Early in this NHL season there’s been a lot of exciting and interesting things happening. The Montreal Canadiens began the season on a tear, winning their first nine games. John Tortorella is back coaching in the NHL behind the bench of the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Anaheim Ducks can’t seem to score a goal and may be considering a coaching change of their own. Perhaps one of the most fascinating things in the NHL this season is the emergence of new young stars like Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel, Max Domi, Anthony Duclair and Dylan Larkin just to name a few. As the league’s salary cap puts a squeeze on teams needing production and results, cheap players are of the utmost importance and teams’ desire to put their top prospects into the NHL may become more prevalent.
Of course throwing young players directly into the NHL with very little post draft development hasn’t always worked out for the best. There have been many prospects over the years who were projected to do great things in the NHL only to fail when they got there. It’s hard to know exactly what role a team’s treatment of a young player has in his development. Every player is different and measuring what a player ultimately becomes versus what he might have become had the situation been handled differently is impossible. There have been many can’t miss prospects who did miss and in many cases it may be a misjudgment of how that player’s talent would translate at the NHL level. That in turn, might have led to their failure rather than how the team handled them. However, there are some players that you look at and can’t help but think that management’s treatment of them, whether it be by rushing them, underplaying them, misusing them or abusing them, played some role in their demise.
Here’s a look at 15 players who may have had a better fate had management handled things differently.
15. Terry Ryan
The Montreal Canadiens drafted Terry Ryan with the eighth overall pick in 1995. That fall, he was sent back to junior where he played the majority of the next two seasons, getting into three games with the Canadiens in the 1996-97 season. He then played the majority of the 1997-98 and 1998-99 seasons with the Canadiens’ AHL affiliate in Fredericton where he often butted heads with coach Michel Therrien. He got into just five more NHL games during those two seasons and due to a change in management was never given another shot. New Canadiens GM Rejean Houle preferred to give playing time to his own draft picks rather than Ryan and was unwilling to trade him to get a shot elsewhere.
14. Josh Bailey
The Islanders traded down twice to draft Josh Bailey with the ninth overall pick in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. Bailey was already a solid two-way player at the time of his draft which meant the Islanders had no problem putting him directly into the NHL rather than send him back to junior to work on his offensive game. Bailey has played eight seasons in the NHL with only a brief 11 game stint in the minors in 2010-11, but has yet to score more than the career high 41 points he tallied in 2014-15. He hasn’t had a terrible career, but still well short of the expectations that came with his high selection. Bailey could have been a more valuable player had the Isles been patient with him.
13. Jiri Tlusty
After he was drafted 13th overall by the Maple Leafs in 2006, Jiri Tlusty spent one season in the OHL. Rather than allow him to spend the entire 2007-08 season developing in the minors, where he posted 18 points in 14 games, the Maple Leafs kept him on their NHL roster for the majority of the season. He played 58 games under head coach Paul Maurice, mostly on the team’s fourth line averaging less than 11 minutes of ice time per game.
Following Maurice’s dismissal Tlusty played the bulk of the 2009-10 season in the minors at a point per game pace. Partway through the next season the Maple Leafs traded him to the Hurricanes where he was reunited with Maurice. It wasn’t until Maurice’s firing from the Hurricanes midway through the 2011-12 season that Tlusty finally got the opportunity to produce and he scored a career high 23 goals and 38 points in the 48-game lockout shortened 2012-13 season. He has since struggled to maintain that form.
12. Luke Schenn
The Maple Leafs drafted Luke Schenn fifth overall in 2008 to be the first key piece of a rebuilding team. Rather than send him back to Kelowna of the WHL, where he was paired with Tyler Myers, to improve his offensive game and further his already strong defense, the Maple Leafs put Schenn directly into the NHL. He fared pretty well in his rookie season and was named to the All-Rookie team for his defensive play, but his development soon stagnated and after four seasons in Toronto he was dealt to Philadelphia for James van Riemsdyk. Schenn has been a disappointment for the Flyers and has become a healthy scratch on a regular basis.
