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.
Amateur scouting is an inexact science. Scouts are asked to assess how a 17- or 18-year-old will play in the NHL five years later.
The hardest part of that job could be evaluating American high school players. Their age and the short schedule make it tough to project how a top prospect will perform at the next level.
One of those tough-to-judge players heading into the 1990 NHL Draft was Boston-area high school power forward Keith Tkachuk. After 18 NHL seasons, more than 500 goals and 1,000 points, Tkachuk went from a prep hockey standout to an NHL superstar. He was voted the best No. 19 first-round pick by the 13-member NHL.com Dream Draft panel.
The Jets acquired the No. 19 pick as part of a trade that brought defenseman Phil Housley to Winnipeg in exchange for top scorer Dale Hawerchuk. Now in need of a replacement up front, the Jets opted for Tkachuk.
No. 33 in NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters, Tkachuk's first-round selection was a bit of a surprise after a broken ankle limited him to six games in his senior season at Malden (Mass.) Catholic High School. But in those six games he had 12 goals and 26 points, and at 6-foot-2, 212 pounds, the blend of size and skill was too much for the Jets to ignore.
"He was a player that he had a little bit of mystery about him," NHL Network analyst Craig Button said. "But what you saw you really liked."
Tkachuk played one season at Boston University, where he had 40 points in 36 games, then turned pro after a stint with the U.S. national team that culminated with a goal and an assist in eight games at the 1992 Winter Olympics.
He made his NHL debut Feb. 28, 1992 with an assist and a minus-1 rating in a game at the Vancouver Canucks, and he scored his first goal in his fifth game. He finished the 1991-92 season with three goals and five assists in 17 games, then led the Jets with three goals in seven Stanley Cup Playoff games.
He built on that strong postseason with 28 goals in his first full season, then, after being named captain prior to the 1993-94 season, had 41 goals and 255 penalty minutes. He scored 50 goals in 1995-96, and in 1996-97, the franchise's first as the Phoenix Coyotes, he scored a League-best 52. He became the first American-born player to lead the League in goals, and the fourth player in League history to have at least 50 goals and 200 penalty minutes in the same season.
Traded to the St. Louis Blues in March 2001, Tkachuk had six goals in 12 regular-season games and nine points in 15 playoff games as the Blues reached the Western Conference Final. He had at least 30 goals in each of his first three seasons with the Blues, but with the team sliding down the standings in 2006-07, he was traded to Atlanta Thrashers, and his 15 points in 18 games helped the team make its only Stanley Cup Playoff appearance.
Tkachuk was traded back to the Blues after the season and spent his final three seasons in St. Louis. He became the fifth American to score 500 goals April 6, 2008, and he reached the 1,000-point milestone Nov. 30, 2008.
Tkachuk played in five NHL All-Star Games, four Olympics, and three World Cups of Hockey. When he retired after the 2009-10 season, he had 538 goals and 1,065 points in 1,201 games. He's third among American players in goals, and fifth in points. He's one of three players in NHL history with 500 goals and 2,000 penalty minutes.
Voting results: Keith Tkachuk, Winnipeg (1990) 9; Ryan Getzlaf, Anaheim (2003) 3; Robyn Regehr, Colorado (1998) 1
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