There are no guarantees when it comes to the art of drafting, just as there are no guarantees in life.
No matter how talented or hard-working a top pick might be - in any sport - there's always one thing that no athlete can fully avoid: bad luck. It's something everyone has to deal with, whether you work a nine-to-five office job or whether you're being touted as the next Sidney Crosby.
There's no telling what can happen in the blink of an eye and there's no way for NHL teams to factor in the unlikeliest of possibilities when making a draft pick. A general manager can protect his assets as best he can off the ice, but he can't stop an opposing player from driving a hip through his top pick's knee in a major junior hockey game. He also can't stop a car accident, a bad fall, or a workout accident.
In the best cases, a draft pick doesn't pan out but can go on to live a fruitful, productive life. Maybe they catch on with a pro team in Europe or they parlay their hockey success into furthering their education or opening doors in the business world that most of us only get to crack open after years of tireless work and dedication.
In the worst cases, the literal worst happens - life gets in the way. Supremely talented athletes have never had the chance to earn their stripes in the pros, whether it's uncontrollable circumstances, career-ending injury, or tragic death. It's a sad reality that every sport has seen throughout the years, and while we remember fondly the life that was ruined or lost, we can't help but wonder: what if?
15 Gord Kluzak
Gord Kluzak's career was one that was tragic thanks to a proneness to injury that followed Kluzak throughout the entirety of his very brief NHL career (299 games, to be exact). Kluzak was taken first overall by Boston in 1982, but never amounted into much more than a fighter. His short stint in the pros was marred by serious injuries, which put him on the sidelines for two full seasons and limited him to 13 total games in his final three NHL seasons. He had more surgeries (11) than total years (9) in the league - that sums up the kind of luck the guy had going for him.
14 Patrik Stefan
Patrik Stefan has the misfortune of being a draft bust that everyone remembers, for a couple of reasons. For one thing, he was the first overall pick, taken ahead of both Sedin brothers, who will probably both end up side-by-side in the Hall of Fame someday. He was one of the few recognizable names in the short-lived history of the Atlanta Thrashers (which isn't saying much) and no one will ever forget his empty net blunder against the Oilers all those years ago.
Above all, though, Stefan's story is tragic because he too had to deal with nagging injuries, holding back what could have been at least a half decent career - not to mention the fact that he had to carry the Atlanta Thrashers through their infancy, of all teams. It was a recipe for disaster from the start.
13 Rick DiPietro
When you think of Rick DiPietro, the first things that come to your mind are a fragile glass vase or the infamous 15-year contract that was handed to him. No one would say no to what was essentially lifelong security, so we can't blame him for that one.
What's sad in retrospect is that had DiPietro been able to stay healthy and play at the level he showed he could play at on a consistent basis, that deal would have looked like a stroke of genius today. Unfortunately, DiPietro spent more time on the trainer's table than he did on the ice, ruining what could have been a pretty good career.
12 Daniel Ryder
Many people have a hard time remembering who Michael Ryder is (save for Habs and Bruins fans), so don't beat yourself up if you didn't know that he had a brother who was drafted in the third round of the 2005 NHL Draft. The younger Ryder was never able to latch on in the pros - at one point he was unsure if it was the life he even wanted to pursue. He left the Flames during one training camp, took the year off from hockey, and came back the following year. He was barely able to keep up in the ECHL, though, effectively ending his career.
Ryder, who was later diagnosed with depression and as having had a "psychotic break" at the age of 19, was arrested for holding up a convenience store in 2010 - the low of lows for a guy who was once projected to be a solid NHL player.
11 Steve Moore
We all know (and saw) what happened to Steve Moore. There's no need to rehash one of the most horrific incidents in hockey history.
The "clear" tragedy in the story is the fact that Moore was never able to play hockey again, but the tragedy runs deeper than that. While the off-ice case was handled and settled by the lawyers, the men who govern what happens on the ice severely dropped the ball by allowing Bertuzzi to simply waltz back into the sport the season following the incident - mere months after the Canucks forward had nearly intentionally ended an opponent's life.
There is no problem with hockey having a "code" and there's no doubting that Moore should have answered the bell that fateful day - but there's also something to be said about stretching the code the way Bertuzzi, and ultimately, the league, did that season.
In sum, an event that should have changed everything changed absolutely nothing and that's almost as tragic as Moore's career being ruined by a vicious punch to the back of the head.
10 Neil Carnes
You wouldn't know it unless you looked at a compiled list of all the incidents that have happened over the years, but the NHL has a dark and troubling record of road accidents throughout it's history. Names like Tim Horton and Dan Snyder are often the first to be mentioned, but there have been plenty that have, for the most part, "flown under the radar." Neil Carnes is one of those - the mention of his passing took up a small paragraph in the August 1st, 1989 edition of the Sun Journal. A third round pick in 1988, Carnes was a rising prospect in the Canadiens organization before passing in a motorcycle accident in Michigan.
