In the modern day NHL, big trades are relatively rare. We recently saw a blockbuster three-team trade involving Matt Duchene and Kyle Turris. But it took Avs GM Joe Sakic nearly a year-and-a-half to orchestrate that deal. The increasing trend has been for teams to sign their successful draft picks to long term deals. Connor McDavid, Steven Stamkos, Carey Price, John Tavares, Victor Hedman, Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and the Blackhawks quartet of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, and Brent Seabrook all signed long term, big money deals with the teams that drafted them. While trading is still a very important tool GMs can use to fine-tune their teams to secure that ever elusive Stanley Cup, the core of successful teams are now very clearly comprised of their own draft picks.
Given this, one could argue that the draft has never been more important. Sure, you can trade to get a great third line checking center, some supplemental scoring, or a solid backup goalie, but your star players will almost certainly have to be drafted. This makes draft steals and draft busts more prominent and noticeable than they have ever been. So let’s look at eight of the biggest draft busts and steals since the 2012 lockout.
16 Bust: Mikhail Grigorenko - 12th Overall, 2012
One clear sign that a first round draft pick is a bust is if he’s already out of the league by the age of 23. After failing to impress in Buffalo before his entry level contract ran out, the Sabres cleverly dealt Grigorenko along with Nikita Zadorov and J.T. Gopher to Colorado in exchange for Ryan O’Reilly and Jamie McGinn. While Zadorov established himself as an Avs regular (and Gopher seems to have done so as well this season), Grigorenko was little more than a headache for the Avs. The Avs hoped that reuniting Grigorenko with his old Quebec Remparts coach, Patrick Roy, would breathe new life into his career. That didn’t really happen. Even so, Grigorenko still filed for salary arbitration after his first season in Colorado.
No sooner was he re-signed than Roy abruptly quit and the Avs embarked on their infamously disastrous 2016-17 season. After that debacle, Grigorenko opted out and is now back in his native Russia playing for CSKA Moscow.
15 Steal: Matt Murray - 83rd Overall, 2012
Imagine being so stacked in goal that you can afford to let a goalie the caliber of Marc-Andre Fleury go for nothing in an expansion draft. That was the position in which two-time defending Stanley Cup champions Pittsburgh found themselves in this past June. Drafting goalies is notoriously difficult. Comparatively, it’s not that rare to find goalies who have had long and successful careers who were drafted in the later rounds. Conversely, there are plenty of first round goalies who never amounted to anything in the NHL. The Penguins must be feeling ecstatic right now about their third round choice in 2012. The man who backstopped the Pens to those two Cups was chosen after such netminding luminaries as Daniel Altshuller and Jake Patterson. So yeah, Murray was a pretty decent pick.
14 Bust: Alex Galchenyuk - 3rd Overall, 2012
There is perhaps no name that is more controversial in Montreal than Alex Galchenyuk. Just what exactly Galchenyuk is --or should be-- is still unknown. Is he a winger? Is he a center? Is he a first line player? Second? Third? Something Galchenyuk is not, is a bad hockey player. But he has not lived up to the standards one would expect from a third overall pick. A 30 goal and 56 point season in 2015-16 had Habs fans excited for the future, but a regression over the past two years is a worrying development.
Worse still, nether previous coach Michel Therrien nor current boss Claude Julien seem to know how to get the best out of Galchenyuk, or how to properly motivate him. It’s looking increasingly like a move away from “La Belle Provence” might be best for Galchenyuk’s career.
13 Steal: Jake Guentzel - 77th Overall, 2013
Teams are lucky enough if they get one steal in a year’s draft. The Penguins, however, got themselves two in 2013. Before drafting Murray, the Pens selected Jake Guentzel. Guentzel didn’t feature in the Penguin's first of their back-to-back Cup triumphs, but half way through the 2016-17 season, Guentzel rocketed into prominence with 33 points in 40 games. But it was in the playoffs that he really shined. He finished an astonishing fourth in points for the entire playoffs, behind only the Pens big guns of Crosby, Malkin, and Phil Kessel. With 22 points so far this season at the time of writing, Guentzel doesn’t appear be a one-year wonder, but rather a genuine third-round draft steal.
12 Bust: Zachary Senyshyn - 15th Overall, 2015
I acknowledge that it’s pretty unfair to label a 20-year-old a draft bust. Zachary Senyshyn might well go on to have a solid NHL career and make me feel very foolish for this entry. However, based on the data we have thus far, that looks unlikely. While the likes of Kyle Connor, Thomas Chabot, and Brock Boeser --all drafted after Senyshyn-- have established themselves as bona fide NHLers, Senyshyn has yet to play a single regular season game for Boston. While his numbers in the OHL were good, his progression plateaued in his last year with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. In his first year in the AHL, his numbers for Providence have been OK, but don’t seem to predict greatness. In truth, what really makes Senyshyn look bad is the player who was drafted immediately after him.
