Hockey is to Canadians what football (not soccer) is to Americans. The National Football League only has meaningful games for about five months of the year, yet news of the New England Patriots' conniving ways, the latest player arrests, or recent trades seem to always lead popular sports TV and radio shows. Hell, the NFL Network even televises draft combine coverage - yes, live look-ins of college kids running 40 yards and jumping as high as they can actually brings in relatively decent ratings. Canadians might not be that obsessed with hockey, but it's damn near close. In fact, Canadians' knowledge of the prospects available in the NHL Draft might be even more impressive than Americans' knowledge of NFL prospects given the junior-aged hockey players receive nowhere near the coverage of NCAA football players.
That's why in the United States, the NFL Draft is one of the most exciting events of the year. The same can be said in Canada with the NHL Draft. The average fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Vancouver Canucks, or any other Canadian team, isn't going to be indifferent as to who his team picks with its first-round pick. And a lot of times, those fans will be absolutely correct in their disappointment of the team's pick. Beyond the first round, however, it's hard to truly know what your team has in its draft picks. Some of those players will be forgotten in a few years, while others can develop into Hall of Famers. Below are the biggest first-round busts and late-round steals of all seven Canadian NHL teams.
14 Winnipeg Bust: Ryan Stewart
Because the current version of the Winnipeg Jets have only been around a few years, it's hard to label any players a bust - in fact, they've actually drafted well in the first round, despite none of that good drafting leading to team success on the ice as of yet. And we aren't going to dive into the Atlanta Thrashers archives because, frankly, if you're a Jets fan reading this you couldn't give a damn. So that leaves us with the previous version of the Jets, which is now the Arizona Coyotes.
Like the Jets of today, the old Winnipeg team drafted fairly well with its early picks, with the exception of Ryan Stewart, who the franchise selected with the 18th overall pick in the 1985 NHL Draft. Stewart was a skilled center in the WHL who missed most of his draft year due to injury, but had 70 points in 54 games as a rookie for the Kamloops Blazers. He had 78 points the following year, but was never able to translate that production into NHL success. He played only three games in the NHL and spent a couple years in the AHL before fading into obscurity.
13 Winnipeg Steal: Nikolai Khabibulin
For every major mistake made by a franchise, there's generally one diamond in the rough that turns out to be an all-time great player. That's certainly true with the Winnipeg Jets, which drafted a Stanley Cup-winning goaltender in the ninth round of the 1992 NHL Draft. Sure, that goaltender, Nikolai Khabibulin, didn't win a cup for the Jets (he did so with the Tampa Bay Lightning), but played two seasons in Winnipeg and three with Phoenix before being dealt to the Lightning.
The Bulin Wall was a great goaltender right off the hop, recording a .908 save percentage in his first full season as the Jets' start, back when .920 save percentages weren't the norm. He played 799 career games in the NHL and was easily the best goaltender to come out of his draft class.
12 Ottawa Bust: Brian Lee
Few people thought American Brian Lee would be a bust when the Ottawa Senators drafted him with the ninth overall pick in the 2005 draft. At 6-foot-3 and 205-pounds, he had the size required to be an adept defenseman, while his skating stride was lauded by scouts and management alike. He looked as though he was destined to become a top-four blueliner with above-average offensive abilities after two seasons at the University of North Dakota, where he recorded a combined 53 points in 82 games.
Yet, many allege that he may have been rushed to the NHL. Whatever the case was, he simply didn't work out in Ottawa, nor did his offensive abilities translate. In his first few professional seasons, he was back and forth between Ottawa and its AHL affiliate in Binghamton and was eventually traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning. In 209 career games, he scored just five goals and added 31 assists.
11 Ottawa Steal: Daniel Alfredsson
It's not often you can draft a future captain, franchise all-time leading scorer, and potential Hall of Famer in the sixth round. Though, as seems to be the case, if you draft a little-known European, particularly a Swede, your chances of finding a player greatly increase. That's what the Ottawa Senators did in 1994 when the team selected a kid from Gothenburg, Sweden named Daniel Alfredsson.
Alfie came over to North America two seasons later and scored 61 points as a rookie, winning the Calder Memorial Trophy as the league's best first-year player. He recorded a career-high 103 points in 2005-06 and, the following year, led the team to its first Stanley Cup Final. As much as you have to give the Senators credit for finding a hidden gem, a lot of the fault has to go to the other teams in the league; the winger had 30 points in 39 games in Sweden's top league in his draft year.
