With the 2017 NHL Entry Draft just around the corner, teams have their sights set on the players who they want to take with their first round selections. While this year’s draft class is not particularly strong, there are still some players who will potentially be a big part of a team’s future. However, if the past five drafts are any indication, nothing’s a guarantee. There are high expectations for any player that gets taken in the first round of a draft. While a good chunk of these players will go on to have great NHL careers, it’s inevitable that some will end up being busts.
In most cases, it takes about four to five years until you can officially consider a player a bust. However, you can usually predict the direction a player’s career is going based on his first couple years of as a pro. While some of the players on this list can’t be officially considered a bust yet, they are well on their way to becoming one.
Here 15 players that were drafted in the past five years that are already draft busts, or will be one in the near future.
15. Lukas Sutter (39th Overall in 2012)
Usually, when a player is drafted in the second round, it’s hard to consider them a bust. However, the fact that Lukas Sutter’s stock dropped so quickly earns him a spot on this list. There are two reasons why the Winnipeg Jets drafted Sutter way before he was supposed to go off the board. First, Sutter had a pretty decent draft year while playing in the WHL. He scored a solid 28 goals and 59 points, while still providing some grit to his game. Second, the Jets also liked the fact that Lukas was a part of the famous Sutter hockey family.
After he was drafted, Sutter’s hockey career went directly into the toilet. In his next two season’s in the WHL, he never scored more 13 goals. The Jets never offered him a contract and he ended up getting drafted by the Islanders in the 7th round in 2014. After a couple of dismal seasons in the minors, Sutter suited up for the University of Saskatchewan this past season.
14. Henrik Samuelsson (27th Overall in 2012)
Henrik Samuelsson is another example of a second generation talent who also doesn’t have what it takes to play in the NHL. The son of Ulf Samuelsson, Henrik had a tremendous junior career. In his last season in the WHL, he played an integral role in helping his Edmonton Oil Kings capture the Memorial Cup.
The Arizona Coyotes draft pick would turn pro ahead of the 2014-15 season, suiting up for the AHL’s Portland Pirates. It was an excellent first season for Samuelsson as he recorded a more than respectable 40 points in 68 games. However, since that season things have only trended downward for him. He has battled through some major injuries, but when he was in the lineup he didn’t produce much. Samuelsson is currently with his second NHL franchise, but it could be his last, as a trip to Europe seems like it’s in his cards.
13. Mitch Moroz (32nd Overall in 2012)
Mitch’s Moroz’ draft year wasn’t particularly special. While playing for one of the WHL’s top teams in the Edmonton Oil Kings, Moroz was stuck playing on the fourth line. What attracted the Edmonton Oilers was the fact that he still managed to score 16 goals with the little ice time he had. He also provided a physical element to his game that the Oilers were lacking at the time.
While Moroz went on to score an impressive 35 goals during his final junior season, his offense completely dried up when he turned pro in 2014. While the Oilers were hoping Moroz could develop into a solid power forward for them, he has become nothing more than a minor league enforcer.
12. Stefan Matteau (29th Overall in 2012)
Stefan Matteau’s first season after being drafted by the New Jersy Devils was a promising one. After the NHL lockout ended, he surprised everyone by making the Devils opening night roster. However, his stint with the team only lasted 17 games before he was sent back down to junior. Matteau would play the majority of his next two seasons in the AHL where his production was just okay.
Ahead of the 2015-16 season, Matteau was finally able to earn a full-time spot with the Devils. Unfortunately for Matteau, after he only managed to score one goal in 20 games, he was put on waivers. The Montreal Canadiens took a chance on him, but Matteau couldn’t produce any offense for them either. After playing the entirety of last season in the minors, it would not at all be surprising if we have seen the last of Matteau in an NHL jersey.
11. Scott Laughton (20th Overall in 2012)
Not all forwards drafted in the first round are going to find a top-six role in the NHL, and the Philadelphia Flyers must have known that when they took Scott Laughton. While his numbers were okay in junior, they didn’t exactly look like the stats of a future elite NHL scorer. While Laughton may not have been the most offensively gifted player, he showed that he had the potential to be a great two-way forward in the NHL.
