Drafting well is essential if you want success in today’s NHL. Teams don’t readily give up valuable assets for nothing, so the most cost effective way of acquiring these assets is to claim them as your own at the annual NHL Entry Draft, before they become established professionals.
The draft is seven rounds long and occurs over the course of a weekend in late June, but it’s really only the first round picks that teams hope will have a major impact on their clubs. Sure, they put a lot of research and work into picks beyond round one, but most would concede that luck has as much to do with it as anything else at that point.
Sometimes, teams make egregious errors in the first round, and those decisions tend to haunt those clubs for years on end. As an example, the Edmonton Oilers selected Steve Kelly sixth overall in 1995; the very next pick belonged to the Winnipeg Jets, and they took Shane Doan. One is still with the club that selected him, the other is a police officer in Calgary (according to Wikipedia).
We took the liberty of looking back at every NHL team's first round draft picks since 2000 and found that every team has made at least one error. Some busts are bigger than others, but you can’t deny that these teams expected way more from the players listed here. Enjoy:
30 Anaheim Ducks: Stanislav Chistov (5th overall, 2001)
The Anaheim Mighty Ducks chose Stanislav Chistov as their first round pick in 2001, 5th overall. Sandwiched between 4th overall pick Stephen Weiss and 6th overall pick Mikko Koivu, Chistov is quite obviously a bust. He has played in the KHL since 2008-09, and only played in 196 NHL games, which is much fewer than your average 5th overall pick.
29 Arizona Coyotes: Jakub Koreis (19th overall, 2002)
When a first round pick doesn’t play a single game in the NHL, it’s pretty easy to peg that player as a major draft bust. That was the case with center Jakub Koreis, who the Phoenix Coyotes selected 19th overall in the first round of the 2002 NHL Entry Draft. The Plzen, Czech Republic native toiled in the farm system until 2007, at which point he went back to Europe.
28 Boston Bruins: Zach Hamill (8th, 2007)
A first round pick is always a valuable asset for a hockey club, but a top 10 pick is next-level. As a general rule of thumb, a top-10 pick has a far greater chance of turning into a franchise-level player than players selected beyond that. In 2007, the Bruins held the 8th overall pick and took a chance on Zack Hamill.
27 Buffalo Sabres: Artem Kryukov (15th overall, 2000)
The 2000 NHL Entry Draft was an admittedly weak group, but most teams were able to find a player who could contribute something—anything. Most first round selections from that year at least had an audition in the show, but Sabres 15th overall pick Artem Kryukov had no such thing. In fact, the forward never played a single pro game in North America.
26 Calgary Flames: Brent Krahn (9th overall, 2000)
Another pick from the 2000 NHL Entry Draft makes an appearance here on our list, this one being the Calgary Flames' draft selection. The Flames chose to take a chance on a goalie here, selecting Brent Krahn 9th overall. Krahn had just completed his first season as starter of the Calgary Hitmen of the WHL, so Flames management “saw him good” before the selection, so to speak.
25 Carolina Hurricanes: Igor Knyazev (15th overall, 2001)
The Carolina Hurricanes held the 15th overall pick in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, and with it they took a chance on defenseman Igor Knyazev. Knyazev entered the draft as the 7th ranked European skater, so it’s not like he was without pedigree, at least according to the collective opinion of scouts. As time would later prove, however, Knyazev was a dud of a prospect.
24 Chicago Blackhawks: Cam Barker (3rd overall, 2004)
Alexander Ovechkin went first. Evgeni Malkin went second. Then Chicago called Cam Barker’s name. Yes, one of these things is certainly not like the other, and that would be Barker, who is now honing his trade in Russia. When a former NHL player/prospect heads to Russia it’s never a good sign for the player’s development trajectory, and that’s doubly true if said player is from North America, like Barker.
23 Colorado Avalanche: Duncan Siemens (11th overall, 2011)
Defensemen are always hard to judge as prospects, much more so than forwards. They hardly ever develop in a straight line; their trajectory always ebbs and flows. Duncan Siemens was a highly touted defensive prospect heading into the 2011 draft, and the Colorado Avalanche decided to take a chance on him at 11th overall.
22 Columbus Blue Jackets: Alexandre Picard (8th overall, 2004)
The Blue Jackets were irrelevant throughout the 2000s and the main reason was their poor drafting. In 2004 the Columbus Blue Jackets held the 8th overall pick, and they were excited when they realized that winger Alexandre Picard was still available when it came to their turn. The third-ranked North American skater from the draft had a high ceiling, and the Blue Jackets were excited to find out just how high it went.