11 Steal: Matthew Barzal - 16th Overall, 2015
Matt Barzal is the current frontrunner for the 2017-18 Calder Trophy. The Coquitlam, BC, native was drafted pretty high at 16th overall. Even so, he’s looking like a steal. Even more impressive than his near point-per-game scoring rate are his dizzying, winding, weaving, journeys with the puck on his stick. Not since Denis Savard’s heyday have we seen a player with the ability to skate circles around his opponents and never look in danger of losing the puck. Both Pittsburgh and Edmonton, who once had possession of what would be the 16th pick, must be kicking themselves, as are many of the teams who drafted earlier and could have had Barzal. Let’s all enjoy Barzal’s play now before defensemen start to cynically slash, trip, and hold him in an effort to dampen his extraordinary talent.
10 Bust: Samuel Morin - 11th Overall, 2013
An 11th overall draft pick probably should have played more than three NHL games by the age of 22. Unfortunately for the Philadelphia Flyers, that’s all defenseman Samuel Morin has under his belt at the time of writing. Over the past few seasons, Philly has not been particularly successful. During this season, they’ve gone on a run of abysmal results followed by a surprising winning streak, so it’s tough to say if they’re any good or not. Regardless, a solid d-man to shore up their backline would be more than welcome. Sadly, Morin doesn’t seem to be that d-man. His AHL numbers are decent, but it’s unclear if he’ll ever be an NHL regular. The Flyers would have done much better to have picked the aforementioned Nikita Zadorov or current Vegas standout Shea Theodore, both of whom were selected after Morin.
9 Steal: Brandon Montour - 55th Overall, 2014
Going into the 2016-17 season, people wondered how the Anaheim Ducks were going to protect all their defensemen from the Golden Knights in the expansion draft. They ended up willingly trading Shea Theodore to Vegas in large part thanks to their late second round pick in 2014. At 55th overall, Brandon Montour looks to be a good draft steal for the Ducks. After giving us a taste of what he can do last season, this year Montour’s 19 points and +7 rating through 36 games (at the time of writing) is a standout on a Ducks’ team that has been a bit underwhelming. Despite their struggles with injuries and form, the Ducks must be happy with Montour’s play thus far and the Brantford, Ontario native looks set to continue the Ducks’ legacy of strong defensemen.
8 Bust: Valeri Nichushkin - 10th Overall, 2013
If Samuel Morin was a bust as the 11th pick in 2013, then Valeri Nichushkin was just a little bit worse of a pick at number ten. Mind you, Nichushkin has had a much better career than Morin. While 64 points in 166 NHL games for the Dallas Stars might not be exactly what you want from a number ten pick, but it’s still pretty decent. The problem with Nichushkin is that those 64 points are all he’ll get for the Stars seeing as how he’s now plying his trade in his native Russia for CSKA Moscow.
Despite his early career being disrupted by hip surgery, one would have thought that Nichushkin had done enough for a contract after his entry level deal expired. But Nichushkin was reportedly unhappy with his role within the organization and upped sticks for Mother Russia.
7 Steal: David Pastrnak - 25th Overall, 2014
Every team has a reasonable expectation that their first round pick will develop into a good player. But a near point-per-game scoring rate is better than just good and that’s exactly what David Pastrnak is posting. A late first round pick in 2014, Pastrnak quickly established himself as an NHLer and, at the time of writing, has played 207 games and scored 156 points; all before his 22nd birthday. The Czech forward is perhaps the best example as to why it looks like the Bruins will get away with a quick re-tooling, rather than have to totally rebuild after the majority of the veterans from their 2011 championship team have moved on.
Although they're a decent team right now, the Bruins could well be Cup contenders in a few years and if they are, you can bet Pastrnak will be one of their key players.
6 Bust: Slater Koekkoek - 10th Overall, 2012
The 2017-18 season might be the year Slater Koekkoek finally breaks out. At the time of writing, he has six points in 19 games. Not great, but maybe he will be an NHLer after all. Then again, maybe he’s just benefiting from being on a stacked team that needs to fill out its roster with some cheap, cap-friendly players. Coming into this season, Koekoek had only scored five points in 41 NHL games, and no goals. That's not what you want from a 10th overall selection. But this year, Koekoek is doing better, and for the first time in his NHL career, has a positive plus/minus (+4). So maybe he can erase some of his bust reputation. If not, he can at least take solace in fact he certainly wasn’t the only bust from 2012.