It took a few seasons before Laughton finally earned a full-time roster spot with the Flyers in 2015-16. He played mostly in a checking line role with the team while adding 21 points in 71 games. After spending the entire previous season in the NHL, one would think Laughton would do the same in 2016-17. However, that wasn’t the case as he spent the majority of the year in the minors. At only 22 years old, it already looks like Flyers don’t have high or any expectations for Laughton.
10. Zemgus Girgensons (14th Overall in 2012)
Zemgus Girgensons has the distinction of being the only player on this list to have played in the NHL All-Star game. However, that is kind of misleading as the only reason he made the team is because the entire country of Latvia seemed to have voted him in. That 2014-15 season was by far his best of his NHL career. While playing for the Buffalo Sabres he put up a decent 30 points in 61 games.
It was finally starting to look like Girgensons might just live up to the potential he once showed. Unfortunately, after his “All-Star” season, his production was once again uninspiring. Girgensons has now played five professional seasons and has shown almost nothing to warrant a career in the NHL. The 2017-18 season could be his last chance to prove he can be a useful player in the league.
9. Michael McCarron (25th Overall in 2013)
Michael McCarron was a tantalizing prospect coming out of the U.S. National Development Team. At 6’6″ and over 200lbs, players his size who can skate don’t come around too often. After being taken by the Montreal Canadiens, McCaaron would join the OHL’s London Knight’s. Although he showed promise, his numbers didn’t exactly blow the roof off.
McCarron had a great first year as a pro while playing for Montreal’s AHL affiliate, the St.John’s Ice Caps. As a twenty-year-old, he recorded a solid 17 goal and 38 points in just 58 games. That same season McCarron also earned twenty games with the Habs, although he managed to produce just two points. While the Canadiens would love to have a big body like McCarron in their top six, it looks like they are going to have to settle with him being in a checking line role at best.
8. Conner Bleackley (23rd Overall in 2014)
Conner Bleakley is the only player on this list to be drafted twice. He was originally selected by the Colorado Avalanche after an excellent season with the Red Deer Rebels of the WHL. Not only did Bleakley captain the team, he also led the team with a solid 68 points. Unfortunately for Bleakley and the Avs, his development seemed to stall after that point. He would see his production drop over his next two seasons in the WHL.
Bleakley would be traded to the Arizona Coyotes at the 2016 NHL Trade Deadline. The Coyotes were happy to get him, but not for the reasons you might think. The Coyotes had no plan on signing Bleakley, they instead were happy to take a 2nd round draft pick as compensation for him re-entering the 2016 draft. Bleakley would get taken in the fifth round by the St. Louis Blues, and he found himself playing all the way down in the ECHL last season.
7. Emile Poirier (22nd Overall in 2013)
The Calgary Flames made a bit of a surprising move when selected Emile Poirier in the first round. It was surprising because most experts didn’t have Poirier going until the middle of the second round at best. However, after being drafted it was looking like the Flames made a great selection. In his last year of junior with the Gatineau Olympiques, he led the team with 87 points. Poirier also had a great first year as a pro, recording 42 points in 55 games with the AHL’s Abbotsford Heat.
Unfortunately for Poirier and the Flames, his production fell off a cliff after his rookie season. In his second AHL season, he saw his point totals drop to just 29. This past season was by far Poirier’s worst as a pro. He only appeared in 43 games in the AHL and registered just 17 points. Since Poirier was drafted the Flames have added a ton of talented prospects, and all of them have passed Poirier on the depth chart.
6. Frederik Gauthier (21st Overall in 2013)
At the time the Toronto Maple Leafs selected Frederik Gauthier, they were not flushed with a bunch of talented prospects, to say the least. The Leafs fan didn’t have a lot to look forward to so they were paying real close attention to how Gauthier was developing. Fast forward a couple of seasons and Gauthier has become sort of a forgotten man with all the other young talent the Leafs have in their hands.
It’s not like Frederick Gauthier did anything to stop his fall on the Leafs depth chart. The big center didn’t show a whole lot of improvement in his final two seasons of junior. His first two professional seasons were also nothing to write home about. Last season he managed to record just 13 points in 46 AHL games. At this point, it is looking like Gauthier will have to take a checking line role if he want’s to stay in the NHL.
