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.
10 Derek Forbort
Drafted by the Los Angeles Kings 15th overall, Round 1 in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft.
Oh, how the Los Angeles Kings should be kicking themselves right now. With the 15th selection in the 2010 draft, they chose Derek Forbort who has 16 points in just 69 NHL games. The very next pick at number 16 overall, was Vladimir Tarasenko taken by the St. Louis Blues, who already has 106 goals and 209 points in 259 career games. This is probably more of a reason why Forbort looks like a bust, as opposed to his minimal production; the Kings could have had one of the league’s best scorers in Tarasenko! Even during his college playing days and in the AHL, Forbert has never been a prolific scorer. Since his first year of college hockey at the University of North Dakota in 2010-2011, Forbert has a total of just 16 goals – and that includes the AHL and NHL.
9 Jack Campbell
Drafted by the Dallas Stars 11th overall, Round 1 in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft.
As convention and precedent usually dictate, taking a goalie in the first round of an NHL draft is a rarity reserved only for extremely revered goaltending prospects. Ultimately then, whenever a goalie is taken in the first round, there are extremely high expectations. The expectations become even greater if the goalie was selected as a very high pick (let’s say 11th overall) as Jack Campbell was. So far in his career, Campbell has been a perennial AHL player, while also serving several stints in the ECHL. Campbell has only played in 2 NHL games, posting a dismal 4.50 goals against average and 0.885 save percentage. Dallas recently traded Campbell away to the Los Angeles Kings, indicating that they had fully given up on their 11th overall pick. Most likely, the Stars are kicking themselves right now, as Cam Fowler, Vladimir Tarasenko, Jaden Schwartz, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Charlie Coyle, and Brock Nelson were all taken after Campbell was selected at number 11.
8 Henrik Samuelsson
Drafted by the Phoenix coyotes 27th overall, Round 1 in 2012 NHL Entry Draft.
After being drafted in the first round of the 2012 draft, Henrik Samuelsson went on to have an extremely successful minor league career with the Edmonton Oil Kings of the WHL. In three seasons with the Oil Kings, Samuelsson played in 162 games and scored a whopping 198 points. His first professional season in the AHL with the Portland Pirates was no different as he scored 40 points in 68 games as a 21 year old. Not surprising then, that there was so much hype around Samuelsson’s potential. It was especially exciting for the Coyotes, considering they have been desperately searching for anything to help them escape the pitfalls of the Western Conference. Unfortunately, Samuelsson can’t seem to carve out a niche for himself worthy of NHL consideration, as he has only appeared in 3 NHL games while failing to record a single point.
7 Dylan McIlrath
Drafted by the New York Rangers 10th overall, Round 1 in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft.
Dylan McIlrath is a former 10th overall pick who, in the seven seasons since he’s been drafted, has played in a total of 43 NHL games. In those 43 games, McIlrath has only posted 5 career points. This is extremely disappointing for a player who was a top 10 pick and therefore was expected to become an elite NHL player. McIlrath’s inability to develop into an everyday pro likely frustrated New York management who recently decided to deal the former 10th overall pick to the Florida Panthers. Anytime a team trades a top 10 pick this early in his career, it is a sign that they have given up on him. It appears that the Rangers couldn’t wait any longer for McIlrath to develop into what they had hoped. Essentially, it looks like the Rangers are guilty of wasting a 10th overall pick on a player who looks like a complete bust.
6 Malcolm Subban
Drafted by the Boston Bruins 24th overall, Round 1 in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft.
It is rare that a goalie is selected in the first round. Even when they are taken, they usually don't work out in the long run (the notable exceptions of course, being Marc-Andre Fleury, Carey Price, and Devan Dubnyk, to name a few). Taking a goalie in the first round is usually a gamble – one that fails more often than not. Malcolm Subban was a different story leading up to his draft year, however. Not only did he post a record of 25-14-0 with a save percentage of 0.923 with the Belleville Bulls of the OHL in his draft year, he was the younger brother of NHL superstar P.K. Subban. Both of these factors combined to create hype around Subban not normally associated with goalies during the first day of the draft. Although Boston has Tuukka Rask in net, Subban has barely even served as the Bruins’ backup. Since being drafted over five years ago, Subban has only played in two NHL games. The Bruins succumbed to the hype surrounding Subban and took a risk drafting him in the first round, but evidently, the pick has been a bust.
5 Samuel Morin
Drafted by the Philadelphia Flyers 11th overall, Round 1 in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft.