9 Kristiāns Pelšs
The name Kristiāns Pelšs might ring a bell - his story took place in an era where all news is scrutinized and reported endlessly (until something "juicier" comes along). Pelšs, who was an Oilers prospect, mysteriously drowned in the summer of 2013 after jumping off the Stone Bridge into the Daugava River. Whether it was an accident, suicide, or a daredevil stunt gone wrong, we'll probably never know for sure - but the fact is that losing a young man (a talented one at that) will always remain a tragedy.
8 Bryan Rufenach
Bryan Rufenach, who was drafted by the Detroit Red Wings, died in a horrible accident, as he was electrocuted while backpacking with a friend in Switzerland three summers ago. The two had climbed on top of a train carriage and Rufenach got too close to an overhead line, which shocked him and ultimately ended his life. Rufenach was a seventh round pick of the Wings, but he was a rising prospect with real NHL aspirations - which comes as no surprised considering the franchise he was drafted into.
7 Michel Briere
Michel Briere was well on his way to NHL stardom. After a brilliant junior career, he made the Pittsburgh Penguins roster as a 20-year old rookie, tallied 44 points and was named the Penguins rookie of the year. Before long he was drawing comparisons to future Hall of Famers Bobby Clarke and Tony Esposito, who were also in the early stages of their legendary careers.
Unfortunately for Briere, life in the spotlight was cut short after a brutal car accident left him in a practically unconscious state for nearly a year, before he eventually succumbed to his serious head injuries at the age of 21.
6 Dmitri Tertyshny
Dmitri Tertyshny's story is perhaps the most gruesome of the ones on this list. An up-and-coming stud on the Flyers blueline, Tertyshny was enjoying his first summer as an established NHLer out on a boat with former and current teammates. The boat hit a wake and the 22-year old was flung from the boat, before getting caught in boat's propeller. He was able to get back into the boat, but the propeller had done horrific damage, causing severe injuries which led to his death in the arms of a teammate just moments later.
5 George Pelawa
Standing 6'3" and weighing 235 lbs, combined with a remarkable set of hands and a skill-set unfitting of a "big man" like him, George Pelawa was destined to be a top-end NHL power forward - one of the many of his era. Drafted 16th overall by the Flames in 1986, Pelawa seemed destined for greatness - until he hasn't. His career, and his life, were taken away from him just months after the Flames picked him, as he got into a bad car accident and perished from his injuries.
4 Pelle Lindbergh
The history of the Philadelphia Flyers is marred by the lack of top-end goaltending, save for a few exceptions - and they lost the best one they ever had in one of the most tragic ways possible.
Pelle Lindbergh was a stud between the pipes for the Flyers for several seasons, and was seemingly headed for a long and successful NHL career. That all ended in November 1985 when he crashed his Porsche into the wall of an elementary school after having drank too much during a night out on the town.
3 Alexander Vasyunov
While the entire Lokomotiv Yaroslavl plane crash was a horrible tragedy, Alexander Vasyunov was one of the youngest players on the plane and one of the few who had recently been drafted. Vasyunov had a cup of coffee in the NHL with the Devils, who had drafted him in the second round of the 2006 Draft, but returned to Russia to hone his craft. Fate would ultimately put him on that plane that fateful day, ending not only what could have been a good NHL career, but also ended a life far too soon.
2 Luc Bourdon
Luc Bourdon had all the makings of an NHL star. The tenth overall pick of the 2005 Draft was not only a top Canucks' prospect, but also a top Canadian junior, highlighted by his effectiveness during two World Junior gold medal wins in 2006 and 2007. The 21-year old was splitting time between the NHL and the AHL in his final year and showed a ton of promise when he got his chance. During the summer of 2008, Bourdon bought himself a new motorcycle - two days later, he was involved in an accident with a transport truck and passed from his injuries.
1 Alexei Cherepanov
Alexei Cherepanov's story hit home for many hockey players, considering how and where it happened.
Cherepanov, a first-round pick of the New York Rangers, died of a heart attack during a game in 2008 while playing for his Russian team, Avangard Omsk. Cherepanov has a highly-touted prospect that dropped due to "the Russia issue" (getting players to come over during the early years of the KHL was always a concern), but there was no doubt about his talent. The incident brought back dark memories before and after his death. Cherepanov's sudden passing reminded everyone of the Jiri Fisher incident, while the Rich Peverley incident had many fearing he had suffered the same fate as Cherepanov.
The worst part? Cherepanov was just 19, practically still a boy, and he never got his shot in the best league in the world - a league he seemingly would have been dominant in.