Pavel Brendl was considered by many as a can't miss prospect.
Well as it turns out, Brendl couldn’t play, at least not at the NHL level. The Rangers’ first-round pick (fourth overall) in 1999 scored 11 goals in 78 NHL games. The kicker? Brendl wasn’t even the most disappointing player to come out of that year’s draft class.
The point is that it’s tough to forecast how a prospect’s junior level talent will translate on the NHL stage. Professional skaters are bigger, faster, and more skillful than their amateur-level counterparts. Many highly-touted players fizzle out amidst the unforgiving ferocity that is NHL hockey.
There have certainly been diamonds in the rough over the past 20 drafts. Think of stars like Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Ryan Miller, Henrik Lundqvist, Joe Pavelski, Dustin Byfuglien, and Jamie Benn. All these players were taken outside the top 50 in their respective drafts.
Yet, for every Pavel Datsyuk, there is an Alexander Svitov. For every Henrik Lundqvist, there is a Rick DiPietro. For every Jamie Benn, there is a Patrik Stefan.
Since it’s too early to cast any of the 2016 draftees as “disappointments” just yet, I explore the biggest disappointments of the 1996-2015 NHL drafts.
21 2015 - Lawson Crouse
The early successes of Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel will bode well for the rest of the 2015 NHL Draft class. However, 11th overall pick Lawson Crouse hasn’t enjoyed the same level of production for his team thus far.
The Florida Panthers forward was a point-per-game player during his final season for the Kingston Frontenacs of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL). His nine-goal, 11 point performance for the team that postseason led the Panthers to jump at the chance to take him.
However, Crouse failed to make the Panthers roster out of training camp after signing a three-year contract with the team. He was held scoreless in his two games at the AHL level and was dealt to Arizona in August 2016 for draft picks in 2017 and 2018.
It remains to be seen whether Crouse can forge a successful NHL career, but given his pre-draft hype, and subsequent failure to make the main roster, he doesn’t exactly have a head start on that task.
20 2014 - Michael Dal Colle
The Islanders struck out big time with Rick DiPietro in 2000 and hit a home run with John Tavares in 2009. Michael Dal Colle is still a question mark. The left winger was taken fifth overall in 2014, 10 picks ahead of Red Wings’ star Dylan Larkin and 16 picks ahead of St. Louis Blues stud Robby Fabbri.
The Ontario native enjoyed a stellar career in the OHL, finishing with 316 points in 246 games. He played the end of the 2015-16 with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers of the AHL, going scoreless in the team’s final three regular-season games, and contributing one assist in three postseason games.
This past summer, he failed to make the Islanders roster out of training camp, despite praise from Sound Tigers coach Brent Thompson that he had bulked up and was stronger on the puck.
If Dal Colle improves this season for Bridgeport, expect a mid to late season call-up for the young skater, who could find himself on John Tavares’ wing by season’s end.
19 2013 - Darnell Nurse
The Oilers haven’t had a formidable power play quarterback since Sheldon Souray left the team. They hoped top prospect Darnell Nurse could fill that role when they selected him seventh overall in 2013. The 6-foot-1, 205-pound defenseman was fresh off a 12-goal, 41 point season, but was the only prospect drafted among the top eight NOT to make his club’s opening night roster. He played another year in the OHL, scoring a career-high 13 goals and 50 points.
Nurse was finally called up to Edmonton in late October 2015 and scored his first NHL goal in his third game. He finished his rookie campaign with three goals and seven assists for just 10 points in 69 games. He was also suspended for three games in March after sucker punching Sharks’ forward Roman Polak.
He rebounded in the 2016-17 season, scoring two goals and two assists through the team’s first 13 games, but it’s not clear whether he can maintain that level of production.
18 2012 - Nail Yakupov
It seems the Oilers have had a ton of top five picks in recent years. While top prospects like Connor McDavid and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins are already paying dividends, some other top picks have flopped. The 2012 first overall pick Nail Yakupov is one such bust. He never lived up to expectations in Edmonton. Yakupov had several different coaches during his Oilers career, from Dallas Eakins to Todd McClellan, and couldn’t succeed under any of them.
