''I feel relieved the day is over and we made a little history. I was pleasantly surprised to hear my name called.”
That quote belongs to Rick DiPietro.
You know, the New York Islanders’ number one overall pick in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft. The same Rick DiPietro whose once promising career was derailed by a litany of injuries, which ultimately led the Islanders to buy out his mammoth 15-year contract in 2013.
Unfortunately, DiPietro isn’t the only draft pick who failed to meet expectations for his team. There have been many young players since the turn of the century that have either been taken too high for their skill level, or simply never equaled their junior-level production on the NHL-level stage.
This list doesn’t just look at draft busts, like the Rangers’ infamous 2003 first round pick, Hugh Jessiman, but also sheds light on players that had no business going as high as they did. I’m talking about first round selections with, at best, third or fourth round talent.
Sure, it’s never easy to forecast a player’s success at the NHL level, even if he has years of amateur/junior hockey experience under his belt. Some players don’t even get a look with the big club, and forever toil in the minors before they either bolt for Europe or hang up their skates and retire.
Not every team can strike gold with all of its picks, and this list proves it.
Here is every NHL team’s worst draft pick since 2000.
30 Anaheim Ducks - Mark Mitera (19th overall, 2006)
I thought about including the Ducks’ 2001 first round pick, Stanislav Chistov, in this spot, but at least he made it to the NHL.
I can’t say the same for their 2006 first round pick, Mark Mitera. The stay-at-home defenseman spent four years at the University of Michigan and served as team captain for three seasons.
The Ducks hoped Mitera would sure up their back end with size and grit. However, Mitera tore his ACL during his senior season and only played eight games for Michigan that year.
29 Arizona Coyotes - Jakub Koreis (19th overall, 2002)
The Coyotes’ draft fortunes have improved in recent seasons, as they’ve selected Mikkel Boedker, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, and Max Domi. However, they have certainly taken some first round duds. Fredrik Sjostrom comes to mind. The 2001 11th overall pick never amounted to much, but at least he forged a brief NHL career as a fourth liner and penalty killer.
Jakub Koreis didn’t even play an NHL game. However, the Coyotes selected the young Czech in hopes that he could center their top line. He spent the next season playing for the Guelph Storm of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) scoring 38 points in 48 games, and 18 points in 22 playoff games.
28 Boston Bruins - Zach Hamill (8th overall, 2007)
Zach Hamill had all the makings of an NHL star. As a first team All-Star with the Everett Silvertips of the Western Hockey League (WHL), Hamill scored 262 points in 250 WHL games. He also shined for Team Canada in the 2005 U-18 Junior World Cup, scoring five goals in five games.
Unfortunately, Hamill couldn’t break through with the Bruins. He appeared in 20 NHL games over three seasons, and played primarily with the Bruins’ AHL affiliate in Providence.
The Bruins eventually dealt Hamill to Washington in 2012. The Capitals swiftly dealt him to Florida after Hamill again failed to make the team’s roster.
27 Buffalo Sabres - Marek Zagrapan (13th overall, 2005)
The Sabres are extremely lucky to have a franchise center in Jack Eichel. However, in 2005, they had a chance to draft another future star pivot. That draft featured Martin Hanzal, T.J. Oshie, and Paul Stastny. So who’d the Sabres pick? None other than Marek Zagrapan.
It’s a head-scratching pick to say the least, but Zagrapan wasn’t half-bad at the time. He had just come off a 32 goal, 82 point season in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) and was highly-touted.
He began his professional career playing for Buffalo’s AHL affiliate, the Rochester Americans. He never scored more than 21 goals or 49 points in the AHL, and never played an NHL game.
26 Calgary Flames - Matt Pelech (26th overall, 2006)
You could argue Calgary really “flamed out” with their first round choice of Matt Pelech in 2006.
The pick came with some skepticism, as Pelech was known as a stalwart defenseman whose offensive skills were lacking. In fact, in four OHL seasons, Pelech scored a total of six goals.
Yet, with a hulking 6-foot-4, 230 pound frame, Pelech proved a formidable physical force while playing for the Flames’ AHL affiliate. He routinely racked up penalty minutes and built a reputation as an enforcer.
Not exactly what you want from a first rounder, but if it worked at the AHL level, maybe it could translate to the NHL. Alas, that wasn’t the case. He appeared in five games for the Flames during 2008-09 season, registering just three assists.
