When it comes to building a hockey team, drafting well is key. True, there are other avenues available to an NHL general manager when it comes to shaping his roster, but if you make hay on those seven (or so) draft picks you get every year, it makes the job a heck of a lot easier.
Conversely, screwing up at the draft tables can have a severely adverse effect on your team, and it can be tough to recover from a handful of draft busts over a few seasons. The worst part about the busts is that you can’t help but look back at your dud picks and think of what might have been if you’d only selected someone else who was still on the board. Hindsight can be a real SOB.
Today I looked back at all the drafts since 2010, and selected what I consider to be the 10 biggest draft busts, in addition to the 10 biggest steals, over that time period. A steal is characterized (by this list, anyway) as a player who was selected beyond the top 50 in the draft yet is having a major impact on an NHL club today.
A bust is characterized (by this list, anyway) as a top 10 overall pick who has unequivocally failed to meet the expectations set out for him by fans and scouts alike. Enjoy:
20 Bust: Ryan Murray - 2nd overall, 2012
We’ll kick off the list with our first bust, and that’s Columbus’ Ryan Murray. Murray was picked up 2nd overall in 2012, and he was the first of eight defensemen to go off the board in the top 10 that year. It’s not that Murray has been a monumental disappointment—he’s played 228 NHL games thus far, and is still manning the third pairing in Ohio today.
Therein sort of lies the issue, though. When you pick up a guy 2nd overall, you’re hoping he can come in and have a big effect on your team, and soon. It’s been over five years since the Jackets called out Murray’s name, and the fact that he’s still outside the club’s top four is a little startling. As a D-man he has maybe two more seasons to break out of his shell before we can close the book on this one and make it official.
19 Steal: Jaccob Slavin - 120th overall, 2012
The 2012 draft was the year of the defenseman, as not only were eight of the top 10 picks D-men, but there were a handful of impact defensemen drafted in the later rounds. The Carolina Hurricanes grabbed a gem at 120th overall, selecting Jaccob Slavin.
The Denver, Co. native broke into the league as a rookie in 2015-16, but he really broke out of his shell in his second year, not only avoiding the dreaded sophomore slump, but taking a major step forward in his development. He’s playing a ton of minutes so far in the young 2017-18 season, logging nearly 25 minutes a night. That’s currently top 20 in the league, and it’s even more (so far) than Hurricanes co-captain Justin Faulk.
18 Bust: Dylan McIlrath - 10th overall, 2010
Of all the players who appear on the bust portion of this listicle, it’s safe to say that Dylan Mclrath is the least-known of them all. McIlrath was drafted by the New York Rangers in 2010, 10th overall, and to this date he’s only played in a whopping 43 NHL games. The Rangers finally gave up on him last season, sending him to the Panthers in November for Steve Kampfer and a 7th round pick.
The Panthers flipped McIlrath at the deadline for rental Tomas Vanek, and today McIlrath is toiling away in the Red Wings system skating with the Grand Rapids Griffins. Just two picks beyond McIlrath the Ducks picked up defenseman Cam Fowler, which is probably what truly stings the Rangers the most these days.
17 Steal: Brendan Gallagher - 147th overall, 2010
Sometimes a guy will drop in a draft simply based on his small stature, and, just a hunch, but I think that has something to do with Brendan Gallagher falling to 147th overall in 2010. The Canadiens were lucky enough to nab the pint-sized winger at that point, and he qualifies as one of the 10 best draft steals since 2010.
All Gallagher has done since arriving on the scene is shut up his critics. He plays a key role in Montreal’s top six, and is one of the team’s best possession drivers every season. Despite battling injuries in each of the past two seasons, Gallagher has still posted decent numbers when on the ice. Gallagher is closing in on the 100-goal milestone and has recorded over 100 assists.
16 Bust: Dylan Strome - 3rd overall 2015
This one may be jumping the gun a little, as Dylan Strome is only two years removed from his draft year, but in all honesty he has been a bit of a disappointment for the Coyotes so far. Arizona selected Connor McDavid’s junior linemate 3rd overall in 2015, after McDavid and Jack Eichel went off the board. It can be risky selecting a generational talent’s linemate out of junior, as you never know how productive they will be on their own.
Strome, however, had showed well in his draft year when McDavid went down for a few months after breaking his hand in a fight, so the ‘Yotes made the call. Not making the team immediately after his draft year was no sign of a need to panic, but that fact that he’s not a full-timer on the team today? That spells trouble for a top forward prospect.
15 Steal: Colton Parayko - 86th overall, 2012
The third steal to appear on the countdown is also the second defenseman drafted late in the 2012 Entry Draft. The St. Louis Blues selected Alberta native Colton Parayko at number 86 overall, and since breaking into the NHL in 2015-16 he has done nothing but impress. He’s good for about 0.45 points per game from the blue line, and he always seems to be on for more goals for than against.
As mentioned before, 2012 was the year of the defenseman, with eight of the top 10 picks being rearguards. That said, the real gems were discovered later, as I’d rather have Parayko on my team than five of those eight defensemen drafted in the top 10. Barring an injury, Parayko will surpass the 200 games plates mark this season, and potentially hit the 100 point milestone as well.
