It's almost impossible to define how crucial hitting on your draft picks is to a professional sports franchise, especially in the first round. While teams can often take fliers on players with boom-or-bust potential in the later rounds, there is no room for error when it comes to making an early round selection. The selection of a player can turn a franchise around or turn it upside down. A strong pick can anchor a team for decades, while a bust can set an organization back years - and will often be the first domino to fall in the toppling of a management regime.
Over the years, we've seen plenty of "no-brainer" picks at the top of National Hockey League drafts: Sidney Crosby being the obvious one, Connor McDavid the next one (and hopefully "The Next One", too, if you're an Oilers fan). As you move down the draft order, though, picks become harder to make as predicting a player's upside and potential becomes harder to project. It's easy in hindsight to point out how much better players selected late in the first-round are than some who are taken earlier, but there's no exact science to the process of drafting athletes.
Then again, over the past decade there have been plenty of instances where we've found ourselves not only shaking our heads years down the line, but also watching our television screens in bewilderment in the moment. Sometimes, the teams have been right, reminding us all once again why they are there making the picks and why we are at home watching with a beer in one hand and a handful of our favorite chips in the other.
Other times, though, teams have made blunders so evident that even seconds after the name is announced, or the trade was made, you knew it wasn't going to end well for that team. In hindsight, though, it makes for great debate and oftentimes a couple of good, incredulous laughs.
15 Thrashers and Sharks Screw Themselves Out of Marc Staal (2005)
For fans, the idea of having all 30 NHL general managers perusing the same floor for several days at a time is the ultimate form of off-ice entertainment. Twitter explodes the second a GM is caught on the phone, and if two managers are seen having a discussion off to the side, we rush through the two teams' rosters looking for the potential pieces of a deal.
For managers, though, the draft floor can be a dangerous place, where a trigger-happy mentality can often land a GM - and his team - in a precarious situation. Let's take the 2011 Draft as our first of many examples.
As much as one would like to hoard as many high picks as possible, there are only 23 roster spots on an NHL roster, and only six full-time spots for blueliners. On the other hand, some GMs feel the need to reach for a player they desperately want (even if they don't need him). Either way, if a solid rearguard is on the board, you should probably consider taking him. The Atlanta Thrashers, who no longer exist, moved down twice, and the San Jose Sharks, who are no longer very good, moved up. Both had an opportunity to select current Ranger defensive stalwart Marc Staal, but decided instead to trade out of their picks. The Sharks ended up with Devin Setoguchi, who was a flash in the pan, while the Thrashers/Jets ended up with marginal starter Ondrej Pavelec.
14 The Palat Whiff (2011)
Assuming you haven't lived under a rock over the past couple of years, you now know the name Ondrej Palat quite well. This one falls on every single team in the National Hockey League. Sure, there are always diamonds in the rough that fall through the cracks, but Palat has shown over the past two years that this was more a matter of horrendous European scouting rather than a player simply "figuring it out."
Palat went from relative unknown, to Calder Trophy finalist, to key cog in the Lightning's current Stanley Cup Final run. Teamed up with Nikita Kucherov (a now puzzling second-rounder) and Tyler Johnson (a mind-boggling undrafted free-agent), the Triplets have gone from scrubs to arguably the most fearsome trio of offensive dynamos in the league today.
We can ask the question "how did 207 players get taken before this guy?" as many times as we want, but we will never be able to rationalize it.
13 Taylor vs. Tyler (2010)
This might not be the most obvious of draft day blunders, but if you look at the career trajectory of Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin, you get a better sense as to why the Oilers should feel like they made the wrong pick on that fateful June day in 2010.
Taylor Hall was coming off a spectacular run to the Memorial Cup, while Tyler Seguin was a budding superstar with limitless potential. It would have been a difficult choice for anyone. A lot of us probably would have taken Hall too, without blinking an eye.
Looking back, though, you can begin to see how wrong the Oilers were. Tyler Seguin was unquestionably held back in his first few seasons in Boston, as he was on a deep roster that ultimately won the Cup and didn't really need him - and yet he still managed to put up 67 points in his sophomore season. I'm willing to wager that if the Leafs had never traded for Phil Kessel (a mess in its own right) and had managed to pick Seguin, he would already be light years ahead of Hall.
Now that Seguin is the focal point of the Dallas Stars offense, we can clearly see who has not only become the better player now, but who will likely be the ultimate winner of the "Taylor vs. Tyler" debate. With Hall, you see a player with incredible scoring prowess but also someone who's been largely incapable of "getting over the hump" (other than in 2013-2014). With Seguin, you get the sense that he's a guy who could end up competing for scoring titles for the next decade.
