The 2016 NHL draft has come and gone with a few minor surprises, to say the least. The Blue Jackets taking Pierre-Luc Dubois instead of the Finn, Jesse Puljujarvi was likely the biggest one. I think the Oilers were okay with that decision, though. Only time will tell if the Blue Jackets made the right decision or not.
It is with that last thought in mind that I got inspired to do this article. The NHL draft has become an important part of a hockey fan’s year. Some of the biggest trades happen at the draft. Legendary careers all start at the draft, but what happens when things go wrong? A team can set itself back years with the wrong decision on draft day (Looking at you Oilers!!)
In doing this article I tried to use a good mix of older players that the hardcore fans would appreciate and newer players that even the most casual of fans would know who they are but that wasn’t always possible. I refused to include players who passed away at a tragic young age, so don’t be looking for Luc Bourdon or Alexei Cherepanov.
Sit back and enjoy this look down memory lane of the worst first round pick at each number in the NHL draft.
1. Patrik Stefan – 1999
There have been a few players picked first overall who never played a single game in the NHL. Back in the older days of the draft, Few players have had the hopes and prayers of a city quite like Patrik Stefan did for Atlanta in 1999. Selected over future likely Hall of Famers Henrik and Daniel Sedin, Stefan could never find his footing in the NHL. He could not save hockey in Atlanta and is most well-known for his horrific gaffe as a member of the Dallas Stars. Stefan played 445 games and had 188 points in his career. He hit career highs in the 2003-04 NHL season with 40 points. Stefan is far from the worst player statistically ever selected at #1 but when you bundle everything together in regards to what he was supposed to mean to the Thrashers franchise and what he ended up becoming, He is the worst ever #1 draft pick in NHL history.
2. Andrei Zyuzin – 1996
Andrei Zyuzin was a highly touted player heading into the 1996 NHL draft. He was expected to be a big star offensive defenseman in the league and he drastically under delivered. He played 415 games in his NHL career and only had 109 points. He couldn’t hack it in the greatest professional hockey league and was last seen playing in the VHL, a second tier league in Russia in 2012.
The 1996 draft is arguably one of the weakest of all time but Daniel Briere surely would have been a better pick for the San Jose Sharks. Other solid players from the 1996 draft included Zdeno Chara, Marco Sturm and Pavel Kubina. Looking back though maybe if Zyuzin would have been better the Sharks wouldn’t have been able to pick Patrick Marleau in 1997.
3. Alexander Svitov- 2001
It doesn’t get much worse than Alexander Svitov. Not only the worst #3 pick of all time, Svitov is one of the worst picks of all time. He was drafted in 2001 and he last played in the NHL during the 2006-07 NHL season. Is that really the type of longevity you expect from a 3rd overall pick. Svitov was a disappointment at both ends of the ice. His NHL career only lasted 179 games and he totaled an abysmal 37 points in his career. It didn’t take too long for the Lightning to realize the mistake they made.
He is still trying to be a productive hockey player as he has been toiling overseas in various leagues but mainly in the KHL where he played last season. Even in the KHL, however, he isn’t a top player, just your basic middle of the road forward. Pretty pathetic for a 3rd overall pick.
4. Jason Bonsignore – 1994
Jason Bonsignore is one of the worst draft picks in Edmonton Oilers history. If you know some of the history of the Oilers at the draft, that’s saying something. He was a colossal failure for a #4 draft pick. Drafted for his offensive ability, Bonsignore displayed none of that at the NHL level. He only played 79 games in the NHL and had only 16 points playing for the Edmonton Oilers and Tampa Bay Lightning. Even in the AHL and ECHL he struggled to separate himself from the pack.
Jason made multiple attempts at comebacks after first heading to play in Europe in 2003 but he finally gave up his North American pro hockey career in 2008. Stats show that 85% of players picked #4 go on to play at least 100 NHL games, but Bonsignore was not one of those players.
5. Stanislav Chistov- 2001
Chistov was drafted #5 overall in 2001 by the Anaheim Ducks and they regretted it ever since. He reached career highs during his rookie season of 2002-03 scoring 30 points in 79 games. That was also the same year they would advance to their first Stanley Cup Final, so hopes were high for Chistov. Little did the Ducks know that the total would account for almost 50% of his career totals. Chistov would bounce around the AHL for a few years before making a comeback attempt with the Bruins during the 2006-07 season but it didn’t work out. He returned to his native Russia in 2007 and has been there ever since.
