The life of an NHL general manager is often times a thankless job with very little room for error. It’s only when things take a turn for the worse that a GM's name begins finding its way into headlines - when teams are playing well, it’s the players and coaches who get the majority of praise. Nobody looks at the architect who builds the great team.
The NHL of today, as compared to past eras, puts much more emphasis on the annual entry draft. In a cap world, a team and GMs ability to build and shape a championship roster depends heavily on their draft success. The foundation of most teams comes via the draft and it’s then up to the GM to fill in the blanks with trades and savvy free-agent signings. This means every move has great significance on the future of the franchise. One bust could be the difference between glory and abject failure.
With so much riding on the success of their draft picks, teams need to make every possible effort to ensure their scouts (the ‘crystal ball’ holders within organizations) are in-touch with draft eligible players and their respective skill sets. Obviously as you get into later rounds, the odds of finding a diamond in the rough get slimmer (great article on the numbers here). With that in mind, let’s take a look at 20 instances where NHL teams MISSED on a draft pick, only to have a superstar selected right after…
20 New Jersey Devils: Barry Tallackson (Duncan Keith)
Kicking things off, we have the 2002 New Jersey Devils who were coming off a first-round playoff exit. The Devils, known for being a low-scoring team were in need of more offensive firepower, especially on the wing. In round 2, with the 53rd pick, the Devils selected RW Barry Tallackson out of the University of Minnesota. His career spanned only 11 games across 4 seasons. Later, he would move to Germany and play six seasons with Eisbären Berlin. Presently, he plays for the Oji Eagles in the Asian league.
Adding insult to injury were the Chicago Blackhawks who, with the next pick (54th overall) selected Duncan Keith. A two-time Norris trophy winner, three time Stanley Cup, a Conn Smythe winner in 2014-2015, and a two-time Olympic Gold Medalist, Keith has quite the hockey resume. The Devils won the Stanley Cup in 2003, so it could have been worse.
19 New York Islanders: Dmitri Chernykh (Shea Weber)
In 2003, the New York Islanders drafted Dmitri Chernykh. Chernykh never played a single game in the NHL, instead playing most of his career in second and third tier Russian leagues with some KHL time sprinkled in. His lone season in North America came in the ECHOL with the Dayton Bombers - 37 games, 9 points, and a one-way ticket back to Russia.
To make matters worse, the Nashville Predators, with the very next pick, went on to select a guy named Shea Weber. Weber has played in multiple Olympics, been named an NHL All-Star four times and is widely respected around the league for being a leader and a force on the ice. The blockbuster trade that saw him and P.K. Subban switch cities left many stunned, but one player who was thrilled with the news was Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews who upon hearing of the trade tweeted this.
18 Minnesota Wild: Benoit Pouliot (Carey Price)
Going into the ‘05 draft, the Minnesota Wild’s goaltenders were Dwayne Roloson (coming off a career year featuring a .933 SV% & 1.88 GAA) and Manny Fernandez. They owned the 4th overall pick in the draft, a pick far too valuable to spend on a goalie, right? Well, it was that kind of thinking that caused Minnesota to make Benoit Pouliot the 4th overall selection. Pouliot’s career is creeping up to 600 games, and it’s been ‘meh’ (and that’s me being polite). Pouliot’s been a total bust through his episode of deceptive longevity. Presently playing for the Buffalo Sabres, a team known for its battle with perpetual disappointment (also the answer to the question “Who was Benoit Pouliot’s SEVENTH NHL team?”), Pouliot is in the perfect place to continue his mediocrity. As for who went #5 overall in 2005… just a guy named Carey Price.
17 Winnipeg Jets: Aaron Ward (Peter Forsberg)
After drafting Teemu Selanne, Stu Barnes, and Keith Tkachuk in consecutive years, you had to figure the Jets were due for a miss. Holding the 5th overall pick, the Jets selected Aaron Ward. Immediately after Ward, Philadelphia Flyers took their selection… a centre from Sweden named Peter Forsberg. Forsberg’s successes in the NHL are well documented (despite playing in fewer games than Ward, his production dwarfed that of Wards).
The Forsberg pick was highly criticized by the Philadelphia media, as he was thought to be a late first, early second-round pick. Ultimately, Forsberg would be included in one of the most one-sided trades in league history, with the Flyers sending SIX players (one of which was Forsberg), two draft-picks and $15 million to the Nordiques for Eric Lindros. The Jets loss was the Flyers gain, followed by pain and eventually led to an era of dominance by the Nordiques/Avalanche.
