It’s tough to say just how much of drafting in the NHL is luck vs. talent. When you look back at past drafts, not a single one is a list of players listed in order from best to worst. No one can accurately predict how every single player will develop, and that’s part of the fun of it all.
While it’s always fun to look for the draft steals—the players who are selected well beyond the first round and become impact players in the league—it’s equally fun to look at the busts. The definition of a bust, for the purposes of this article anyway, is basically anyone who had high expectations upon him but failed to deliver.
Normally, we’re talking about a top-10 pick (although there is one appearance on this list from a player who was selected outside the top-10 in a particularly strong draft year). In any case, every player on this list failed to live up to expectations, whether the expectations were a franchise player or simply a regular NHL contributor.
Today we’re going to take a look at the 20 biggest draft busts from the past 30 years, meaning we’re going all the way back to the 1986 draft. Remember that one? Me neither, but the internet is always there to remind us of the good, the bad, and the ugly. Enjoy:
20 Alek Stojanov
Squeaking in at number 20 on our list is Alek Stojanov. Stojanov was selected 7th overall in the 1991 NHL Entry Draft—yes, the infamous Eric Lindros year—by the Vancouver Canucks. Now, 7th overall isn’t a sure-thing spot, but it’s pretty close. Especially in a strong and deep draft year, which is what 1991’s draft was.
The six players selected before Stojanov were all-stars or borderline all-stars. They were Lindros, Pat Falloon, Scott Niedermayer, Scott Lachance, Aaron Ward, and Peter Forsberg. Then went Stojanov off the board, and he went on to record seven points in his brief 107-game career, which started in Vancouver and ended in Pittsburgh. The top-10 picks from that season averaged 750 games, and Stojanov was the only guy who played fewer than 500 games.
19 Ryan Sittler
There is only one player on this list with exactly zero games of NHL experience, and his name is Ryan Sittler. Now, there are a few reasons he isn’t higher on this list; one, his draft year (1992) wasn’t exactly the strongest; two, he was the 7th overall pick (Philadelphia), so expectations weren’t through the roof or anything; and lastly, he retired at 25 after a rash of injuries.
That being said, the son of NHL legend Darryl Sittler surely could have been expected to deliver something in the way of an NHL game before his retirement at 25. That’s still seven seasons of post-draft year hockey. Although the injuries surely played a key role in Sittler’s inability to crack the lineup in Philly, the Flyers surely hoped for a little more from the winger from a talented bloodline.
18 Hugh Jessiman
Hugh Jessiman is by far the lowest-selected player to appear on this list, as he was 2003’s 12th overall selection (New York Rangers). Normally there are not huge expectations surrounding the 12th overall pick, but 2003 was different. Just check out how many great players were selected in the first round beyond Jessiman and you’ll see what I mean.
Jessiman played in just two NHL games, which is remarkable when you look at the first round draft class of ‘03. Only one other player selected in the 1st round played in fewer than 192 games (many are still adding to their totals and approaching 1,000), and that was 30th overall pick Shawn Belle. Jessiman never even found his way into the league until 2010-11 in Florida, where he went pointless in his only two games.
17 Daniel Tkaczuk
With the 6th overall pick in the 1997 NHL Entry Draft, the Calgary Flames chose Daniel Tkaczuk. Tkaczuk played in only 19 NHL games in his career, and it’s not like the draft year was particularly weak, as the rest of the top-10 draft picks appeared in at least 250 games. Four players picked in the top-10 have already cracked the 1,000 game milestone, and a few of them are still going hard (Sharks vets Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau went 1-2 that draft year).
Tkaczuk played all 19 of his games for Calgary during the 2000-01 season, and he did manage to register a decent 11 points. He never managed to become a mainstay though, and he finished his career in 2011 after bouncing around European leagues and North American farm leagues. Needless to say, Calgary expected more from their 6th overall pick in ’97.
16 Wayne McBean
The 1987 draft was pretty stellar in the way of depth; not many huge stars beyond the first couple of picks, but the first round is full of guys who played more than 400 games in the world’s best league, which is nothing to turn your nose up at. Seven first round picks cracked the 1,000 game milestone, which is one of the more impressive feats for a hockey player if you ask me; it’s a tough league, and few have the staying power or health to reach that mark.
Surely Los Angeles would have liked a re-do on their 4th overall selection of Wayne McBean, but unfortunately for the Kings that’s not how the draft works. McBean still found his way into 211 games, which isn’t bad I suppose, but it’s far below what you expect from an NHL D-man. The defenseman retired in 1994 after sustaining a wrist injury, but he was barely hanging on leading up to that.
15 Stanislav Chistov
For the next few entries we’re going to head back to the 2001 NHL Entry draft, which was the year the Thrashers selected Ilya Kovalchuk 1st overall. That was a solid pick, as were several others who were chosen in the top-10; however, Anaheim’s pick of Stanislav Chistov at 5th overall was certainly a misstep.