Even in the KHL his point totals are just sad. He left the NHL with 61 points in 196 games. Last season in the KHL he had 10 points in 36 games, further proving no matter what league he is in, Chistov is a bust.
6. Daniel Tkaczuk- 1997
As great as it was seeing the Flames get stuck with Tkaczuk, it doesn’t take away from the fact that he was a huge failure. Tkaczuk left the NHL after the 2001-02 NHL season (ironically also his rookie season). This was a massive blow for Calgary as they were just starting to turn things around and could have used a blue chip young player. He scored 11 points in 19 games before struggling in the AHL and moving overseas to try to revive his career. He would return to North American hockey during the 2009-10 season and had a decent season in the ECHL. He had no success in the AHL and was soon back on his way overseas. His hockey career ended after a 6 game stint in England in 2012.
Ironically enough, this year the Flames were picking sixth again and took a player with a similar name in Matthew Tkachuk. The Flames better hope they’re not in for a similar disappointment.
7. Alek Stojanov- 1991
The Vancouver Canucks dodged a big bullet in trading Alex Stojanov during the 1994-95 NHL season. When the Canucks drafted Stojanov they thought they were getting a strong power forward with some offensive ability. By the time he made it up to the Canucks roster for good it was clear this wasn’t the case. Vancouver cut their losses and deployed Stojanov purely as an enforcer before the Penguins made one of the worst trades in NHL history, giving the Canucks Markus Naslund for Stojanov.
Stojanov played 107 games in the NHL scoring 7 points and adding 222 penalty minutes. Even as an enforcer, he wasn’t a very good one. How did the trade go the other way? Naslund only went on to set just about every Canucks franchise record in scoring. When looking back, this probably turned out to be one of the Canucks’ best draft picks, as it yielded them perhaps the best player in their franchise’s history.
8. Zach Hamill- 2007
The Boston Bruins gave Hamill every chance to become the everyday player they needed him to be. He got 3 separate call ups to the NHL and he squandered each one. He played 20 games over 3 seasons and only scored 4 points. Hamill was a high scoring player in Junior but that did not continue at the NHL or even the AHL level. When you are a center picked in the first round in the NHL you are expected to score a hell of a lot more than 4 points in a career. Hamill was drafted in the top 10, so at the very least, you expect to get a regular NHLer, but Hamill fell short of all expectations set for him, even as the bar dropped lower.
Hamill played last year in Switzerland (NLA) and it is safe to say his NHL career is over.
9. Brian Lee – 2005
Brian Lee was drafted by the Ottawa Senators in 2005. A solid defenseman for the University of North Dakota, The Senators expected they were getting a cornerstone for their defense for years to come but that just wasn’t the case. Lee’s skills never seemed to evolve from his time in university and he was soon appearing overmatched by the speed in the NHL. He played 200 games in the NHL, all but 42 with the Senators.
He had 36 points in his NHL career and didn’t do much better in the AHL. Lee will be remembered as one of many college defenseman who failed to make an impact in the NHL. It’s always a little tougher to project college players than it is to project players who go through elite competition at the major junior level and Lee is just another case of that.
10. Boris Valabik- 2004
I know what you are thinking….Who? Boris Valabik was selected 10th overall in 2004 by the Atlanta Thrashers. With picks like this it is not a shock that the Thrashers are no longer an NHL team. Boris was a huge hulking defenseman, think Chara but without the skill. Standing 6’7 he should have been a force in the NHL but it never materialized. His NHL career would last 80 games with a grand total of 7 points. He would try his luck with the Boston Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins but could not crack the NHL lineup, only playing 13 AHL games over 2 seasons. Boris Valabik is a good example that size isn’t everything as he may have been 6’7 but he could not stick in the NHL.
