Let’s get one thing straight. If you’re fortunate enough to be drafted by an NHL team, you’re generally expected to be a pretty good hockey player who can perform at the professional level. And that’s even more so if you’re a first- or second-round pick.
Of course, we can’t expect every single draftee to one day hoist the Cup – or even make it all the way to the NHL, for that matter. But what we can expect is for each of those players to live up to their billing and contribute according to their abilities and scouting reports.
The only issue is that NHL draftees don’t have any real-world professional experience and have only proven themselves as an amateur competitor. Who knows if so-and-so defenseman out of junior or Superstar centerman out of the NCAA will actually pan out at the play-for-pay level? It’s all a bit of a crapshoot when you think about it.
There are plenty of instances where early-round picks have transitioned their game well and flourished in the pros. But, unfortunately, there are countless more who lost their talent somewhere between the draft and the big leagues. So, here are 20 of the biggest NHL draft busts of the Y2K Era that didn’t live up to the hype.
20 Sasha Pokulok: 14th Overall- 2005 (Washington Capitals)
Standing 6-foot-5 and packing around 230 pounds, Québécois defenseman Sasha Pokulok had all the makings of a big, bruising top-four rearguard that could help shore up the Capitals’ porous blue-line, so you can’t blame then-GM George McPhee for taking him out of Cornell University with his first selection in the 2005 draft.
He had a fairly successful season in the Saskatchewan junior league in 2003-04 and with Cornell in 2004-05, and that apparently was good enough to garner a first-round selection.
19 Lars Jonsson: 7th Overall - 2000 (Boston Bruins)
Like Pokulok, Lars Jonsson brought the size and physicality of an imposing defenseman who could hold court in his own zone and contribute on the power-play. After just a single season with Leksands IF in the Swedish Elite League, the Bruins took him seventh overall in 2000 and had him pegged for a top-pairing D-man.
Unfortunately, issues with the new Collective Bargaining Agreement kept the Bruins from signing him to a contract, so he continued toiling in Sweden until 2006, when he signed with the Philadelphia Flyers as a free agent.
18 Alexander Svitov: 3rd Overall - 2001 (Tampa Bay Lightning)
The Alexander Svitov story could easily be turned into a spy novel. The big, burly Siberian was taken by the Tampa Bay Lightning with the third overall pick in 2000 after he impressed as an amateur in his native Russia.
When the Russian Superleague team he'd been playing for, Avangard Omsk, found out he was to transfer to the US, they suspended him from the team, and the Russian military forced him into “required” military service before he could report to Tampa Bay. He went nearly two years and only appeared in three pro hockey games between the time he was drafted and when he finally suited up in the NHL.
17 Griffin Reinhart: 4th Overall - 2012 (New York Islanders)
Vancouver native Griffin Reinhart was a stud in junior playing for the WHL’s Edmonton Oil Kings. Prior to being selected with the fourth overall pick by the Islanders in 2012, Reinhart had 43 points over two seasons as a strong, two-way defenseman with the size and strength that gave him the potential to be a high-minute NHLer.
Unfortunately, his speed and strength didn’t develop like it was supposed to during his last couple of seasons as an amateur. He got an eight-game opportunity with the Islanders during his debut NHL season in 2014-15 but spent most of the year in the AHL.
16 Duncan Siemens: 11th Overall - 2011 (Colorado Avalanche)
There are a lot of unfortunate circumstances that have led to the Colorado Avalanche becoming a disastrous excuse of an NHL team in the last few years, but to be sure, one of them is their poor drafting. Take defenseman Duncan Siemens, for example.
The Avs took Siemens with their first-round pick in 2011, as their blue-line needed help in a major way. Siemens seemed like a pretty good option. He was 6-foot-3, weighed in at over 200 pounds and had shown the ability not only to clear pucks from his own zone but also to contribute on the scoreboard as well.
15 Marek Zagrapan: 13th Overall - 2005 (Buffalo Sabres)
Look up draft bust in the dictionary, and you may or may not see Marek Zagrapan’s picture, depending on if that dictionary was published in Buffalo, New York. Either way, Zagrapan was the Sabres’ first-round draft pick in 2005, and he should have been an NHL standout.
He was a talented forward who put up big numbers overseas and in junior prior to his pro debut, but his game seemingly short-circuited when he came over to North America. He lasted three seasons in the AHL before he jetted back off to Europe in 2009, having never even stepped stake on NHL ice.
