Making the postseason of any major sport at least once in a player's career is not especially difficult, given the amount of ways it's possible to qualify. Heck, even some players that aren't very good make it every year just based on their team's consistently high performance. And although some players might be drafted to a team that’s in the midst of a lengthy playoff drought, they can either get traded to a contender at some point (often right before the postseason begins), or last long enough to see the draft process improve their team and once again return the club to the playoffs.
On the flip side, bad luck can also strike, and sometimes it is especially cruel. Occasionally, players will join a team just after its peak golden years, inadvertently entering prior to a deep and extended valley in the team's history. For instance, the Edmonton Oilers haven’t qualified since 2005-06, the Carolina Hurricanes since 2008-09, and the Buffalo Sabres since 2010-11. Even worse, an athlete will sometimes stick it out with a struggling squad for a decent chunk of their career, but get traded away just before the club rediscovers some success.
Sometimes a more chronic issue - such as inconsistent playing time based on injury or poor performance - will keep a player out of the playoffs when their team makes it, but this list attempted to control for these factors. Especially since, in the case of injury, the team technically made it to the playoffs, even if the individual didn’t appear. As for poor-performing players or second- or third-stringers who are left off the postseason roster, they at least had/have a bit of control over their fate, and thus get less sympathy.
What we are really looking for are the still-active NHL veterans (not retired players or newbies with a lot of time in the league left) who have played at a competitive level in a majority of their respective team's games each season, year after year, and still never took that first real step toward the Stanley Cup. These are the top (unlucky?) 13 NHL players who have yet to make the playoffs. Really the fact that these players have never made the playoffs does a disservice to the fans, as we would love to see what they have when the Stanley Cup is on the line.
7 Ron Hainsey - Carolina Hurricanes
While his role has only been as a serviceable second pairing defenceman most of his career, his longevity gets him a spot on this list. Defenseman Ron Hainsey was drafted in 2000, made his NHL debut in 2002, has played in almost 800 games for four different teams, and still has never appeared in the postseason. His first team, the Montreal Canadiens, failed to make the playoffs his first year, but made it his second year. However, prior to the postseason, Hainsey was picked up by the Columbus Blue Jackets, who didn’t qualify then, or in any of the four years he played for them.
Hainsey’s next stop was with the 2008-09 Atlanta Thrashers, who had just made the playoffs the year prior. They didn’t make it again until 2014-145 though, after becoming the Winnipeg Jets, and also after Hainsey had become a member of the Carolina Hurricanes - the drought-stricken team where the 34-year-old currently plays, and still waits.
12. Zach Bogosian - Buffalo Sabres
Defenseman Zach Bogosian pretty much has the same situation as Evander Kane (still to come on this list), but with a year head start. Instead of being born in 1991, Bogosian was born in 1990. Instead of a 2009 draft by the Thrashers, he was taken by them in 2008. The two careers lined up in the 2014-15 season though, when Kane and Bogosian were both traded to the Buffalo Sabres. The similarities landed the two Buffalo players back-to-back spots on this list, with the elder Sabre right ahead of the younger, and both of them hoping this is the season the team finally turns it around.
6 Ladislav Šmíd, Calgary Flames
Talk about bad breaks. Although defenseman Ladislav Šmíd was drafted by the Anaheim Ducks a year before their 2007 Stanley Cup victory, he was traded to the Edmonton Oilers after the 2005-06 season, which is still the last time the Oilers actually made it. On November 8, 2013, Šmíd was sent to the Calgary Flames, who actually made the playoffs in his second year. However, after suffering an injury only 31 games in, Šmíd was declared ineligible for the rest of the regular season, as well as his first taste of the postseason. The 29-year-old will have to wait a bit longer.
10. Sam Gagner - Philadelphia Flyers
Following a June 27, 2015 trade to the Philadelphia Flyers, center Sam Gagner might get his first taste of the postseason at age 26, in his ninth season, after almost 600 games. He was originally drafted by the Edmonton Oilers two years after their last playoff appearance, and was an everyday player for seven years, before a trade to the Arizona Coyotes in June of 2014. A year later, the aforementioned Flyers trade took place, and although the team is not currently lined up for a postseason slot, this is still Gagner’s best shot yet at playing in his first playoff game.
5 Leon Draisaitl - Edmonton Oilers
Leon Draisaitl's arrival in Edmonton had terrible timing. Management was a mess, the culture was toxic and the team had taken yet another center when their needs were clearly on defense and in goal. Draisaitl's play suffered in his rookie year thanks to being rushed up to the big club and playing in an unstable environment. This year, things seem to have steadied with Peter Chiarelli and Todd McLellan leading the way. As a result, Draisaitl now looks like a bright young star in the making.