Yakupov started his career off well and led all rookies with 17 goals during the 2012-13 season. However, he hasn’t scored more than 14 goals in any of his three seasons since.
Yakupov provided solid production early in the 2015-16 season playing on a line with fellow top pick Connor McDavid. However, after McDavid went down with a collarbone injury in November, Yakupov’s production plummeted. He scored just eight goals and 23 points in 60 games.
The Oilers dealt Yakupov to the St. Louis Blues before the 2016-17 season. So far, Yakupov has notched two goals and two assists through the Blues’ first 13 games. With an experienced coach in Ken Hitchcock and an elite center in Vladimir Tarasenko, Yakupov hopes to revive his career in St. Louis.
17 2011 - Joel Armia
The Finnish native was taken with the 16th overall pick of the 2011 draft. Armia had a promising start to the 2014-15 season in the AHL and was called up to the Sabres that December to help bolster the team’s offense.
However, he played in just one game for the team before his eventual trade less than three months later. Armia was dealt to Winnipeg in a trade package that brought Evander Kane and Zach Bogosian to Buffalo.
Armia began the 2015-16 season in the AHL but played 43 games for the Jets that season. He only scored 10 points. He has one goal and four points through his first 10 games of the 2016-17 season. Given that Armia is averaging is over 16 minutes of ice time per game, these totals are, at the very least, underwhelming.
16 2010 - Jack Campbell
After the Stars’ misfire on Scott Glennie in 2009, you would think that they would get their first round pick right in 2010. Unfortunately, their bad luck continued given how 11th overall pick Jack Campbell panned out.
The 6-foot-3 goaltender had the size to be successful in the NHL. He won 12 of his 16 starts for the AHL’s Texas Stars during the 2013-14 season and posted four shutouts. Campbell’s solid play impressed team management, and he earned a call-up that season. However, he gave up six goals to the Anaheim Ducks and was sent back down to the minors for the rest of that season.
Despite a respectable 14-5 record in 20 games for the Stars’ ECHL affiliate, Campbell wasn’t progressing within the organization. He was traded to the Los Angeles Kings in June 2016.
Campbell made his Kings debut on November 1, 2016 against the Ducks, and stopped all five shots he faced in relief of Peter Budaj.
15 2009 - Scott Glennie
Glennie impressed many scouts with his prolific success in the WHL. The NHL Scouting Bureau ranked him seventh amongst North American skaters heading into the 2009 draft. The Stars selected him eighth overall, ahead of Chris Kreider and Kyle Palmieri.
It’s safe to say the team likely regrets that decision today, as Glennie has played just one game for them since 2009. He has spent the entirety of his professional career playing for the Texas Stars of the AHL, where he wasn’t even scoring at a point-per-game pace.
The Stars decided not to renew Glennie’s contract after a disappointing 2014-15 season in the minors. He sat out the 2015-16 season while recovering from injury, and signed with the AHL’s Manitoba Moose.
The Stars still have a talented young roster with players like Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, Cody Eakin, and John Klingberg. Yet, one can imagine how much better they’d be if Glennie fully developed into the stud he was projected to be.
14 2008 - Nikita Filatov
There are many talented, hardworking Russian players in the NHL today. These skaters don’t deserve the “lazy, uninspired, enigmatic” stereotype that hounds some Russian forwards. Yet, one forward that fits directly into that stereotype is former 2008 sixth overall pick, Nikita Filatov.
The Columbus Blue Jackets expected the right winger to perform up to his pre-draft status as the top-ranked European skater, but Filatov had other ideas.
He soon built a reputation as a one-dimensional player and found himself in coach Ken Hitchcock’s doghouse for lack of defensive effort. Filatov scored four goals in eight games in 2008-09, but continued to clash with Hitchcock, and was demoted to the AHL for the rest of the season as punishment.