11. Nino Niederreiter
Nino Niederreiter was drafted fifth overall by the Islanders in 2010. After nine games for the team in 2010-11 he was sent back to junior. He played all of 2011-12 in the NHL, but was used sparingly on the team’s fourth line. Niederreiter played for the AHL’s Bridgeport Sound Tigers during the 2012-13 lockout, but when the lockout ended the Islanders decided to keep him in Bridgeport and didn’t invite him to their NHL training camp. Niederreiter got fed up with how the team was treating him and demanded a trade. In the summer of 2013 he was dealt to the Minnesota Wild where he has yet to score more than 37 points. He does have a Game 7 overtime goal on his resume though.
10. Todd Bergen
Todd Bergen was a just fifth round pick of the Philadelphia Flyers in 1982, but he broke out following the draft and posted 57 goals and 96 points in 43 games in his final year of junior hockey. He played the bulk of his first pro season with the AHL’s Hershey Bears in 1984-85 and produced at a point per game pace. Bergen was called up to the Flyers for the final 14 games and seemed prepared to take the league by storm, scoring 11 goals and 16 points, followed by four goals and 13 points in 17 playoff games.
However, that would be the end of Bergen’s NHL success as he was unwilling to put up with the demands of head coach Mike Keenan who he felt was unfairly critical of his play. Bergen retired before the next season to pursue a career in pro golf. He returned to hockey briefly after his rights were traded to the Minnesota North Stars, but soon retired for good to focus on golf.
9. Guillaume Latendresse
Perhaps it wasn’t just on management as to why Guillaume Latendresse didn’t pan out in Montreal, but also media pressure, as well as the fanbase. However, the onus still falls on management, as the media and fans shouldn’t dictate how you develop players. Latendresse was a second round pick, but was incredibly overhyped, due to Montreal’s desire for a local francophone superstar. Latendresse never hit the 20-goal mark in Montreal and was eventually traded to Minnesota. Part of the problem was that he was rushed into the NHL out of junior, despite needing a lot more development. There’s a reason not many second round picks jump to the NHL right away.
8. Alexander Svitov
The Lightning drafted the Russian centre third overall in 2001 and after one more season in Russia, Svitov made his North American debut in 2002-03. He played 11 games for the AHL’s Springfield Falcons and scored nine points, but rather than keep him in Springfield to develop, the Lightning played Svitov 63 games in the NHL with less than nine minutes of ice time per game. The following season he played a large portion of the season in the AHL, but his production regressed to 18 points in 30 games.
He played 11 more games with the Lightning with very little ice time and was traded midseason to the Columbus Blue Jackets. He went back to Russia following the 2004-05 lockout and later returned to the Blue Jackets for one more unproductive season before returning to Russia for good.
7. Gilbert Brule
Heading into the 2005 NHL Entry Draft many billed Gilbert Brule as the second best prospect behind only Sidney Crosby and he ended up going sixth overall to a poorly managed Columbus Blue Jackets team. Brule started the 2005-06 season in Columbus, but suffered several injuries and was ultimately returned to junior. The following season he was assured by Blue Jackets GM Doug MacLean that he would be in Columbus for the full season, but he was a healthy scratch several times and spent the majority of his playing time on the team’s fourth line.
He played one more season in Columbus – averaging less than 10 minutes in ice time per game – before he was traded to the Oilers where another string of injuries and a lack of ice time put an end to his time as a top NHL prospect.
6. Sven Baertschi
The 13th overall pick of the the Calgary Flames in 2011 was recalled from junior on an emergency basis during the 2011-12 season and scored three goals in five games on an a Flames team that was desperate for something to be excited about. He played for the AHL’s Abbotsford Heat during the 2012-13 lockout and was called up to the NHL at the lockout’s conclusion, but due to an injury and limited playing time was demoted back to Abbotsford.