11. Kyle Beach- 2008
There have been a surprising amount of draft busts at #11 in recent years. Dan Focht,Brandon Sutter and Jack Campbell come to mind. They all pale in comparison to Kyle Beach. Beach was drafted 11th overall in 2008. The Chicago Blackhawks have done a great job at the draft over the years but this definitely is one they would want back. Kyle Beach got chance after chance to make an impact in the NHL but he never could rise above the AHL. The Blackhawks were an elite team for much of his career but even after the dismantling of the team after the 2010 cup win, Beach still didn’t make the club.
He is currently playing in Austria scoring 14 points in 21 games. He played 208 games in the AHL and only totaled 83 points. It seems that the rest of his career will be played out overseas.
12. Teemu Riihijarvi – 1995
There really isn’t much to say about Teemu Riihijarvi. He was drafted in 1995 by the San Jose Sharks. As a prospect, Teemu was billed as a player with size that could dominate physically if he put in the effort. Standing 6’6 the Sharks put aside the fact he was thought of to have a poor shot and slow skating speed and picked him anyway. Teemu Riihijarvi is considered one of the biggest NHL draft busts of all time as he never even got close to making it to the NHL. He played all of his career over in Europe and the sad thing is, he never achieved great numbers over there either.
He has no business being a first round pick, let alone being a #12 overall draft selection, even in a draft as bad as 1995. This had to be demoralizing for the Sharks’ scouting staff.
13. Jani Rita- 1999
We have another Oiler dud on this list, as Jani Rita was selected by the Edmonton Oilers at #13 in 1999. Speaking of bad draft years, the 1999 draft may very well be the worst one ever. Coming in to the draft, Rita was touted as an extremely fast skater with a great ability to finish around the net. He showed flashes of brilliance in the AHL, twice scoring 20 goals in a season. He showed none of this ability in the NHL. He made it in to 66 games in the NHL but could only muster 14 points. A trade to the Pittsburgh Penguins couldn’t re-energize his career.
He made a decent career for himself playing overseas. He led the entire SM-Liiga league in scoring during the 2006-07 season. Rita could never get it together at the NHL level and that is why he is the worst pick ever at #13.
14. Sasha Pokulok- 2005
When you are drafted in one of the biggest drafts in NHL history and you never even play a game in the NHL then it is safe to say you may find yourself on this list. Sasha Pokulok was a disappointment in every way possible. He couldn’t score, he couldn’t play defense, he was 6’5 and 229 pounds but he wasn’t able to use his size to play a physical game. It’s hard to say what the Capitals were thinking when they selected him at #14. Maybe they were still blinded by the love of picking Alexander Ovechkin the year before. Sasha Pokulok could only make it into 68 games in the AHL scoring 15 points.
After a failed run in the ECHL, he fled to Europe but is now playing semi-pro hockey in Quebec/Ontario titled the LNAH. Far cry from first round pick to playing in a league known for lower skill level and more fights.
15. Jason Soules- 1989
I feel like I am picking on the Edmonton Oilers here but there is really no other clear-cut contender at #15. Part of their downfall as a franchise was missing on so many picks. The #15 draft slot is known as being a graveyard for draft picks and none are worse than big Jason Soules picked at #15 in 1989. Jason Soules would only play 52 games in the AHL and would never get close to playing for the Edmonton Oilers. Soules was out of pro hockey at the age of 21. He ended his career with 9 assists in 52 AHL games and was minus 22. It came out in the years after that he had no interest in being a pro hockey player. He retired at 21 and went on to become a fireman. Not great value out of a 15th overall selection.
16. Alex Bourret – 2005
Alex Bourret was drafted 16th overall by the Atlanta Thrashers (Yet another appearance by this failed franchise) in 2005. The 2005 draft is famous for such players as Sidney Crosby, Bobby Ryan, Anze Kopitar and Paul Stasny among countless other productive NHL players. Alex Bourret was not one of these productive NHL success stories. He was far from it, in fact, he was a fairly big failure in every league he played in after being drafted. A high scoring player in the QMJHL, he scored 114 points in the 2005-06 QMJHL season. In professional hockey in North America, he was far from that level over his entire career. He spent parts of three seasons in the AHL, never scoring more than 50 points in a season. In the ECHL it was the same story. He was relegated to playing in the infamous LNAH for 33 games over two seasons.