After being benched for six of the Blue Jackets’ first 18 games of 2009-10, Filatov asked for a transfer to CSKA Moscow in the KHL. After another failed tenure in Columbus under new coach Scott Arniel in 2010, Filatov was shipped off to Ottawa. He played just nine games for the Senators before being sent down to the AHL.
Filatov’s NHL totals? Six goals and eight assists in 53 games. Ugh.
13 2007 - Keaton Ellerby
Much like the Coyotes, the Panthers are building towards an exciting future. Young stars like Aaron Ekblad, Johnny Huberdeau, and Aleksander Barkov led the team to the Atlantic Division title last season, and despite a slow start this season, the team’s fortunes are trending up.
Keaton Ellerby was expected to factor into that youth movement after he was taken 10th overall in the 2007 draft. However, the Canadian defenseman never materialized into the offensive force the Panthers had hoped for.
Ellerby scored just two goals over three and a half seasons in Sunrise, and was traded to the Kings in February 2013. The Panthers got a fifth-round pick as compensation. They took a steep loss on their investment, and Ellerby never put it together at the NHL level.
The Kings didn’t re-sign him, and he left for Winnipeg. He couldn’t crack the roster there, either, and spent most of that season in the AHL.
Ellerby spent the 2015-2016 season in the KHL.
12 2006 - Peter Mueller
The Coyotes are building a fast, young foundation with franchise players like Max Domi, Anthony Duclair, and Oliver Ekman-Larson. The team could’ve started its youth movement sooner had Peter Mueller been able to build on his outstanding 2007-08 rookie campaign. Mueller, the eighth overall pick in the 2006 draft, scored 22 goals and 54 points in 81 games in his freshman season.
However, those totals dropped to 13 goals and 36 points in 72 games the following season. Mueller’s production fell off a cliff in 2009-10, as he only potted FOUR goals and 17 points in 54 games.
In an ironic twist, the Coyotes traded Mueller to the Colorado Avalanche in March 2010 at Mueller’s own request. Usually, when a top prospect underperforms, it’s management who decides to ship him out, but Mueller apparently blamed his disappointing play on the Coyotes organization.
After unproductive seasons in Colorado and Florida, Mueller signed in the Swiss League in 2013. He signed a try-out contract with the Bruins in 2016 in hopes of reviving his NHL career but was released in early October.
11 2005 - Gilbert Brule
Some believe Brule was just a victim of an impatient Blue Jackets organization, eager to sign him before he was fully ready for NHL action. However, if any of us were in management’s position, we likely would’ve made the same decision. Brule was named the 2004 WHL Rookie of the Year and scored 39 goals and 87 points in 70 games in the WHL the year before he was drafted sixth overall. I’m sure we would all be itching to call up a player who put up those kinds of numbers.
However, Brule suffered two significant injuries during his first month in the NHL in 2005-06 and spent the rest of the season in the WHL upon recovery. In his first full NHL season in 2006-07, he scored 19 points while playing roughly 10 minutes per game.
He fared even worse the following season, scoring nine points in 61 before being sent down to the AHL. After struggling at the AHL level, Brule was dealt to Edmonton for Raffi Torres in 2008. Unfortunately, Brule’s time in Edmonton was marred by injuries. Since 2007, he never played more than 65 games in a season.
Brule spent the past two seasons playing in the KHL.
10 2004 - Al Montoya
Just one year after their disastrous Hugh Jessiman pick, the Rangers fumbled again with their 2004 first round draft choice, goaltender Al Montoya. Montoya played college hockey for the University of Michigan, and his lights-out senior season, where he posted 30 wins, seven losses, and three shutouts, convinced the Rangers to snatch him up with the sixth overall pick.
The team already had Henrik Lundqvist in the system, but they weren’t sure when he’d be able to leave Sweden and come to New York. They hoped Montoya could step into a backup role for Kevin Weekes after he signed an entry-level deal in 2005. Montoya performed well at the AHL level, but never got much of a shot on the big stage.
