In order to build a healthy franchise these days, it all has to start at the draft table. Yes, teams also have to acquire key pieces through trades and free agency, but strong cores are built through the draft.
Look at Chicago, for one. They’re the closest thing to a dynasty in today’s game, and their core consists of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, and Corey Crawford—all players they acquired via the draft. They find complementary help season to season, but it’s all built around the same core.
All draft picks a team makes are important, but it’s of the utmost importance that you don’t whiff on your first round draft choice in any given year. Players selected in the first round should reasonably be expected to contribute to the NHL squad within three or four years of being drafted. Sometimes, that just isn’t how it works out.
Every year there is a handful of players selected in the first round who fall flat and never truly pan out as prospects. No one knows why some players just don’t have what it takes to take that final step on their road to the NHL, but it happens all the time.
For today’s list I looked at the first round draft choices made by every team, every year since the 2004-05 lockout. I found that pretty much every team had picked at least a few duds in the 10 years that’s passed since the lost season. Some teams have made multiple errors, and it’s no coincidence that those teams have mostly been pretty weak for the past decade or so.
Without further ado, here are the biggest draft busts for every NHL team since the 2004-05 lockout, listed alphabetically:
28 Anaheim Ducks - Mark Mitera (19th overall, 2006)
In 2006 the Anaheim Ducks selected defenseman Mark Mitera in the first round of the NHL Entry Draft, 19th overall. Defensemen are typically more difficult to predict when it comes to their development, but the Ducks struck out big with Mitera.
27 Arizona Coyotes - Henrik Samuelsson (27th overall, 2012)
Arizona has selected high in the first round many times since 2005, and with each of those selections they’ve picked, at the very least, capable NHL players. In 2012 they used their 27th overall selection on center Henrik Samuelsson, who has played just three NHL games so far.
26 Boston Bruins - Zach Hamill (8th overall, 2007)
The Bruins held the 8th overall pick in the 2007 NHL Entry draft, and with it they selected center Zach Hamill. Blowing a first round draft pick is one thing, but blowing a top 10 overall selection is especially brutal for any franchise.
25 Buffalo Sabres - Marek Zagrapan (13th overall, 2005)
The Buffalo Sabres chose center Marek Zagrapan 13th overall in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, and Zagrapan never played a single game for the Sabres, or any other NHL team for that matter.
24 Calgary Flames - Mark Jankowski (21st overall, 2012)
The Flames went way off the board with their 21st overall selection in the 2012 NHL draft, picking Mark Jankowski. Projected to go sometime in the 2nd round, the Flames shocked everyone by grabbing Jankowski so early, and so far it hasn’t paid off.
23 Carolina Hurricanes - Philippe Paradis (27th overall, 2009)
The Hurricanes haven’t really erred too greatly in the first round since 2005, but in 2009 they used their 27th overall pick to call winger Philippe Paradis’ name. Paradis has carved out a decent career in the AHL, but surely the Hurricanes were hoping for more contributions at the NHL level from their first round pick.
22 Chicago Blackhawks - Kyle Beach (11th overall, 2008)
As mentioned in the lede, Chicago has built a dynasty through the draft, but their selection of Kyle Beach 11th overall in the 2008 draft wasn’t a good pick. Beach fought it out in the AHL for a good five seasons before finally defecting to Europe to play out the rest of his career.
21 Colorado Avalanche - Duncan Siemens (11th overall, 2011)
It’s always tough to guess just how good a defensive prospect will become. Their development trajectories rarely take the form of a straight line, and it’s more likely they’ll take a longer time to break into the league.
20 Columbus Blue Jackets - Nikita Filatov (6th overall, 2008)
When it comes to first round draft busts since the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, the Columbus Blue Jackets are one of the teams with multiple busts. In 2008 they picked Nikita Filatov 6th overall, and he defected to Europe after a brief 53 game NHL career.
19 Dallas Stars - Scott Glennie (8th overall, 2009)
Whenever you hold a top 10 selection at the NHL draft, you have the opportunity to add a franchise player to the mix. Obviously that’s not how it works out every time, but the chance is definitely there.
18 Detroit Red Wings - Tom McCollum (30th overall, 2008)
Whenever I go to make a list about how NHL teams have screwed up in the past, the Detroit Red Wings are always a team I struggle with; the club rarely makes an error. Also, they hardly ever pick in the top 15 of the draft, so it makes it that much harder to find a first round error.
17 Edmonton Oilers - Nail Yakupov (1st overall, 2012)
The Oilers have certainly selected other players in the first round who have had less impact on the franchise than Nail Yakupov, but since Yak went first overall he just has to be the Oilers representative on this list.
16 Florida Panthers - Kenndal McArdle (20th overall, 2005)
The Panthers have drafted in the top 10 many times since the lockout, but since all of those picks have more or less worked out for the club, we had to go with 2005 20th overall pick Kenndal McArdle as the biggest bust for the Panthers since 2004-05.
