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.