16 Winnipeg Jets: Pat Elynuik (Brian Leetch)
Sticking with the Jets, we go back to 1986. Admittedly, to call Pat Elynuik a bust may be unfair based on his production. The Jets selected Elynuik 8th overall in 1986. In his final two seasons with the Prince Albert Raiders, he was a monster, putting up 219 points in 132 games. His first two professional seasons saw him split time between the NHL & AHL, but he would wind up becoming an NHL regular for the 1988-89 season. In five seasons with the Jets, Elynuik played in 289 regular-season games, putting up 244 points --- hardly BUST material, right??
The next pick in the draft (8th overall) just so happened to be future Hall-of-Famer Brian Leetch, who like Elynuik, was an offensive blue liner. Leetch would go on to have a dominant 19-year NHL career: 1994 Stanley Cup Winner, Conn Smythe winner in the same season, two Norris trophies and a Calder trophy in his rookie season.
15 Los Angeles Kings: Konstantin Pushkaryev (Patrice Bergeron)
Kazakhstan has never been known for its exporting of high quality hockey talent. Now I understand there are exceptions to every rule, but the 2003 draft did not bring said exception with it, at least not for the Los Angeles Kings.
The Kings entered the draft having finished the season 3rd in the Pacific Division. They had many holes to fill, including fortifying the middle. Unfortunately, the Kings opted for Kazakhstani right-winger Konstantin Pushkaryev with the 44th pick. The Kings’ loss was the Bruins’ gain, as they wound up being able to draft Patrice Bergeron with the very next pick. In his first NHL season, Bergeron would wind up playing in 71 games, putting up 39 points in those contests. Since entering the league, Bergeron has been an elite centre, evidenced by his two Olympic gold-medals, a 2011 Stanley Cup, and several individual awards and achievements. Pushkaryev’s NHL career --- 17 games played, 5 points.
14 Carolina Hurricanes: Zach Boychuk (Erik Karlsson)
The Hurricanes made one of the biggest draft blunders with their 2008 draft pick. Possessing the 14th overall pick, Carolina selected Zach Boychuk from the Western Hockey League’s Lethbridge Hurricanes. All signs pointed to him being worthy of the selection. However, he would falter at the professional level, lasting only 127 games. He would bounce around to Pittsburgh and Nashville before returning briefly to Carolina. Eventually, Boychuk would leave his post to play in the KHL. Presently, he’s playing for HC Slovan Bratislava and so far for this season, he’s produced 17 points in 14 games.
What, apart from the evident lack of production, made the selection of Boychuk so dumb you ask?! The Ottawa Senators, with the very next pick, selected Erik Karlsson. Karlsson, at only 27 years old, has already won two Norris trophies and is widely regarded as the best offensive defenseman in the NHL.
13 Hartford Whalers: Blair Atcheynum (Nicklas Lidstrom)
They were the Whalers before they became the Hurricanes. Despite playing under a different name, the 1989 Whalers suffered from the same draft ineptitude that would eventually plague the Hurricanes in 2008. Late in the second-round (52nd overall) of the ’89 draft, the Whalers announced the selection of Blair Atcheynum. Atcheynum would eventually wind up being selected by the new Ottawa Senators in the 1992 expansion draft, having never played an NHL game for Hartford. His NHL career lasted only 196 games.
The Detroit Red Wings would follow the Whalers in the 1989 draft, and with the 53rd overall pick, would make Nicklas Lidstrom the newest member of the original six franchise. Imagine that? Passing on perhaps the game’s greatest defenseman NOT NAMED BOBBY ORR for Blair Atcheynum. Tough pill to swallow.
12 Chicago Blackhawks: Jay Ness (Doug Gilmour)
The Blackhawks, for all their recent success, have authored countless failures over the course of their NHL existence. Let’s go back to 1982... It was late in the draft, and the Blackhawks had the 133rd pick in the seventh-round. The Blackhawks took a flier on Jay Ness, a defenseman from the University of North Dakota. Presently, he and I (and most people reading this) are tied for NHL games played with… ZERO! Suffice to say, Jay Ness was a complete bust, regardless of draft position. The St. Louis Blues would follow the Blackhawks and wound up miraculously winning at Ring Toss when they selected Doug Gilmour with the 134th pick. Gilmour, as most know, would go on to have a Hall of Fame career, and become entrenched in Toronto Maple Leaf lore. As for Jay Ness, I think he’s bagging groceries somewhere.