25 Carolina Hurricanes - Igor Knyazev (15th overall, 2001)
The 2001 draft featured a stellar top ten, including Ilya Kovalchuk (1st) , Jason Spezza (2nd) and Mikko Koivu (6th).
When the Carolina Hurricanes were on the clock at number 15, Jason Pominville, Mike Cammalleri, and Patrick Sharp were still available.
So, of course, the ‘Canes went with Russian defenseman Igor Knyazev. Sarcasm aside, there was nothing funny about this pick. Knyazev spent just two seasons in the minors, scoring three goals and 11 points. Whatever the Hurricanes saw in him before the 2001 draft never materialized at the NHL level.
24 Chicago Blackhawks - Kyle Beach (11th overall, 2008)
You don’t often associate the Chicago Blackhawks with mediocre drafting. For the better part of a decade, the ‘Hawks have built one of the NHL’s premier powerhouse teams with young draftees such as Brent Seabrook, Jonathan Toews, Brandon Saad and Patrick Kane.
However, Kyle Beach wasn’t part of any of these teams. The bruising power forward never reached his potential as the 11th overall pick in 2008.
Beach grew up idolizing Jarome Iginla, and scouts compared him to a young Owen Nolan. Beach toiled in the AHL for six years, never able to earn a call-up to Chicago.
23 Colorado Avalanche - Cameron Gaunce (50th overall, 2008)
Gaunce played minor league hockey with the Markham Waxers of the Ontario Minor Hockey Association (OHMA). He had some famous teammates, including Cody Hodgson and some guy named Steven Stamkos.
However, the defenseman never went on to enjoy the success of Stamkos in the NHL. Despite his second round status, Gaunce showed promise in the AHL, and earned his first call-up midway through the 2010-11 season. He scored his first NHL goal in his third game. However, he was sent back down to the AHL after 11 games.
The Avs traded Gaunce to the Dallas Stars, where he appeared in a mere nine games in 2013-14 before the team sent him back down to the minors.
22 Columbus Blue Jackets - Nikita Filatov (6th overall, 2008)
It’s one thing when a top-10 draft pick doesn’t perform up to expectations. It’s another thing when he brings an attitude problem along with his underwhelming play.
Well, that’s exactly what Nikita Filatov brought to the Columbus Blue Jackets organization when they selected him sixth overall in 2008. The enigmatic Russian winger clashed with head coach Ken Hitchcock on multiple occasions, and refused to buy into his defense-first system. Filatov scored four goals in eight games at the NHL level in 2008-09 before spending the rest of the season in the AHL.
Filatov was disappointed with his lack of ice time during the 2009-10 season, and had the gall to ask for a transfer to CSKA Moscow. After some back-and-forth, Columbus agreed to grant Filatov's request to sign in Russia for the remainder of the season.
21 Dallas Stars - Vojtech Polak (36th overall, 2003)
The Stars originally had the 28th pick in the 2003 draft, but they traded it to the Anaheim Ducks for a pair of second rounders.
One of these second round picks was Vojtech Polak, taken 36th overall. Polak had spent two seasons in a Czech hockey league, and apparently impressed Stars management enough to warrant his second round selection. He scored 12 goals and 34 points with the Iowa Stars of the AHL in 2005, before an impressive preseason landed him on the Dallas Stars’ opening night roster in 2005-06.
However, Polak suited up in just three games for the team that season, and failed to register a single point. He has since returned to Europe.
20 Detroit Red Wings - Dick Axelsson (62 overall, 2006)
I’ve got to give to Axelsson, he has a great name. Yet, that’s the only great thing about his career in the NHL. Axelsson was projected as a second-line winger before the 2006 draft. Scouts praised his offensive instincts, but cautioned teams on his stubborn attitude.
Axelsson played just 17 games for the Grand Rapids Griffins, scoring just two goals and three assists. He was told he’d have to earn a call-up to the Red Wings, and that’s when his inflexibility got the better of him. He requested to return to the Swedish Elite League (SEL). He played five more seasons in Europe for three different teams before signing with HC Davos in Switzerland in 2014.
19 Edmonton Oilers - Alex Plante (15th overall, 2007)
The Oilers seem to find themselves in the draft lottery on a routine basis. They’ve owned the number one pick in both the 2010 and 2012 drafts. Yet, they didn’t win much in the 2007 draft. They had three first round picks, including Alex Plante, whom they took at number 15.
I was originally going to go with Marc-Antoine Pouliot, but Pouliot put up better number in his brief Oilers’ tenure than Plante. The pick taken seven picks later? Montreal Canadiens captain Max Pacioretty.
