It’s no secret that in order to have long term success in the NHL, you need to do well at the draft table. Drafting well is the easiest and most proficient way to build a strong core, as it costs nothing in assets and can yield some pretty incredible returns.
As hockey fans, most of us have a favorite team, and we’ve all looked back at a particular draft at least at some point and lamented a pick our teams made. Sometimes, however, there simply isn’t really a deep pool of talent to choose from. Looking back through the history of the NHL Entry Draft—the first of which occurred in 1963—it’s safe to say that some years are a lot more stacked than others.
Look at 2003, for instance; that year is often recognized as the deepest draft in the history of the league, and I would have to agree. For every great draft year there is, though, there seems to be a dud somewhere near it. It's simply the nature of professional sports; some years, talent just happens to be greater that others.
The duds are few and farther between now than they were back in the 1970s, when amateur scouting was a shade of what it was today. Nowadays, the internet is a powerful thing - and plenty of NHL teams use it to their advantage while scouting talent from different parts of the globe. As you’ll see in today’s list, though, there are still dud years from time to time. Here are the top 15 disappointing NHL draft classes ever.
The first draft to appear on our list is the 1986 NHL Entry Draft. There are certainly a few great hockey players who were selected this year, highlighted by Brian Leetch (9th) and Vincent Damphousse (6th).
Beyond that? The names are pretty underwhelming. Jimmy Carson and Zarley Zalapski are probably the highlights, with second round pick Adam Graves up there as well; a very weak class overall.
The 2000 draft was held in Calgary, and the Flames are one of a handful of teams who got next to nothing from their first round selection. A few teams managed to grab some useful hockey players: Dany Heatley, Marian Gaborik, Scott Hartnell were all top 10 picks.
The entire draft, however, yielded just eight players who ever played in an NHL All-Star game, and one of those was first overall pick Rick Dipietro—hardly a draft success story.
The 1995 NHL Draft was held in Edmonton, and the Oilers picked Steve Kelly 6th overall. That should give you a good idea of how shallow this player pool was. There were a few gems that were discovered a little later in the draft; the Stars picked Jarome Iginla 11th overall, and the Sharks managed to snag Miikka Kiprusoff at 116th overall.
The top picks were truly lacking, though. Wade Redden and Shane Doan highlight the list, which mostly features players whose NHL careers were fleeting at best.
This is the second-most recent draft that appears on this list. The 2011 draft wasn’t without its solid players; in fact, it features two Calder Trophy winners in Gabriel Landeskog and Jonathan Huberdeau. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins went first overall. Still, the list of players definitely lacks top-end talent.
The depth of the 2011 draft wasn't anything to get excited about either, so it ends up here on our list at number 12.
The NHL introduced the draft in 1963, and it was much different then than it is today. To put it into perspective, there were a total of 21 players selected in the 1963 draft (there were only 24 in 1968, so those six years were similar in format, so I thought I'd better group them together as one).
These drafts rarely yielded quality NHL players, likely due to the fact that amateur scouting was barely a thing back then, whereas today teams have representatives watching games at all levels of hockey. These drafts really only yielded two star players in Peter Mahovlich (1963) and Ken Dryden (1964).
There were some pretty good draft years in the early 1990s, but sandwiched in between them was the relatively weak class of 1992. After the top two picks of Roman Hamrlik and Alexei Yashin—solid players for sure, but Hall-of-Famer they are not—there really wasn’t much to write home about.
Russian defenseman Sergei Gonchar was easily the best player selected in the first round, and other than that the highlights are fairly underwhelming; Martin Straka, Darius Kasparitis and Mike Rathje are a few of the more successful ones.
The top prize in the 1998 NHL Entry Draft was Vincent Lecavalier, but beyond him there was really nothing to get too excited about. David Legwand went second overall, and sure he had a solid career primarily with the Preds but he was no superastar, or even a star for that matter.
Outside of that duo, the best names off the board in the first round are Alex Tanguay (12th), Manny Malhotra (7th), and Simon Gagne (22nd). Detroit found the true gem of this class way down at pick number 171 when they called Pavel Datsyuk’s name.
The most recent draft class to make it onto our list today is the class of 2012. The Oilers selected Nail Yakupov first overall that spring, and needless to say he’s been a disappointing player so far. Still, though, the rest of the class hasn’t done much for the group either.
It should be noted that defensemen develop slowly and this class was full of D-men at the top—eight of the top 10 picks were defensemen. This class could look better in a few years, but today it’s worthy of number 8 on our list.
The 1970s were an interesting time because the draft was growing exponentially in size, and amateur scouting couldn’t keep up with the growth, Therefore, most players who were selected in these drafts (even in the first round) never saw action in the NHL.
In 1976, there are only a few players who I’ve even heard of who were drafted in the first round; Bernie Federko was definitely the highlight. In fact, it appears St. Louis found the only real talent in the draft, as they drafted Brian Sutter early in the second round, procuring two players who were to be the face of the franchise for a decade.
Not only is 1999 infamous for being the “Patrik Stefan” year (recognized as one of the biggest first overall flops in history), it also lacked depth. The next two picks off the board were great—the Sedin twins.
After that, though, the first round was void of any meaning, really. The most successful names that went off the board were Martin Havlat (26th), Nick Boynton (21st), and Tim Connolly (5th).
The Toronto Maple Leafs snagged an absolute beauty with their first overall selection of Wendel Clark in 1985, but the draft class behind him was noticeably shallow. Craig Simpson was a solid pick at no.2 overall, but beyond him the best names off the board in the first round were Dave Manson and Ulf Dahlen.
If you were patient in 1985 you might have gotten lucky; the Flames found Joe Nieuwendyk in the second round, and the Devils and Rangers found goaltenders Sean Burke and Mike Richter, respectively, in the second round as well. Overall, however, a very weak class.
It was tough to decide where to place the 1978 draft on this list, because it actually produced a decent amount of steady NHL players. Its complete lack of high-end talent, however, lands it at no.4. Bobby Smith was a decent first overall pick, but beyond him the talent pool was weak.
Ryan Walter, Wayne Babych, Behn Wilson, Willie Huber, Ken Linseman and Al Secord highlight the rest of the first round, so that gives you an idea of why 1978 appears here on the list.
The 1972 draft featured a few big names in Bill Barber (7th) and Steve Shutt (4th). First overall pick Bill Harris was fine, I guess, and Jim Schoenfeld (5th) was a good defenseman. Beyond the few serviceable players in the top ten, though, there was a whole lot of nothing.
Bob Nystrom is probably the highlight of the remainder of the class, and he went off the board in the third round to the New York Islanders.
The only surprising thing about the 1975 draft class being here at number 2 is there was a year that was actually worse. Seriously, the class of ’75's first round features a grand total of one hockey player who ever skated in an NHL All-Star game, and his name was Tim Young.
The second round features a few recognizable names in Brian Engblom and Dennis Maruk. Interestingly enough, the best player from the class remained on the board until the 15th round; that’s when the Kings selected Dave Taylor at 210th overall.
Not a single player selected in the top 20 of the 1996 NHL Entry Draft has ever played in an NHL All-Star game; think about that for a minute. For most of these players' careers, the NHL has mandated that every team have a representative at the All-Star game, and not one of these players was ever invited. Not even once.
Chris Phillips went first overall to the Sens that year, and although he’s had a long and stellar NHL career, is he really “first overall” good? Daniel Briere and Marco Sturm are the best players who were chosen in the first round, and no question the cream of the class went off the board in the third round to the Islanders (Zdeno Chara, 56th overall). Overall, it was the weakest draft class in history.