Chistov managed to find his way into 196 NHL games during his career, but he never stuck with any team (first the Mighty Ducks, then a brief stint in Boston before running back to Russia). He carved out himself a decent career in the KHL, but that did nothing for the Ducks, who all but threw away their first round pick in 2001 by spending it on Chistov. The winger notched 61 points in his NHL career, an underwhelming total for a prospect who was brought in to bring offense.
14 Alexandr Svitov
Chistov wasn’t the only disappointing Russian to be one of the first five names called back in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft. Even before the Ducks called Chistov’s name, the Tampa Bay Lightning used the 3rd overall pick to select Alexandr Svitov, who was a teammate of Chistov’s over in the KHL when they were both 17 years old.
Although selected a few slots higher than Chistov, Svitov played in even fewer games than Chistov, seeing action in only 179 games before eventually going back to the motherland. He was less effective in his stint as well, as Svitov mustered only 37 points in his career. Now is a good time to point out that I’m starting to confuse the two, so perhaps I will leave it at that. But mark my words: Svitov and Chistov were both let downs to their respective clubs.
13 Pavel Brendl
We’ll be visiting the 1999 draft a few times on this list, with Pavel Brendl making an appearance here at number 13. Brendl was selected 4th overall in the 1999 NHL Entry Draft by the New York Rangers. To be fair he wasn’t the only bust in the top five that season, but if we’re also being fair it’s safe to say that Glen Sather and the Rangers would love to have a do-over on this one.
Brendl only made it into 78 NHL games during his career, and yes for those keeping track at home that’s less than one full season of work from a 4th overall selection. The winger amassed a measly 22 points in those games, which were spread out over four seasons with three different teams. He eventually went back to Europe and played out his career for several different European leagues.
12 Jason Bonsignore
In 1994 the Edmonton Oilers held both the 4th overall pick as well as the 6th overall pick. They selected Ryan Smyth with the number six choice, which obviously turned out to be a great pick. The problem is not with Smyth, but with the man they chose to take 4th overall: Jason Bonsignore.
Bonsignore regressed almost immediately from the moment the Oilers called his name at the draft table. After scoring 62 points in 41 OHL games in his draft-eligible season, he followed it up with a 33 point season (26 games) and then a 29 point season (23 games). Once he finally got a taste of the NHL (despite his poor development to that point), things didn’t really improve. His NHL career featured just 79 games played for the Oilers and Lightning, and he ended up playing most of his pro career in the AHL and ECHL.
11 Griffin Reinhart
Many (though not all) Oilers fans already want the head of Peter Chiarelli thanks to a couple terrible trades he’s made thus far. Of course, he got a lot of flak for the Taylor Hall-Adam Larsson trade, but that’s not even the worst trade he’s made since coming to Edmonton. I would rank his Griffin Reinhart for the 16th and 31st overall picks in a deep draft class (2015) as worse.
Reinhart was the New York Islanders’ first round pick in 2012, 4th overall. 2012 was a fairly weak draft class, but it’s becoming safe to say that Reinhart is the worst player selected in the top 10. Since coming to Edmonton, the defender has been unable to crack one of the weakest blue lines in the league. In fact, when he was sent down a few weeks ago, there were still nine other defensemen left at Oilers camp suggesting he's not even particularly close.
10 Nikita Filatov
The Columbus Blue Jackets are no strangers to draft busts, and one of the more disappointing selections in their short history has to be 2008 6th overall pick Nikita Filatov. Filatov was supposed to be a high-flying, high-scoring Russian wizard with the puck, but instead, he turned out to not even really be a fringe NHL player, let alone an electrifying star who puts butts in the seats.
Filatov only found his way into 53 NHL games before running back to play pro in the Motherland. In those 53 games, he only registered 14 points, which is not even close to what Columbus had hoped for from their top-10 pick from 2008. Oddly enough, Filatov is currently enjoying his most productive KHL season to date, so perhaps it’s not too late for the 26-year-old Russian (just kidding, it totally is).
9 Cam Barker
If you look back at the 2004 draft class, you notice that it was pretty top heavy. The players selected outside of the top five aren’t anything special, but within the top five you can find a few All-Stars and a few more talented players. You also find one huge bust sandwiched between the aforementioned factions, and his name is Cam Barker. Barker went 3rd overall that year, right after the Caps called Alexander Ovechkin’s name and Pittsburgh selected Evgeni Malkin. After Barker went Andrew Ladd and Blake Wheeler, so needless to say the Blackhawks lost out on a pretty useful player by going with Barker instead. Barker had one good season in 2008-09 before completely falling off course and eventually finding himself of the league altogether.
Barker went 3rd overall that year, right after the Caps called Alexander Ovechkin’s name and Pittsburgh selected Evgeni Malkin. After Barker went Andrew Ladd and Blake Wheeler, so needless to say the Blackhawks lost out on a pretty useful player by going with Barker instead. Barker had one good season in 2008-09 before completely falling off course and eventually spitting out of the bottom of the league.
8 Scott Scissons
When you look at the top eight picks of the 1990 draft, it’s impressive in that seven of them played over 900 games, and five of them played over 1,000. The 6th overall pick, however, only played two games in the NHL, and his name was Scott Scissons. No, I won't be mad if you don't know who he is.
