Unfortunately for the General Managers of the National Hockey League, when it comes time to select the futures of their franchise, there is no crystal ball sitting in the middle of the draft table. This is perhaps the trickiest aspect of drafting prospects: you cannot predict the future. No matter how prolific a player was in junior hockey, college hockey, or the World Junior Championship, sometimes it just doesn’t translate into NHL success. For as long as there has been an NHL Entry Draft, there have been busts.
More often than not, when a player is a highly touted prospect, he will be taken as a high draft pick. Being selected as a first round draft pick undoubtedly attaches a high level of expectation to a player who is almost immediately anticipated to emerge as a bona fide NHL player. The majority of first round selections do in fact turn out to be solid NHL players, some of them even blossoming into elite superstars. However, there are some first round picks that do neither. It is sometimes the case that an early pick will hit a wall in their developmental progress and will fail to adapt their game well enough to fit into an NHL roster. The odd few are so highly touted coming into the NHL, that when they fail to live up to the hype, the pressure becomes too great, forcing them into the depths of obscurity.
Hindsight is always 20/20, so it makes compiling lists like this much easier than actually tabling scouting reports and predicting player development curves. However, we’re not NHL GMs, so we have the ability to highlight the bigger busts in recent draft history without feeling any shame – unless of course, it was our favourite team who drafted one of these players.
15. Valeri Nichushkin
Drafted by the Dallas Stars 10th overall, Round 1 in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft.
Being labelled a top-10 draft pick in the NHL automatically sets the expectations for your career exponentially high. Any time an NHL franchise sings a player’s praise and subsequently drafts them in the top 10 selections of a draft, they expect the player to not only to be in the lineup soon thereafter, they expect them to be an elite player. Unfortunately for the Stars, Nichushkin turned out to be neither of these. Aside from a respectable first NHL season, where he tallied 34 points in 79 games, Nichushkin quickly became a ghost in the Stars’ lineup, highlighted by a sophomore season where he only appeared in 8 games due to a year-ending hip injury. After a disappointing 2015-2016 season where Nichushkin posted a lowly 29 points in 79 games, he surprised everyone – most notably his team – by announcing his decision to play in the Russian professional league, the KHL. Not only was Nichushkin a statistical disappointment when he was in the Stars’ lineup, the former 10th overall pick completely abandoned the club who was confident enough in his abilities to draft him.
14. Jake DeBrusk
Drafted by the Boston Bruins 14th overall, Round 1 in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft.
In the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, the Boston Bruins were faced with a rather unique situation; they had three consecutive first round picks at numbers 13, 14, and 15. Quite surprising to many, the Bruins decided to select left winger Jake DeBrusk with the 14th overall pick (DeBrusk was originally touted by NHL’s Central Scouting to be selected closer to the 20th pick). The Bruins decided to pass on several players who have already become familiar household names, due in part to the World Junior Championship and through stints with their respective NHL clubs. Some of these names include: Mathew Barzal; Kyle Connor; Thomas Chabot; Joel Eriksson Ek; and Travis Konecny. DeBrusk has yet to play an NHL game with the Bruins and is currently playing with the Providence Bruins of the AHL where he has only registered 25 points in 48 games to this point. It should also be noted that DeBrusk failed his physical after being drafted.
13. Ryan Pulock
Drafted by the New York Islanders 15th overall, Round 1 in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft.
Ryan Pulock caught the attention of everyone as a Brandon Wheat King in the WHL, especially that of the New York Islanders. In his four year minor league career in Brandon, Pulock scored a total of 210 points, justifying his selection in the first round of the 2013 draft. Unfortunately for the Islanders, Pulock has only appeared in 15 NHL games while only tallying 4 points. Normally, criticizing a prospect this early into his career would not be very justifiable. However, in the case of Pulock, the criticism is warranted for a player who was an accomplished scorer for the entirety of his minor league career. There are several players selected after Pulock who are already having successful NHL careers, including: Nikita Zadorov, Curtis Lazar, Andre Burakovsky, and Marko Dano. Anytime a player is taken in the first half of the first round, they are expected to be an elite player, and are considered disappointing – at the very least – if they don’t satisfy those expectations.
12. Brett Connolly
Drafted by the Tampa Bay Lightning 6th overall, Round 1 in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft.
Sure, Brett Connolly had lots of success in junior hockey. He has also had solid success in the American Hockey League. And sure, he has even played in 252 career NHL games, scoring a total of 77 points. However, for a 6th overall pick, Connolly hasn’t even come close to the player that the Lightning expected him to be. To put Connolly’s selection into perspective, here are some of the players taken after him: Jeff Skinner, Mikael Granlund, Cam Fowler, Jaden Schwartz, Vladimir Tarasenko, Nick Bjugstad, Riley Sheahan, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Kevin Hayes, Charlie Coyle, and Brock Nelson. Every single one of these players was taken after Connolly in the first round and every single one has more points than Connolly – a lot more in some instances. Connolly has already been traded twice in his career and is now playing on his third different NHL team with Washington.
11. Jakub Zboril
Drafted by the Boston Bruins 13th overall, Round 1 in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft.
Although Jakub Zboril was ranked in NHL Central Scouting’s top fifteen skaters in their 2015 Final Rankings Report, during his draft year, Zboril amassed a mere 33 points in 44 games while playing with the Saint John Sea Dogs of the QMJHL. The following year, again with the Sea Dogs, Zboril posted a measly 20 points in 50 games played. It is concerning that a relatively high first round draft pick would have his performance diminish so drastically the year after he was drafted. Much like fellow Bruin’s prospect Jake DeBrusk, Zboril was chosen over an array of players who have already shown much more promise in the time since their draft year. Another fact that Zboril shares with DeBrusk, is that he also failed his physical following the Entry Draft. Currently, Zboril is still playing with the Sea Dogs of the QMJHL and has registered 31 points in 33 games… hardly the progression you hope to see from a 13th overall pick.