The life of an NHL scout must be incredibly difficult. They must sort through thousands of players, travelling all over the globe in an attempt to find one or two players each year that might turn into stars for their respective franchises. It’s a thankless job, but when teams such as the Detroit Red Wings and New Jersey Devils of the ‘90s and ‘00s begin to rack up scores of prospects through the draft, the reward often comes in the form of Stanley Cup rings. Over the past eight drafts, there have been 1,692 players selected by NHL clubs. Obviously, out of these, there have been a number of stars made but also a great number of busts who had huge potential but never quite worked out. This list is comprised of young players who already look as if they can be lumped into either of those categories. They are all still 25 or younger, so their career trajectory could obviously change, but for the most part the stars seem destined to be top-line NHLers and the busts career minor-leaguers. Happy reading!
15 Jake Virtanen - Bust
Virtanen was a star in junior. He was selected 1st-overall by the WHL’s Calgary Hitmen in 2011 and went on to record 161 points in 192 games with the club despite missing a large chunk of his prime season due to a shoulder surgery. When Virtanen eventually came back from the surgery, he was not the same player anymore. Luckily, his previous play was enough to earn him a 6th-overall selection into the NHL by Vancouver in 2014.
After winning World Junior gold with Team Canada in 2015, Virtanen was the main reason why the squad collapsed against Finland in the quarterfinals of the 2016 iteration of the tournament, as the big winger took three bad penalties in the game. He never was able to bounce back from that, as he has spent more time in the AHL than the NHL in his pro career. Virtanen has just 14 points in 65 games with the Canucks and a dismal 19 in 67 AHL games. The B.C. native seems to be more interested in racking up penalty minutes than putting the puck in the net.
14 Dylan Strome - Star
Though he has not been able to crack the lowly Coyotes’ roster yet, expect a breakout season from Dylan Strome in 2017-18. The lanky centreman was taken 2nd-overall in the 2013 OHL draft by the Erie Otters and spent his first two junior seasons as Connor McDavid’s teammate. While many may think his crazy OHL stats may be due to the fact that he was a linemate to the best player in the world right now, Strome actually won the OHL scoring title in 2014-15 when McDavid missed a large chunk of the season with a broken hand. Thanks to this success, Dylan earned a 3rd-overall selection by the Arizona Coyotes in 2015.
Shockingly, after another outstanding campaign in 2015-16, the Ontarian was not kept by the Coyotes for the 2016-17 season, instead being sent back to Erie once again. Strome didn’t let this deter him as he led the way for the Otters, putting up a ridiculous 75 points in 35 games and showing his clutch gene by tallying 7 points in a single game during the Memorial Cup tournament. Strome will be a strong candidate for Rookie of the Year honours in 2017-18.
13 Hunter Shinkaruk - Bust
Quite frankly, Hunter Shinkaruk looks like he is destined to be a career AHLer, a pretty sad statement for someone taken 24th-overall in the NHL Entry Draft. The 5’11” winger had dominant junior stats, racking up 219 points in three full seasons with the WHL’s Medicine Hat Tigers. This led the Vancouver Canucks to take the Calgary native in the first round in 2013. Hip and leg injuries had plagued the now-22-year-old for much of his junior career, and now he was finally ready to prove himself on the professional level.
Shinkaruk had a ho-hum first two years in the AHL, producing 82 points in 136 games. He got a brief shot in the NHL, playing one game with the Canucks before being dealt to the Calgary Flames. He then spent most of 2016-17 in the AHL again, playing just 7 games with the Flames’ big club and producing just 1 point. Shinkaruk must prove himself in camp and all year long this coming season, or else he will surely fall further into the “bust” category.
12 Ivan Provorov - Star
Ivan Provorov has emerged as a huge star for a prospect-filled Philadelphia Flyers club. Like Yakupov, this 20-year-old Russian also took the Canadian Junior route, playing for the Brandon Wheat Kings of the WHL. Known as a factory for producing solid defenceman, Brandon didn’t disappoint with Provorov. The 6’1” rearguard put up an outstanding 134 points in 122 games with the club, proving his offensive acumen. The Flyers loved this and took Provorov with the 7th pick in the 2015 draft.