Lundqvist made his debut that season and emerged out of Weekes’ shadow to take the starting job. Montoya became expendable and was dealt to the Coyotes at the 2008 trade deadline. He spent the majority of his time in Phoenix in the AHL and was traded to the Islanders in 2011, where he assumed a backup role.
After short runs in Winnipeg and Florida, Montoya signed in Montreal in 2016. On November 4, he infamously surrendered 10 goals to the Columbus Blue Jackets.
For a former top ten pick, the 31-year-old should’ve established himself as a franchise goalie by now.
9 2003 - Hugh Jessiman
The 2003 NHL draft is credited as one of the deepest in the history of the league. Thirteen of the first 20 players chosen went on to make at least one All-Star appearance. Zach Parise, Brent Burns, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Mike Richards, Patrice Bergeron, and Shea Weber were all taken outside the top 10.
Surely, then, the Rangers couldn’t go wrong selecting the 6-foot-6, 230-pound forward, Hugh Jessiman, right? The Dartmouth forward had a standout 23-goal, 47-point freshman season, so GM Glen Sather wasted no time in selecting him.
However, Jessiman never panned out. He toiled in the Rangers’ minor league system, while Parise, Getzlaf, Backes, and others were taken after Jessiman, flourished in the NHL.
The Rangers eventually traded Jessiman to the Nashville Predators in 2008. Jessiman’s NHL career didn’t even begin until February of 2011 when he played in TWO games for the Florida Panthers. TWO. GAMES.
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.
8 2002 - Petr Taticek
I’m not sure where to begin with Taticek. The Panthers didn’t exactly have a large resume of work to look at when scouting the young Czech forward. He only played one season in the OHL prior to the 2002 draft. He put up a solid 21 goals in 60 games, but the small sample size had scouts projecting him outside the top ten.
The Panthers sent a fourth-round pick to Calgary in order to move up and grab Taticek with the 11th overall pick. His point production stagnated once he joined the Panthers’ AHL affiliate in San Antonio.
In fact, Taticek never scored more than nine goals in any one of his five AHL seasons. He played in three games for the Panthers during the 2005-06 season and went scoreless. Tatichek is the only skater selected among the top 14 picks of the 2002 draft to play fewer than 480 games.
Taticek struggled through brief AHL tenures in Pittsburgh and Washington, before signing with HC Kladno of the Czech League. He currently skates with German hockey club ERC Ingolstadt.
7 2001 - Alexander Svitov
Svitov played well enough in the Russian Elite League to convince the Tampa Bay Lightning to take him third overall in the 2001 NHL draft. Svitov was taken after two perennial All-Stars in Ilya Kovalchuk (first overall) and Jason Spezza (second overall).
Svitov had all the tools to make him one of the best players taken from that draft. His hulking 6-foot-3, 245-pound build gave him premier power forward potential. Unfortunately, his fortunes didn’t turn out that way.
Svitov spent just one year with the Lightning, appearing in 63 games and scoring a mere four goals and eight points. He played just 11 games the following season before the Lightning dealt him to the Blue Jackets. He played 29 more games before going back and forth between the AHL and KHL over the next couple of seasons. He briefly returned to Columbus for the 2006-07 season, but the comeback didn’t last. He played in a career-high 76 games but scored just 18 points.
Svitov played 179 total NHL games, potting 13 goals and 37 points.
6 2000 - Rick DiPietro
Rick DiPietro performed well at times during his brief career. The problem was, he couldn’t stay healthy. DiPietro isn’t the biggest draft bust of all time, despite going first overall to the Islanders in 2000. The disappointment arises when you look at how the netminder’s career ended.
After a troubling 3-15 rookie season in 2000-01, DiPietro was sent to the AHL to further hone his game. He rebounded in 2003-04 with 23 wins and five shutouts in 50 games.