Baertschi returned to the Flames at the end of the season and scored nine points in his final seven games. Before the 2013-14 season even began, Baertschi’s defensive game drew criticism from new Flames president Brian Burke. He spent the 2013-14 season and part of 2014-15 bouncing back and forth from the NHL to the AHL and was often given limited minutes or scratched in favor of enforcers at the NHL level. He was traded to the Vancouver Canucks midway through the 2014-15 season.
5. Mikhail Grigorenko
The Sabres couldn’t decide what to do with MikhailGrigorenko in the two seasons following his selection at 12th overall in 2012. He began both of the 2012-13 and 2013-14 seasons with the Sabres, only to be sent back to junior which was complicated in the first season by his QMJHL team having the maximum number of import players on their. At one point the Sabres attempted to send Grigorenko to the AHL on a “conditioning stint”, but were rebuffed by the NHL.
He spent the 2014-15 season between the NHL and AHL, compiling 36 points in 43 games in the AHL, but producing very little and often butting heads with coach Ted Nolan in the NHL. In the summer of 2015 he was traded to the Colorado Avalanche, reuniting with his junior coach Patrick Roy, but he’s averaged just over 6:35 in ice time per game.
4. Patrik Stefan
The first ever draft pick of the Atlanta Thrashers was used to take Patrik Stefan first overall in 1999. Stefan was immediately thrown into the NHL with very little support on an expansion team that won just 14 games in his rookie season. Stefan never produced more than 40 points in any NHL season and is considered on of the biggest draft busts in NHL history. One wonders how his career would’ve gone had he been drafted by a team that could develop him properly.
3. Alexandre Daigle
The first overall pick in the 1993 Draft by the Ottawa Senators never posted more than 51 points in an NHL season and is in the conversation with Stefan for the biggest draft bust of all time. It may be that Daigle lacked the motivation and speed to produce at the NHL level, but the Senators handing him a five-year, $12.25 million contract – a deal that was the largest for an NHL rookie at that time and was instrumental in the league introducing a rookie salary cap – before he played a game migh have played a role in his lack of motivation. The team also fired head coach Rick Bowness and assistant Alain Vigneault in November of 1995 after demoting Daigle to the fourth line probably didn’t help his motivation either.
2. Doug Wickenheiser
Some people were upset when the Montreal Canadiens drafted Wickenheiser first overall in 1980 ahead of Denis Savard. Among the critics of Wickenheiser’s selection was Canadiens head coach Claude Ruel. Former Canadiens defenseman Larry Robinson has said, “Ruel didn’t think he was a quality NHL player, or a decent number one pick.” This resulted in Wickenheiser being a healthy scratch for half of his rookie season. Ruel was fired after that season and it took Wickenheiser some time to adjust to a move from centre to wing under new coach Bob Berry. Wickenheiser would have a bit of a break out with 25 goals and 55 points in his third season, but was criticized by fans and the media for not being Denis Savard.
He was finally traded during the 1983-84 season to the St. Louis Blues where he would have several productive seasons, but never lived up to his number one selection.
1. Rick DiPietro
“We’re hanging a lot of reputation on this kid. It’s gutsy, and maybe crazy… but we think he’s a really special player,” said former New York Islanders GM Mike Milbury after making DiPietro the first goalie to be drafted first overall and trading away goalies Kevin Weekes and Roberto Luongo at the 2000 NHL Entry Draft.
The Islanders immediately threw DiPietro into the NHL where he played 20 games on a last place team in 2000-01. He then spent two seasons in the minors before becoming the team’s full-time starter in 2003-04. In September of 2006, after just two full NHL seasons with limited success DiPietro was handed a massive 15-year, $67.5 million contract. He played just two more full NHL seasons before being struck by a series of injuries that derailed his career. In the summer of 2013 the Islanders bought out the final eight years of DiPietro’s contract.
DiPietro was saddled with huge expectations from the time he was drafted and then given a massive contract that he couldn’t possibly live up to. You have to wonder what path his career might have taken if he hadn’t been drafted by the league’s most inept franchise.
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