Achievement in the National Hockey League requires that raw ability be trained from a very early age to refine the skills necessary to compete in the world’s most competitive hockey league. Players are scouted and monitored from the youth level to see if they have the potential to compete on that level. Even if they have the potential, a relentless work ethic is required to ensure that the most is gained out of the talent that a player possesses. Work ethic is a factor that can determine the course of an athlete’s future in the NHL.
Some athletes possess preternatural ability that allow them to succeed regardless of preparation. However, for the vast majority of athletes, the level of preparation necessary to succeed in the NHL is enormous. Players practice or skate virtually every day, including the morning of the day of games. Multiple sessions in the weight room and on the trainer’s table are needed to keep their bodies in condition to hold up to the demands that the sport takes on them. Life in the NHL can be a brutal grind for players unaccustomed to the 82 game regular season schedule.
There has been a long list throughout NHL history of players that had the talent required to be successful NHLers, but lacked the work ethic and determination to become legendary. Some have still managed to find success in spite of this lack of motivation, but have not risen to the level that would have made them a Hall of Fame player. This list will be full of those that never fully realized their potential, even though they had the talent necessary to achieve greatness in the league. We'll look at players who were lazy, crumbled under the pressure of being a topic, and some who tragically passed before they could become all-time greats.
15 Alex Kovalev
Since Alex Kovalev was taken with the 15th overall pick by the New York Rangers in the 1991 Entry Draft, he has become 70th on the all-time goals scored list. You would think that impressive feat would be enough to consider him a success, especially considering he has won a Stanley Cup. However, Kovalev’s effort from game to game has wavered significantly, with him consistently “phoning in” appearances over the course of his 21-year NHL career. Towards the end of his NHL career, this behavior became more frequent and ruined his reunion tour in Pittsburgh. He would almost certainly be in the Top-50 goal scorers of all-time if his effort had been consistent.
14 Mike Ribeiro
During his 15-year NHL career, Mike Ribeiro has had to endure chirps about his perceived lack of toughness and wasted talent. Ribeiro played his most productive years with Dallas Stars teams that struggled mightily in a stacked Western Conference. Ribeiro then moved to Washington, where he averaged just over a point-per-game in the strike shortened 2012-13 season. He then moved to the Coyotes, who promptly dropped the remaining three years of his contract after a lackluster 16-goal season. Ribeiro has always had elite talent, but lacked the motivation to produce consistently. He scored more than 25 goals in only one season of his NHL career.
13 Alexander Semin
Alexander Semin is a tremendously talented player who has never fully lived up to the potential he has, despite playing alongside one of the best players on the planet. Semin’s NHL career kicked off to a rocky start with the Washington Capitals, where Semin suffered through a saga regarding his Russian military service and the NHL lockout. Semin is regarded by many as having the talent necessary to easily put up 100 points in a season, but has never done this, and Semin has certainly taken more than his fair share of shots. “The Other Alex” just has never showed an ability to sustain greatness. And, now that he is over the age of 30, it is possible he never will. He's currently enduring his worst season as a pro, with eight points in 22 games.
12 Pavel Brendl
Pavel Brendl was selected with the fourth overall pick in the 1999 NHL Entry Draft by the New York Rangers. Brendl was a star with the Calgary Hitmen and named to the all-star team of the 1999 Memorial Cup. Brendl did not make his NHL debut until 2001 with the Flyers after being included in a trade for Eric Lindros. A total of 11 goals and 22 points are all that Brendl could accumulate during his 50 NHL games, and this has led him to become regarded as one of the biggest wastes of talent in NHL history.
11 Pat Falloon
One pick after the mighty Eric Lindros was selected by the Quebec Nordiques, Pat Falloon was selected with the second overall pick by the San Jose Sharks. Falloon’s best season came during his rookie year, when he scored 25 goals and led the lowly Sharks in points. Falloon bounced around the NHL from 1991 to 2000 and finished his career with 143 goals and 322 points while plying his trade with five different NHL teams. A decent career, but definitely not the consolation prize that the Sharks would have wanted for not winning the Eric Lindros sweepstakes.
10 Fedor Fedorov
The younger brother of NHL legend Sergei Fedorov, Fedor was considered by many to be the bigger, stronger version of the Detroit Red Wings legend. Fedor was drafted by two different NHL teams before making his debut with the Vancouver Canucks. After playing 15 games over two seasons with the team, he went back to Russia before returning briefly for a stint with the New York Rangers. He played only three games with the Rangers before he decided to move back home, finishing his NHL career with only two assists in 18 career games. He continues his career as a journeyman in the KHL and is currently with Lada Togliatti.