14 Bust: Erik Gudbranson - 3rd overall, 2010
Erik Gudbranson can safely be called a veteran in the NHL now, as he’s about to hit 350 games played. The stay-at-home defenseman was drafted by the Florida Panthers 3rd overall in 2010, and he made the team one year later out of training camp. That was a fairly quick jump to the NHL for a D-man, so the early returns on Gudbranson’s pro career were positive.
Flash forward six years and it’s hard to say if Gudbranson has even improved at all. If you look at just his numbers, he’s actually regressed. It’s possible that a player of Gudbranson’s type was better suited for the NHL of five years ago, when the big, bad (and slow) Kings were winning Cups. Today the name of the game is speed, and that’s an area where Gudbranson is sorely lacking.
13 Steal: Viktor Arvidsson - 112th overall, 2014
Good teams always have a few players on the roster who were deep draft selections, and the Predators have a few major contributors who fit this bill, and last year featured a breakout season from Viktor Arvidsson. The young Swede had seen sporadic action in the NHL since 2014-15, but really came out of his shell in 2016-17 with 31 goals and 61 points.
Selected 112th overall in 2014, he’d likely be a top 10 pick if the draft were held again today. The 24-year-old has both speed and a dangerous shot, making him a presence whenever he’s out on the ice. He’s now an important part of Nashville’s top six, which for over a decade was the Achilles heel in Music City, but now is a collection of riches with Arvidsson, Ryan Johansen and Filip Forsberg.
12 Bust: Michael Dal Colle - 5th overall, 2014
It’s been over three years since the New York Islanders made Michael Dal Colle the 5th overall pick at the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. Sadly, the winger has yet to participate in his first NHL game, and his production levels in the AHL so far suggest that it’s unlikely he ever figures it out at the NHL level—at least not as a scoring winger.
Sure, Dal Colle could eventually re-invent himself and turn into a useful bottom-six option, but that’s far from what the Islanders envisioned when they spent a 5th overall pick on him. He’s played 84 games with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers (75 of them last season), and has 43 points to show for it. Some top junior scorers’ games don’t translate to the Big Time, and it looks like that describes Dal Colle.
11 Steal: Ondrej Palat - 208th overall, 2011
At 208th overall, nobody on this list was drafted later than Tampa’s Ondrej Palat. The Lightning picked Palat up in the final round of the 2011 draft, and what a steal he’s turned out to be. The chances a 7th round pick even plays a single game in the NHL, let alone excel to the level that Palat has, are very low. He’s a member of arguably the NHL’s best top-six forward group.
Palat has recorded over 50 points in a season three times already, and has crested the 60-point plateau once. Despite 207 other players hearing their names called before Palat in 2011, the winger has scored the sixth most points in the NHL out of the entire draft class (224 points). He sits behind Gabriel Landeskog, Ryan Nugent-Hokpins, Nikita Kucherov, Brandon Saad, and Mark Scheifele.
10 Bust: Derrick Pouliot - 8th overall, 2012
Once again a defenseman from the 2012 draft class appears on this list (this is the fourth time for God’s sake). Derrick Pouliot is the second to show up on the “bust” side of the list, and for good reason. The Pens had high hopes for Pouliot, as his junior career featured him leading the 2012-13 Portland Winterhawks to its first WHL championship since 1998.
He took another step forward in his final year of junior in 2013-14, and he’s even shown signs of promise during his time in the AHL. That said, he’s faltered whenever given a chance at the NHL level, and the Penguins finally called it quits on the Pouliot project in early October by sending him to Vancouver in exchange for Andrey Pedan and a 4th round pick.
9 Steal: Mark Stone - 178th overall, 2010
While Palat is the latest pick here on the steal list at 208th overall, Senators forward Mark Stone isn’t far behind him. Stone was picked by the Sens 178th overall in 2010, and even though it took the winger several seasons to make the jump, it was worth the wait. Stone busted out in 2013-14 as a rookie, scoring 64 points in his inaugural NHL campaign.
Stone has been remarkable consistent since then, proving that his first year in the NHL wasn’t just the result of favorable usage or beginner’s luck. He’s off to a great start in 2017-18, and he'll need to continue that pace if the Sens are to have similar success to last season. In any event, the Sens have already extracted way more than what's expected from a 178th overall pick.
8 Bust: Sam Reinhart - 2nd overall, 2014
Spoiler alert, but this is just the first of two Reinharts to show up on this list, and unfortunately for that blood line, both instances are negative. We’ll start here with Sam Reinhart, the 2014 2nd overall pick of the Buffalo Sabres. I’ll begin with the caveat that there’s still time for Sam to turn this thing around, but as of now he leaps and bounds behind most of his draft class peers.
Take for instance Edmonton’s Leon Draisaitl, who was the 3rd overall pick in 2014. Draisaitl registered 77 points last season, finishing 8th in scoring. Reinhart pretty much needs to break out this year if he’s going to turn into an offensive star in this league, but so far this season, it seems it's going to be more of the same disappointing numbers from the former no.2 pick.