He seemed to have all the skills in junior hockey but he never evolved from that level and was a quick washout in the pros. After a six game effort in 2014-15 back in the ECHL Bourret finally called it quits as a professional hockey player. By that time the Thrashers weren’t even an NHL team anymore. With picks like this, it wasn’t a huge surprise as to why.
17. Brad Church- 1995
Brad Church was definitely an enigma in the ranks of professional hockey. Like the last selection Bourrett, Church had great numbers in the junior ranks in the WHL. During the 1995-96 WHL season, Church exploded for 88 points and 123 penalty minutes in 69 games. He was rushed to the NHL, making his debut in a call-up to the Washington Capitals during the 1997-98 NHL season where he played two games. Those would be the only NHL games of his career. He played for four teams during the 1998-99 season in two different minor hockey leagues (AHL and ECHL) and didn’t achieve much success in either. He became the definition of a career minor leaguer, toiling in different minor leagues all the way to 2006 playing as a member of the Kalamazoo Wings in the UHL. It looked like he may have had a chance to become a serviceable player during the 2002-03 ECHL season when he scored 74 points in 64 games but he never again reached such heights. Brad Church’s career was not what you expect when you use a first round pick on a player.
18. Chet Pickard- 2008
When the Nashville Predators drafted Chet Pickard from the Tri-City Americans in 2008, they thought they were getting their goalie of the future. During the 2007-2008 WHL season, Chet Pickard lit the league on fire winning 46 games and sporting a sparkling 2.32 GAA, unfortunately, it was all downhill from here. He made his pro debut in the AHL during the 2009-10 season, which was sadly his best season as a pro. His record in the AHL was a dismal 16-22-4 and he had goals against average of 3.06 and had an ugly .889 save percentage. His GAA only got worse playing in the ECHL, never having a goals against average below 3.12.
He played last season over in Germany with the Iserlohn Roosters where he had yet another losing record but a shockingly good 2.32 goals against average. Goalies are infamous for taking a long time to develop, that is one of the main reasons teams shy away from them in the first round. I bet Nashville wishes they would have listened to the conventional wisdom and went in another direction in 2008.
19. Logan MacMillan- 2007
The Anaheim Ducks thought they made a great selection picking Logan MacMillan 19th overall back in 2007 but boy were they mistaken. You may not expect a legendary player to be picked down at 19th overall but you at least expect the player to play in the NHL. Logan MacMillan never made it. In fact, he couldn’t even make an impact down in the ECHL, his career highs was only 24 points in 47 games playing for the Ducks’ ECHL affiliate the Utah Grizzlies. Like most failed players, Logan tried to revive his career moving over to Europe for the 2012-13 season playing in Austria but even that was a failure. He picked up the pieces of his career and made one last comeback attempt this season and he struggled to 26 points in 56 games with the Nottingham Panthers (no offense to the panthers but who?). It is safe to say that despite only being drafted in 2007, his career as a pro player in North America is over.
20. Angelo Esposito- 2007
Back to back picks from the 2007 NHL draft, this pick should have been no surprise to even the Pittsburgh Penguins. Angelo Esposito had been a high ranked prospect heading into the draft yet he fell like a rock all the way down to #20 where the Pens snapped him up. Esposito showed signs of regression even before he left the Junior ranks as his point totals decreased every year he spent in the QMJHL. He wasn’t a Penguin for long, as they packaged him up and shipped him to the Thrashers for Marian Hossa and Pascal Dupuis in 2008. He would be traded two more times in his career as teams thought they could salvage his career.
Esposito was a huge disappointment everywhere he played. He reached his career high during the 2011-12 AHL season scoring 16 points in 38 games. He made the jump overseas in 2012 and has played in various leagues since then. He spent last season as a member of the Cortina SG in Italy. He seems determined to make it as a hockey player but I doubt it will be anywhere in North America.
21. Anton Gustafsson- 2008
Never playing a game in the NHL is a good indicator that you are a bad draft pick. Only lasting ONE game in the AHL is an indicator that you were a horrible draft pick. That is the label that falls on Anton Gustafsson. He was drafted at #21 in 2008 and he played his lone AHL game during the 2009-10 AHL season. It was a good game at least as Anton picked up 2 points. Once the 2010-11 season started, however, he was playing for Boras HC in Sweden. He just never seemed like a fit for the North American hockey style. Since 2010 he has bounced around, mainly playing in the Swiss-A or Swiss-B league for the Langnau Tigers. He reached career highs last season for the tigers, getting 26 points in 43 games.
