The NHL Entry Draft, held every June a few weeks after the Stanley Cup has been awarded, is always an exciting time for fans. We get to hear our favorite teams call out the names of young prospects who are possibly going to be a part of the future of the club.
Of course the first round is what most people look forward to, as prospects drafted in the top 30 have a much greater chance of becoming impact NHL players than those selected beyond round one. This of course isn’t foolproof (there have been many first-round busts in the past), but it’s a solid, often accurate guideline.
While a first-round boon is always welcome for fans, late-round steals can often prove to be just as much of a game-changer for some teams. It doesn’t happen often, but on a rare occasion franchises can grab future hall-of-famers well beyond the first round. This is always of the utmost importance, because if you want to sustain success as a contender, you have to find late round gems.
Today’s list will take a look at both ends of the spectrum; the biggest busts in the history of the game, as well as the biggest steals. Here they are, listed in reverse order, alternating from “bust” to “steal.” Enjoy:
20 Dud - Hugh Jessiman
It’s not often that you would consider a 12th overall pick who actually played two NHL games as one of the biggest draft busts of all time, but when you consider the fact that Hugh Jessiman was part of the legendary class of 2003, he is more than just a minor disappointment.
The 2003 draft is widely considered to be the best draft class in NHL history, as virtually every first-round pick turned into at least a serviceable NHL player. Nobody selected in 2003's first round played fewer games than Jessiman’s two, and he was sandwiched between all-stars Jeff Carter and Dustin Brown.
The disparity between Jessiman and the rest of the class was so great that only one other player has skated in fewer than 100 NHL games, and that would be 30th overall pick Shawn Belle (20 GP). Oilers draft pick Marc-Antoine Pouliot played the third-least, but he was far clear of Jessimen with 192 GP.
19 Steal - Henrik Zetterberg
Whenever I go back and analyze past drafts, I’m always reminded of just how good the Detroit Red Wings system has been for the past 20-odd years. They have several players represented here on the “steal” side of the list, and the first one to appear is captain Henrik Zetterberg.
Zetterberg slipped all the way down to the seventh round, finally hearing his name called 210th overall in the 1999 NHL Entry Draft. The rest of the NHL would go on to regret passing over Zetterberg multiple times, as he’s one of the most successful and best players to come from the class of ’99.
Zetterberg is finally starting to feel the effects of his age, as his production decreased considerably in the 2015-16 season. Still, the talented Swede has put together quite an impressive career for a seventh-rounder, posting 836 points in his 918 games of action.
18 Dud - Steve Kelly
Steve Kelly appears on this list because of the circumstances of his draft selection just as much as the fact that his stats also make him a bonafide bust. Selected sixth overall by the Edmonton Oilers in 1995, Kelly managed just 21 points in 149 games of NHL action before ditching North America for a career in Europe.
That’s bad enough for a sixth overall pick, but it gets worse when you consider the situation. The 1995 draft was held in Edmonton, and fans at then-Northlands Coliseum were chanting the name of Alberta boy Shane Doan when it came time for the Oilers' pick. Rather than siding with the fans and going for the local talent, GM Glen Sather opted for Kelly.
I don’t have to tell you how terrible of a choice that turned out to be, as Doan just finished a 28 goal season at the age of 39. Twenty-eight is more than triple Kelly’s career goal total of nine.
17 Steal - Doug Gilmour
Don Cherry’s second-favorite player Doug Gilmour is our ninth biggest draft steal of all time, as he was picked by the St. Louis Blues in the seventh round of the 1982 NHL Entry Draft. Gilmour didn’t take long to establish himself as a full-time roster player for the Blues, finding his way into 80 games in 1983-84.
Gilmour’s career later saw him make a trip to Calgary where he won his only Stanley Cup in 1989. He then moved onto Toronto where he had his best scoring seasons (which made Cherry drool over him), and then made stops in New Jersey, Chicago, Buffalo and Montreal before calling it quits in 2003.
Gilmour’s impressive stats speak for themselves; in 1,474 regular season games, Gilmour potted 1,414 points and 1,301 PIMs. In the playoffs he was even more productive, scoring 188 points in 182 games played.
16 Dud - Nail Yakupov
The story on Nail Yakupov is still very much being written, but as of right now he’s shaping up to be one of the bigger busts in NHL history. Yakupov was taken first overall in the shallow draft class of 2012, and he has yet to show he’s capable of handling any real assignment in the NHL on a consistent basis.