9 Rick DiPietro
After an outstanding season with the Boston University Terriers, Rick DiPietro was taken with the first overall pick of the 2000 draft by the New York Islanders. Over the next six seasons, DiPietro developed into one of the top young goaltenders in the league and represented the United States on the 2006 Olympic team. The Islanders chose to invest in his future by signing him to an unprecedented 15-year contract. Shortly after singing this deal, injuries began to plague DiPietro, ranging from knee issues to facial fractures suffered during a goaltender fight. With eight years remaining on his NHL contract, the Islanders waived their once franchise goaltender whose career had been decimated by injuries.
8 Andrew Raycroft
For the first three years of his NHL career, Andrew Raycroft appeared only sparingly, racking up 21 appearances. In 2003-04, he became the first choice goaltender for the Boston Bruins and rewarded his team with a Calder Trophy performance in his first full season. After suffering a series loss to the Montreal Canadiens in seven games, the NHL lockout wiped out the following season. When Raycroft returned, his performances dropped, and he was demoted to third string. He moved to Toronto, where he gave up more goals than any other goalie and has since had stints in Colorado, Vancouver, and Dallas before leaving the NHL.
7 Tony Hand
Tony Hand made history by becoming the first British-raised player to be drafted in the NHL. Hand was raised in Edinburgh, Scotland and drafted by the Edmonton Oilers with the 252nd pick. Hand survived Oilers training camp in 1986 despite playing with a stick borrowed from Marty McSorley. Hand was offered contracts with several farm teams, but turned them down, because he already had an improved contract with Murrayfield Racers. He continued to play with European teams and holds many British records for scoring, including over 4,000 points during his career. This waste of talent rests solely on the shoulders of league executives who would not give Hand a chance to play hockey in the NHL.
6 Luc Bourdon
Joseph Luc Bourdon's story is a sad tale of a promising young star whose life ended too soon. Bourdon was the 10th overall pick of the Vancouver Canucks in the 2005 draft and had played fantastically in the World Junior Championships for Canada, winning gold in 2006 and 2007. After playing nine games for the Canucks in 2006-07, he played 27 the next season at the age of 20. During the offseason, Bourdon was killed in a motorcycle accident after losing control of his bike in Lameque, New Brunswick. Bourdon was only 21 years old at the time of his death.
5 Brian Lawton
With the first overall pick in the 1983 NHL Draft, the Minnesota North Stars selected the first American player ever to be taken in that position, Brian Lawton. Lawton was regarded by NHL Central Scouting as a “can’t miss” prospect and was taken ahead of Steve Yzerman, Pat Lafontaine, and Cam Neely. Despite putting up decent numbers, he never managed to put up more than 50 points during a single season and was soon moved to the New York Rangers. He bounced around to the Bruins, Whalers, Sharks, and Nordiques before retiring in 1993.
4 Alexander Radulov
Alexander Radulov began his career as the 15th overall pick by the Nashville Predators in 2004. After being one of the most exciting players in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, he entered the league with a decent rookie campaign followed by a 50-point sophomore campaign. Following that year, Radluov moved to the KHL, where he said the conditions offered were better. He made a brief return to the NHL with the Predators in 2011-12, but only lasted nine games before returning to the KHL. Raduolov currently plays for CSKA Moscow and featured at the 2014 Olympics for Russia.
3 Bryan Fogarty
Bryan Fogarty is still used as a cautionary tale of what can happen to a young player than cannot handle the demands of the NHL lifestyle. Fogarty struggled with alcohol and substance problems throughout his NHL career. He never managed to play a full season because of these demons, and the defenseman lasted only six seasons in the NHL before washing out. The defenseman finished his career with 156 games played and only contributed 74 points. Fogarty’s story ends tragically, when he died due to an enlarged heart while on a fishing trip in South Carolina.
2 Pelle Lindbergh
Pelle Lindbergh is another NHL player whose tale has a tragic ending. Lindbergh was one of the top NHL goaltenders in the league after being selected in the second round of the 1979 Draft by the Philadelphia Flyers. Lindbergh became the team’s first choice goaltender during the 1982-83 season and was selected to two All-Star games before winning the Vezina Trophy in the 1984-85 season. He was the first goaltender to bring a water bottle onto the ice, a practice that is used by every goaltender today. Lindbergh tragically died after leaving a team party, when he crashed his Porsche while driving under the influence of alcohol.
1 Alexandre Daigle
There was tremendous hype surrounding Alexandre Daigle when he was taken with the first overall pick of 1993 NHL Entry Draft by the Ottawa Senators. The Senators tanked the previous season to acquire Daigle, but he never lived up to the potential he was expected to have. After being selected ahead of players like Chris Pronger and Paul Kariya, Daigle was outperformed by teammate Alexei Yashin during every year of their time together in Ottawa. Daigle then bounced around to several different NHL and AHL franchises, but only managed two campaigns during which he finished with over 50 points. He is still regarded as one of the biggest draft busts in NHL history.