The 2016 NHL Entry Draft is a little over a month away, bringing with it optimistic hopes for future success and ominous warnings of disappointing failure. What makes the draft so compelling is the spectrum of possibility that exists between franchises finding that elusive star to carry them to new heights and those who place endless resources and expectations into a prospect, only to see him fizzle out amidst a sea of 'what-ifs'.
This year, it is the Toronto Maple Leafs who are buoyed with hope. Coming off a season in which their long-tortured fan base actually celebrated the Brendan Shanahan-led front office's newfound commitment to bottoming out and restocking the cupboards with young talent, the campaign ended with a last-place finish and, more importantly, a lottery-enabled first overall draft selection. As if that weren't enough of a boon, this year happens to bring the long-awaited arrival of much-hyped center Auston Matthews, a dream scenario for a franchise that has long chased that elusive front line pivot in the middle.
But as the history of the NHL draft has proven, even sure things don't always end up so. Lurking a half step behind Matthews is uber-talented Finnish winger Patrik Laine, who turned heads at the World Junior Championships and has continued to do so at this summer's World Championships. As the Leafs are well aware, NHL history is littered with examples of clubs selecting the wrong guy and then being haunted by their decision for years thereafter. Leaf fans may not want to consider this doomsday scenario, but here are 14 examples of draft misses that have crippled NHL clubs.
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15 Boris Valabik - Atlanta Thrashers
The 2004 draft featured a steep drop-off in talent once Russian superstars Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin had been snatched off the boards with the first two picks. Boris Valabik was just one of the many underwhelming talents to appear among the early selections, joining the likes of Cam Barker, Alexandre Picard and Lauri Tukonen. But the sting of Valabik’s selection is made worse by the revelation of then-Atlanta Thrashers scout Dan Marr, who admitted that the club had New Jersey Devils standout Travis Zajac, who would go 20th, next on their player ranking list.
14 Brian Finley - Nashville Predators
It is hard to fault any team for their poor performance in the historically awful 1999 draft. Beyond the Sedin twins, who brought complications of their own after insisting on playing together, and the late round selection of Henrik Zetterberg, the Patrik Stefan-led class of ’99 is best known for short, underwhelming NHL careers. Still, the disappointing tale of goaltender Brian Finley still stands out. Finley was taken sixth overall by a Nashville team hungry for help between the pipes, but wound up playing a mere four career games in the NHL. The Predators would probably have been better off waiting, with Ryan Miller remaining on the boards until the fifth round.
13 Braydon Coburn - Atlanta Thrashers
Two years after landing franchise superstar Ilya Kovalchuk with the first overall pick and one year after bringing in Kari Lehtonen to be the goaltender of the future, the Atlanta Thrashers went looking for defensive help through the 2003 draft. They wound up finding it in the form of No. 8 pick Braydon Coburn, a perfectly steady blue liner who has now played nearly 700 NHL games and counting. He has lasted longer than the Thrashers, who may have fared better with Ryan Suter or Dion Phaneuf, more celebrated defencemen that Coburn was sandwiched between. Later in the stacked draft, Brent Seabrook and Shea Weber were both taken.
12 Curtis Leschyshyn & Daniel Dore - Quebec Nordiques
The Quebec Nordiques were gifted a rare opportunity to transform their franchise with two of the first five picks in the 1988 draft. They didn’t disappoint with their first pick, using their third overall pick to select defenseman Curtis Leschyshyn, who would later retire with over 1,000 games under his belt. But in taking Leschyshyn and complete bust Daniel Dore, the Nordiques whiffed on a trio of forthcoming stars that included Jeremy Roenick, Rod Brind’Amour and Teemu Selanne (taken eighth, ninth and 10th, respectively). That franchise transformation didn’t quite pan out.
11 Gilbert Brule - Columbus Blue Jackets
After Sidney Crosby, Gilbert Brule seemed like one of the few other sure things in the 2005 draft, a Canadian skater who had led the Memorial Cup in scoring and carried his Vancouver Giants to the WHL title. But unfortunately for the Columbus Blue Jackets, that junior hockey success was not predictive of his performance at the NHL level. Brule scored a meager 12 goals across 146 games wit the team, making Blue Jackets fans pine for the likes of Anze Kopitar and T.J. Oshie, both of whom were taken after him.
10 Zach Bogosian - Atlanta Thrashers
Defensemen seemed to be the order of the day in the early stages of the 2008 draft, with four rearguards taken among the first five picks. After Steven Stamkos was taken first, the Los Angeles Kings grabbed Drew Doughty, who has since developed into one of the NHL’s best blue liners. With the No. 4 pick, the St. Louis Blues welcomed franchise cornerstone Alex Pietrangelo into the fold. In the middle, Atlanta got a respectable defenseman in Zach Bogosian, albeit one that hasn’t really made his mark during stints in Atlanta and then Winnipeg, followed by his current run with the Buffalo Sabres. The Jets are still looking for an elite blueliner to pair with the offensive minded Dustin Byfuglien.