Yakupov is now sort of in limbo in Edmonton, as he’s requested a trade out of town but his trade value has diminished to the point where GM Peter Chiarelli can’t find even decent value for the enigmatic Russian winger.
All this goes on while the Oilers perennially wallow at the bottom of the NHL standings, simultaneously watching most of the eight defensemen selected in the top 10 of the 2012 draft help their teams out in big ways (Hampus Lindholm, Morgan Rielly, Jacob Trouba, etc...).
15 Steal - Pavel Datsyuk
Throughout his NHL career, Pavel Datsyuk was always one of the most frustrating players to defend. He’d consistently lead the league in takeaways, often by a landslide, and he was pretty much always be one of the three nominees for the Selke Trophy, winning it three times.
Datsyuk was a gem for the Red Wings, who picked him up in the sixth round of the 1998 NHL Entry Draft, 171st overall. Grabbing a late-round gem like Datsyuk is what helped the Wings remain contenders even as the old guard of Steve Yzerman and Brendan Shanahan's careers were winding down. He just announced his retirement from the NHL, wrapping up an impressive career that saw him notch 918 points in 953 games.
Datsyuk played his whole NHL career as a member of the Detroit Red Wings, and despite the fact that he was dealt to Arizona over the summer in a purely paper transaction, he will always be remembered as one of the great modern-day Red Wings.
14 Dud - Daniel Doré
To be honest, I’d never heard of Daniel Doré before researching this article, but there is a pretty good reason for that: the fifth overall pick from the 1988 NHL Entry Draft only found his way into 17 NHL games, scoring one goal and five points in his career.
It’s possible the Quebec Nordiques selected him for his pugilist-upside, as Doré racked up over 700 PIMs in his three-and-a-half seasons in the QMJHL, mostly as a member of the Drummondville Voltigeurs. Or perhaps Dore was selected so high because of his connection to Quebec—who knows.
Bottom line is Doré was pretty useless wherever he played; his pro career didn’t even go past the 1992-93 season, where he couldn’t even find a home on the AHL’s Hershey Bears. Dore played a few more seasons of pro roller hockey (LOL) before moving into the scouting business. At least that career panned out for him.
13 Steal - Daniel Alfredsson
The greatest Ottawa Senator to ever lace up the skates comes in at number 7 on our list of biggest draft steals. Daniel Alfredsson was picked up by the Sens in the sixth round of the 1994 NHL Entry Draft, 133rd overall.
Alfredsson went on to have an absolutely spectacular career in Canada’s capital city, which is where he stayed for his whole career (aside from one final lonely season in Detroit in 2013-14 to cap off a remarkable career).
His numbers speak for themselves. In 1,246 NHL regular season games, the Swedish winger managed 444 goals, 713 assists to get to 1,157 points. He kept it clean out there as well, spending just 510 minutes in the penalty box.
Alfredsson was the face of the franchise for close to 20 years and is a reason why the Senators were legitimate Stanley Cup contenders through much of the 2000s. While his team came up short in their cup quest, it was no fault of Alfie's.
12 Dud - Jason Bonsignore
Jason Bonsignore has a pretty cool sounding last name, so maybe that’s why GM Glen Sather chose to pick him fourth overall in the 1994 NHL Entry Draft. Of course that’s a joke (a bad one at that), but it’s an explanation to this otherwise inexplicable action taken by the Hall-of-Fame hockey builder.
Lucky for the Oilers they also held the sixth overall pick that season, and with it they chose Ryan Smyth, who obviously worked out quite well for the franchise. Still though, Bonsignore is the only player selected in the top six of 1994 who never featured in an NHL All-Star game; in fact, he played less than a season’s worth of games in his career (79).
Bonsignore’s fall from grace was pretty much immediate, as he actually slightly regressed (from an offensive standpoint) in his final junior season, which was split between Niagara Falls and Sudbury.
11 Steal - Sergei Fedorov
Ranked as the sixth-biggest draft steal of all time is the highest scoring Russian player ever, Sergei Fedorov. Fedorov was snagged by the Detroit Red Wings in the fourth round of the 1989 NHL Entry Draft, 74th overall.
Fedorov would play one more year of pro in Russia before making his way to the NHL, and his impact in Detroit was immediate. He put up 79 points in his rookie season, and never looked back, compiling an impressive 1,179 points in 1,248 career games spread out over Detroit, Anaheim, Columbus, and Washington.