18 Florida Panthers - Petr Taticek (9th overall, 2002)
Where does one start with Tatichek? Well, first off, he is the only skater selected among the top 14 picks of the 2002 draft to play fewer than 480 games.
The Panthers sent a fourth rounder to Calgary in order to move up to get Tatichek. I’m not sure what the team saw it the young Czech forward, as he only played one season in the OHL prior to his draft. He managed a respectable 21 goals in 60 games, but his totals collapsed once he joined the San Antonio Rampage.
Tatichek never scored more than nine goals in any one of his five AHL seasons. He played just three games for the Panthers during the 2005-2006 season, going scoreless.
17 Los Angeles Kings - Thomas Hickey (4th overall, 2007)
Hickey may not be the biggest bust in Kings’ draft history (like Lauri Tukonen or Jens Karlsson), but he’s right up there.
His selection was controversial at the time, as many scouts didn’t think the defenseman’s talent equated to top-five pick status. His diminutive size raised concerns about durability and his ability to effectively move the puck on the blueline.
After several injury-plagued seasons for the Manchester Monarchs, Hickey was placed on waivers, and picked up by the New York Islanders in 2013. Fortunately, he has since matured into a serviceable defenseman.
16 Minnesota Wild - A.J. Thelen (12th overall, 2004)
There was great excitement in the Wild organization when the team took Minnesota native A.J. Thelen with the 12th overall pick in the 2004 draft.
However, Thelen was kicked off the Michigan State Spartans hockey team the following season for disciplinary reasons, and his fortunes never recovered.
The defensemen journeyed through the WHL, AHL, and ECHL over the next several seasons. In fact, he played just one game for the Wild organization, and that was for their AHL affiliate in Houston.
15 Montreal Canadiens - David Fischer (20th overall, 2006)
Many Habs fans would like to forget the disappointing 2006 draft. Out of all the Canadiens’ picks that year, only Ryan White (66th overall) still plays in the NHL.
However, management had high hopes for 20th overall pick David Fischer. He was lauded for his size and supreme reach with his stick, which the team thought would give them a stalwart defenseman for years to come.
This never came to be. Fischer parted ways with the Canadiens after four disappointing seasons at the University of Minnesota. He signed with the Vancouver Canucks in 2010, but was released after training camp, and never advanced past the AHL level.
Fischer went scoreless in two AHL games in 2011. He has spent the past three seasons playing for Krefeld Pinguine in Germany.
14 Nashville Predators - Ryan Parent (18th overall, 2005)
The Predators have had their fair share of success in the draft. They’ve struck gold with All-Stars like Ryan Suter, Roman Josi, Shea Weber, and Pekka Rinne, and serviceable forwards like Scott Hartnell and Patric Hornqvist.
However, they whiffed when they chose Ryan Parent 18th overall in 2005. Parent came into the draft fresh off three solid seasons with the Guelph Storm of the OHL.
He was known as a defensive defenseman in the mold of Robyn Regehr, yet he never proved it for the Predators. Parent was traded before he played a single game for the team. He was sent to the Flyers in 2007 as part of a package that brought Peter Forsberg to Music City.
13 New Jersey Devils - Matt Corrente (30th overall, 2006)
It seemed the Devils had made the right choice to draft Corrente 30th overall in 2006. The defenseman was fresh off a 30 point season for the Saginaw Spirit, and was named the top defensive prospect in the Devils farm system by The Hockey News in 2007.
Yet, Corrente wasn’t called up to the Devils until 2009, and registered a paltry six assists in 34 games for the team over parts of the next two seasons.
Corrente eventually left the Devils in 2013 and signed with the Carolina Hurricanes. However, he was sent down to the team’s AHL affiliate in Charlotte, where he registered two goals and 11 points.
12 New York Islanders - Rick DiPietro (1st overall, 2000)
DiPietro may not be the biggest bust in NHL draft history, but he’s certainly the most expensive.
DiPietro’s contract with the Islanders may very well be the worst in NHL history. After a promising start to his career, the former number one overall pick signed a 15-year deal worth $67.5 million with the team in 2006. He won a respectable 58 games for the Islanders over the next two seasons.
The deal appeared to be paying off, until a plethora of injuries limited him to just 54 games from 2008-13.
After battling hip and knee injuries, as well as concussion issues, DiPietro chose to retire in 2013, after the Islanders bought out the remainder of his contract. They will continue to pay him until 2029.
