NHL scouts make their living through the draft. There are a multitude of junior hockey leagues from which talented players emerge. In most cases, the speed of play and level of competition is night and day compared to the professional level. As a result, it’s difficult to forecast how a teenage star in the OHL (or any other major junior league) may fare in the NHL.
It’s no surprise, then, to hear stories of teams misfiring on top draft picks. Think of Alexandre Daigle in 1993, Patrik Stefan in 1999, Rick DiPietro in 2000, or Hugh Jessiman in 2003. These draftees arrived to their respective teams with much fanfare, only to have their careers derailed by injury, lack of development, or poor performance.
Other times, draft picks performed decently, yet not on par with their initial draft position. Teams may regret these picks, even though it’s nearly impossible to predict a mid-to-late round gem.
Within the last eight years, there have been many first-round draft picks who have left scouts and coaches looking back wondering “what were we thinking?”
This list looks at some of the more recent draft disappointments in the NHL, what went wrong, and where they ended up.
Here are 15 recent draft picks that NHL teams are already regretting.
15. Haydn Fleury – 2014, Carolina Hurricanes
Fleury is only 20 years old, so he has ample time to develop into the offensive defenseman the Hurricanes hope for. Yet, they probably expected their 2014 first-round pick to at least be on the big club roster by now, instead of toiling in the AHL.
The ‘Canes selected Fleury with the seventh overall pick, ahead of Dylan Larkin, Robby Fabbri, and David Pastrnak.
Fleury has yet to make his NHL debut, but did excel in the Western Hockey League (WHL) last season. He scored 41 points in 56 games for the Red Deer Rebels, and played on Team Canada’s top defensive pairing at the 2016 World Junior Championships.
However, that success hasn’t translated entirely at the AHL level so far in 2016-17. Fleury has just three goals and eight points through 24 games for the Charlotte Checkers. The Hurricanes are hopeful that he can build on those totals and find some of that spark that made him a standout offensive blueliner in the WHL.
14. Samuel Morin – 2013, Philadelphia Flyers
The Flyers took Morin with the 11th overall pick in 2013. The defenseman was chosen one pick ahead of Max Domi. Sure, the Flyers may not have been looking for a forward in the first round, but consider the fact that Domi put up 52 points in his rookie season. Morin, meanwhile, has yet to make his NHL debut. He spent the next few seasons after his draft playing for the Rimouski Oceanic of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL).
Morin made his professional debut during the 2015-16 season, when he suited up for 76 games with the Flyers’ AHL affiliate. He notched four goals and 19 points. He failed to make the Flyers’ roster out of training camp for 2016-17, and thus, remained in the AHL.
Although Morin has progressed from the junior level to the professional level, the Flyers still hope he will crack the NHL lineup before too long. The team appears to have no need to rush him, given the stellar play of young defensemen like Shayne Gostisbehere and Ivan Provorov.
Perhaps with another season of top-pair minutes in the AHL, Morin makes his long-awaited debut in 2017.
13. Joel Armia – 2011, Buffalo Sabres
Armia’s brief NHL tenure in Buffalo lasted just one game. He spent three years with the organization, but spent most of that time in the AHL. The Sabres took the Finnish winger with the 16th overall pick of the 2011 draft. He was drafted ahead of Vladislav Namestnikov and Brandon Saad.
He played well for the Rochester Americans in the AHL, but was never given much of a shot to prove himself with the Sabres.
The Sabres traded him to Winnipeg less than three months after his first NHL game. Armia was dealt in February 2015 as part of a blockbuster trade package that brought Evander Kane and Zach Bogosian to Buffalo. The Sabres probably regret giving him such a short leash, but also lament not getting a higher return for him in that trade.
Kane has been inconsistent in Buffalo, and Bogosian, while a serviceable defenseman, doesn’t have the potential of Tyler Myers, whom Buffalo also traded away in that deal.
As for Armia, he has one goal and four points for the Jets through his first 16 games of the 2016-17 season.
