Being a highly regarded NHL player means that there are certain expectations that must be met. This is why some players are highly criticized. Managers set expectations for their number one draft picks and players who receive a high salary. Sometimes those expectations are not met and the players don't perform as expected. In other words, they underachieve. Having countless good seasons in such a demanding league is extremely difficult to do and that is why some players have one good season and can never proceed to have another season with similar results afterwards.
There are draft pick busts and players who have a tough time staying on the roster due to the fact that they are underachieving. All of this is a GM's worst nightmare but it does happen quite often in pro sports, especially in the NHL. It is really surprising to see some players have incredible years in the juniors but unable to replicate any of that success in the NHL. It begs the question of whether or not junior stats are reliable when predicting the potential of an upcoming player.
Some of the players on this list had great careers but it was overshadowed by the fact that they failed to meet certain expectations. Other players had their careers hindered by unforeseeable events such as career ending injuries. There were even some players that only saw a handful of games in the NHL because they could not meet the demanding expectations of the pro leagues. Unfortunately, we never saw some of those players blossom to their full potential.
15 Alexei Kovalev
Alexei Kovalev is one of those players that had an incredible career but he will always be regarded as a player who could have done much more. With a career spanning over 5 different NHL teams, Kovalev showed the world exactly how talented he was.
In the 2000-01 season, Kovalev put up a career high of 44 goals and 51 assists in just 79 games. He followed that up with another strong showing in the following season, but this is the best we got out of the Russian forward. After three decent seasons with the Montreal Canadiens, we saw the decline of Alexei, and this is something that was unexpected. Kovalev possessed the skill to put up 50 goal seasons but we never saw that from him. We never saw the full potential of this talented Russian forward.
14 Justin Pogge
In 2006, Justin Pogge stunned the hockey world when he put on an unbelievable effort playing for Team Canada at the World Juniors. Bringing home the gold medal, he finished the tournament with 3 shutouts and a .95 save percentage.
There were high expectations for him when he was drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs, considering his resume was filled with greatness. Unfortunately, Pogge was underwhelming for the Leafs. He started just 7 NHL games and obtained a goals against average over 4.00 accompanied with a horrid .844 save percentage. This is not something that the Leafs anticipated at the time because they seemed to think that this was their future franchise goaltender. It is too bad that Justin underachieved. There is no doubt that he was a talented goaltender but just didn’t get enough chances to prove himself.
13 Brian Lawton
In a draft that featured the likes of legendary Steve Yzerman and Pat LaFontaine, the Minnesota North Stars saw greatness in New Jersey native Brian Lawton. After putting up a point per game pace in the AHL, Lawton was never able to push more than 44 points in a single NHL season. This is not something the North Stars expected out of their first round pick.
Brian simply underachieved in his 12 season tenure in the NHL. It is quite shocking as we saw him put up incredible numbers in the IHL and the AHL. His career was also cut short as he finished his career with only 483 NHL games played. In that time, he put up a measly 112 goals and 154 assists for a total of 266 points. Not something you would expect from a guy who went first overall.
12 David Clarkson
In the 2011-12 season, David Clarkson showed the hockey world just how great he was at putting the puck in the net by scoring 30 goals with the New Jersey Devils. As an undrafted forward, David seemed like the needle in the haystack but things didn’t go well for the forward as time progressed.
In 2013, he signed a deal which would net him $5.25 million for the next 7 years. Unfortunately, he never came close to the 30 goal mark again, making this contract extremely unfeasible for any team to carry. Things got worse when a back injury limited his playing time in the following seasons. This injury may have hindered the full potential of Clarkson, and things may have fared differently if he was able to stay healthy. All of this aside, he was still underachieving while playing for the Maple Leafs and the Blue Jackets.
11 Rick DiPietro
The New York Islanders entered the 2000 NHL draft confidently by taking Rick DiPietro first overall. He showed signs of greatness in his first three seasons posting save percentages above .900. Everything seemed to be going fine until the infamous contract signing occurred…
A ludicrous 15 year, $67.5 million dollar contract is what Rick was offered by the Islanders organization. This means that Mr. Dipietro was going to have an unbelievable career as an Islander, right? Wrong. The Islanders surely would like their money back as Rick definitely underachieved in the years serving that contract. In the next 7 seasons, he put up only two seasons with a save percentage over .900 and actually spent time in the AHL as well. Constant injuries played a part in this outcome but there is no doubt that he could have played much better in his tenure with the Islanders.
10 Alexander Semin
148 goals in five seasons is what Alexander Semin scored while playing for the Washington Capitals. Surely he would go on to become a prolific goal scorer throughout his career. Shockingly, this was false.
After a comeback from the KHL to the NHL in 2012, Semin would put on two good seasons with the Carolina Hurricanes before completely disappearing from his scoring ways. In the 2014-15 season, he managed just 6 goals in 57 games. This was very unusual for a player who once scored 40 goals in a single season. His career fell short after that disastrous season as he would only manage to play another 15 NHL games after that. One could only imagine why Alex underachieved so early on into his career.
9 Marc Savard
Marc Savard is one of those unfortunate players whose career was cut short by a major injury. After many concussions and ankle injuries, his amazing career was put to an end right after he showcased two back-to-back incredible seasons.
