No matter where you find yourself in the world, there are certain things that you are guaranteed to see, and one of those things is a sporting event, whether it be at the professional level, or a game played by amateurs in a public setting. When it comes to professional sports, there are leagues and associations all over the world, but none of them have the gravitas of the four major sports leagues that call North America their home. In regards to their respective sports, the NHL, NBA, MLB, and NFL, feature the best athletes from around the world, and although each league has its own storied history, only two have existed for 100 years or more.
The National Hockey League is one of those two, as it is currently celebrating its centennial season, and over those 100 years, the league has produced many of the greatest players that hockey has ever seen, and quite a few of those players have played for the Detroit Red Wings. The Wings were founded in 1926, and are one of the NHL’s original six teams, with their 11 Stanley Cups making them the third most successful franchise in league history. For the past 25 years, the Red Wings have been considered one of the best run organizations in hockey, thanks to their ability to draft quality and effective players no matter the round, but just because they have had a pretty good track record, does not mean that they have not made some terrible draft picks, and this list will try to identify 15 of those terrible picks.
15. Fred Williams
From 1967-1982, the Detroit Red Wings managed to make the playoffs just twice, while going through roughly 14 different coaches, in fact they were so bad during this time, that those years are known as the “Dead Wings” era. When a team is that bad, they tend to get the higher draft picks who are supposed to be really good players, and in 1976, Detroit thought that they found a player who could help revive the franchise. This player was centre Fred Williams, who the Wings took 4th-overall, and he made the opening day roster thanks to his performance in junior prior to the draft. Williams was unable to live up to expectations though, as in 44 games with the Wings, he only managed to score 2 goals and 7 points, and as it turns out, those were the only NHL games he would ever play.
14. Anatoli Ustyugov
Going into the 1995 draft, the league was heavily focused on a defense-first style of play, a style that the Red Wings were hoping to eventually overcome with the help of forwards who were small yet very quick, which is why they drafted Russian winger, Anatoli Ustyugov. The Wings took Ustyugov 104th overall, making him the final pick in the 4th round, and although they were expecting that his skills would improve, they never did, which is why he never even left Russia to join the team in North America. Ustyugov managed to play in Russia for 11 years, where he only scored more than 10 goals once, which means that Detroit did not miss his presence at all. Still, drafting him still made them miss out on players like Stephane Robidas and Miikka Kiprusoff, who were drafted afterwards.
13. Philippe Audet
With this entry we go right back to the 1995 draft, which as it turns out, happened to be a rather weak draft overall, but seeing as the Wings were looking for offense that year, they also drafted winger Philippe Audet. The Ottawa native was selected 52nd overall, and things looked really promising for him as he managed to score a combined 92 goals in his first two years in the minors. Things came apart during training camp for the 1997-98 season though, as Audet fractured a bone in his arm on the first day, an injury that he was never able to fully rebound from. He did manage to play in 4 games for Detroit, in which he did not register a single point, and those games turned out to be the only ones he would ever play in the NHL, as he finished his career by playing in the American Hockey League for three seasons.
12. Jesse Wallin
The Red Wings have had quite a few Hall Of Fame worthy defensemen over the past 2 decades, and if things had panned out differently, it is possible that Jesse Wallin could have been a part of that group. Wallin was the team’s 1st round pick in 1996, and the team had hoped that he would help fill the void caused by several veteran blue liners leaving the team, but thanks to injuries, he was never able to fulfill that role. In total, Wallin played in 49 NHL games, all with the Red Wings, where he managed to get just 2 assists while posting a +/- of -5. This pick proved to be a literal waste, especially since the Wings could have picked another blueliner like Zdeno Chara, who was taken in the 3rd round that year.
11. Curtis Bowen
In 1991, the Red Wings had five players who reached the 30-goal mark, so they just assumed that they had all of the offense they needed to win, which is why they decided to look for a grinder in the following draft. That grinder was supposed to be two-way “specialist” Curtis Bowen, who the team drafted 22nd-overall in 1992, but as luck would have it, his skills were only suitable for junior-level competition, as he was never capable of elevating his game to the required NHL level. Bowen never played a single game with Detroit, who proudly got rid of him after three seasons in the minors, and considering that Micael Peca and Valeri Bure were drafted after him, the front office at the time must have really hated themselves for wasting a 1st-round pick on him.
10. Yan Golubovsky
Here we have Yan Golubovsky, who is another defenseman that the Red Wings had high hopes for, which is why they used their 23rd-overall pick in 1994 to select him, a pick that turned out to be a complete waste of time. It was believed that Golubovsky would use his size to become a top-4 defenseman, but he could never compete at the NHL level, as evidenced by the fact that he was only able to produce 1 goal and 5 assists in 50 games with the team. When the 2000-01 season came along, the Wings finally got rid of him when they traded him to the Florida Panthers, where he only played in 6 more games before never being seen in the NHL again. In retrospect, this selection did have a silver lining, as Detroit reacquired Hall of Famer Igor Larionov in the trade.
9. Igor Grigorenko
In 2001, Detroit used their 62nd-overall pick to take Igor Grigorenko, a Russian winger who had managed to really impress the team’s scouting staff, and while playing in the Russian Superleague, he continued to impress. In 2003, Grigorenko was involved in a serious car accident that caused him to miss nearly an entire season, and when he was finally healed, he came to join the team in 2007 in North America. He ended up playing in just 5 games with Detroit’s minor league team before being sent back to Russia as a result of conditioning and commitment issues, and he never set foot in North America again. Considering that the Wings could have picked Patrick Sharp instead, it is fair to say that they deeply regret making this selection.