12. Brett Connolly – 2010, Tampa Bay Lightning
Brett Connolly arrived at the 2010 NHL Draft with much fanfare. He was the third-ranked North American skater that year, behind Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin. Connolly was a WHL star, earning 2008-09 league Rookie of the Year honors. Early comparisons to Rick Nash had the Tampa Bay Lightning eager to snatch him up with the sixth overall pick.
Unfortunately, Connolly struggled through a four-goal 15-point rookie campaign in 2011-12. He did rebound by 2014-15, appearing in 50 NHL games, and scoring a career-high 12 goals.
Yet, Tampa Bay traded Connolly for a pair of second-round picks. He scored nine goals and 27 points in 76 games as a Bruin. Through 22 games for the Capitals this season, Connolly has just five points.
If Tampa Bay wanted a sniper in that 2010 draft, they could’ve taken Jeff Skinner (seventh overall) or Vladimir Tarasenko (15th overall).
11. Joey Hishon – 2010, Colorado Avalanche
Things haven’t been easy for the Colorado Avalanche in recent seasons. After an exciting 2013-14 season that saw them capture the Central Division title, the team missed the playoffs the last two seasons. They have a solid young core of leaders, including Matt Duchene, Nathan MacKinnon, and Gabriel Landeskog. 2010 first-round pick Joey Hishon could’ve been part of that group, but the Ontario native decided to sign with Jokerit of the KHL in 2016.
Colorado took the OHL star with the 17th pick, but never saw his talent translate to the NHL. Hishon was plagued by concussions during his early years in the Avalanche organization. He appeared in 13 regular-season games with the Avs in 2014-15, and mustered just one goal and one assist. He didn’t even earn a call-up to the NHL the following season, and instead played the entire year in the AHL. He chose to continue his career in Europe for the 2016-17 season.
Some players the Avalanche missed out on in that 2010 draft? Riley Sheahan, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Calle Jarnkrok.
10. Jamie Oleksiak – 2011, Dallas Stars
The Dallas Stars boast a talented assembly of defenseman who both excel on offense and hold strong on defense. From John Klingberg to Johnny Oduya, the Stars have solid defensive depth. The team would love for 24-year-old Jamie Oleksiak to join that club, but the path hasn’t been easy. The Stars selected the Toronto native with the 14th overall pick in the 2011 draft. He earned his first call-up to Dallas after a promising start to the 2012-13 season in the AHL. He scored 33 points in 59 games that season for the Stars’ minor-league affiliate, but only managed two assists in 16 games for the big club. He began the following season in the AHL. He only appeared in 62 more games for Dallas over the next three seasons.
He seems to be coming around this season, though. He has five points through 17 games as he looks to establish himself on the NHL level.
Yet, Dallas could’ve gotten quicker returns on that first-round pick had they used it on Nathan Beaulieu, Oscar Klefbom, or Connor Murphy. All those players were available when Oleksiak was taken.
9. Dylan McIlrath – 2010, New York Rangers
Heading into the 2010 draft, the New York Rangers needed a strong offensive defenseman to quarterback the team’s powerplay. They also had a need for an intimidating defenseman to protect goaltender Henrik Lundqvist in the crease.
General manager Glen Sather decided the latter need was of more importance, and selected 6-foot-5, 220-pound defenseman Dylan McIlrath. McIlrath was taken 10th overall, two picks ahead of Cam Fowler.
McIlrath faced a multitude of struggles during his time in New York. He was plagued by knee injuries and struggled to excel in the Rangers’ up-tempo offense. He didn’t play his first full NHL season until 2015-16.
McIlrath emerged as a fan favorite for his pugnacious nature and willingness to drop the gloves with any opponent. McIlrath’s physical play endeared him to many Ranger fans, but the coaching staff felt otherwise. He was routinely relegated to the third defensive pairing.