There are draft busts and then there players who can’t perform well in Switzerland as hockey players. Anton Gustafsson falls under that category and will likely never again be in the spotlight of North American hockey.
22. Curt Bowen- 1992
The Detroit Red Wings are one of the best franchises in NHL history when it comes to draft success stories. Great players such as Sergei Federov, Pavel Datsyuk, and Henrik Zetterberg were all extremely late draft choices that became huge stars for the Wings. So what were they thinking taking Curt Bowen in 1992? Even in the OHL Bowen never lit the league on fire. Bowen was picked after a career year where he had 76 points in 65 games for the Ottawa 67’s. The Red Wings started him out on their AHL team in 1994 and Bowen definitely did not rise to the occasion. Bowen had 17 points in 67 games spread out over two seasons.
He would never again play in the AHL and instead joined the Canadian National Team in 1995 and fled to play hockey overseas in 1999 for the Nottingham Panthers (Hey there they are again, they seem to collect failed NHL picks like Pokemon cards) He couldn’t even stick with them however as he would play for multiple teams in the U.K. before returning to Nottingham for his last season in 2005. Bowen had decent stats in the U.K. scoring 66 points in 47 games during the 2003-2004 season. Curtis Bowen was never a good player in any league in North America, but at least he found a home in the U.K. I hope he likes tea.
23. Craig Hillier- 1996
The Pittsburgh Penguins make another appearance on this list having swung and missed on drafting their franchise goalie in 1996, a pursuit that would last until they got Marc-Andre Fleury. Craig Hillier was an okay goalie in the OHL, topping out in 1997-98 with 27 wins and a 2.50 goals against average for the Ottawa 67’s. Like most teams the Pens tried rushing Hillier and he started his pro career in the AHL and it was a colossal failure. A record of 9-18-6 with a 3.94 goals against average is all he could deliver in his rookie season and somehow it only got worse from there. He would play 11 more AHL games in his career and only win ONE game. The ECHL chewed him up and spit him out as well as he played 36 games over two seasons and only had six victories with a goals against average well over 4.50. He played in lower tier leagues like the UHL and the CHL but his confidence was shattered and he quickly failed there too. He was last seen playing for the Corpus Christi Rayz during the 2003-04 CHL season which was another losing record.
The moral of the story is picking goalies is scary, and let them develop slowly. Rushing a player to the AHL instead of seasoning elsewhere is the easiest way to destroy them before they even get started.
24. Luca Cereda- 1999
Is it entirely Luca Cereda’s or the Toronto Maple Leafs fault that he was a failure? That is debatable but Cereda is still by far the worst pick at #24. Cereda was drafted in 1999 and it was detected that he had a heart defect in 2000. It didn’t stop Cereda from trying to still make it to the NHL. He took one year off and then he played parts of three seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs AHL affiliate St. John’s Maple Leafs. The heart may have been there but the results weren’t as Cereda struggled in the AHL. His best season was in 2002-03 and even then it was a lowly 25 points in 68 games.
He made the move to the Swiss-A league during the 2003-04 season and would last four seasons there but never really accomplished anything worth noting. It could be a case of his body failing him, or maybe he just didn’t have what it took to play in the NHL, we may never know. What we do know however is Luca Cereda is the worst player ever to be selected at #24.
25. Patrick White- 2007
Yet another pick from the 2007 NHL draft, Patrick White never played a single game in the NHL, AHL or ECHL. Despite being drafted in 2007 he would join the University of Minnesota Gophers instead. The Vancouver Canucks instead traded him to the San Jose Sharks in 2009. Patrick White, on the other hand, stayed in Minnesota until the end of the 2010-2011 season. His time in Minnesota wasn’t very successful either, His best season only accounted for 17 points in 39 games. By the time he left university there was no place for him to play in North America and he went and played in Germany. Not in the DEL or any other top tier league but a 3rd tier team called EHC Klostersee where he had a hell of a season scoring 70 points in 40 games.