Fedorov is a three-time Stanley Cup Champion with the Red Wings, helping them win in ’97, ’98, and ’02. He has a ton of other hardware to his name, including a Hart Trophy (’94) and two Selke Trophies (’94 and ’96).
Fedorov's success in the NHL was one of the reasons so many Russian players have been able to follow suit. Fedorov is still in hockey, as he is the current general manager of CSKA Moscow in the KHL.
10 Dud - Brian Lawton
First round picks come with a certain set of expectations, but when you’re a first overall pick the expectations are through the roof. That’s why, when a first overall pick even slightly falters, he can easily be considered a bust, relatively speaking.
Brian Lawton went first overall in 1983 to the Minnesota North Stars, and it’s safe to say he was a major disappointment. Lawton only played 483 NHL games, and those were split between six different teams. He didn’t leave much of an impression wherever he went throughout his career.
He finally called it quits after the 1992-93 season, as he spent that year struggling to stay on the roster of the recently-expansion San Jose Sharks. His boxcars are underwhelming for a first overall pick to say the least: 112-154-266.
It must have been painful for Minnesota fans, knowing legends like Pat LaFontaine, Steve Yzerman and Cam Neely were all selected in the top 10 of that year's draft.
9 Steal - Jari Kurri
The Edmonton Oilers enjoyed a dynasty in the ‘80s, winning five championships over a span of seven years. Of course acquiring Wayne Gretzky was a huge reason, but the 1979 and 1980 drafts yielded some incredible players for the Oilers, some of whom were selected well beyond round one.
In the 1980 NHL Entry Draft, Oilers GM Glen Sather called out Jari Kurri’s name in the fourth round, 69th overall. Kurri would of course go on to ride shotgun to Gretzky for the better part of 15 years in Edmonton and L.A., racking up an astonishing 1,398 points in 1,251 NHL games.
Kurri retired as the highest-scoring Finn of all time, but he has since been passed by none other than Teemu Selanne, who bested Kurri by 59 points (but did so in 200 more games). In any event, players like Kurri helped pave the way for more Finns to come enjoy success in the NHL.
8 Dud - Gord Kluzak
Coming in as the fourth biggest draft bust in NHL history is the first overall pick from the 1982 NHL Entry Draft, Gord Kluzak. The Bruins held the coveted top pick of the ’82 draft, and it’s now safe to say they picked a major disappointment.
To be fair to Kluzak, his career was completely derailed thanks to a chronic knee injury that he had surgically repaired an astounding 11 times. He played only a handful of games from 1988-89 to 1990-91 (13 to be exact), and then he finally chose to announce his retirement at the age of 26.
When it was all said and done, Kluzak, played in just 299 NHL games—all with the Bruins—registering a paltry 25 goals and 123 points in the process. He did come close to winning a Cup with the Bruins in 1988, but they ultimately fell short in the Final to the Edmonton Oilers.
7 Steal - Nicklas Lidstrom
Coming in as the fourth biggest draft steal of all time is yet another Red Wing pick—that’s four for you keeping track at home. Nicklas Lidstrom was selected in the third round of the 1989 NHL Entry Draft, 53rd overall.
Sure, 53rd overall doesn’t seem too far down in the draft, but keep in mind that the Red Wings grabbed perhaps a top-three all-time defenseman here, so that can’t be overlooked. Lidstrom has a ton of hardware to prove his greatness, including three Stanley Cups, SEVEN Norris Trophies, a Conn Smythe Trophy and an Olympic Gold Medal.
Lidstrom called it a career after the 2011-12 season, and he currently sits in 5th place all-time in scoring among defensemen, and he sits third in points behind Mats Sundin and Daniel Alfredsson in points by a Swedish-born player.
You could start seeing how this list is a testament to how Detroit was able to remain a Stanley Cup contender for so long, continuously finding these gems in later rounds.
6 Dud - Rick DiPietro
Cracking the top three on the biggest busts of all-time list is goalie Rick DiPietro. Selecting a goalie in the first round is always a dicey proposition, as their development curves are so difficult to predict, especially when they’re 18 years old. In 2000, the Islanders held the top pick and with it they chose goalie Rick DiPietro.
That turned out to be a pretty poor choice for the Isles, as DiPietro never truly established himself as an NHL starter. Adding insult to injury, the Islanders dealt away Roberto Luongo after picking up DiPietro, thinking they now had their goaltender of the future. Needless to say, they were very wrong.