7 Steal: Shayne Gostisbehere - 78th overall, 2012
GHOST BEAR!!! The man with my favorite nickname shows up as the 4th biggest draft steal since 2010. Shayne Gostisbehere, the 2012 78th overall pick, is yet one more defenseman from the 2012 draft class to appear on our list. That’s three for the steals now and two for the busts, for those keeping score. Ghost Bear burst onto the scene as a rookie in 2015-16, registering 46 points in 63 games.
The Flyers defenseman experienced a slight regression in his sophomore year, reaching just 39 points in 76 games that time around. However, the early returns on 2017-18 are very positive, as Gostisbehere is recording points at a pace far more similar to his rookie season. Not that we can expect that to continue, but if he stays healthy I feel like 60 points is a reasonable benchmark.
6 Bust: Griffin Reinhart - 4th overall, 2012
Just as soon as the “steal” side took the lead in the 2012 defenseman count, the “bust” side catches right up with the sixth and final 2012 defenseman on our list. The New York Islanders were impressed with the way Griffin Reinhart led the blue line of the powerhouse Edmonton Oil Kings in the WHL, so they decided to make him the 4th overall pick in 2012.
Reinhart was the second defenseman off the board that year after Ryan Murray, who also turned into a bit of a bust. Reinhart is the greater bust though, as he’s played in just 37 NHL games to date. Perhaps the death blow to his potential NHL career is the fact that he was unable to crack the Vegas Golden Knights roster this season. When you can’t make an expansion team five years removed from your draft year, you’re a bust.
5 Steal: John Klingberg - 131st overall, 2010
There are only about five defensemen in the league that you can count on to get you 50 points every season, and it looks as though John Klingberg has developed into one of them. After hitting 40 in 65 games in his rookie year in 2014-15, the Stars defender hit 58 the following season but fell to 49 last season, just shy of the 50 point mark.
Klingberg got off to a slow start last season, but that isn’t a problem that’s ailing him thus far in 2017-18. Through his first nine games he’s a point per game player, and much like Gostisbehere I see it as likely that he gets to around 60 for the year (barring an injury). Klingberg was a hell of a steal for the Stars at 131st overall in 2010.
4 Bust: Sam Bennett - 4th overall, 2014
As it’s only been three seasons since his draft year, Flames center Sam Bennett does have a chance to turn this boat around, but as of now it’s not really working out for Bennett and the Flames. Bennett was selected 4th overall in 2014, one spot behind Draisaitl. Bennett’s rookie season was 2015-16, and it didn’t go horribly wrong or anything; he managed a respectable 36 points in 77 games.
Since then, Bennett’s career has been on a downward trajectory. His point totals in in 2016-17 took a slight hit, as he only reached 26 in nearly a full season (81 games). The 2017-18 season is still young, but through the early portion of the season, Bennett has struggled to contribute offence with his early season boxscores having read all zeros through most of October, leading people to call him “Sammy Bagels.”
3 Steal: Johnny Gaudreau - 104th overall, 2011
Don’t worry Flames fans—it’s not all bad! The second biggest draft steal since 2010 was the 104th overall pick by Calgary, Johnny Gaudreau. Gaudreau is listed at 5-foot-9 (with skates on I’m pretty sure) and 157 lbs. (again, pretty sure that’s his weight while fully equipped), and because of his tiny stature all 30 teams took a pass on him three times (or so).
The Flames finally called out Johnny Hockey’s name in the middle of the 4th round, and that turned into one of the better things former Flames GM Jay Feaster did during his tenure in Cow Town. Gaudreau is almost a point-per-game player in the world’s best hockey league, and he’s been remarkably healthy for a guy who most NHL players could pulverize in myriad ways.
2 Bust: Nail Yakupov - 1st overall, 2012
A top 10 pick comes with a certain set of expectations. A 1st overall pick is saddled with a whole other level of expectations, and those were heaped upon Nail Yakupov when the Oilers called his name first in 2012. The young Russian headed into his NHL career teeming with confidence, and he even had a pretty strong rookie season, notching 17 goals and 31 points in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign.
Unfortunately for the enigmatic Russian, the 17 goals remains a career high, and he’s only eclipsed 31 points once, notching 33 in 2014-15. Yakupov was finally traded by the Oilers to St. Louis at the onset of 2016-17, and Yak has since changed locations again, landing in Colorado for 2017-18. He’s off to a decent start there, but let’s be honest: it probably won’t ever happen for Nail.
1 Steal: Nikita Kucherov - 58th overall, 2011
It’s early, but it looks like Tampa’s Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov are looking to go wire-to-wire in the NHL scoring race. So far this season, this duo has absolutely terrorized the NHL. Stamkos was of course the first overall pick in 2008, but Kucherov was a late 2nd round pick, going 58th overall in 2011.
Even though he’s the highest pick to appear on our “steals” list, Kucherov simply earned it with his utter dominance of the league, especially last season and spilling into this one. Kuch got 40 goals and 85 points in 74 games last season WITHOUT Stamkos in the lineup for three-quarters of the year. He's one of the elite scorers in the league and that's a steal for a 2nd round pick.