If you look at various NHL rosters throughout the decades, you’ll no doubt come across players who share the same last name—sometimes multiple players. If you research it, you’ll find that most of them are related in one way or another, be it they’re brothers, cousins, a father/son duo, or any other type of relation, really.
Whether it’s primarily nature or nurture, it’s tough to say. Obviously genetics plays a major role—just look at the Sutter family, a family that has seen nine players play at least one game in the NHL, spread across two generations. In that same breath, you could say nurture played an equally large role, as the Sutters hail mostly from Alberta and spent their winters skating on the rinks on the family farm.
Today’s list highlights members from hockey families who failed to live up to the legacies that were built before them or with them). The players on this list are by no stretch bad hockey players; they’ve all played at least one game in the NHL, after all (that was the only criteria I used for the list). They simply failed to reach the high watermark that was established before them by a relative. Enjoy the list:
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15 Sam Gagner
If this article were written three or four years ago, there’s no way Dave Gagner’s son Sam would be making an appearance. The 6th overall pick from the 2007 NHL Entry Draft got off to a decent start in his NHL career, making the Oilers out of camp and scoring 49 points in his rookie year. That, however, stands as his career high.
It’s been a steady regression since, and it’s gotten to the point where he no longer can stick in the NHL. Last season the 27-year-old participated in his first ever AHL game with the Leigh Valley Phantoms—an odd age to make your minor league debut, considered he had almost 600 NHL games under his belt at the time.
It’s not too late for Gagner, who just signed a one-year deal in Columbus where he’ll try to revive his career, which is on life support. Father Dave is a North Stars legend, and he scored 719 points in 946 NHL games, adding 48 more points in 57 playoff games.
14 Marty Howe
When the shoes you are expected to fill are that of your father Gordie Howe, you’re likely a good candidate for this list. While Marty’s brother Mark had an outstanding pro hockey career, his own was a bit underwhelming in comparison.
This is not to say Marty’s career was lackluster; he managed to play 197 NHL games to add to his 449 WHA games. But his production levels were far below that of his younger brother Mark and his father Gordie, as he managed just 31 points in the NHL and 184 in the WHA.
Meanwhile, Mark posted career boxcars of 197- 545-742 in 929 NHL games (as a defenseman), and Gordie’s numbers are no secret—801-1,049-1,850 in an incredible 1,767 NHL games. Again, this isn’t to crap on Marty Howe, but it’s safe to say he’s a huge step below his brother Mark and a country mile underneath his father, Gordie.
13 Brett Lindros
By the time Brett Lindros was drafted in 1994, older brother Eric was already on his way to legend status. Eric had just completed his second NHL season which saw him notch 97 points in just 65 games, and he would actually win the Hart Trophy the very next year (the lockout shortened 1995 season).
Now, to call Brett a complete let down might be a little harsh. By the time he turned 21, he was forced to retire from playing the game professionally because of all the concussions he’d received throughout his junior career and into his professional one.
His older brother’s career was also cut short thanks to brain injuries, but Eric had already cemented himself as a legend (and is set to be recognized for it in the Hall of Fame). His career numbers are insane, as he posted 372-493-865 in just 760 NHL games.
12 Jared Staal
Jared Staal is the youngest of the four Staal brothers, and by the time he was picked in the second round of the 2008 NHL Draft, his three older brothers had already been picked in the first round and their pro careers were underway; as the only second round pick of the quartet, he was already behind the high watermark set by his brothers.
It’s now been eight years since the Coyotes drafted Jared, and his total NHL games played currently sits at two, both of which were played in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season. Compare that with his brothers’ totals, which are all over 600 and counting (Eric will get to 1,000 with a full season next year), and you can see how he is a bit of a let down in comparison.
Jared’s NHL hopes are a thing of the past, as he regressed to the ECHL last season, playing the full season with the South Carolina Stingrays.
11 Robert Nilsson
Kent Nilsson is a legend in Calgary, and he was a Stanley Cup champion with the Edmonton Oilers in 1987. His son Robert was drafted 15th overall in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft by the New York Islanders, and he was considered an elite prospect at that point.
