Brian Lawton entered the NHL with lots of fanfare. He left the NHL with very little some 10 years later.
Lawton was drafted first overall by the Minnesota North Stars in the 1983 entry draft. It was a surprise move as a young Pat Lafontaine was ranked #1. Lawton, who played hockey at Mount St. Charles high school in Rhode Island, became the first American to be drafted 1st overall. He was also the first high school hockey player to be drafted first overall.
As mentioned, the move by Minnesota was a surprise. Lawton had a strong showing at the World Junior championships (3 goals in 7 games) but some scouts wondered if he had played enough against tough competition to earn such a lofty spot in the entry draft. Lawton, who for a time wore number 98, was never able to adapt to the NHL level of play. He was brought in directly from high school to the NHL and failed miserably to live up to the immense pressure he had placed on him. Lawton was immature and unable to play successfully against NHL talent. Being drafted first overall doubled with Phil Housley's and Bobby Carpenter's (both of whom made big impacts in the NHL after jumping straight from high school hockey) success created too much weight on this young man's shoulders. To make matters worse, as the years went on players who were passed over by Minnesota became superstars. While Lawton struggled, players like Pat Lafontaine, Steve Yzerman, Cam Neely and Tom Barrasso all reached superstar status while many others had long productive NHL careers.
Lawton, had a bad NHL rookie year among all the press and attention. He scored only 10 goals and 31 points. In 1984 he exploded in the Canada Cup tournament by scoring 5 goals in 6 games. People figured the real Lawton had arrived and all the high expectations were placed upon him once again. Unfortunately for Lawton, he was again unable to perform under the pressure. Lawton ended up spending more games in the minors than in the NHL.
Lawton would return to the NHL for a while in 1985-86. 1986-87 proved to be Lawton's best NHL season statistically. He scored 21 goals and 44 points in 66 games. In 1988 he was traded to the New York Rangers in exchange of a number of players who were once prospects but hadn't developed as each team had hoped. Included in this deal was Mark Tinordi who became a solid defenseman with Minnesota. Lawton however would not finish the year in New York as he was traded to Hartford. His stay in Hartford was short (48 games) but long in comparison to his next two stops - Quebec (14 games) and Boston (8) games.
In 1990-91 Lawton had signed with the L.A. Kings but spent the year in the minors. Lawton would return to the NHL courtesy of the expansion San Jose Sharks but would finish his career in the minors in 1993.
Lawton will always be remembered a 1st overall draft selection busty in NHL history, although he does have company. Lawton was supposed to come into the NHL and be a scoring sensation but his skills proved to be at best very average at the NHL level. He turned into a role player and worked hard but wasn't too interested in the physical sacrifices necessary to excel as a role player. As a result he bounced around.
Lawton appeared in 483 NHL games, scoring 112 goals and 154 assists for 266 points. He also appeared in 11 playoff games, scoring 1 goal and 1 assist.
Lawton went on to become a notable player agent.