12 The Burmistrov Bungle (2010)
Barring the complete disbanding of high-level hockey in Russia, the stigma attached to Russian players who enter the NHL Draft will never change. Alexander Burmistrov was no different. While Burmistrov played in the CHL and was given a shot in the NHL, he went back to Russia the second things went south in Winnipeg.
The Thrashers/Jets not only failed to identify the right player - picking a guy who wasn't very productive who also ended up jumping ship - they also passed on some top-end talent, most notably Cam Fowler, Jaden Schwartz, and worst of all, the true Russian superstar of the 2010 draft: Vladimir Tarasenko.
11 Habs Let Lucic Loose (2006)
For years - no, decades - you couldn't go a summer in Montreal without hearing about the Montreal Canadiens lack of size up front. For the longest time (and still today, to a certain extent), the Habs were a bunch of Smurfs who couldn't matchup with some of the league's bigger, stronger teams.
While they managed to upset the Bruins a few times, with each passing season it became evident that the Habs needed to finally begin to address the issue. In 2006, the opportunity was handed to them on a silver platter and they blew it as badly as a team could have possibly blown a situation.
The Habs had the 49th pick of the '06 Draft, coming off a first-round playoff exit and in serious need of beefing up their crop of forwards. Still on the board was behemoth winger Milan Lucic, a monstrous 6'2, 204 lbs. at the age of 18.
So of course, the Habs passed and took Ben Maxwell. Barely 6'0, 175 lbs., and never more than a minor-leaguer who was called up in a pinch from time to time.
10 Shelled by Schenn (2008)
The beating never ends for a fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The 2008 NHL Entry Draft was astutely dubbed the year of the defenseman - at least six of the blueliners selected in the first round could arguably be called a #1 defenseman. Several are considered the best in the game. We'll focus on the one who was supposed to be a part of that group...and never was.
Not only did the Leafs whiff with their selection of Luke Schenn (albeit more so because they ruined the player at a young age), they traded out of the pick that could have landed them Colin Wilson, at the very least. Had they scouted better, they could have had someone like Jordan Eberle, Tyler Myers - or Erik Karlsson.
9 The Filatov Fail (2008)
We may as well copy-paste parts of the Burmistrov and Schenn entries together, because it ultimately sums up what ended up happening with the Columbus Blue Jackets and Nikita Filatov.
You would think the Jackets had learned the lesson after dealing with Nikolay Zherdev, but that did not deter them from taking Nikita Filatov with the sixth pick of the '06 draft. Sure, Filatov was a tantalizing offensive talent, but the rise of the KHL combined with their failures should have been enough to scare the Jackets off.
Clearly, it wasn't so, and the Jackets ended up paying for it.
8 The College Kid Bias (2006)
No one truly understood Bob Gainey's obsession with NCAA products. Don't get it twisted - there have been plenty of college hockey players who have transitioned beautifully to the NHL game, but for some reason Gainey would have a serious bias towards American college hockey players, often leaving much better junior talent on the board.
The worst of such decisions is not up for the debate - the Habs completely blew it in 2006. They traded down from 16 to 20, adding a second-round pick in the process (a pick they also ended up blowing, by the way, on Mathieu Carle). With Claude Giroux on the board, Gainey and the Habs decided to ignore a player that was tearing up a league based in their province, on a team that played out of an arena that is less than a two-hour drive from the Bell Centre to instead draft David Fischer, who ended up playing a grand total of two AHL games and is now playing in Germany.
Meanwhile, Claude Giroux is, well...Claude Giroux.
7 The Unfathomable Eberle Slide (2008)
Players slide down draft boards. It happens every year. Some of them never get picked and still end up becoming superstars, but those guys tend to have major flaws that often scare teams away.
Jordan Eberle didn't have any major red flags attached to his name - and while he probably would have gone higher had his remarkable World Junior performances happened before his draft year, it's still hard to believe that twenty teams let Eberle get by them before the Oilers grabbed him at #22. Players taken ahead of Eberle include Anton Gustafsson (who?), Chet Pickard (huh?), Joe Colborne and Zach Boychuk.
6 Blues Trade Away From Logan Couture (2007)
As mentioned earlier, sometimes wheeling and dealing with the intentions of maximizing draft picks or improving your roster "quicker" or to add more prospects isn't always the best tactic. Take the St. Louis Blues as a prime example. In 2007, with Logan Couture on the board, the Blues traded their 9th overall pick away for three picks that turned into Lars Eller and Aaron Palushaj. At the moment, the Blues had added quality prospects - in hindsight, the Blues have nothing to show for Eller with Jaroslav Halak gone, while the other two barely got a sniff of coffee (let alone a cup) in the NHL.