Robert toiled away for a few more years in Europe beyond his draft year, but he eventually made the move to North America for the 2005-06 season. After spending most of two seasons in the Islanders’ system, he was dealt to Edmonton along with Ryan O’Marra and a first round pick for fan favorite Ryan Smyth.
It looked as though his career was about to take off in Edmonton, as he posted a solid 41 points in 71 games in 2007-08 playing on a line with rookies Andrew Cogliano and Sam Gagner. Flash forward to today, and Robert is heading into his seventh straight season in Europe; his father finished with 686 points in 553 NHL games.
10 David Musil
Son of Frank, David Musil was an early second round draft pick by the Edmonton Oilers in 2011. Critics of the pick said at the time that the selection of Musil so high reeked of nepotism, as his father had spent time with the Oilers in the twilight of his career was employed by the club as a scout at the time of the pick.
While it’s still a little too early to say that David Musil is a dud, the 23-year-old is running out of opportunity to prove himself in the big leagues. He’s heading into his fourth season of pro hockey in the Oilers system, and his progress has been rather minimal since junior. He’s played four NHL games so far.
His father Frank, however, played in the NHL for 14 seasons and nearly got to the 800 game milestone, stopping just short at 797. He was an agitator, racking up 1,294 penalty minutes in the process and pitching in 140 points to boot. This probably isn’t a good time to mention that David's uncle is Bobby Holik, who played 1,314 NHL games…
9 Brody Sutter
Obviously, a Sutter was going to make an appearance on this list. Son of Duane, Brody was drafted deep in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, 193rd overall. As Sutter’s tend to do, though, Brody defied the odds and has played 12 NHL games over the past two seasons, which is more than most seventh round picks play in their careers.
If Brody wants to make a real go at it, he’s going to have to find something unique that he can bring to the table. To be fair I haven’t ever watched him play, but on paper he seems very pedestrian—he’s a right wing who doesn’t seem to score much at any level, and has been a minus player nearly everywhere he’s played.
If you compare Brody’s 12 games (and zero points), to those of his father, uncles, and cousins, it’s pretty clear that he is a step behind the rest of the Sutter clan.
8 Brendan Ranford
Brendan Ranford is the nephew of 1990 Conn Smythe Winner Bill Ranford. Brendan is not a goaltender like his uncle, and he was drafted in the seventh round of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, 209th overall. To call him a disappointment might be a little harsh, as most seventh round picks don’t play the one game that Brendan has found his way into.
It’s almost unfair to include a guy who was picked so far down and has played less than 10 minutes in the NHL (one games played), but it’s also safe to say that he’s not quite living up to the Ranford name. His uncle played 647 games in the NHL, registering 240 wins in the process.
It’s not too late for Brendan to make one last run at the big leagues, as he’s only 24 years old. However, I think it’s safe to say that if it doesn’t happen for the forward in 2016-17, it will likely never happen.
7 Jamie Leach
Jamie Leach is the son of Reggie Leach, the Philadelphia Flyers legend who is one of just 20 NHL players in history to reach to 60 goal plateau in a single season. Leach was drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins 47th overall in the 1987 NHL Entry Draft. He made his debut with the Pens in 1989-90, but only got into 10 games.
That first season was pretty indicative of how his NHL career would go. That stands as the third-most games he’d play in any single season, and he finished his career with just less than one full season’s worth of games (81). He scored 11 goals and 20 points.
When you measure Jamie’s numbers up against his fathers, they are worlds apart. Reggie finished with 666 points (an apt total for one of the Broad Street Bullies) in 924 games, and he added 69 playoff points in 94 games, winning one Stanley Cup with Philly in the process.
6 Eric Meloche
Eric’s goaltender father Gilles Meloche never played for any of the league’s elite teams during his career—the California Golden Seals and Cleveland Barons in the 1970s, and the North Stars and Penguins in the 1980s until he retired. He did manage to rack up an impressive 270 wins though, which is currently 42nd on the all-time wins list. He’s 17th on the games played list as well, with 788.
Eric didn’t follow in his father’s footsteps to become a goalie but rather he tried his hand at being a right winger. It obviously wasn’t the worst thing for Eric, as he did make it to the NHL and had a long career in the AHL, but it’s fair to say that his father’s shoes were too grand for him.