Scissons was a New York Islanders draft pick, and it’s safe to say that the Islanders would love a do-over on this one. The Islanders passed up on Daryl Sydor (7th), Derian Hatcher (8th), not to mention Keith Tkachuk (19th), Martin Brodeur (20th), and Doug Weight (34th) to take Scissons. He never scored a single point in the NHL, which isn’t nuts considering how he played two regular season matches and a playoff game.
7 Neil Brady
First round draft picks always come with high expectations, but when you had a pick in the top three of any draft it’s important that you take a player who will be able to step in and impact your club almost immediately. In the case of 1986 3rd overall selection Neil Brady, the New Jersey Devils basically drafted themselves an AHL/IHL journeyman.
The mulleted-centerman only played in 89 NHL games, and most of them weren’t even for the Devils (he played for Ottawa and Dallas as well). He notched just nine goals and 31 points in the process, proving rather ineffective in his role as a high-scoring forward. Impact players selected in the top-10 after Brady in 1986 include Zarley Zalapski, Vincent Damphousse, and Brian Leetch.
6 Daniel Dore
The further back you go into the annals of draft history, the more frequently you find busts. Whether that has to do with improved scouting or innovations in development, I’m not sure. In any case, one of the biggest draft busts of the 1980s has to be 1988 5th overall pick, Daniel Dore. The French Canadian was a Quebec Nordiques selection, and he only found his way into 17 NHL games.
What must have really stung for the Nordiques is how good some of the other top-10 picks of 1988 became. Eight, nine, and 10 that year were Jeremy Roenick, Rod Brind’Amour, and Teemu Selanne. respectively. Not a bad haul at all, as you have one Hall-of-Famer in Selanne and two borderline Hall-of-Famers in Roenick and Brind'Amour. It’s highly unlikely Dore has garnered any hall-of-fame attention since his retirement in 1994 (LOL).
5 Dave Chyzowski
A 2nd overall pick in any draft has a chance to alter the path of a franchise, but at the very least you’re hoping to grab a useful NHL player who can contribute in a meaningful way for a decade or so. In 1989, the New York Islanders held the 2nd overall pick, and with it, they made the grave mistake of selecting winger Dave Chyzowski.
Chyzowski is the only guy picked in the top five from that draft year who played in fewer than 941 games; he skated in just 126 matches before defecting to Europe. His production of 31 points in those games left something to be desired, and after a short attempt to make things work in Chicago after departing New York in 1996, he gave up on his NHL dream.
4 Alexandre Volchkov
The 1996 NHL Entry Draft was admittedly a shallow one, but most of the top-10 picks that year at least went on to have somewhat successful NHL careers. The major outlier that season was the Washington Capitals’ pick at 4th overall, Russian Alexandre Volchkov.
Volchkov was one of those rare Russians at the time who actually played his junior career in North America, skating with the Barrie Colts in his draft year and one more season beyond. His game never made the transition to pro, however, as even his AHL numbers were paltry and he eventually went home to Russia to finish his pro career. He played in a grand total of three NHL games, scoring no points.
3 Nail Yakupov
Yes, it’s now fair to call Nail Yakupov a major draft bust. Sure, he was only selected four years ago in 2012 (you likely recall he went 1st overall to the Edmonton Oilers), but the fact that he was just traded to St. Louis for a third round draft pick after four very underwhelming seasons in Edmonton tells you everything you need to know about the 23-year-old Russian.
Yakupov was in no man's land in Edmonton, and some people believe that he will become a reliable NHLer in St. Louis. If you’ve seen enough Oilers games over the past few seasons, you know that Yak’s game has holes in it, but you’ve also seen a player with a fairly high skill level. Edmonton fans will be watching his career arc closely, hoping they don’t regret this trade down the road.
2 Patrik Stefan
The top three of this list features three 1st overall picks, which makes sense because 1st overall picks who fall flat are bigger busts than, well, any other draft picks. Patrik Stefan comes in at number two because he’s best remembered for this gaffe rather than being a productive and reliable NHL player, which is the least that is expected from 1st overall draft selections.
Stefan was the first pick in the 1999 draft, as he went right before the Vancouver Canucks picked Daniel and Henrik Sedin at number two and three overall. Needless to say, Vancouver had the right idea. Stefan retired with 455 games under his belt, mostly played for the team that drafted him (the Thrashers), but he did play 41 with the Stars in his final NHL season.
1 Alexandre Daigle
To be fair, Alexander Daigle played 616 NHL games and actually put up 327 points, so there are good arguments that can be made that he’s in fact not a huge bust. However, when you factor in the fact that he went 1st overall in 1993, was touted as a “sure thing” prospect, and was quoted as saying “I'm glad I got drafted first, because no one remembers number two,” you can understand why he deserves no. 1 here.
What’s funny about the above quote is that 2nd overall that season was none other than Chris Pronger, who was recently elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame, a shrine that Daigle will never be a part of (at least from a positive standpoint - perhaps they will introduce a draft bust exhibit). Daigle’s NHL career was spread out over six teams, and he finally decided to finish is pro career in Europe after spending time in the AHL in 2005-06.