He showed his leadership the next year, leading Brandon to the WHL Championship. He then made the jump to the big leagues, having an outstanding rookie year with the Flyers in 2016-17. Provorov put up 30 points in 82 games, averaged 21:09 TOI, and finished 9th in Calder voting in a stacked rookie class. The reliable Russian is bound to become the Flyers’ top defenceman in no time, and maybe even one of the NHL’s best if this trajectory continues.
11 Zach Fucale - Bust
Fucale has taken the opposite path of Subban. He won everything there was to win during his junior career with the Halifax Mooseheads and WJC Team Canada. The Rosemere, Quebec native set the record for the youngest and fastest goalie to 100 QMJHL wins at the age of just 18 years, 8 months and in just 145 games. He won the QMJHL and Memorial Cup titles with the Mooseheads in 2013 and then went on to backstop Canada to their first gold medal in 5 years at the World Juniors in 2015. Thanks to all this junior success, Fucale was taken 36th-overall by the Montreal Canadiens in 2013. Most thought his QMJHL credentials would translate well into professional hockey and perceived him to be one of the best goalies of his draft class.
The fact that Fucale simply had a very strong team around him in Halifax began to show quickly, as a trade to a much weaker Quebec Remparts squad began to expose his weaknesses. He posted a lowly .877 save percentage and uncharacteristic 3.21 goals against average. When he was finally forced to turn pro due to his age, Fucale got stuck behind a dearth of NHL-caliber goaltenders on the Canadiens’ depth chart and ended up in the ECHL, plying his trade for the Brampton Beast. This level of hockey should have been a relative walk-in-the-park for someone the caliber of Fucale, but he even struggled there this past season, posting a 3.17GAA and .898SP. At this pace, Fucale won’t even make it to the AHL, never mind the NHL.
10 Travis Konecny - Star
Travis Konecny perfectly embodies the “Broadstreet Bullies” reputation that the Philadelphia Flyers have earned over the years. The 20-year-old plays with a bullish nature that belies his 5’10”, 175lb frame. After being a star in minor midget hockey, Konecny was taken 1st-overall by the Ottawa 67s in the OHL Draft. His role changed in the OHL into more of a two-way player who cared more about his team winning than putting up points - though he still did that at a great rate. This responsible play earned him the respect of NHL scouts everywhere, and he was taken 24th-overall in the 2015 NHL Draft.
After one more outstanding junior season, in which Konecny posted 101 points in 60 games, he was a somewhat surprising keep by the Flyers to begin the 2016-17 season. He held his own as a rookie, putting up 28 points in 70 games while playing mostly on the Flyers’ third line. Konecny’s style perfectly suits today’s NHL and with more opportunity from the Flyers, expect much better production from the young Ontarian going forward.
9 Jared McCann - Bust
Jared McCann has taken a very similar path to fellow list member Jake Virtanen within the Canucks organization. After being a being a 4th-overall pick by the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in the 2012 OHL Draft, McCann recorded 187 points in 184 games with the club. This caught the Canucks’ attention, and the Vancouver-based team selected McCann 24th-overall in the 2014 draft. Like Virtanen, he underperformed on the Canadian World Junior team, leading to a 3rd place finish for the highly-favoured squad. Also like Virtanen, McCann was rushed to the Canucks’ big-league squad before he was ready and this stunted his growth, leading to his trade to the Florida Panthers.
He only lasted a further 29 games with the Panthers before being sent down to their AHL affiliate in Springfield. Like Virtanen, McCann seems to be more interested in dirty play than skilled goal-scoring, as he has put up more than double as many penalty minutes as he has points in Springfield. Unless McCann really matures and turns his game around, he will continue to regress from his original potential.