Eric did what most struggling North American pros do and finally defected to Europe to finish his career, which came to an official end after 2011-12. His final NHL boxcars are 9-11-20 in 74 games.
5 Mike Blake
When it comes to hockey legacies, it’s tough to measure up to Toe Blake. As a player, Toe won three Stanley Cups (two with the Canadiens, and one with the Montreal Maroons) and posted 527 points in 577 games. It was as a head coach that he truly cemented his hockey legacy: he won an astonishing eight Stanley Cups in his 13 years at the helm, finishing no lower than third place in the overall standings in any season.
Many people aren’t aware of this, but Toe’s nephew Mike Blake was an undrafted goaltender who actually fought his way into a handful of NHL games with the Los Angeles Kings in the early 1980s. In fact, there was one season (1983-84) where he played enough to be branded as the “1B” goalie that year, seeing action in 29 games.
Mike Blake played 40 NHL games all told, all for the Kings. Not a bad feat for an undrafted goalie, but he still certainly failed to live up to his uncle’s 11 Stanley Cups.
4 Yan Stastny
Both of NHL legend Peter Stastny’s sons Yan and Paul have NHL games under their belts, but only one of them was good enough to stick in the bigs. Paul is currently plying his trade with the St. Louis Blues, and he’s doing a fine job to boot; Yan (the elder) is heading into his seventh straight season in Europe after a failed attempt at an NHL career.
Yan’s professional hockey journey started when he was drafted by the Boston Bruins in the eighth round of the 2002 NHL Draft. He did manage to play in 91 games, which is more than 95% of eighth round picks (well, there isn’t even an eighth round any more, to be fair), but his younger brother is at 676 GP already.
The high bar was truly set by his father Peter though, as he played in 977 NHL games and recorded a staggering 1,239 points in the process. That puts him seventh all-time in points-per-game—the highest of all European skaters, ever.
3 Rocky Trottier
Most people probably have no idea that Bryan Trottier has a younger brother who played in the NHL named Rocky, but it’s true. Rocky was actually a first round pick by the New Jersey Devils in 1982 (eighth overall).
Expectations were high for Rocky, what with the fact that he was the younger brother of Bryan coupled with his high draft pedigree. Unfortunately for the Devils and Rocky Trottier, things never really transpired for the forward. He toggled between the NHL and AHL (mostly the latter) for five seasons before calling it a career.
His older brother, meanwhile, won a fourth Stanley Cup with the dynasty Islanders the year after his younger brother was drafted, and he retired with incredible numbers: 524-901-1,425 in 1,279, as well as six Stanley Cup rings. Perhaps Rocky could have done better had he been drafted to a better franchise.
2 Randy Bucyk
This is probably a little bit of an unknown to most as well, but Bruins legend Johnny Bucyk had a nephew who played in the NHL by the name of Randy. Randy was draft eligible in 1980, but he went undrafted then and throughout his college career at Northeastern.
Never bet against a Bucyk, though; Randy battled his way up the ranks and eventually found his way onto the Montreal Canadiens’ roster (sacrilegious to his family, I’d imagine) for the 1985-86 season for 17 games. He played two more games in a Calgary Flames sweater in 1987-88, and that would be it for the Edmontonian.
His uncle Johnny had the bar set quite a bit higher than that, unfortunately. He scored 556 goals (545 with the Bruins alone) and 1,369 points in 1,540 career games. He’s one of the all-time great Bruins, and he always will be.
1 Brent Gretzky
First off, I’ll say I feel badly for putting Brent Gretzky on this list and not brother Keith, but Keith never made it to the NHL and that was my one rule for this list. Brent did find his way into the big leagues in 1993-94, after being drafted 49th overall by the Lightning in 1992.
He would play 10 games in 1993-94, and add just three more the following season, and that was it for NHL experience for the youngest of the Gretzky brothers. His pro career would see him toil his trade in a handful of different leagues, finishing off with seven seasons in the now defunct United Hockey League (UHL), which I’m pretty sure many of you have never heard of.
Brent’s NHL career saw him score one lonely goal, which was only 893 less than his eldest brother’s total. His point total of four is just 2,853 less than Wayne’s. When you look at all the numbers, this was an easy choice for number one on this list.
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