He won 30 games in 2005-06, and subsequently signed a 15-year deal worth $67.5 million with the Islanders at season’s end. It was the longest contract in NHL history at the time and appeared to pay off at first. DiPietro won a respectable 58 games for the Islanders over the next two seasons.
However, a plethora of injuries limited him to just 54 games from 2008-2013.
After multiple hip and knee surgeries, 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 $1.5 million annually until 2029.
To add salt to the Islanders’ wound, the team traded Roberto Luongo to Florida in order to make room for DiPietro at the 2000 draft.
5 1999 - Patrik Stefan
Svitov may have had a shorter NHL career, but Stefan is the biggest bust on this list given his utter inability to live up to his pre-draft hype.
Stefan was highly touted going into the 1999 draft. He was expected to carry the weight of the fledgling Thrashers franchise that selected him first overall, ahead of future stars like Henrik and Daniel Sedin, Martin Havlat, and Henrik Zetterberg.
Stefan sputtered to a five-goal rookie season, and despite the arrival of star left winger Ilya Kovalchuk in 2001, his production never recovered. Stefan scored 59 goals and 177 points over six seasons in Atlanta. He never scored more than 14 goals or 40 points in any single season.
However, one play, in particular, epitomized the disappointment that was Stefan’s NHL career. In 2007, Stefan, then playing for the Stars, tripped and fell on a breakaway while trying to score an empty net goal against the Oilers. Edmonton forward Ales Hemsky stole the puck, rushed up ice, and proceeded to score the tying goal with seconds left in the third period.
That embarrassing moment put an exclamation point on Stefan’s career, as the Stars declined to re-sign him that offseason.
4 1998 - Jeffrey Heerema
Heerema didn’t make his NHL debut until 2003, the same year his cousin and future Hurricanes’ captain Eric Staal was drafted. Carolina originally took Heerema with the 11th overall pick in 1998. The right winger suited up for 10 games during the 2002-03 season but registered just three goals before he was sent down to the Lowell Lock Monsters of the AHL.
Heerema was a point-per-game player at the AHL level, but never succeeded on the NHL stage. After a brief 22-game stint in St. Louis in 2003, Heerema spent the next three years playing in the AHL, and eventually signed in the Austrian League in 2009.
He hasn’t played professional hockey since 2012. He didn’t have the career success of his cousins, although it is pretty cool to say you’re related to the Staal brothers.
3 1997 - Daniel Tkaczuk
Daniel Tkaczuk's career in Calgary flamed out almost as soon as it started. The team took Tkaczuk with the sixth overall pick in 1997. Tkaczuk put up 334 points over four seasons in the OHL and joined the Flames’ AHL affiliate in 1999, where his success continued.
Unfortunately, minor league competition is nothing like that of the NHL, and Tkaczuk proved it. He played just 19 games for the Flames during the 2001-02 season, scoring four goals and seven assists. He spent the next two seasons back in the AHL.
He played the next several seasons in Europe, where his production returned to elite levels.
Tkaczuk hasn’t played professionally since 2012 but has stayed busy in retirement. He founded an online hockey school called iHockeyTrainer.com, and joined the OHL’s Kitchener Rangers coaching staff in 2015.
2 1996 - Alexandre Volchkov
Volchkov was, essentially, the Nikita Filatov of the 1990s, being a supreme talent with an attitude issue. His 66 goals and 146 points in 102 OHL games had the Capitals thinking they made the right choice in drafting him fourth overall in 1996. Management heard of his uninspired work ethic but figured his other-worldly play in the OHL didn’t corroborate that claim.
Unfortunately, Volchkov’s temperament got the best of him during his time with Washington. He reportedly walked out on the Portland Pirates (Washington’s AHL affiliate) during a playoff game and spent just three games with the Capitals at the NHL level.
The team traded Volchkov to the Edmonton Oilers on February 4, 2000 for a fourth-round draft pick. The underachieving winger played just 25 games with the AHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs, before returning to Russia for the next several seasons.