21 Dallas Stars: Scott Glennie (8th overall, 2009)
I don’t know what’s with that 8th overall slot, but this is the third time it’s appeared on the list already, and we just got to “D”. In 2009 the Stars called Scott Glennie’s name, with hopes that he’d soon become an integral part of the organization. Worst case scenario, they’re getting a decent third line center here, right?
20 Detroit Red Wings: Anthony Mantha (20th overall, 2013)
The Detroit Red Wings were a tough team to pick. Since they’ve often been contending since 2000, they only had six first round picks from 2000 to 2014 (the assets were often dealt for help at the trade deadline). The six players they selected in the first round from 2000 to 2014 are Niklas Kronwall, Jakub Kindl, Brendan Smith, Riley Sheahan, Anthony Mantha, and Dylan Larkin.
19 Edmonton Oilers: Nail Yakupov (1st overall, 2012)
Sure, Nail Yakupov is already a veteran closing in on 300 NHL games, but there’s no denying that he’s a bust. After a stellar rookie campaign that saw the enigmatic Russian pot 17 goals in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, Yakupov has yet to match that number and it remains to be his career high.
18 Florida Panthers: Petr Taticek (9th overall, 2002)
Petr Taticek was one of the somewhat rare European players who made the move to North America before he was drafted to the NHL (although it is becoming more common). The Czech native played his first year in the OHL for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, posting an impressive 63 points in 60 games. The Panthers liked what they saw, so they called his name 9th overall at the 2002 NHL Entry Draft.
17 Los Angeles Kings: Lauri Tukonen (11th overall, 2004)
In 2004 the Los Angeles Kings selected winger Lauri Tukonen 11th overall, and they would live to regret the choice. Tukonen made the move to North America in 2005, and he struggled. He never discovered his offense in the AHL, let alone the NHL where he put up exactly zero points in just five games of experience.
16 Minnesota Wild: A.J. Thelen (12th overall, 2004)
Immediately after the Kings made their biggest draft mistake since 2000, the Wild also made their biggest mistake by choosing A.J. Thelen over, well, pretty much any other player who went in the first round. Thelen not only never made an appearance in the NHL, but he played in just 10 AHL games. He spent most of his career playing for various ECHL teams, a league one rung below the AHL.
15 Montreal Canadiens: David Fischer (20th overall, 2006)
The Montreal Canadiens picked David Fischer 20th overall in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, and his zero games of NHL experience to date are a pretty good indication of the type of player the Canadiens got here. Fischer, a defenseman from Minnesota, did four years at the University of Minnesota after being drafted, with varying results.
14 Nashville Predators: Chet Pickard (18th overall, 2008)
If young defensemen are difficult to evaluate, then young goalies are next to impossible. Winnipeg native Chet Pickard was selected 18th overall by the Nashville Predators in 2008, and the young goalie never broke into the AHL as a regular, let alone the NHL. Pickard ended up playing more games in the lesser ECHL, which is never good for a first round pick.
13 New Jersey Devils: Adrian Foster (28th overall, 2001)
The 2001 draft class wasn’t a particularly strong one, and the Devils' first round pick of Adrian Foster 28th overall was a poor choice. Look, we’re not here saying that a 28th overall pick is ever a sure thing, especially in a somewhat shallow draft class, but frankly the Devils haven’t really missed on many first round picks since the turn of the millennium.
12 New York Islanders: Rick DiPietro (1st overall, 2000)
The New York Islanders have had some rotten luck at the draft table since 2000, so we had a lot of options for this list. We had to go with the very first draft pick of the millennium, Rick DiPietro. The highly touted goaltender was such a sure thing that the Islanders decided they no longer required the services of Roberto Luongo, so they traded him to Florida (along with Olli Jokinen) for Oleg Kvasha and Mark Parrish. Ouch.
11 New York Rangers: Hugh Jessiman (12th overall, 2003)
The Rangers have had higher picks since 2000 that also went on to accomplish next to nothing, but what makes Hugh Jessiman such a disappointment is the year in which he was drafted. If you’re unaware of just how stacked the class of 2003 was, do yourself a favor and check it out. The Rangers picked Jessiman 12th overall, and he’s pretty much the only first rounder that year who’s not a household name in the hockey community.
10 Philadelphia Flyers: Jeff Woywitka (27th overall, 2001)
Another member of the 2001 draft class makes an appearance here, this one in the form of Philadelphia’s 27th overall pick Jeff Woywitka. Woywitka actually had a decent NHL career, playing in 278 games, but he’s still the Flyers' biggest first-round bust since 2000. They’ve drafted surprisingly well, although their asset management since then is another story. At least their amateur scouting is solid, right?