8 Anthony Mantha - Star
Anthony Mantha was a slow developer, but he is finally showing the signs of becoming a breakout star alongside Andreas Athanasiou and Dylan Larkin on a rebuilding Red Wings squad. The humongous 22-year-old dominated in the QMJHL while playing with the Val-d’Or Foreurs, especially in his final season, when he put up 57 goals and 120 points in 57 games. Thanks to his 6’5”, 222lb frame and scoring ability, Mantha was taken 20th-overall by the Detroit Red Wings in 2013 and was thought to be an NHL-ready player.
Instead, Mantha spent the majority of the next three seasons in AHL Grand Rapids, where he gradually increased his production to become a point-per-game player again. Mantha earned the call-up to Wings’ big-league squad about a quarter of the way through the 2016-17 season and held his own as a rookie, recording 36 points in 60 games while getting lots of opportunity with the lowly club. Mantha might have been a slow-bloomer but now he has proven himself on the big stage and will only continue to improve from here.
7 Jack Campbell - Bust
Jack Campbell took a different route to the big leagues than the other two goalies on this list. As Campbell is a Michigan native, he was a part of the U.S. National Team Development Program rather than part of the Canadian Hockey League. While this method fast-tracked him to adult-league competition, it hasn’t seemed to give Campbell an advantage in the pro leagues over the likes of Malcolm Subban. After playing in THREE World Juniors, one of which resulted in a gold medal, Campbell was taken 11th-overall in 2010 by the Dallas Stars. Considering that goaltenders very rarely get picked in the top 20, this should have meant that Campbell was going to be a future star.
Jack Campbell has, instead, become a career AHLer. He has spent the majority of the past six seasons with the Texas Stars but has also made stops at ECHL Idaho and made one single start with the Dallas Stars. Campbell was traded to the L.A. Kings last season, but made an appearance for just one period on the big-league club and spent the rest of his time in AHL Ontario. Unless Campbell has a miracle year very soon, he will undoubtedly be remembered as one of the biggest busts of the 2010s.
6 Charlie McAvoy - Star
Charlie McAvoy also took the U.S. NTDP route to the big leagues, working his way up through the USHL into college hockey at powerhouse Boston University. After being selected 14th-overall in 2016 by the Boston Bruins, he went back for another season at B.U.
The solidly-built defenceman had an outstanding 2016-17 season. After leading the U.S. World Junior team to a gold medal win over Canada, McAvoy was called upon to help an ailing Boston Bruins defense in their first-round playoff matchup with Ottawa. The 19-year-old held his own under the bright lights, putting up 3 points in 6 games, and proving that he will be an important part of the D-corps in Beantown for years to come.
5 Slater Koekkoek - Bust
Like everyone else on this list, Slater Koekkoek was a star in junior hockey. The big defenceman had two-and-a-half solid years with the Peterborough Petes of the Ontario Hockey League before being dealt to the WIndsor Spitfires and truly becoming a star. He put up 53 points in 62 games and earned a plus-44 rating! His size, skill, strength, and maturity piqued the interest of the Tampa Bay Lightning, who selected the Dundas, Ontario native 10th-overall in the 2012 NHL Draft.
After being forced to turn pro because of his age in 2014, Koekkoek spent almost all of his first two years in the AHL with the Syracuse Crunch. He lasted a little bit longer in 2016-17 (29 NHL games), but that was mostly due to key injuries to Tampa’s D-core. The former top-10 pick was only able to sign a one-year, $800K extension with the Bolts this past season while players picked after him such as Jaccob Slavin (120th overall) are cashing in with seven-year, $37.1M deals after actually living up to their potential. Koekkoek looks destined to be a career AHLer, and while this may be due in part to Tampa’s perennially solid NHL squad, if Slater lived up to his 10th-overall potential, he would earn his spot.