11 New York Rangers: Chris Kontos (Dave Andreychuk)
Owning the 15th overall selection in the 1982 draft, Herb Brooks’ New York Rangers selected Chris Kontos from the OHL’s Toronto Marlboros. Kontos would finish his rookie season having played 44 games, producing 15 points. He would go on to play nine seasons, splitting time with the Rangers, Penguins, Kings, and Lightning, and finishing with 123 points in 230 total games played. He did have TWO career hat tricks, so I guess that’s a silver lining. With the very next pick in the draft (16th overall), the Buffalo Sabres selected Dave Andreychuk. Apart from being the NHL’s all-time leader in power-play goals (274), Andreychuk would go on to play in 1639 regular-season games (1338 points), and 162 playoff games (97 points). He would captain the 2003-2004 Tampa Bay Lightning to a Stanley Cup victory, and in 2017 became a member of Hockey’s Hall of Fame.
10 Anaheim Ducks: Eric Tangradi (PK Subban)
The team made famous by a Disney movie could’ve benefitted from Gordon Bombay’s eye for talent during the 2007 draft. The Ducks, after selecting bust Logan MacMillan in round one, chose Eric Tangradi with their second-round pick (42nd overall). Before he even got to make his debut, the Ducks traded Tangradi to the Pittsburgh Penguins where he would begin his professional career. For his NHL career, Tangradi appeared in 144 regular-season games, racking up a gaudy 15 points.
As for the player to follow Tangradi in the 2007 draft… well, the Montreal Canadiens would call upon P.K. Subban, making him the 43rd selection. Subban’s career, including the controversial trade that sent him out of Montreal in 2016, has been well documented. On the ice, Subban is an undisputed superstar, having won the Norris Trophy in the lockout-shortened season. Drafting a career AHL’er one spot ahead of PK Subban can’t feel great if you’re a Ducks fan.
9 Dallas Stars: Rich Clune (Jonathan Quick)
A career that failed to produce 10 goals (7), or Jonathan Quick? The Dallas Stars drafted Rich Clune in round three of the 2005 entry draft (71st overall). For his career, Clune averaged 8:35 of ice-time per game. He did finish top-10 in penalty minutes twice, so that’s something…
The very next pick, 72nd overall, wound up being Jonathan Quick. Multiple Olympic selections, 2x Stanley Cup champion, Conn Smythe winner, and William M. Jennings recipient, Quick has been a big a superstar the ‘blue paint’ has seen in the modern NHL era. Sporting a career .916 SV% to go along with a 2.27 GAA, Quick has been arguably the Kings MVP going on 10 seasons, apart from an injury plagued 2016-2017 season.
8 Los Angeles Kings: Derek Forbort (Vladimir Tarasenko)
Derek Forbort was the 15th overall selection in 2010. Forbort currently plays an average of just over 21 minutes a night for the Los Angeles Kings, the team that drafted him. He’s even a plus player (this season, and for his career). Last season, he played in all 82 games. In saying all this, calling Forbort a ‘bust’ would be harsh to say the least.
While the Kings have had sustained success since the 2010 draft, including winning not one, but two Stanley Cups, few could argue they would’ve rather taken Vladimir Tarasenko, who was chosen 16th overall by the St. Louis Blues. Goals are at such a premium in today’s NHL, especially when you consider the scoring drought that’s plagued the league in recent seasons and the Tarasenk-SHOW has lit the lamp 157 times already in his career. Forbort is by no means a bad player, but Tarasenko is obviously on a whole other level.
7 Carolina Hurricanes: Haydn Fleury (William Nylander)
In 2014, the Carolina Hurricanes were coming off a year that saw them struggle to score goals. Given their offensive limitations, it would’ve made sense for them to target a difference maker. Rather than make the sensible choice, the Hurricanes selected Haydn Fleury 7th overall. A defensive defenseman. So far this season, he has played in 21 games, picking up four assists in the process.
The Maple Leafs selected C/RW William Nylander, son of former NHLer Michael Nylander, following the Hurricanes’ selection of Fleury. Nylander, along with Toronto born Mitch Marner, and 2016 first overall selection Auston Matthews have Mike Babcock’s Maple Leafs positioned for sustained success. Nylander is playing in his second full NHL season (2015-2016 was more of a teaser season for Nylander). For his career, Nylander has played in 128 games, and produced 90 points (32G and 58A).
6 Toronto Maple Leafs: Gary Nylund (Scott Stevens/Phil Housley)
All the way back in 1982 (that draft’s 3rd appearance on this list), Toronto drafted Gary Nylund 3rd overall to help bolster their defensive core. What followed were years of minus hockey and production that, when compared to possible alternatives, will leave Maple Leaf fans wondering what could’ve been. Nylund, after a rookie season that lasted all of 16 games, featured more as a regular in his second season with Toronto.
