The 1983 NHL Draft was one of the most fateful in hockey history for the Detroit Red Wings. Despite the fact that they originally had wanted to draft forward Pat Lafontaine, he was selected third overall by the New York Islanders.
What followed next set the course of the franchise for the next two-plus decades when they decided to take young Steve Yzerman with the 4th overall selection.
But what if history was different?
NHL.com decided to do a re-draft of the 1983 NHL Draft, and the results spell some pretty stunning changes in what would have been the futures of not only the Detroit Red Wings, but several other NHL clubs. Take a look at the first few picks in what could have been:
1. Steve Yzerman, C, Minnesota North Stars (originally selected No. 4 by Detroit Red Wings) — Yzerman changed the course of hockey in Detroit. The Red Wings missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs 15 of the previous 17 seasons before his arrival. With Yzerman, they got there 20 times in 22 seasons and won the Stanley Cup three times (1997, 1998, 2002). Yzerman began his NHL career as a dominating offensive presence, including back-to-back 60-goal seasons in 1988-89 (65) and 1989-90 (62). But when Scotty Bowman arrived as Red Wings coach in 1993, he pushed Yzerman to become a dominant two-way player, sacrificing individual success for championship glory. He was a significant contributor for his entire 22-season NHL career, all spent with Detroit. Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2009, he is 10th in NHL history with 692 goals and seventh with 1,755 points, each by far the most in the 1983 class.
2. Pat LaFontaine, C, Hartford Whalers (No. 3 by New York Islanders) — By selecting LaFontaine in this redraft, the Whalers fortified themselves down the middle with two Hockey Hall of Fame centers. They selected Ron Francis with the No. 4 pick in the 1981 NHL Draft, and he would have slotted in perfectly on the second line behind LaFontaine, who leads the 1983 class with an NHL average of 1.17 points per game, slightly ahead of Yzerman’s 1.16. Although his career ended prematurely in 1998 because of concussions, he is second in the class behind Yzerman with 468 goals and 1,013 points in 865 games with the Islanders, Buffalo Sabres and New York Rangers. LaFontaine scored at least 40 goals in seven of his 15 NHL seasons, including a career-high 54 in 1989-90 with the Islanders and 53 with the Sabres in 1992-93, when he scored a career-high 148 points in 84 games. He scored 63 points (26 goals, 37 assists) in 69 NHL playoff games, including his goal for the Islanders in the fourth overtime of their Easter Epic win in Game 7 of the 1987 Patrick Division Semifinals against the Washington Capitals. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2003.
3. Dominik Hasek, G, New York Islanders (No. 199 by Chicago Black Hawks) — One of the best goalies in NHL history, Hasek was an absolute steal in the 10th round of the 1983 draft and the obvious pick in this redraft by the Islanders, who landed their successor to Billy Smith after having just won the Cup for the fourth consecutive season. Hasek, nicknamed The Dominator, has the best save percentage (.922) in NHL history among goalies to play at least 550 games, and his 2.20 goals-against average is second to Tiny Thompson’s 2.07. Hasek, the only goalie to win the Hart Trophy twice (1997, 1998), is 14th in NHL history in wins (389) and tied for sixth in shutouts (81). He won the Cup with the Red Wings in 2002 and 2008, helped the Sabres to the Stanley Cup Final in 1999 (13-6, 1.77 GAA, .939 save percentage), and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2014.
4. Cam Neely, RW, Detroit Red Wings (No. 9 by Vancouver Canucks) — His NHL average of 0.96 points per game (694 in 726; 395 goals, 299 assists) is third in the 1983 class, as are his 142 power-play goals (Yzerman, 202; LaFontaine, 156), solidifying his value as the third forward taken in this redraft. Although he never won the Cup in a career cut short by a degenerative hip condition after 13 NHL seasons, Neely was productive in the postseason, with 89 points (57 goals, 32 assists) in 93 games, his average of 0.96 per game second in the class behind Kevin Stevens’ 1.03. Neely’s consistency from the regular season to the playoffs made him a valuable pick for the Red Wings, who were seeking help at forward as evidenced by their original selection of Yzerman here.
7. Claude Lemieux, RW, Toronto Maple Leafs (No. 26 by Montreal Canadiens) — Lemieux won the Cup four times with three teams (Canadiens, 1986; Devils, 1995 and 2000; Colorado Avalanche, 1996). Known as an agitator, Lemieux was good during the regular season, when he had 786 points (379 goals, 407 assists) in 1,215 NHL games over 21 seasons, including an 18-game comeback with the San Jose Sharks in 2008-09 after he’d been out of the League for more than five years. But he was even better in the playoffs, when he had 158 points (80 goals, 78 assists) in 234 games. Lemieux was voted winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy as postseason MVP with New Jersey in 1995, when he led the NHL with 13 goals in 20 games.
9. Viacheslav Fetisov, D, Vancouver Canucks (No. 145 by New Jersey Devils) — Another player who you wonder what would have been had he arrived in North America earlier. But the defenseman who helped the Soviet Union win two Olympic gold medals (1984, 1988) and seven world championships showed the Canucks more than enough in his time in the NHL for them to take him here. Fetisov didn’t make his debut with the Devils until he was 31 in 1989-90, but his average of 0.42 points per game is second among 1983 defensemen who played at least 500 NHL games (Garry Galley, 0.52). He is fourth in the class at the position with 228 points (36 goals, 192 assists) in 546 games and third overall in rating at plus-114 (Yzerman, plus-184; Jeff Beukeboom, plus-115). Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2016, he was part of the Red Wings’ “Russian Five” unit, with defenseman Vladimir Konstantinov and forwards Vyacheslav Kozlov, Larionov, and Sergei Fedorov, that helped them end their 42-year Stanley Cup drought in 1997 and repeat in 1998.
– – All quotes via NHL.com Link – –