In 2016, McIlrath’s disappointing training camp resulted in repeated scratches from the lineup. He was placed on waivers in late October, and was traded to Florida in November for defenseman Steve Kampfer and a conditional seventh-round pick.
8. Kevin Hayes – 2010, Chicago Blackhawks
Now, Hayes presents a unique situation on this list. He has blossomed into a solid NHL player, and key contributor to his team. Only that his team is not the Chicago Blackhawks. The team was unable to sign Hayes after drafting him in 2010, and their rights to him expired.
He signed as a free agent with the New York Rangers in August of 2014. That’s where the regret comes in. Had Chicago known they wouldn’t have been able to sign Hayes, they would’ve taken another talented young center, such as Evgeny Kuznetsov (taken two picks later) or Charlie Coyle (taken four picks later).
Hayes has developed nicely into the Rangers’ core of young players, totaling 31 goals and 84 points through his first two seasons on Broadway. He has started the 2016-17 season off well, scoring 30 points through the teams first 41 games.
7. Jared Cowen – 2009, Ottawa Senators
The Senators struck gold in 2008 when they selected future captain Erik Karlsson with the 15th overall pick. They took their chances on another defenseman the following year, Jared Cowen. They took him with the ninth overall pick, ahead of fellow blueliners like Dmitri Kulikov (14th overall), Nick Leddy (16th overall) John Moore (21st overall), and Brian Dumoulin (51st overall).
Cowen totaled 15 goals and 46 points in 245 games with the Senators. One could argue that Cowen’s biggest contribution to the team came when he was traded. Cowen’s inclusion in a 2016 trade package with the Maple Leafs was key in bringing Dion Phaneuf to Ottawa.
Sadly, Toronto was even less patient with Cowen than Ottawa had been. In fact, Leafs management bought him out before they ever gave him a chance to play a game. He was waived in late February 2016, and was eventually bought out in September.
6. Zack Kassian – 2009, Buffalo Sabres
Kassian is another 2009 draft disappointment, but for very different reasons than the aforementioned Cowen. Kassian began his career with the Buffalo Sabres after the organization selected him 13th overall. He earned three call-ups during the 2011-12 season. His first call-up came after scoring 26 points through 30 AHL games to start the year. Kassian scored seven points through 27 games before a trade deadline deal shipped him to Vancouver for Cody Hodgson and Alexander Sulzer.
Kassian played for the Canucks until 2015, and never registered more than 15 goals. Buffalo never got as much out of Kassian as they had hoped, even in that 2012 trade. Cody Hodgson ended up struggling in Buffalo, and was eventually waived. The Sabres could’ve chosen Chris Kreider, Ryan O’Reilly, or Tomas Tatar that year instead.
Meanwhile, Vancouver traded Kassian to Montreal in 2015. Unfortunately, Kassian was suspended from the NHL after he was found inebriated at the scene of a car accident in October of that year. In fairness, he wasn’t operating the vehicle, but still served his suspension. He was traded, once again, to the Oilers, where he has two goals in 35 games this season.
5. Derrick Pouliot – 2012, Pittsburgh Penguins
The Penguins selected Pouliot eighth overall in 2012, though the defenseman didn’t make his NHL debut until December 2014. He started off well, scoring a goal in his first game against the Panthers. He finished the season with two goals and seven points in 34 games.
Unfortunately, he couldn’t build on those totals the following season. He failed to make the Penguins’ roster out of training camp and began 2015-16 with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins of the AHL. He appeared in just 22 NHL games that season, and registered seven assists.
Pouliot was recently demoted to the AHL last December after he went scoreless in seven games with the big club this season.
If the Pens wanted a quality d-man, they could’ve taken Jacob Trouba, who went to the Jets with the very next pick.
Pouliot himself realized his slow development could land him on the trade block.
“We’ll have to see where things go down the road here,” Pouliot told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in December 2016. “Trades happen. You never know what could unfold.”
Pittsburgh didn’t come up empty in that year’s first round though. They took Finnish defenseman Olli Maatta with the 22nd overall pick.