5. Derrick Pouliot (8th Overall in 2012)
Nobody can blame the Pittsburgh Penguins for making Derek Pouliot a top ten selection in the 2012 draft. The defenseman was coming off a tremendous year for the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks, recording 59 points. His post-draft year also must have impressed the Penguins as he was a point per game player and helped the Winterhawks capture the WHL Championship.
While Pouliot had an outstanding junior career, his professional career has been a mixed bag at best. He has been a great offensive defenseman in the AHL. However, when he has gotten a chance to play with the big club, his production just hasn’t been there. That would be fine if Pouliot wasn’t such a defensive liability. Even with the Penguins defense hitting the injury bug hard this season, Pouliot has still found a hard time getting into the lineup. A change of scenery for Pouliot my be the best option for him to get his career going.
4. Slater Koekkoek (10th Overall in 2012)
During his last season of junior in 2013-14, Slater Koekkoek started to show why the Tampa Bay Lightning made him a top ten selection. He led all the Windsor Spitfires defensemen with 15 goals and 53 points. After a solid first season in the AHL, the offensive defenseman has been anything but. While he has been defensively responsible for the most part, he has registered just five points in 45 combined games with the Lightning.
Koekkoek still has a chance to have a long NHL career based on the fact that he is an exceptional skater. However, when a team drafts a defenseman as early as Koekkoek, you at least expect the player to develop into a top-four role. At this point, he seems like he trending towards being a depth defenseman at best.
3. Griffin Reinhart (4th Overall in 2012)
The first round of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft was heavy on a defenseman with eight of the first 10 selections being blueliners. The New York Islanders would make Griffin Reinhart the second defenseman drafted. After a couple of solid seasons in the Western Hockey League, Reinhart was projected to be a two-way defenseman who had the ability to play huge minutes. So far in his professional career, he hasn’t shown he has the ability to become that type of player.
After just one season with the New York Islanders, the Oilers acquired Reinhart with the hopes he would develop into their top shutdown defenseman. However, on a team that was in dire of defense, Reinhart’s still had a tough time getting in the Oilers lineup during his first couple of seasons with the team. At this point, if Reinhart can develop into a bottom pairing defenseman that would be considered a win.
2. Jake Virtanen (6th Overall in 2014)
While it may be true that you can’t call a player who is just twenty-years-old a bust, Jake Virtanen is definitely heading towards that direction. The power forward was drafted by the Vancouver Canucks after a tremendous draft year. While playing for the Calgary Hitmen of the WHL, he led the team with an impressive 45 goals. Virtanen would see his goal production decrease to 21 goals the following year and his production has continued to regress since.
Virtanen did surprise a lot of people when he made the Canucks 2015-16 opening night roster. He would stick with the big club all season, although he was only used in a bottom six role. In 2016-17, the Canucks sent Virtanen down to the AHL hoping he would find his scoring touch. Unfortunately, it ended up being a pretty dismal season for Virtanen. In 65 games he managed to record just 19 points. With his uninspiring numbers as a pro so far and his reputation for being lazy, it’s only a matter of time until he is officially labeled a bust.
1. Nail Yakupov (1st Overall in 2012)
Nail Yakupov was a unanimous choice to go number one overall in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. The Russian forward was coming off a couple of outstanding seasons for the OHL’s Sarnia Sting. He was one of the few players in recent memory who as a seventeen-year-old eclipsed the 100 point plateau. The Edmonton Oilers had thought they had their goal scorer of the future. Yakupov’s rookie season in 2012-13, gave the Oiler’s no reason to think otherwise as recorded a solid 17 goals in 48 games. Unfortunately for Yakupov and the Oilers, it all went downhill from there.
In his next three season’s with Edmonton, Yakupov never scored more than 14 goals and never topped 33 points. In October of 2016, the Oilers gave up hope that Yakupov would ever live up to his potential and shipped him off to the St.Louis Blues. Some thought a change of scenery could change Yakupov’s career around. However, after scoring just 3 goals in 40 games with the Blues, he seems like a lost cause. Not only is Nail Yakupov the biggest bust of the past five years, he also has to be considered one of the biggest draft busts of all time.
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