4 Jonathan Drouin - Star
Jonathan Drouin has had the definition of a rollercoaster career, making the headlines for all the right and wrong reasons in his six years in the spotlight. After being projected as a fringe first-rounder for the 2013 NHL Draft, Drouin’s outstanding play at the World Juniors for Team Canada and during the QMJHL season for the Halifax Mooseheads - which earned him CHL Player of the Year honours - actually had him in contention to be the first overall pick come season’s end. In the end, Tampa Bay ended up taking Drouin with the 3rd overall pick in the 2013 draft.
The Quebec-born winger’s journey was just getting started, though, as he had a tough beginning to his pro career. Drouin ended up being sent down to AHL Syracuse because the contending Lightning wanted him to have more ice time to aid his development. Drouin and his agent didn’t like this idea, though, as they refused to report to team functions and put in a trade request. Lightning GM Steve Yzerman weathered the storm and the patience paid off, as Drouin eventually returned to the club and contributed big-time. The 5’11”, 189-pounder put up 14 points in Tampa’s 17-game playoff run in 2016 and then followed that up with 53 points in 73 games in his first full NHL season. Drouin eventually got his wish, as he has been traded to the Montreal Canadiens, and will likely continue to improve as he finally lives up to his potential.
3 Nail Yakupov - Bust
Nail Yakupov is the worst first overall pick since Patrik Stefan in 1999. The 23-year-old Russian took a strange route to the NHL for a European, actually playing in the OHL for his junior years. The fact that the Oilers took him first in the 2012 Draft was not unjustified, as the 5’11” winger did put up 170 points in his 107 OHL games. Even his rookie year looked promising, as Yakupov recorded a respectable 31 points in 48 games.
It all went downhill from there, though, as his production declined to the point where the Oilers gave up on him and shipped him to St. Louis in a trade. After putting up just 9 points in 40 games with the Blues, the club declined to offer him a deal in the offseason. Yakupov signed a one-year, $875K deal with the Colorado Avalanche for next season, meaning the former 1st-overall pick is now making one of the lowest salaries in the league with the worst team in the league. Pretty sad.
2 Malcolm Subban - Star
The only goalie in the “star” category on this list, Malcolm Subban’s journey is proof of how hard it is to draft and develop an NHL-caliber goalie. The younger brother of Predators’ superstar P.K. Subban, 23-year-old Malcolm made his way up through the junior ranks with the OHL’s Belleville Bulls. The team never really had much success while Malcolm played there, but he did manage to put up very good personal stats, earning a 2.60GAA over three full seasons. This strong play caught the eye of the Boston Bruins, who selected the Toronto native 24th-overall in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft.
Bad luck plagued him from there, as he missed out on his first shot with the big club due to the 2012-13 NHL lockout, then had a few ugly games during training camps in the years following that, and to top it all off, fractured his larynx when he took a puck to the throat during warmups, causing him to miss almost a quarter of the 2015-16 season. While Subban hasn’t really gotten his shot at the NHL level yet, his strong play in the AHL with the Providence Bruins the past two seasons certainly warrants hope for the 6’2” ‘tender - he has a 2.43 GAA and .914 SP to his name. Expect Subban to become a regular backup to Tuukka Rask very soon.
1 Griffin Reinhart - Bust
It seems as if Sam Reinhart is the only one of the three sons of former NHL player Paul Reinhart that has any chance of NHL success. After oldest brother Max proved to be a bust and is now playing in Germany, middle brother Griffin seems to be on the same path. After a solid junior career with the WHL’s Edmonton Oil Kings, Griffin was selected 4th-overall by the New York Islanders in the 2012 NHL Draft.
The now-23-year-old lasted just 8 games with the Islanders in his first pro season before being sent down the AHL. Following the season, he was traded to the Edmonton Oilers in hopes that he would have a breakout campaign. He didn’t. He was sent down the AHL once again after just 29 games and then spent the entire 2016-17 season in the minors. For a 4th overall pick, Reinhart sure hasn’t had much NHL success. Time will tell if a better opportunity on a weak Golden Knights blue line sparks the B.C. native, but don’t keep your fingers crossed.