers (1973) 3; Brent Seabrook, Chicago (2003) 1; Terry O'Reilly, Boston (1971) 1
Contact Adam Kimelman at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
Author: Adam Kimelman | NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor
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