DiPietro most recently played in the NHL in 2012-13 for a quick three games with the Isles, all of which were losses. In the end, Dipietro played in 318 games, and finished with a record of 130-136-8-28.
5 Steal - Luc Robitaille
Lucky Luc Robitaille cracks the top three on our list of the biggest draft steals of all time. Robitaille was drafted by the Los Angeles Kings in the ninth round of the 1984 NHL Entry Draft, and he went on to become the highest-scoring left-winger in NHL history.
Robitaille played most of his NHL career in L.A. (three separate stops there, actually), though he did play seasons in Pittsburgh, New York (Rangers), and Detroit. It didn’t take long for the league to take notice of Robitaille when he broke into the league, as he won the Calder Trophy for rookie of the year in 1987.
Robitaille retired after the 2005-06 season, having played 1,431 regular season games to go with 159 playoff contests. His regular season boxcars are wildly impressive (668-726-1,394), and he added another 127 points in the playoffs. He was able to win his only Stanley Cup late in his career with the Red Wings in 2002.
4 Dud - Patrik Stefan
Another first overall bust comes in at number two on our list, this one in the form of Czech Patrik Stefan. Stefan went first overall to the Atlanta Thrashers in 1999, and you only have to look at the second and third overall picks (the Sedin Twins) to realize just what a bad pick this was.
To be fair here, the class of ’99 was relatively weak, and there were also rumors that the Sedins weren’t prepared to make the move to North America unless they were on the same team. Nonetheless, this was a gaffe by the Thrashers.
Speaking of gaffes, Stefan is perhaps most famous for this one, in which he failed to score on a breakaway on an empty net late in a game in 2006-07, opening the door for the opposing Oilers to tie it up in the dying seconds. Stefan retired from the NHL with 188 points in 455 games played.
3 Steal - Brett Hull
It’s interesting that Brett Hull, son of NHL great Bobby Hull, dropped so far in the NHL Entry Draft. He wasn’t even picked until the third year in which he was eligible, and even then he was selected in the sixth round by the Calgary Flames, 117th overall, despite having just put together a 188 point season in the BCJHL.
Rumor has it that Hull was a bit of a wild one in his teenage years, often staying out partying to all hours of the night and rebelling at any opportunity. Even with that in mind, I find it hard to believe that teams weren’t willing to take a chance on him earlier than Calgary did.
Hull’s career got off to a tumultuous start in Calgary (conditioning and maturity-wise, anyway), and he was soon dealt to St. Louis along with Steve Bozek in 1988 for Rob Ramage and Rick Wamsley. Today, only three other players have scored more goals in the NHL than Hull’s 741.
2 Dud - Alexandre Daigle
It’s true that some other former first overall picks faltered worse than Alexandre Daigle, but none of those above-listed players came with the sure-thing pedigree that Daigle did. In his draft year with the Victoriaville Tigers of the QMJHL, he put up an astonishing 137 points in just 53 games.
For whatever reason, Daigle wasn’t able to make a go of it in the NHL. Oddly enough, he played all of 1993-94 with the Ottawa Senators, yet started the 1994-95 season back in the Q with Victoriaville.
What followed was an NHL career that can best be described as impotent, especially for a first overall pick. What’s funny is that Daigle was quoted prior to the draft as saying he hoped he would first overall because “nobody remembers who gets picked second.” Well, second overall that year was Chris Pronger. Who’s more memorable, in your opinion?
1 Steal - Mark Messier
As mentioned earlier in the Kurri entry, the dynasty Oilers were largely built via the 1979 and 1980 NHL Entry Drafts. In the 1979 draft, Glen Sather called the name of Mark Messier, a man who now sits second all-time in points, only behind longtime teammate Wayne Gretzky.
Messier was selected 48th overall in the third round of the draft, and it didn’t take Moose long to establish himself as a force throughout the league. He had that rare combination of skill and toughness that was so difficult to defend, especially in the run-and-gun 1980s.
Messier’s trophy case is full of relics from his days in the NHL, including six Stanley Cup rings, two Hart Trophies, and a Conn Smythe Trophy. The only blemish on his career are the three seasons he spent in Vancouver, and to be honest that era is only really considered a blemish by butt-hurt Canucks fans. He retired with 1,887 points in 1,756 games—second all-time in both statistical categories.