9 Pittsburgh Penguins: Angelo Esposito (20th overall, 2007)
Since the year 2000, the Penguins have either been very bad (2000 to 2006-ish), or one of the league’s premier teams (2006-ish to present). As such, they’ve selected very high in drafts since 2000, and they picked solid players almost every time. When the Pens were in the transition phase, they picked Angelo Esposito 20th overall in 2007.
Esposito is easily the biggest Penguins bust since 2000, having never found his way into a single NHL game. After realizing it wasn’t going to work out for him in North America, Esposito made his way to Europe, which is where he is playing today. Esposito is a good example of how even great teams can swing and miss at the draft table.
8 Ottawa Senators: Brian Lee (9th overall, 2005)
Any top-10 pick in an NHL Entry Draft has the potential to alter the trajectory of a franchise, so it’s safe to say that the Senators and their fans are a little disappointed with the 9th overall selection from the 2005 Entry Draft, Brian Lee. The defenseman did find his way into over 200 NHL games, but he never played more than 53 games in any one season.
7 San Jose Sharks: Ty Wishart (16th overall, 2006)
In 2006 the San Jose Sharks held the 16th overall pick, and with it they selected defenseman Ty Wishart. Wishart played four full seasons in the WHL before graduating to pro hockey in 2008-09. He earned a cup of coffee in his rookie year, playing five games for the Tampa Bay Lightning after being shipped out of San Jose. So already in essence, it was a wasted pick for the Sharks.
6 St. Louis Blues: Marek Schwarz (17th overall, 2004)
Most teams are already aware of the inherent risks involved with taking a goalie in the first round. Goalies tend to blossom late, and ones who appear elite in their teen years often fall off a cliff soon after turning pro (see: Justin Pogge). With the 17th overall pick in 2004, the St. Louis Blues chose Czech ‘tender Marek Schwarz.
5 Tampa Bay Lightning: Alexander Svitov (3rd overall, 2001)
The Tampa Bay Lightning were a struggling franchise in the early 2000s, although their luck was about to turn. To think of how good the team could have been if they hadn’t completely wasted their 3rd overall selection in 2001 by taking Alexander Svitov... The center did manage to find his way into 179 NHL games, but those auditions were primarily a result of his draft pedigree.
4 Toronto Maple Leafs: Tyler Biggs (22nd overall, 2011)
Maple Leafs fans were excited about prospect Tyler Biggs, but all he really turned out to be was a Biggs disappointment (sorry). Drafted 22nd overall in 2011, Biggs never found his way into an NHL game, and now at age 23 he has already been relegated to the ECHL, which is a rung below AHL level hockey.
Biggs was a Brian Burke-era pick, and the hard-nosed GM loves his blue collar hockey players. Perhaps this was the line of thinking on the Tyler Biggs pick, as the winger is 6-foot-2 and weights north of 251 pounds. Whatever the case, the Leafs passed up on some stellar talent to take Biggs, including John Gibson, Brandon Saad, and Rickard Rakell.
3 Vancouver Canucks: Cody Hodgson (10th overall, 2008)
The Vancouver Canucks picked Cody Hodgson 10th overall in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, and for a while he was easily the most promising prospect in the Vancouver system. He even challenged for ice time during a time when the Canucks were the best team in the league. However, he never got the opportunity he felt he deserved in Vancouver, so he was shipped off to Buffalo for Zack Kassian.
2 Washington Capitals: Sasha Pokulok (14th overall, 2005)
As we’ve stated before, defensemen are hard to gauge, and Sasha Pokulok is living proof. The college defender looked so good in his first season at Cornell in 2004-05 that the Washington Capitals used their 14th overall pick on him in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft. From there, however, most of Pokulok’s career was on the downslide, as he had trouble sticking in the AHL let alone the NHL.
1 Winnipeg Jets: Boris Valabik (10th overall, 2004)
The Atlanta Thrashers were a pretty horrendous team for pretty well the entire time they were stationed in Georgia, and it had a lot to do with their terrible drafting. The 10th overall selection of Boris Valabik is a pretty good example of how they would tend to screw up their picks. Valabik played just 80 games for the Thrashers over three seasons, failing to register a goal and notching seven assists.
The Slovakian eventually did what most faltering Europeans do and he went back home to play pro (who can blame him, really). He currently plays in the Alps Hockey League, which is described on Hockey DB as a European non-elite hockey league that started in 2016. That’s probably why you’ve never heard of it. The Thrashers passed up on Drew Stafford, Devan Dubnyk, and Alexander Radulov to take Valabik.
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