4 Aaron Ekblad - Florida Panthers
Sure, Aaron Ekblad is only in his second year, but his performance in his rookie year should have been enough for him to get a shot in the postseason. Coming in as the no.1 overall pick, Ekblad had a ton of pressure on his shoulders, particularly as a young defenseman, as d-men take longer to develop. Ekblad won the Calder Trophy, posting 39 points in 81 games, as well as being a plus-12. Ekblad will be a stud for the Panthers for many years to come and hopefully many playoff appearances are in his future.
7. Jonathan Huberdeau - Florida Panthers
Although there are a lot of players with similar track records to young left winger Jonathan Huberdeau, not many are as deserving of a playoff appearance as the 22-year-old former Calder Trophy winner. After joining the Florida Panthers in 2011, the season of their last postseason, Huberdeau played well in a handful of preseason games, but spent the year in the QMJHL.
Aside from part of the lockout season in 2012-13, Huberdeau has been an everyday NHL player since, but his team is still seeking their return to the playoffs. The Panthers actually have a shot this season, and with Huberdeau’s total of 37 goals in 55 playoff games with the Saint John Sea Dogs, he could be a very valuable asset.
6. Justin Faulk - Carolina Hurricanes
Defenseman Justin Faulk is only 23 years old, but he already has parts of five NHL seasons under his belt, has appeared in an All-Star Game, and currently serves as an alternate captain. All five of his seasons have been with the Carolina Hurricanes though, so Faulk has yet to make a playoff appearance.
Although Faulk is arguably the team’s best defender and is on pace to play his best season yet, the Hurricanes are unfortunately having another lousy one.
5. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins - Edmonton Oilers
Center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins played in playoff games as recently as the 2009-10 and 2010-11 season, but that was only in the WHL, when he played for the Red Deer Rebels. Since his NHL debut in 2011, he has been a member of the Edmonton Oilers for five seasons, and thus is still awaiting his first chance to play in the postseason. If his 11-point in nine game performance in the WHL was any indication, he will likely be an asset if the Oilers can get him one step closer to the Stanley Cup. Luckily for Nugent-Hopkins, despite his amassed experience, he’s still only 22.
3 Evander Kane - Buffalo Sabres
Left winger Evander Kane is one of the true bad luck players on this list. After competing in the WHL postseason in each of his three seasons, Kane was drafted by the Atlanta Thrashers in 2009, who didn’t make the playoffs until 2014-15, and by that time they were named the Winnipeg Jets. Also by that time, the team had traded away Kane to the Buffalo Sabres, who failed to qualify. It wouldn’t have mattered much for Kane though, as he didn’t play a game for the Sabres in his first partial season with them due to shoulder surgery.
3. Jeff Skinner - Carolina Hurricanes
When left winger Jeff Skinner made his NHL debut in 2010, he was the youngest player skating that season. When he made his first All-Star Game at 18 years and 259 days old, he was the youngest ever to appear in one - not just for the NHL, but the youngest person to play in an All-Star game in any of the four major North American sports. Unfortunately, this also means, with almost 370 games under his belt, Skinner has more service time accrued without appearing in the playoffs than anyone else who is his age, 23. As long as he’s a member of the hapless Carolina Hurricanes, that doesn’t appear to be changing anytime soon.
2 Taylor Hall - Edmonton Oilers
Taylor Hall has dominated hockey his entire life - from his childhood, to his number one overall selection in the 2010 draft, to the career year he’s on pace to have. Hall is one of 2015’s top scorers in the game, and it still looks like the best is yet to come as he continues to improve each year. Unfortunately for Hall, now in his sixth NHL season, he’s played his entire career for the drought-stricken Edmonton Oilers. But if Hall can continue his commanding performance, and the Oilers can regain and retain some health, one of hockey’s biggest rising stars might finally get a real shot at the cup.
1 Jordan Eberle - Edmonton Oilers
When right winger Jordan Eberle signed a six year, $36 million contract with the Edmonton Oilers in 2012, it was the second biggest on the team. However, he did lead in one category: the number of games played for the Oilers. Now in his sixth season, Eberle still has the most experience with the team, and also the most experience without a playoff appearance. Earlier this year, the 25-year-old won the gold medal as part of Team Canada in the 2015 World Championship, but in regard to being a NHL Champion, Eberle hasn’t even come close.