Up to this point, all picks have been in succession. In this instance, Nylund was chosen 3rd overall by the Leafs. Skipping the 4th selection (Ron Sutter), we arrive at the 5th pick, held by the Washington Capitals. The Capitals would select Scott Stevens. Right after the Stevens’ selection, the Buffalo Sabres would take Phil Housley. Not one, but two Hall of Fame defenseman taken in succession after the Leafs drafted Gary Nylund. Ouch.
5 Montreal Canadiens: Doug Wickenheiser (Denis Savard)
The Montreal Canadiens, in 1980, had the (dis)honourable task of leading off the draft festivities. A market that, since the beginning of time, has not been shy to disclose their preference for French Canadian talent over any and all alternatives. The Canadiens made Doug Wickenheiser the first overall selection after his two seasons in the Western Hockey League, playing for the Regina Pats. A star in junior, Wickenheiser appeared in 556 NHL games, but only managed 276 points (0.50 PPG).
Skipping ahead two picks (2nd overall selection was Dave Babych), the Blackhawks took French Canadian superstar Denis Savard. Savard having played in 1196 regular-season games (producing 1.12 PPG), and 169 post-season games (1.04 PPG) was a dynamic superstar in the 1980s. Known for his shiftiness, speed, and ability to get fans out of their seats, Savard was everything the Canadiens fan base craved in a player.
4 Calgary Flames: Tyler Wotherspoon (Nikita Kucherov)
Apart from seemingly having his last name spelt incorrectly at birth, Tyler Wotherspoon is also known for being drafted one spot in front of Nikita Kucherov. Wotherspoon, playing parts of 4 seasons with the Flames, has featured in 30 NHL games compared to 236 in the American Hockey League. Kucherov on the other hand sits second in the league in goals (17), trailing only Alexander Ovechkin (18) and has 34 points in 23 games this season. For his career, he has 125 goals, and 268 points in 308 games. He’s also proven himself to be a capable playoff performer, producing 42 points in 45 career post-season games. Kucherov is as big a star in the league right now, and Wotherspoon is still riding buses and confusing people with the spelling of his name.
3 Carolina Hurricanes: Gregory Hofmann (Johnny Gaudreau)
In 2011, in the 4th round (103rd overall), the Hurricanes selected Swiss born centre Gregory Hofmann. To date, Hoffman has yet to play a game in the NHL despite participating in Hurricane’s training camp as recently as this year. Away from North America, Hofmann has played for HC Lugano of the Swiss League, tallying 162 points in 322 career games.
The 104th selection of the 2011 draft has been tearing up the NHL with his slick hands and dynamic playmaking skills. Did I mention he’s built like a hobbit? ‘Johnny Hockey’ Gaudreau was drafted one spot behind Hofmann and to date has produced 238 points in 255 regular season games. In addition, he’s experienced post-season hockey twice, 15 games in total and tallied 11 points in those appearances. One year into a six-year, $40.5 million deal, Gaudreau is playing like a superstar.
2 Montreal Canadiens: Thomas Rundqvist (Dominik Hasek)
We go back to 1983, in the 10TH ROUND (now, there are only 7 rounds), and with the 198th overall selection, the Habs ‘shot in the dark’ hit Thomas Rundqvist. You’ll notice Rundqvist played all of two NHL games (he did tally a helper in one of those games). A bust through and through, regardless of draft position, the Swedish born winger never factored into the North American hockey scene. The same could not be said for the 199th selection in 1983. The Canadiens missed out on Dominik Hasek, who was drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks. Hasek would only play in 25 games with the Hawks before moving onto Buffalo via trade where he began one of the most decorated (and unorthodox) careers for a goaltender the NHL had ever seen. Stanley Cups, MVPs, Vezina trophies, Hasek won them all (and then some). Ultimately, in 2015, Hasek was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
1 St. Louis Blues: Toby Ducolon (Patrick Roy)
Skipping ahead one season to the 1984 draft, we will end this list picking on the St. Louis Blues. In the 3rd round, with the 50th overall pick, the Blues nabbed American born Toby Ducolon. Like several other ‘busts’ on this list, Ducolon would wind up never playing an NHL game. He would play four years at the University of Vermont (85 points in 118 games) before playing two seasons in the International Hockey League for the Peoria Rivermen (75 points in 135 games).
Having missed out on Dominik Hasek the year prior, the Montreal Canadiens would not make the same mistake twice. Ecstatic that the Blues had drafted Ducolon, the Canadiens wasted no time drafting Patrick Roy 51st overall. Roy’s successes include being a 4x Stanley Cup champion, 3x Vezina & Conn Smythe winner, a 5x Jennings winner and a member of the 2006 Hall of Fame class. Arguably the greatest goalie to ever play the game, Roy turned in a much better NHL showing than no show Toby Ducolon.