15 Los Angeles Kings - Colten Teubert (13th overall, 2008)
The L.A. Kings are another team that’s been pretty solid at the draft table for the last decade, but they did err in 2008 when they opted for defenseman Colten Teubert 13th overall.
14 Minnesota Wild - Tyler Cuma (23rd overall, 2008)
At the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, the Minnesota Wild held the 23rd overall pick, and with it they chose Tyler Cuma. It was a late first round pick, so far from a guarantee, but John Carlson and Tyler Ennis both went in the first round after Cuma, so it’s easy to see how this was a missed opportunity for Minnesota.
13 Montreal Canadiens - David Fischer (20th overall, 2006)
The Montreal Canadiens held the 20th overall selection at the draft table in 2006, and with it they selected defenseman David Fischer. You’ve likely never heard of him, and that’s because he’s never played a single NHL game.
12 Nashville Predators - Chet Pickard (18th overall, 2008)
Taking goaltenders in the first round is always a risk; sometimes you can find the steady goaltender your franchise is needing (Carey Price or Cory Schneider, for example), but sometimes you’ll get a bust. Chet Pickard falls into the latter category.
11 New York Islanders - Griffin Reinhart (4th overall, 2012)
This is a tough one, because Griffin Reinhart still has a few years to grow as a defenseman. However, if you look at the other defensemen drafted in the top 10 in 2012, it’s safe to say he’s fallen behind his peers in his development.
10 New York Rangers - Dylan McIlrath (10th overall, 2010)
With the 10th overall pick in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft the New York Rangers tried adding some toughness by selecting defenseman Dylan McIlrath. Unfortunately for Glen Sather and the Rangers, McIlrath still hasn’t broken out as a true NHL defenseman.
9 Ottawa Senators - Brian Lee (9th overall, 2005)
In 2005 the Ottawa Senators held a top 10 pick, and we all know how important those are to franchises. The Senators opted to call Brian Lee’s name, and that turned out to be a mistake. Lee did have somewhat of an NHL career, getting into 209 NHL games, mostly with the Sens, but with who else was available at the time, it’s easy to call Lee a pretty big mistake.
8 Philadelphia Flyers - Scott Laughton (20th overall, 2012)
Believe it or not, the Flyers were the only team without a clear first round dud since the lockout (granted, they didn’t have first round selections in 2009 or 2010). Laughton started playing in Philly this season, and he simply might be the worst of the bunch.
7 Pittsburgh Penguins - Angelo Esposito (20th overall, 2007
Looking back at the 2007 draft, it’s shaping up to be a pretty decent class overall. The Pittsburgh Penguins were just entering the elite tier of NHL teams and had a chance to add a solid prospect to their pool with the 20th overall selection.
6 San Jose Sharks - Ty Wishart (16th overall, 2006)
The Sharks are another team that’s made the playoffs nearly every season since 2005, so they haven’t had too many high first round picks in the past decade. Ty Wishart was picked 16th overall in 2006, and I think it’s fair to say the Sharks expected more of a career from the defenseman.
5 St. Louis Blues - Erik Johnson (1st overall, 2006)
This is probably one of the more controversial picks on this list, because Erik Johnson is manning the top pair on the Colorado Avalanche blue line these days and he’s doing a fine job. He lands here based more on pedigree and the missed opportunity for St. Louis.
Again, it's unclear just what kind of hockey player Jonathan Drouin will be in a few years. But as of right now, Drouin is a bust for the Lightning because of the toxic relationship that's developed between them.
4 Toronto Maple Leafs - Tyler Biggs (22nd overall, 2011)
2011 would have been a great time for Toronto to start stockpiling useful prospects, and Tyler Biggs was a guy they were hoping could contribute to the cause a little down the road. We’re now approaching the five year anniversary of his drafting, and he still hasn’t played an NHL game.
3 Vancouver Canucks - Patrick White (25th overall, 2007)
At the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, the Vancouver Canucks held the 25th overall pick and with it they selected center Patrick White. White was a flop, as he never played a game in the NHL, and he’s currently skating his days away in Europe.
2 Washington Capitals - Sasha Pokulok (14th overall, 2005)
The 2005 draft will long be remembered as the “Sidney Crosby Sweepstakes” year, which is good for Washington because it means the rest of the hockey world doesn’t remember their 14th overall pick of Sasha Pokulok.
1 Winnipeg Jets (Atlanta Thrashers) - Alex Bourret (16th overall, 2005)
The Atlanta Thrashers were by far the least successful expansion team of the collection that joined in the late ‘90s/early ‘00s, and that’s probably why they’ve been relocated to Winnipeg. Hockey never caught on in Atlanta, partially due to the poor on-ice product.
The poor on-ice product was a result of poor management and poor drafting. In 2005 they wasted their first round selection (16th overall) on winger Alex Bourret. Bourret never played a game in the NHL, and they could have had one of Martin Hanzal, Jakub Kindl or Tuukka Rask (three of the next six picks).
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