14 Hugh Jessiman: 12th Overall - 2003 (New York Rangers)
The New York Rangers went with a hometown kid for their first-round pick in 2003 when they snatched up big power-forward Hugh Jessiman out of Dartmouth College.
He was a massive 6-foot-6, 230-pound right winger who should have supplied a menacing force against Rangers opponents in their own defensive zone, but he ended up as nothing but a dud. In fact, he’s one of just two first-rounders from 2003 to have played in less than 192 NHL games.
13 Petr Taticek: 9th Overall - 2002 (Florida Panthers)
Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but this European player never fit into the tight, physical North American game. Our latest offender, Czech Petr Taticek, looked really good during his OHL days with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds between 2001 and 2003 – good enough that the Florida Panthers entrusted his elite offensive skills with their first-round pick in 2002.
He signed with the club later that year but was relegated to the minor leagues for the next three seasons as his professional development fell off a cliff. He managed to appear in three games with the Panthers during a short call-up in 2006 but was soon traded to the Penguins organization.
12 Al Montoya: 6th Overall - 2004 (New York Rangers)
Sweet name, less-than-sweet career – at least so far. Al Montoya comes in at number twelve on this list of terrible draft busts and the first goaltender of the bunch, so at least he’s got that going for him.
With a combined 56-22-5 record at the University of Michigan during the 2002-03 and 2003-04 seasons, Montoya looked like the perfect respite for the New York Rangers in 2004, after they finished 27-40-7-8 with the miserable goaltending tandem of Mike Dunham and Jussi Markkanen during the preceding season.
But like the eleven entries before him, Montoya wasn’t all he was cracked up to be. He never even made the Rangers’ roster and wallowed around in the minors until the Arizona Coyotes gave him a chance in 2008.
11 Kyle Beach: 11th Overall - 2008 (Chicago Blackhawks)
Speaking of names, Kyle Beach must have endured his fair share of chirps growing up, but now he also has to deal with the fact that he’s one of the biggest NHL draft busts since the turn of the century.
After impressing scouts with 124 points and well over 400 penalty minutes in 129 junior games with WHL Everett between 2005 and 2008, Beach was a shoo-in as a skilled, aggressive forward who could serve as a strong role player or even a regular second- or third-line forward. Naturally, the Chicago Blackhawks took him in the first round of the 2008 draft class.
10 Zach Hamill: 8th Overall - 2007 (Boston Bruins)
Beach’s Everett teammate of three seasons, Zach Hamill, unfortunately suffered similar fate after the Boston Bruins took him with the eighth overall pick just one season prior to Beach’s selection.
Hamill was a talented forward who excelled alongside Beach, but unfortunately for the Bruins, he was too good to be true. Despite being scouted as a solid playmaker with extraordinary stickhandling and a strong vision for the game, his talents didn’t translate well at the pro level.
9 Stanislav Chistov: 5th Overall - 2001 (Anaheim Ducks)
Like his compatriot and Omsk teammate, Alexander Svitov (who appeared earlier on this list), Stanislav Chistov would endure a difficult path to the NHL after serving a mandatory Russian military tenure following his fifth overall selection by the Anaheim Ducks in 2001.
Once he finally made it to the US in 2002, the Ducks wasted little time and made him a top-six forward during the 2002-03 season, during which he registered 30 points in 79 games.
8 Riku Helenius: 15th Overall - 2006 (Tampa Bay Lightning)
First-round draft picks are always a risk, but that’s doubly so when they’re goaltenders. The Tampa Bay Lightning found that out the hard way after they selected Riku Helenius, a Finnish netminder with little previous experience, taken as the 15th overall selection in 2006.
Helenius was attractive to scouts, partly on the strength of his performance in the Finnish national team’s silver-medal-winning tournament at the 2006 U18 World Junior Championships in Sweden. But his professional development in North America never did materialize despite decent numbers in the WHL, and he played all of seven NHL minutes in a relief appearance for the Lightning in 2009.
7 Nikita Filatov: 6th Overall - 2008 (Columbus Blue Jackets)
Just the second forward taken in the 2008 Draft, Russian Nikita Filatov drew comparisons to Steven Stamkos – who was that year’s first-overall pick – before he had even stepped foot in North America.