9 Gary Nylund - Toronto Maple Leafs
It had already been a toxic time around the Toronto Maple Leafs, owing to the brutal reign of owner Harold Ballard and the trade of captain Darryl Sittler one season prior, leading to a Leafs team that finished near the bottom of the standings. Their poor record earned them the chance to draft Gary Nylund, a consensus top three selection, with the third pick. Unfortunately, injuries played a major role in limiting whatever upside Nylund had, limiting him to just 63 games over his first two seasons as a Leaf. Even worse, the selection of Nylund was soon followed by two Hall of Fame defensemen, Scott Stevens at No. 5 and Phil Housley at No. 6, who might've helped the Leafs actually contend for a Stanley Cup.
8 Nikolay Zherdev - Columbus Blue Jackets
The 2003 NHL Entry Draft was among the most talent-laden of all-time, boasting an impossible collection of this generation’s stars that spans far beyond just the first round. Armed with the No. 4 pick, Columbus failed to get their hands on a true difference maker, opting instead for flashy Russian sniper Nikolai Zherdev, which left them unable to compete for playoff spots. After finally agreeing to a deal after a contract dispute, Zherdev never came quite as advertised, topping out at a 27-goal campaign in the 2005-06 season.
7 Trevor Kidd - Calgary Flames
It’s unclear just where the Calgary Flames and GM Cliff Fletcher were coming from when they opted to select goaltender Trevor Kidd with the No. 11 pick in the 1990 draft. The three-time division winners had just come off a disappointing first round loss while attempting to defend their Stanley Cup championship win, but they still had a reigning All-Star between the pipes in 27-year-old Mike Vernon. Kidd had a perfectly adequate 12-year NHL career, but hardly proved worthy of his lofty selection, particularly when you consider that Martin Brodeur got snapped up nine picks later. Needless to say, after their 1989 Stanley Cup, the Flames were far from competitive in the '90s, failing to win a single playoff series in the decade.
6 Alexandre Daigle - Ottawa Senators
Widely known as one of the biggest busts in NHL history, Alexandre Daigle is best remembered as a can’t-miss prospect... who completely missed. Most infamously, though, he is remembered for telling a reporter after being taken with the No. 1 pick, “I'm glad I got drafted first, because no one remembers number two.” Given that it was NHL Hall of Famer Chris Pronger who was nabbed with the second pick, those words seem painfully ironic now. Daigle did manage to carve out over 300 points in 616 career games, but that still doesn’t measure up to Pronger’s nearly 700 points in over 1,100 games.
5 Keith Brown - Chicago Blackhawks
Boston Bruins GM Harry Sinden was in the market for a defenseman with their No. 8 pick in the 1979 draft, and had his sights set on Portland Winter Hawks standout Keith Brown, a fact known to the Chicago Blackhawks GM Bob Pulford, who held the No. 7 selection. Much to the chagrin of the Bruins, Pulford opted to pull the trigger on taking Brown one pick before Boston could get their hands on him. So Sinden and the Bruins ultimately had to settle for what was left – Verdun Eperviers blue liner Ray Bourque. Ouch.
While the Blackhawks were decent in the 80s, a Hall of Fame blueliner might've tipped the scales for them.
4 Brad Church, Miika Elomo, Alexander Volchkov and Jaroslav Svejkovsky - Washington Capitals
The Washington Capitals had a huge opportunity to infuse the franchise with fresh young talent in the mid-90s, owning four first round draft picks between 1995 and 1996 thanks to trades with the St. Louis Blues and Los Angeles Kings. In 1995, the Capitals used their picks on Brad Church (No. 17) and Miika Elomo (No. 23), who would combine for four career NHL games. One year later, they landed Alexandre Volchkov, who played all of three NHL games, with the No. 4 pick before getting 113 games out of No. 17 pick Jaroslav Svejkovsky. Of the four, Washington’s biggest success was a career 23-goal scorer.
3 Brian Lawton - Minnesota North Stars
The Minnesota North Stars made history with the first pick of the 1983 draft, selecting Brian Lawton as the first ever American-born player to go No. 1 overall. In the years since, however, Lawton has come to be more of a trivia answer than a revered pioneer. Sure, he opened the door for the likes of Mike Modano and Patrick Kane, but in spite of a career than spanned nearly 500 games, he only notched 20 goals once. The selection looks even worse in hindsight, knowing that each of the next six players taken would become All-Stars and/or Hall of Famers, most notably Pat LaFontaine (No. 3) and Steve Yzerman (No. 4). At least him being so awful gave them a chance to draft Mike Modano first overall, who left the franchise to their only Stanley Cup in 1999, but there's no denying that North Stars struggled in the '80s due to tbis pick.
2 Rick DiPietro - New York Islanders
Speaking of American players selected No. 1 overall, Rick DiPietro has – fairly or unfairly – seemingly become the face of unfulfilled expectations in the NHL. Lofty hopes for DiPietro began early on and only grew when the New York Islanders shocked the hockey world by handing him a landmark 15-year, $67.5 million deal. Despite respectable career numbers of 130 wins and a 2.87 goals against average, DiPietro’s career is defined by injuries. It doesn’t help that the Islanders selected DiPietro while they still had a young Roberto Luongo on the roster, who they later traded away (with Olli Jokinen) for nothing. The Islanders didn't win a single playoff series with DiPietro, finally breaking their winless streak this year on the back of John Tavares.
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