5 Botching Benn (2007)
That Jamie Benn fell as far as he did in the 2007 draft must keep more than one general manager up at night - not to mention that a couple of them might still be employed if they had taken him when they had the chance.
Pretty much every team screwed up this one, as Benn fell to 129th before the Stars snagged the future Art Ross Trophy winner. The only players from the 2007 class to outproduce Benn to this point are Patrick Kane and Jakub Voracek - both first-rounders who've both played over 100 games more than Benn to this point in their careers.
4 The Kopitar Catastrophe (2005)
Maybe if Anze Kopitar wasn't an "unknown commodity," he would have gone much higher than he ended up going.
It's hard to blame NHL general managers for questioning the potential of a Slovenian in the NHL. It's not like they we're being racists about it, it was just new - Kopitar was the first Slovenian to ever lace up his skates for an NHL team. There's only been one other since, so we aren't talking about a hockey factory of a country here.
Regardless, the Kings ended up being the beneficiary of the foolishness of the teams in front of them. One could argue that he should have gone as high as second (you would take Kopitar over Bobby Ryan - don't lie). Other than Sidney Crosby, Carey Price and Ryan, the top 10 churned out a couple of average players at best. Meanwhile, Kopitar has become one of the league's most dominant centers.
3 P.K. Subban (2007)
Below are the defencemen who were taken ahead of P.K. Subban in the 2007 draft: Thomas Hickey, Karl Alzner, Keaton Ellerby, Ryan McDonagh, Kevin Shattenkirk, Alex Plante, Ian Cole, Jon Blum, Brendan Smith, Nick Petrecki, Nick Ross, T.J. Brennan, Taylor Ellington, Josh Godfrey, Tommy Cross and Kevin Marshall.
Most of those names mean nothing to you. A few, like McDonagh and Shattenkirk, are pretty close to elite - but neither compares to Subban. With one Norris in the bag and another potentially on the way, Subban has become one of the league's premier blueliners and will likely remain so for a number of years.
The saddest part of it all, for Habs fans anyway, is that McDonagh and Subban could have been the best defensive pairing in the league for the next decade had it not been for Bob Gainey's meddling.
2 Erik Karlsson (2008)
Similar to Subban, Karlsson was passed up by several teams before finally landing with the Senators. Karlsson still went 15th overall, but his career trajectory has shown he should have gone in the top 3. Other than Drew Doughty and Steven Stamkos, Karlsson has been the premier player to come out of the 2008 draft. In the hyped up "Year of the Defenseman," Karlsson has established himself among the elite, even though he dropped to the middle of the first round.
The biggest losers here might have actually been Los Angeles - even though they grabbed Doughty second overall, they had the chance to add Karlsson as well, but opted for Colton Teubert instead with the 13th pick. Senators fans remain thankful for the blunder to this day - and while two Stanley Cups in the past four years softens the blow, it must sting for Kings fans to think of what could have been.
1 Leafs Bigg & Saad Blunder (2011)
The 2011 draft might go down as the worst draft in the history of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
For starters, one of the first-round picks the Leafs gave to the Bruins in the horrendous Phil Kessel deal ended up being the ninth overall pick, which Boston used to pick Dougie Hamilton. Hamilton is on the fast-track to becoming a top-tier #1 defenceman in the league, while the Leafs are getting ready to ship Kessel out of town for a lot less than he's probably worth.
If that wasn't bad enough, the Leafs decided to move up to grab Tyler Biggs, a burly winger who was supposed to fit right into Brian Burke's "culture of truculence." The Leafs gave the Ducks picks 30 and 39 to move up to 22.
Tyler Biggs has yet to play a game in the NHL, while the Ducks used the picks to select Rickard Rakell and John Gibson.
The Leafs then used their 25th pick on Stuart Percy, who has been nothing more than a lower-end defenceman when given the opportunity to play with the big club. Players selected after Percy include Vladimir Namestnikov, Rakell, Tomas Jurco, and Boone Jenner, among others who've made a much greater impact than Percy up to this point.
To cap it all off, the Leafs decided to swing a deal with the Flames for Wayne Primeau and a 2nd round pick, giving up Colin Stuart and Anton Stralman. Stralman has become a pillar of the Tampa Bay Lightning defense. Primeau put up 8 points in 58 games with the Leafs, in what ended up being his final NHL season.
Worse than all that, though, was that the Leafs shipped the second round pick they got from Calgary to Chicago for what turned out to be essentially nothing, which the Hawks used the pick to select Brandon Saad.
To recap: in one draft year, the Leafs managed to screw themselves out of Dougie Hamilton, Rickard Rakell, John Gibson, Anton Stralman, Brandon Saad, and a player other than Stuart Percy.
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