8. Ryan Barnes
The game of hockey has changed a lot over the past 20 years, with one of the biggest changes being that the enforcer has basically been eliminated from the game, which is being played at such a speed, that they are now considered liabilities. In 1998 though, teams still liked drafting slow guys who mainly dropped the gloves, which is why Detroit used their 55th pick in 1998 to select winger Ryan Barnes, who in his last three years of junior amassed 608 penalty minutes. Barnes did not skate well, and was glaringly offensively challenged, which is why he spent four years in the minors before being called up to the main roster. While there, he only played in 2 games, in which he barely saw any ice time while scoring 0 points.
7. Tom McCollum
In the game of hockey, the goaltender is the most important player on the ice, because he is ultimately the team’s last wall of defense, and games are usually won or lost depending on his play. Every team needs to have goalies in their system, which is why the Wings used their 1st-round pick in 2008 to select Tom McCollum 30th overall, and when he was drafted, it was said that he was good at handling rebounds, while also having a really quick glove hand. McCollum has since played in just 3 NHL games, 1 of which he won, and in those appearances, he posted a 2.98 goals against average and .879 save percentage, which are not great numbers by today’s standards, and why he has spent virtually his whole career in the minors.
6. Tomek Valtonen
The 1998 draft proved to be very good for the Red Wings, as it was the draft that got them Pavel Datsyuk, a future Hall of Famer who they managed to pick up late in the 6th round. In the 2nd round of that same draft, the team drafted Polish winger, Tomek Valtonen, who showed some promise in the minors the following season, when he scored 8 goals and 24 points in 43 games. As it turns out though, that season was the only season he would ever play on North American soil, because the following year he went to play in the Finish Elite League, and never looked back, and while there, he managed to amass more than 100 penalty minutes in 3 different seasons. It may be true that they got Datsyuk that year, but it is still terrible that they took Valtonen instead of someone like Shawn Horcoff or Brad Richards, who were both drafted later on, and who both had much more significant careers.
5. Kory Kocur
No matter the sport, if an athlete is related to a former player, they will always be compared to them, and when those players were good, there are certain expectations placed on them, expectations that are usually never met. Kory Kocur is the younger cousin of Wendel Clark, Barry Melrose, and Joey Kocur, and based on how he used his toughness in junior, teams thought he could be quite skilled in the NHL. The Red Wings were the ones who ended up drafting him, by using their 17th pick in the 1988 draft, but much to the team’s disappointment, Kocur could not perform against professional-level competition, and never played a single game in the NHL as a result, which is ultimately why he retired from the game just four years after being drafted.
4. Max Nicastro
Here we have Max Nicastro, the third and final defenseman to appear on this list, and to be fair, he is lucky to even find himself on this list considering that he almost went to jail on sexual assault charges while attending Boston University. Nicastro was drafted by the Wings 91st overall in 2008, and after he was acquitted of those charges due to a lack of evidence, Detroit still decided to give the young man a chance. It turns out that they wasted that pick on him though, because instead of selecting Braden Holtby, who was taken two picks later, they went for Nicastro, who not only never played in an NHL game, but who also found himself with a -18 rating while in the minors.
3. Dick Axelsson
For a good amount of time, the Red Wings possessed a lot of Swedish-born players, which worked out pretty well for them, and in 2006, they tried to bring another Swedish talent into the fold when they drafted forward Dick Axelsson 62nd-overall. The Wings thought that they were lucky to get Axelsson where they did, because according to scouts, he possessed a lot of grit and scoring potential, but what they had not known was the fact that he lacked maturity, and did not really want to play outside of his home country. In all, Axelsson played in just 17 games for Detroit’s minor league team, before returning to Sweden in 2009, where he was never heard from again. This selection turned out to be quite shameful, seeing as Detroit could have drafted someone like Steve Mason or Leo Komarov instead.
2. Pierre Guite
In 1972, the NHL’s draft actually consisted of a whopping 10 rounds, a number that is only slightly mitigated by the fact that there were only 16 teams in the league at the time, but even with so few teams, Detroit still had to wait until the 2nd round to draft their first player. That player was Pierre Guite, a winger from Montreal who produced decent numbers while in junior, numbers that ultimately amounted to nothing seeing as he never came close to joining the Wings’ main roster. Guite never played in a single NHL game, and spent his entire professional career in the WHA, and as it turns out, this is one of the worst picks in the franchise’s history, because the team could have picked winger Bob Nystrom instead, who went on to win four Stanley Cups.
1. Claude Gauthier
The NHL entry draft is considered to be two of the most important days in hockey every year, but what some people might find surprising is the fact that the draft has only been taking place since 1963. The following year, the Red Wings possessed the 1st overall pick, which they used to select Claude Gauthier, a player who till this day is probably the worst pick in franchise history. The reason for this is quite simple, because he was the franchise’s first-ever 1st overall pick, and he turned out to be a complete and utter bust who never played in an NHL game. What makes this pick even worse is the fact that the Wings had the opportunity to draft Ken Dryden, one of the best goalies in history who managed to win five Stanley Cups with the Montreal Canadiens.
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