Any time he tried to go above that level he struggled again. He played one season in the KHL, played 26 games for HC Slovan Bratislava but never even scored one point. He spent last season playing in Austria and Sweden and combined for 4 points in 15 games. It’s safe to say even the Europe teams are starting to sour on White.
26. Kevin Grimes- 1997
Kevin Grimes was somehow a first round pick in 1997. Through all his time in Junior, he was never a big point getter. He had 220 PIMS in one season playing in the CJHL. Once he made it to the OHL the PIMS kept adding up but the points never did. The Colorado Avalanche still made him a first round pick but he never even made it to the AHL. He struggled at the ECHL level. He scored 34 points in his five year ECHL career but he did hit a career-high 255 PIMS during the 2000-2001 season. He played his role well but it is not what you expect from a first round pick. Enforcers played a role in the 90s NHL landscape but looking back now you should never use a first rounder on one. That is what puts Kevin Grimes on this list.
27. Philippe Paradis- 2009
Yet another player who has never played a game in the NHL, Philippe Paradis has quickly become an afterthought for the Tampa Bay Lightning. His time in the AHL has been a huge disappointment and he is looking like a career minor leaguer. He has already been traded three times in his career as he was originally drafted by the Carolina Hurricanes. The Hurricanes traded him to Toronto, who traded him to the Blackhawks, who then traded him to the Lightning for the rights to a player picked in the 7th round in 2009. How sad is that? To go from being a 1st round pick to being traded for just the rights to a player who will likely never play in the NHL.
Philippe Paradis has struggled mightily in the AHL thus far. His best season came during the 2011-12 AHL season when he had 16 points in 58 games. It’s safe to say the Hurricanes regret this pick and I’m sure the teams that acquired him regret it too.
28. Kristian Kudroc – 1999
The New York Islanders selected Kristian Kudroc 28th overall in 1999. The 1999 draft was weak but damn near anyone would have been better than Kudroc. He would be traded before ever appearing in a game for the Islanders. He made his NHL debut in 2000-01 with the Tampa Bay Lightning. In his first season in the NHL Kudroc disappointed with 4 points in 22 games. It only got worse from there as he only made it into 2 games in 2001-2002 and didn’t get a point. He struggled mightily for the next three years in the AHL, never scoring more than 5 points in a season.
After one more failed call up with the Panthers that lasted two games he made the move to Europe where he surprisingly still plays today. He has played in the SEL and the KHL most recently playing for Plzen HC in the Czech Republic. Good on him for never giving up on his dream of playing pro hockey, It just so happened that it wasn’t his destiny to play in North America.
29. Daultan Leveille – 2008
The Atlanta Thrashers make yet another appearance on this list with their selection of Daultan Leveille in 2008. Daultan Leveille not only never played a game in the NHL but he didn’t make his AHL debut until 2012-13 after spending for years with Michigan State and a short stint in the ECHL. Despite all that experience he struggled in both the ECHL and the AHL. His best season in the ECHL was in 2013-14 where he totaled 47 points in 55 games. Ironically his draft pick was a part of the trade with another player on this list (Angelo Esposito) in the trade to bring Hossa to Pittsburgh. Like many of the players on this list, he made his way to Europe in 2014 and played one season with Rouen in France.
He may have potential though as he made his way back to North American Hockey last season and split time between the Senators ECHL and AHL affiliates. He still has a long way to go to attempt to make it to the NHL but he may have played well enough last year to earn at least another AHL contract but only time will tell.
30. Nick Ross – 2007
Nick Ross was selected 30th overall in 2007 by the Phoenix (now Arizona) Coyotes. He was planned to be a big part of a revamped Coyotes defense but it never materialized for him. He was a solid defenseman in the WHL but his skills never advanced enough so he could compete in the NHL or even the AHL for that matter. He struggled along until the 2012-13 season when he made the move to Australia to play for Salzburg EC although the results were basically the same initially. After leaving to the DEL and Italy, Ross returned to Austria and has become an important part of his Innsbruck HC club. In 2014-15 he had 34 points in 54 games and added 91 penalty minutes. It is clear that Ross can’t compete in North America, but he is seemingly carving out a decent career for himself over in Austria.
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