Unfortunately for the Columbus Blue Jackets, they bought into the hype and took him with their first-round pick, hanging their hopes on the young left winger to swoop in and rescue their floundering offense.
Once Filatov signed on the dotted line and secured his short-term future, he under-performed, refused to learn the Blue Jackets’ system and generally had a very bad attitude. He hated his time in Columbus and went back and forth between North America and Russia a number of times while the ‘Jackets tried to figure out what to do with him.
6 Alexandre Picard: 8th Overall - 2004 (Columbus Blue Jackets)
Poor Columbus. They’ve got quite the history of bad draft blunders, and here’s the second one in a row.
In this episode of terrible selections, the ‘Jackets took forward Alexandre Picard out of Lewiston of the QMJHL with the eighth overall pick in 2004. He was coming off an 80-point season with a well-balanced 39 goals and 41 assists.
Like Filatov, he was supposed to shore up a horrible offense and provide a little grit with his 6-foot-2, 210-pound frame as well.
5 Rick DiPietro: 1st Overall - 2000 (New York Islanders)
You’ve got to feel for Rick DiPietro and the New York Islanders. They guy could stop shots with the best of them, but he might as well have been made of glass for all the injuries he suffered.
Don’t get us wrong, he deserved to become the first goalie to be taken first overall, when the Islanders did just that in 2000. And we might even go so far as to say that he earned his massive 15-year, $67.5 million contract – the longest and most lucrative one for a goaltender in the history of the league – that he signed in 2006, but due to his repeated injuries, the guy never lived up to his enormous potential.
4 Scott Glennie: 8th Overall - 2009 (Dallas Stars)
After tearing up the WHL with the Brandon wheat Kings in 2007-08 and 2008-09, Scott Glennie, a centerman out of Manioba, tickled the Dallas Stars’ fancy enough to garner their first-round pick with the eighth overall selection in 2009.
He played two more seasons in Brandon, finishing his junior career with a crazy 308 points in 252 games, and despite his smallish size and subpar playmaking abilities, he seemed to have a knack for finding the back of the net and could outskate most of the defenseman he lined up against. He should have been a top-six forward.
3 A.J. Thelen: 12th Overall - 2004 (Minnesota Wild)
It’s incumbent of a young NHL franchise still finding its own identity in the league to study prospects and draft well in order to build a strong team for the future and avoid the common cellar-dweller fate of new expansion franchises. The Minnesota Wild missed that meeting, apparently, when they drafted A.J. Thelen with the 12th overall selection in 2004.
He was a decent player in college and junior with good size and a blistering shot, but a future NHL star he was not – not even close.
After being drafted in the summer of 2004, Thelen played his senior year at Michigan State and two seasons in the WHL, only making one appearance with Minnesota’s AHL affiliate in the 2005-06 season.
2 Cam Barker: 3rd Overall - 2004 (Chicago Blackhawks)
Big, tall, a good puck-mover, Cam Barker had all the makings of a top-pairing NHL defenseman, and with the numbers he put up with the Medicine Hat Tigers of the WHL, Barker was highly sought-after when he entered the NHL draft in 2004.
Accordingly, the Chicago Blackhawks passed on guys like Blake Wheeler, Drew Stafford and Kris Versteeg in order to lock down Cam Barker with the hopes that he’d lead their defensive corps to their first Stanley Cup Championship in over 40 years.
1 Nail Yakupov: 1st Overall - 2012 (Edmonton Oilers)
If the Russian right-winger Nail Yakupov had been taken any later in the 2012 draft, he probably wouldn’t be considered so much of a bust, but when you’re heralded worldwide as the best player in the draft, taken with the very first pick and expected to be a major factor in the Oilers’ return to Stanley Cup glory only to turn in mediocre-at-best performances for five straight seasons, you end up at the top of lists like this, and few will take exception.
So goes the story for young Nail Yakupov. No doubt, he’s a good player, but for whatever reason, he has struggled to produce in the NHL after absolutely dominating in junior. He maxed out at just 33 points with the Oilers in 2014-15, and they traded him to the Blues just last year – after he dropped to a -88 plus/minus rating during his time there – in exchange for a prospect and a third-round pick in this year’s draft.
Though he might be able to salvage some sort of a career with a new deal after his contract expires at the end of next season, he’ll likely never shed the unenviable label of “draft bust.”
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