As a defenseman, Samuel Morin was taken quite high in the draft at number 11. Although Morin was a promising prospect in the QMJHL, he has yet to play a game in the NHL since he was taken by the Flyers. Morin has played in the AHL the last two seasons and has decent numbers during his time with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, but should be considered rather disappointing – at least up until this point – due to the fact that he has yet to skate in an NHL game. Perhaps even more disappointing for Flyers’ fans, the Phoenix Coyotes used their 12th overall pick to select forward Max Domi. Morin was also selected before Josh Morrissey, Nikita Zadorov, Curtis Lazar, Kerby Rychel, and Anthony Mantha, all of whom have seen considerable ice time in the NHL.
4 Stefan Noesen
Drafted by the Ottawa Senators 21st overall, Round 1 in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.
Stefan Noesen was selected in the first round after having a coming-out-party in the OHL during his draft year, which saw him tally 77 points in 68 games for the Plymouth Whalers. In his next two OHL seasons after being drafted, Noesen scored 135 points in 114 games, indicating that he was a legitimate prospect for the Ottawa Senators. Apparently, the Anaheim Ducks were believers in Noesen’s talent, as they acquired him from the Senators as part of the deal that sent Bobby Ryan to Ottawa. Unfortunately for the Ducks, since that time, Noesen has apparently lost his mojo. Since being traded, Noesen has only appeared in 21 NHL games and has amassed a mere 5 points. Joe Morrow, Matt Puempel, Phillip Danault, Vladislav Namestnikov, and Rickard Rakell were all selected in the first round after Noesen, and have all had much more success in the NHL.
3 Frederik Gauthier
Drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs 21st overall, Round 1 in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft.
The Toronto Maple Leafs have been looking for a number one center ever since Mats Sundin left the Leafs many years ago. It appears as though they have found one in Auston Matthews, but before they lucked out by winning the draft lottery this past season, they experienced great difficulty obtaining such a player. In 2013, the Leafs selected big-body center Frederik Gauthier whom they hoped would turn out to be the dominant number one center they had been searching for. Up until this point, Gauthier has barely played for the Maple Leafs, hasn’t much improved his sluggish skating stride, and looks more likely to end up as a depth, fourth line center. Perhaps more disappointing than anything, is the fact that Gauthier has had limited success playing for the team's AHL affiliate, the Toronto Marlies. In 79 career games in the AHL, Gauthier has only posted 23 points. Unless there are significant improvements in Gauthier’s game in the next few years, it is likely that he will never even be considered for the Leafs’ top 6 forward core. Quite a disappointment for a player once touted to be Toronto’s next number 1 center.
2 Duncan Siemens
Drafted by the Colorado Avalanche 11th overall, Round 1 in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.
Since Duncan Siemens was drafted over five seasons ago, he has only appeared in one game for the Avalanche. ONE game. That is nearly unheard of for a player who was taken in the first round of an NHL draft, let alone one who was taken as high as 11th overall. Siemens was a stand-out defenseman in the WHL for the Saskatoon Blades and his 63 points in two seasons leading up to the draft was a major reason why he was taken so high. Unfortunately for Colorado, Siemens’ minor league success did not translate into professional success (at least in the NHL). Siemens has spent the majority of his career in the AHL with Colorado’s affiliate club, the San Antonio Rampage. Playing in the AHL is nothing to criticize, however for a defenseman selected in the first third of an Entry Draft, it is hardly worth much praise.
1 Nail Yakupov
Drafted by the Edmonton Oilers 1st overall, Round 1 in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft.
Entering into the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, Nail Yakupov was overwhelmingly touted as the consensus number 1 pick. Yakupov was a minor league sensation, scoring 101 points in just 65 games playing for the Sarnia Sting of the OHL during the 2010-2011 season. His performance catapulted him to the top of every NHL GM’s scouting report and earned him high praise as a player who would excel in the NHL through his speed and offensive skillset. His first year in the NHL with the Oilers was respectable as well, as he posted 31 points in 48 games played. However, after his first NHL season, it all quickly went downhill for Yakupov. His point production drastically diminished from year-to-year and he was never able to reach the potential which Edmonton had thought he had when they drafted him first overall. All of this culminated in frustration from the fans, Oiler’s management, and Yakupov himself, which led to a trade earlier this year to the St. Louis Blues. Currently, Yakupov has a mere 6 points in 31 games played this season. Since 2000, Yakupov is undoubtedly the worst first overall pick in the NHL and the level of disappointment surrounding his production, relative to what his expectations were, makes him the biggest bust in recent NHL Draft history.