4. Griffin Reinhart – 2012, New York Islanders
Griffin Reinhart comes from a successful hockey family. The Sabres took his younger brother, Sam, second overall in 2014. Griffin, meanwhile, was taken fourth overall two years earlier. The Islanders opted for Reinhart even though stud defensemen like Jacob Trouba, Matt Dumba, and Olli Maatta were still available.
He only appeared in eight games for the Islanders, going goalless with one assist. Reinhart was traded to the Edmonton Oilers in June of 2015. The Islanders received a 2015 first-round pick in exchange, along with the 33rd overall pick. The Islanders used that first-round pick (16th overall) to select Matthew Barzal.
Reinhart began the 2016-17 season in the AHL, while Barzal has played just two games for the Islanders thus far.
3. Scott Glennie – 2009, Dallas Stars
Glennie stands as the Stars’ biggest recent draft disappointment. The team is still giving Oleksiak time to develop, but has given up on Glennie. Glennie was initially forecast as a top-10 draft talent. The NHL Scouting Bureau ranked him the seventh-best North American skater heading into the 2009 draft.
Glennie went eighth overall, but spent the entirety of his Dallas career playing in the AHL. In fact, Glennie played just one game at the NHL level. The Stars cut ties with Glennie after an underwhelming 2014-15 season in the minors.
Glennie signed with the AHL’s Manitoba Moose in 2016, and has three goals and 10 points through 21 games.
The regret for Dallas factors in when they imagine their squad with Glennie in tow. A roster that boasts Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, and Cody Eakin could’ve gotten an extra boost had Glennie materialized into that NHL star he seemed destined to be.
2. Magnus Paajarvi – 2009 Edmonton Oilers
I almost put Ryan Nugent-Hopkins in this slot, but figured he is still contributing to the Oilers in some fashion. Magnus Paajarvi, on the other hand, hasn’t played for Edmonton since 2013. The Swedish left winger wowed scouts with his play for Team Sweden at the 2009 World Junior Championship and World Junior U18 Championship. The Oilers selected Paajarvi with the 10th overall pick in 2009, and he made his NHL debut in 2010. He scored a respectable 15 goals and 34 points in his rookie year, but quickly fell off from there. He notched just eight points through his first 41 games of 2011-12, and was eventually sent down to the AHL.
Paajarvi contributed nine goals and 16 points through the first half of the 2012-2013 season before Edmonton decided they had seen enough. They traded Paajarvi to the St. Louis Blues in a deal that brought David Perron to Edmonton. Paajarvi continued to struggle in St. Louis, and was placed on waivers in December 2014. Perron, meanwhile, spent less than two seasons in Edmonton before a 2015 trade to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
In choosing Paajarvi, the Oilers passed on Chris Kreider, Marcus Johansson, and Kyle Palmieri.
1. Nail Yakupov – 2012, Edmonton Oilers
The Oilers have had their fair share of lottery picks over the past several drafts. While some of those players have contributed, others have struggled to live up to their pre-draft hype. Connor McDavid is a budding superstar in Edmonton, while Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins have all established their respective roles in the team’s identity.
Nail Yakupov was one top pick who, unfortunately, never panned out in Edmonton. The Oilers selected Yakupov first overall back in 2012, and hoped the right winger would transition seamlessly into the NHL.
Yakupov never found his scoring touch on a consistent basis for the Oilers. To be fair, he had to work with several different coaches, from Dallas Eakins to Todd McClellan, all of whom paired him with a revolving door of linemates. He enjoyed a 17-goal, 31-point season rookie year in 2012-13, but hasn’t topped 33 points in a season since then.
The Oilers put the “Nail” in the coffin by trading Yakupov to St. Louis before the 2016-17 season. Through 21 games for the Blues, Yakupov has just three goals and six points.
To add insult to injury, the Oilers could’ve taken Alex Galchenyuk or Filip Forsberg at the number one spot that year.