11 New York Rangers - Hugh Jessiman, (12th overall, 2003)
The 2003 draft was perhaps the deepest of the past 20 years. Zach Parise, Brent Burns, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, and Mike Richards were all taken outside the top ten. So when the Rangers chose Dartmouth College forward Hugh Jessiman 12th overall, many fans didn’t know what a disaster GM Glen Sather had gotten himself into. The 6-foot-6, 230 winger had a standout 23 goal, 47 point freshman season at Dartmouth, and New York jumped at the chance to take him.
However, Jessiman never panned out, toiling in the minor leagues for years while his fellow draft brethren flourished. The Rangers eventually dealt him to the Nashville Predators in 2008. Jessiman didn’t even make his NHL debut until 2011, when he dressed for the Florida Panthers.
After a few more seasons bouncing around the AHL, Jessiman signed in the KHL in 2013. He last played in the Austrian Hockey League in 2015.
10 Ottawa Senators - Brian Lee (9th overall, 2005)
Anze Kopitar was still available when the Ottawa Senators grabbed Brian Lee with the ninth overall pick in 2005. Lee was projected as a mid-second round talent, so when the Senators took him in the top 10, a few eyebrows were raised. Even after standout seasons playing junior hockey in Minnesota, teams were hesitant to take the young defenseman.
Those doubts proved credible, as Lee played 177 games for Ottawa over the next five seasons after his initial call-up in 2007. He scored five goals and 31 assists.
Given his inability to crack the Senators’ top-six defensive core, Lee was traded to Tampa Bay in 2012. He appeared in 44 games for the Lightning over the next two seasons, registering eight assists.
A 2013 ACL injury resulted in his eventual release from the team. He retired from professional hockey in December 2014.
9 Philadelphia Flyers - Kevin Marshall (41st overall, 2007)
Imagine the pain of trading a second round pick for an eighth round pick. Well, that’s exactly what the Philadelphia Flyers had to do with second rounder Kevin Marshall in 2012 after several mediocre seasons in the AHL.
For a little context, the Flyers took Marshall with the 41st pick in the 2007 draft. He spent most of the next three seasons with the team’s AHL affiliate in Glen Falls, New York. The defenseman scored seven goals in three AHL seasons, but finally made his NHL debut in November 2011 against the Carolina Hurricanes.
Marshall went scoreless in 10 games, and the Flyers cut ties with him shortly thereafter. The team traded Marshall to the Washington Capitals for aforementioned eighth round pick, Matt Ford.
8 Pittsburgh Penguins - Angelo Esposito (20th overall, 2007)
There was plenty of buzz around Esposito heading into the 2007 draft. His last name caused a buzz in hockey circles, as did his stellar point totals for the Quebec Remparts of the QMJHL. However, it turns out Angelo Esposito didn't have the talent of his Hall-of-Fame father Phil Esposito, and his point totals in the AHL proved it.
He scored just 10 goals and 38 points in 124 games at the AHL level. Perhaps the most valuable role Esposito played for the Penguins was his inclusion in a trade package that brought Marian Hossa and Pascal Dupuis to Pittsburgh for the team’s run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2008.
7 St. Louis Blues - Shawn Belle (30th overall, 2003)
The St. Louis Blues' 2003 draft wasn’t a total disaster, as they struck gold with David Backes at number 62.
I’m sure they still regret their selection of defenseman Shawn Belle at number 30. The highly-touted defensemen put up great numbers for the Tri-City Americans of the WHL, including a sparkling 13 goal, 45 point season in 2003-04, the season after he was drafted. Belle’s production had Blues’ fans excited for what he could bring to the St. Louis blueline.
Management must’ve felt differently, as they dealt Belle to the Dallas Stars in June of 2004 for goaltending prospect Jason Bacashihua. Belle played 45 games at the AHL level before being shipped to Minnesota, where he finally made his NHL debut in 2007.
Belle couldn’t stick with Minnesota and moved on to the Canadiens and Oilers before leaving the NHL altogether in 2011. Belle spent the next few seasons playing in Europe before agreeing to an assistant coach role in the Alberta Junior Hockey League.
6 San Jose Sharks - Mike Morris (27th overall, 2002)
I agree that Devin Setoguchi is a bigger bust than Morris, considering his draft position. Yet, Setoguchi still enjoyed some level of success at the NHL level. He had a respectable 30 goal season with Joe Thornton in 2008-09.
Morris is one of only first round picks in Sharks team history to never suit up for a single NHL game. He was a teenage star for his prep school hockey team in Massachusetts, and played college hockey for Northeastern University.