10 Vancouver Bust: Jason Herter
When you're an eighth overall pick, you're expecting to, at the very least, play a couple seasons in the league, if not become a Superstar. Jason Herter didn't even come close to producing anything resembling an NHL career; in fact, he played just one career game in the league as the New York Islanders did him a favor in the 1995-96 season. Interestingly enough, Herter had an assist in that game, but was immediately sent back to the team's affiliate in the IHL.
The Canucks drafted Herter in the 1989 draft after he produced a 32-point season with the University of North Dakota. The Saskatchewan native spent the next two seasons at the school, recording 87 points in 77 games and looked as though he was destined for greatness. Yet, despite being a decent point producer in the IHL, he was never given an opportunity in Vancouver and was traded to the Islanders for cash consideration. He's currently the head coach of the Fargo Force of the USHL.
9 Vancouver Steal: Pavel Bure
You don't get the nickname "The Russian Rocket" if you're a mediocre NHLer and little-known sixth round pick. Pavel Bure was drafted by the Canucks with the 113th overall pick in the 1989 NHL Draft, following a 25-point season with CSKA Moscow. He was an emerging star in Russia, but there was questions as to whether or not he would be able to come to North America. Thankfully, for the Canucks, he arrived in Vancouver two years later after producing point-per-game seasons in Russia.
In his first year with the Canucks, Bure won the Calder Memorial Trophy after recording 60 points in 65 games. If that wasn't impressive enough, he had back-to-back 60-goal seasons in his second and third years in the league. Blessed with blazing speed and a rocket of a shot, he scored 437 goals in just 702 games before retiring due to a knee injury.
8 Calgary Bust: Daniel Tkaczuk
The 1997 NHL Draft wasn't exactly one for the record books, but that doesn't excuse the Calgary Flames for wasting the sixth overall pick on Daniel Tkaczuk, who played just 19 career NHL games; in comparison, no top-13 pick that year played fewer than 250 career games, while five reached the 1,000 games mark, including Marian Hossa, who was taken by the Ottawa Senators six picks later. Sergei Samsonov was taken two picks after Tkazcuk, and, although his career took a turn toward the end, he still played 888 games and had over 500 points.
Tkaczuk, meanwhile, played all 19 of his games in the league in 2000-01 after a 66-point rookie season in the AHL, and he actually recorded 11 points in those games and later added 19 points in 14 AHL playoff games. He suffered a concussion that season, which many fans and critics suggest as the reason for his downgrade in play the following season, but whatever the reason was, Tkaczuk was playing in Italy within four years.
7 Calgary Steal: Theoren Fleury
A decade before wasting a high pick on Daniel Tkaczuk, the Calgary Flames stole a future franchise player in the eighth round of the NHL Draft. The Flames drafted winger Bryan Deasley in the first round of that draft and he ended up being one of only two players in the round to never play in the NHL, so it's fortunate that the team took a chance on the diminutive Theoren Fleury with a late pick.
In today's NHL, it seems as though teams lean towards taking small players in the draft in the hopes that they might be the next Patrick Kane, Johnny Gaudreau, or Mitch Marner, but back in 1987 the Flames were taking a risk on Fleury, even with an eighth round pick, which is absurd given he had 129 points in 66 games in his draft year. He only went on to lead the Flames in scoring in seven seasons and finished his career with 1,088 points in 1,084 games.
6 Edmonton Bust: Nail Yakupov
We don't have to search too far back to find the biggest bust in Edmonton Oilers history. And even if you're the one person left who believes Nail Yakupov still has potential upside, you have to concede he has been a colossal failure in the NHL. The Russian, who played junior hockey for the OHL's Sarnia Sting, embodies everything that was wrong with the Oilers' pre-McDavid era: he's lazy, plays a perimeter game, and ultimately failed to meet the high expectations placed upon him. Furthermore, just when you thought he might be turning a corner, he would disappoint you once again. Sound familiar?