From the 2005-06 and 2006-07 season, he managed to put up 97 and 96 points respectively. The 90-point plateau is an achievement only the most elite players can obtain. It was hard to imagine his career come to an end 4 years after those memorable seasons. It was also difficult to see a player of his caliber underachieve due to injuries. His point total would easily have surpassed the 1000 mark if he played even a few more seasons in the NHL. It was justifiable that the Bruins engraved his name on the Stanley Cup in 2011.
8 Ilya Bryzgalov
Another goalie on this list is the notable Ilya Bryzgalov. Bryz started his career quite successfully. The Anaheim Ducks and the Phoenix Coyotes greatly benefitted from his services as he put up excellent seasons with save percentages above .920 in some seasons. This all changed when he joined the Philadelphia Flyers in 2011.
Not only was Bryz not able to replicate the success he had with his former teams, his playoff performance is what was really questionable. He let in almost 3 goals per game and had a save percentage of .88 in both of the Flyers playoff runs that he took part in. His underachievement in the playoffs and in the second half of his career earns him a spot on this list. All in all, there is no denying that Bryzgalov was once an excellent goalie.
7 Scott Gomez
Scott Gomez had a great run in the NHL. Amassing two Stanley Cup rings, he was a great playmaker for the New Jersey Devils as well as the New York Rangers. The downfall of his career occurred when he was traded to the Montreal Canadiens in 2009.
Earning more than $7 million a season, Gomez had one decent run as a Hab and the rest is something Scott would really like to forget. He put together just 9 goals in the next 118 games. The fans mocked him and who could blame them? He was certainly underachieving in his time at the Bell Centre. Gomez was once an amazing playmaker but his career went downhill before he even hit his late 30s. Despite all of this, he will still go down as one of New Jersey’s best playmakers.
6 Dion Phaneuf
Dion Phaneuf turned lots of heads when he notched 20 goals and 29 assists in his rookie campaign. He followed that up with two more great seasons with the Calgary Flames. His career took a turn for the worst when he was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2010.
Earning $7 million until the 2020-21 season, the Leafs expected similar results from the Alberta native. Turns out, he would be unable to put out stats anywhere near his career highs. He eventually turned into the victim of harsh criticism from the Toronto media and fans. He was the Leafs captain but definitely not worth that amount of money and that is why his career will best be remembered for underachieving during his tenure with Toronto. The Leafs eventually shipped him to Ottawa where he now plays.
5 Alexandre Daigle
The 1993 NHL draft featured many historic players such as Chris Pronger and Paul Kariya. Aside all of that, the Ottawa Senators had their eye on Alexandre Daigle. The forward from Quebec put up 137 points in the QMJHL and the Sens liked what they saw and selected him first overall.
His rookie campaign was quite successful. He put up 51 points and the future seemed bright but Daigle was never able to top that. For a first overall pick, he had seasons where he couldn’t muster more than 10 points. An absolute disappointment for the Senators who passed on many great players in that draft in order to acquire his services. His career was cut short in the NHL and he decided that the Swiss leagues suited him better. In the end, he will always be known as an underachieving first overall pick.
4 Andrew Raycroft
Ah..the goalie that costed the Maple Leafs Tuuka Rask, but that is a story for a different day. Andrew Raycroft had the attention of the Maple Leafs. Once they acquired him, expectations were high for young Andrew. In simple terms, his tenure with the Leafs was a disaster.
In the two seasons that he played in Toronto, his goals against average pushed 3.00 and his save percentage never hit .900. A serious underachievement for the goalie they had such high hopes for. His career also didn’t fare much better with his future teams. He spent 29 more games with Dallas and that was about it for his NHL career. It seems like we never saw the best of Andrew Raycroft. His career started strong in Boston but his awful job in Toronto overshadows that.
3 Bobby Ryan
Bobby Ryan showed signs of greatness when he scored 31 goals in his second season with the Anaheim Ducks. He followed that up with three more 30 goal seasons after that. Things looked great for Bobby and the Ducks eventually traded him to the Ottawa Senators. The Sens then signed him to a large contract.
Earning more than $7 million a season, Ryan would never see another 30 goal season again. This is earning him much criticism as the Sens acquired him to become the prolific goal scorer that they needed. In the current season, he is on pace to finish with less than 20 goals. He is clearly not meeting expectations for such a large hit that he takes on the Senators' budget.
2 Nail Yakupov
Nail Yakupov is another forward drafted first overall that to this day has failed to meet the expectations of his draft position. The Edmonton Oilers took a gamble on him and after a solid rookie season with 31 points in 48 games, he has yet to amount to anything.
He hit a career high 33 points in the 2014-15 season but that is incredibly disappointing for such a highly regarded forward. The Oilers eventually got fed up and shipped him to the St. Louis Blues. His career is facing even worse times with his new team. He has just 6 points in 32 games in the current NHL season. Such an underwhelming career so far for a young Nail Yakupov. He is a very talented hockey player and we can only hope to see more as his career progresses.
1 Jonathan Cheechoo
One of the most unexplainable drops in production belongs to Jonathan Cheechoo. After an insane 56 goal season in 2007, the San Jose Sharks were confident that this young forward was going to have a great career. At first, they may have been right as he put up 37 goals in the following season, but things changed fairly quickly.
A huge surprise for the hockey world as the once 50-goal scorer now could not muster more than 15 goals. In his last NHL season before being demoted to the minors, he put up just 5 goals in 61 games. Granted this was just 4 years after he put up his career high. Jonathan seemed like such an outstanding player but he underachieved with so much time left in his career that it felt disappointing to watch.