5 Steal: Frederik Anderson - 87th Overall, 2012
In June 2016, the Toronto Maple Leafs traded a first and second round pick to Anaheim for Frederik Anderson. In Anderson, the Leafs appear to have finally found their first great goaltender since Ed Belfour. The Ducks were able to trade Anderson due to the stellar play of John Gibson. But it also helped that Anderson was essentially found money for the Ducks. They picked him near the end of the third round in 2012 with a pick they got from Vancouver in the Maxim Lapierre trade.
In the end, both Ducks and Leafs fans have been happy with the play of the Great Dane, who looks to be in the upper echelon of NHL goalies in the league today. Andersen seems to have hit another level this season in Toronto.
4 Bust: Michael Dal Colle - 5th Overall, 2014
At only 21, Michael Dal Colle might still develop well for the New York Islanders. However, to justify his lofty placement at fifth overall, he probably should have played at least one NHL regular season game by now. He hasn’t. The native of Woodbridge, Ontario, scored 80 points in his final OHL season (2015-16), down from 93 and 95 in the previous two years. Though perhaps a trade from Oshawa to Kingston disrupted his production. In any event, his numbers in the AHL have been decent, but not great.
Presumably, Dal Colle will get a chance in the big league at some point, but with other forwards such as William Nylander, Nikolaj Ehlers, and Dylan Larkin having been selected after after Dal Colle, the Isles probably feel they goofed on this pick. Indeed, they’re probably more focused on the player they picked later in the very same round: the enigmatic Josh Ho-Sang.
3 Steal: Connor Hellebuyck - 130th Overall, 2012
2012 was clearly a strong draft class for goaltenders. Apart from the aforementioned steals of Murray (83rd overall) and Anderson (87th overall), 2012 also saw Andrei Vasilevskiy (19th), Malcolm Subban (24th), Oscar Dansk (31st), Joonas Korpisalo (62nd) all drafted. But the steal of all steals might well have been Connor Hellebuyck. Winnipeg selected the Commerce, Michigan native way down in the fifth round. After posting decent numbers in the AHL, Hellebuyck was called up to Winnipeg in the 2015-16 season to help them with their goaltending woes. Hellebuyck played quite well, but regressed a bit the next season with an increased workload.
This past summer, the Jets brought in Steve Mason in the hopes that maybe he could finally be the number one guy they needed, but instead Hellebuyck has nabbed that role for himself and has the Jets on the path to the postseason, even challenging for the top spot in their division.
2 Bust: Nail Yakupov - 1st Overall, 2012
Of course, we must finish off our bust list with one of the worst first overall picks in NHL history: Nail Yakupov. You can’t really blame the Oilers scouting staff; everybody had Yakupov pegged at number one. “Fail for Nail”, was the common refrain of fans of teams near the bottom of the standings in 2012. But it all went terribly wrong for the Russian winger. 31 points in his first season --the shortened, 48-game lockout season-- was a reasonably good beginning. But at no point after that did Yakupov look anything close to a top draft pick.
A trade to St. Louis last season didn’t help much, either. Now, perhaps in the midst of his last attempt at an NHL career, Yakupov has produced decently for the Avalanche so far this season. His point production might be good enough to stay in the NHL, but he’s not particularly big and he’s not particularly good at backchecking, so he’s not well-suited to a bottom six role. In all likelihood, he’ll be back in Russia this time next year.
1 Steal: Mikhail Sergachev - 9th Overall, 2016
In Yakupov, Nizhnekamsk, Russia, has produced the biggest draft bust on this list, but this mid-sized Russian city has also produced one of the biggest steals. We covered the deficiencies of Alex Galchenyuk. Because Galchenyuk has failed to grow into the Canadiens’ number one center, they traded for Jonathan Drouin this past summer. Whether or not Drouin will be a success in Montreal remains to be seen, but Habs GM Marc Bergevin is probably already regretting dealing Mikhail Sergachev for him.
The Russian defenseman has been more productive for the Tampa Bay Lightning this season than both Galchenyuk and Drouin have been for the Habs. And Sergachev is a defenseman! Granted, the Lightning are a much better team than the Canadiens, so maybe Sergachev’s stats flatter him a little bit. Even so, the big 19-year-old looks set for a stellar NHL career, better, perhaps, than everybody else in his draft year, save for Auston Matthews (1) and Patrick Laine (2).
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