However, Morris suffered a concussion before his senior season in 2005, and struggled to stay healthy into his professional career. He played for the Wooster Sharks of the AHL for two seasons, but only registered 13 points in 26 games from 2007-2009.
The Sharks released Morris from his contract, and the young forward retired shortly thereafter.
5 Tampa Bay Lightning - Andy Rogers (30th overall, 2004)
I almost put Alex Svitov in this spot, but Rogers takes the cake for Tampa Bay. The 6'5", 210-pound blueliner was one of just two players selected in the first round of the 2004 draft to never suit up for an NHL game.
Sure, the Capitals took Mike Green at number 29 (one pick before Rogers), but the Lightning should’ve had a better Plan B than to take the underachieving WHL defenseman. Rogers potted just 2 goals and 12 points in 107 games for the Calgary Hitmen. What exactly Tampa Bay management saw in him, I’m not sure.
4 Toronto Maple Leafs - Justin Pogge (90th overall, 2004)
Is Pogge a worse Leafs’ pick than Tyler Biggs? It was a toss up for me, but what makes Pogge more of a disappointment is that his career wasn’t ruined by injuries, as was the case with Biggs.
The Leafs aren’t exactly known for their stellar goaltending. They hoped to fix that issue back in 2004 when they selected the Canadian netminder in the third round. Pogge had 17 wins, 2.83 GAA and a .900 SV% for the WHL’s Prince George Cougars the previous season.
Those stats don’t scream “elite” when you look at them. However, Pogge rebounded the following season by posting 11 shutouts to earn top WHL goaltender honors for the year.
However, that success never carried over to the NHL. Pogge started just seven games for the Leafs during the 2008-09 season before he was traded to the Anaheim Ducks. He bounced around the AHL before signing his first European contract in Italy in 2012.
3 Vancouver Canucks - Patrick White (25th overall, 2007)
The Canucks mined some gems in the draft over the past 16 years. Vancouver selected stars like Cory Schneider, Ryan Kesler, and Kevin Bieksa.
They’ve also come up empty with duds like Patrick White, whom they selected with the 25th pick in the 2007 draft. For some reason, the Canucks passed on David Perron. The team figured White’s 18 goals at the high-school level that season for the Grand Rapids Thunderhawks justified his selection.
Well, White never showed much promise during his career. He scored just 27 goals over the next four seasons playing college hockey for the University of Minnesota.
He never played an NHL game for the Canucks, and was shipped south to San Jose in 2009 in a trade package that brought Christian Ehrhoff and Brad Lukowich to Vancouver.
2 Washington Capitals - Chris Bourque (33rd overall, 2004)
The Capitals’ 2004 draft was actually very successful. They took Alex Ovechkin first overall and Mike Green 29th overall. Ovechkin and Green both turned out to be “boom” picks.
One would think that anyone related to Hall-of-Fame defenseman Ray Bourque would be successful at the NHL level. It’s just in the DNA, right? Wrong. The Caps’ 33rd overall pick that year, Chris Bourque, had talent. It just wasn’t NHL talent.
The young center proved to be a point-per-game AHL player. He scored 131 goals and 393 points in 392 games for the Hershey Bears from 2005-2012. He even stepped up in the Calder Cup Playoffs, with 16 goals and 64 points in 73 career playoff games.
Bourque couldn’t replicate his point-per-game production on the NHL stage. He played 13 games in two separate stints for the Capitals from 2007-2010. He scored just one goal. After a brief tenure in Europe, Bourque returned to North America in 2012, and played 18 games for the Boston Bruins, tallying one goals and three assists.
1 Atlanta Thrashers/Winnipeg Jets - Riley Holzapfel, 43rd overall, 2006)
I would’ve chosen a Jets draft pick, but the recently relocated franchise is too young to declare any of their picks true disappointments just yet. Thus, I went back through Atlanta Thrashers’ history for the worst picks from the franchise.
Low and behold, I found Riley Holzapfel, Atlanta’s second round pick taken 43rd overall. Hopzapfel never appeared in an NHL game, and was eventually traded to Anaheim after playing in the AHL for several seasons. The Ducks didn’t have patience for Hopzapfel’s slow development either, and released him after one season with their AHL affiliate, the Syracuse Crunch.
He spent one season with the Penguins’ AHL affiliate before signing in the Swedish Hockey League in 2013.
Holzapfel currently plays for the Vienna Capitals of the Austrian Hockey League.
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