In 252 games with the Oilers, the former first overall pick scored 50 goals and added 61 points. Those are fantastic numbers if you're a grinder who carved out a career after being taken in the fourth round, but not for a first overall pick. Yakupov was the obvious pick, so it's hard to fault the Oilers, but how good would Morgan Rielly, Hampus Lindholm, or Jacob Trouba look in their lineup?
5 Edmonton Steal: Jari Kurri
This one might be the toughest selection to make on this list, because when the Oilers entered the NHL they did so with incredible success in the draft, which might be hard to believe now, but it's true. The Oilers first three picks in the league were Kevin Lowe, Mark Messier, and Glenn Anderson, all of whom played over 1,100 games in the league. Messier and Anderson were taken in the third and fourth round respectively and can certainly be considered steals, but the team found another gem even further in the draft the following year when they selected Jari Kurri with the 69th overall pick. Nice.
You can accuse Kurri of piggybacking off the success of Wayne Gretzky and the greatness of that Oilers dynasty, but he was a big part of the success himself. The talented Finn' scored 75 points as a rookie in 1980 and posted six 100-plus point seasons. He retired in 1998 after playing 1,251 career games and recording 1,398 points.
4 Toronto Bust: Brandon Convery
The Toronto Maple Leafs have made many bad decisions throughout the years, but when it comes to drafting the team has a surprisingly decent track record. Their biggest issue is actually trading away picks or high-profile prospects - Tuukka Rask and the pick that ended up being Tyler Seguin come to mind. Yet, like every other team, they're not immune to draft busts.
Brandon Convery was a skilled center - something the Leafs were desperate for - when Toronto selected him with the eighth overall pick in the 1992 NHL Draft. He had come off of a 40-goal season with the OHL's Sudbury Wolves and followed that up with two dominant offensive seasons before showcasing his talents with St. John's of the AHL. In his first stint in Toronto, he scored five goals in 11 games and looked to be a player, despite his defensive deficiencies. Yet, he was never able to earn the trust of Leafs management and only managed to play 72 career games in the league.
3 Toronto Steal: Tomas Kaberle
When Tomas Kaberle attended Toronto Maple Leafs training camp in 1998, he was a little-known defenseman who lacked physicality, but could skate well and had decent playmaking abilities. An eighth round pick in the 1996 draft, he had just one assist in 23 games in his draft year for Kladno of the Czech Republic and followed that up with a five-point seasons. He broke out offensively two years after being drafted, recording 23 points in 47 games, though he was still a relative unknown.
That's why it was surprising when he came to Toronto in 1998 and won a job out of training camp. He quickly proved to be the team's best puck mover and, the following year, led the team's defensemen in scoring with 40 points. Kabs played 984 career games in the league and recorded 563 points.
2 Montreal Bust: Doug Wickenheiser
The Montreal Canadiens drafted worse players in the first round than Doug Wickenheiser, but again, if you're the first overall pick and you produce less than at least a few decent seasons of productivity, chances are you're going to be remembered as the team's biggest draft bust of all-time. That's the case with Doug Wickenheiser, who despite the high profile that comes with a number one pick, especially that of the Montreal Canadiens, is far less known than his sister, who is a legend for Hockey Canada and has played at the Olympics in both hockey and softball.
Doug had come off of a 170-point season for the WHL's Regina Pats, so you can hardly fault the Canadiens for selecting him first overall, and he did put up a 55-point season with the team three years later, but that was the most he would record in a single season. He was dealt to the St. Louis Blues in 1983 and went on to score only 111 goals in 556 career games.
1 Montreal Steal: Andrei Markov
The Canadiens haven't exactly had the most success drafting in the first round, and, like the Maple Leafs, they have a tendency to make bad deals involving prospects - Scott Gomez for Ryan McDonagh is one that looks worse every year. Fortunately, the team might just be one of the best franchises at finding diamonds in the rough. Landing perennial first-pairing defenseman Andrei Markov in the sixth round of the 1998 NHL Draft is one of the best examples, but the team has also found late-round gems such as Brendan Gallagher, Sergei Kostitsyn, Mark Streit, Jaroslav Halak, Michael Ryder, Stephane Robidas, and Tomas Vokoun.
It didn't help Markov's case that he was Russian, but it certainly helped the Canadiens. He debuted for the team two years after being drafted and recorded 23 points in 63 games, establishing himself as a legit defenseman. He continued to improve and, at 38-years-old, is still one of the team's premier defenders.