Throughout the past-half century, NHL teams have relied on the league entry draft to build their teams. Gone are the days when you could build a team entirely in free agency and through trades. Recent dynasties like the Chicago Blackhawks nailed their draft selections, which included Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Corey Crawford. The Pittsburgh Penguins picked up Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and Marc-Andre Fleury in drafts that rounded out the core of their 2009, 2016 and 2017 Stanley Cup teams as well.
But many NHL teams throughout the years missed out on a superstar, and it cost them the opportunity to win Stanley Cup Championships. With future Hall of Famers right there for the taking, these teams passed on them and drafted players who wound up being major draft busts.
Every NHL team has made their fair share of draft mistakes. But these 20 are the worst of the worst that still hurt these teams to this day.
20 Atlanta Thrashers: Taking Patrik Stefan 1st Overall In 1999
The 1999 NHL draft is easily one of the worst of all-time. In fact, there are really only two superstars that make the draft memorable. Those men would be Swedish twins Daniel and Henrik Sedin, who have become legends for the Vancouver Canucks. Canucks GM Brian Burke wanted both Sedin twins, so he worked his magic to obtain the third overall pick from Atlanta. The Thrashers chose Stefan with the top pick, allowing Burke to take the Sedins with the next two selections.
Stefan was a major draft bust and is only remembered for that empty net debacle as a member of the Dallas Stars. The Sedins are the top two scorers in Canucks history, each with an Art Ross Trophy on their resumes. If Atlanta drafted the Sedins, perhaps they would have sold tickets, made money and wouldn't have relocated to Winnipeg. Think about that.
19 Toronto Maple Leafs: Taking Schenn over Karlsson
Former Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke desired big defenceman Luke Schenn, so he traded up to draft the Kelowna Rockets standout with the fifth pick. Schenn was one of the most hyped up defensive prospects in recent memory, and it looked like a major win for Toronto at the time.
Little did they know that a generational blueliner in Erik Karlsson would fall to provincial rivals, the Ottawa Senators with the 15th selection. Karlsson will probably go down as the greatest defenceman of his era, with two Norris Trophies and all these 70-point seasons under his belt. As for Schenn, he played just four seasons in Toronto before being traded to the Philadelphia Flyers. The Leafs are still feeling the pain of drafting Schenn all this time later as they still are missing a truly great defender.
18 Minnesota Wild: Passing On Carey Price
The 2005 NHL Draft wasn't all that great when it comes to depth in talent, but superstars like Sidney Crosby, Bobby Ryan, Anze Kopitar and Carey Price were selected. The Minnesota Wild owned the fourth overall pick and had the chance to take Price, but they settled on forward Benoit Pouliot. Pouliot would later get traded to the Montreal Canadiens. And who was taken after Pouliot with the fifth pick? None other than Carey Price.
Over the last few seasons, Price has been the best goalie in the NHL. He's led the Montreal Canadiens to three Atlantic Division titles in the past five years and took home the 2015 Hart and Vezina Trophies. The Wild spent a decade finding a goalie until they traded for Devan Dubnyk in 2015. Imagine what they could have done if they had Price all those years before.
17 San Jose Sharks: Taking Setoguchi Over Kopitar
The San Jose Sharks have been one of the greatest playoff disappointments over the past 20 years. Despite so much success in the regular season that's seen them make the playoffs all but one year since 2004, this team doesn't have a Stanley Cup to show for it. Meanwhile, their California rivals - the Los Angeles Kings - have won two Stanley Cups since 2012 thanks in large part to elite centre Anze Kopitar. San Jose drafted Devin Setoguchi eighth overall in 2005, and allowed the Kings to select Kopitar three spots later. The Sharks would surely have won a Cup with Kopitar, Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau on the same team. They also would have likely prevented the Kings from winning those two championships.
16 Buffalo Sabres: Missing Out On Brian Leetch
The Sabres had many great years in the '80s and '90s, but were always that one piece away from a Stanley Cup. They did reach the Final in 1999, but narrowly fell to the Dallas Stars in a close six-game series. Buffalo could have surely used defenceman Brian Leetch, a two-time Norris Trophy winner who scored 1,028 points while leading the New York Rangers to a Stanley Cup championship in 1994. Leetch also took home the Conn Smyth Trophy for his efforts. Who did Buffalo take over Leetch? They took Shawn Anderson with the fifth pick. Anderson only played in bits of four seasons with the Sabres and never reached his full potential. Leetch went to the New York Rangers with the ninth selection.
15 Columbus Blue Jackets: Drafting Nikolay Zherdev
The 2003 Draft is widely considered to be the greatest in NHL history, and for good reason. In the first round alone, superstars like Marc-Andre Fleury, Zach Parise, Ryan Kesler, Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, Brent Burns, Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, Ryan Suter and Eric Staal were selected. In the second round, studs like Shea Weber, Loui Eriksson and Patrice Bergeron were selected.
And who did the Columbus Blue Jackets take with the fourth overall selection? Russian sniper Nikolay Zherdev, who never lived up to expectations in the NHL. He did reach 20 goals twice for the Jackets, but only played four seasons for the franchise and never developed into a superstar. To think of all the superstars the Blue Jackets could have had if they used that fourth overall selection better.
14 New York Rangers: Drafting Hugh Jessiman
Speaking of that great 2003 NHL Draft... The New York Rangers had plenty of superstars they could choose from. Ultimately, the Blueshirts settled for 6-foot-6, 224-pound winger Hugh Jessiman with the 12th overall pick. Jessiman was a star at Dartmouth College and seemed like the ideal fit to help the Rangers in the post-Mark Messier era.
But Jessiman would never play an NHL game for the Rangers. He appeared in two games for the Florida Panthers during the 2010-11 season, but spent most of his pro hockey career in the AHL. Of course, the Rangers passed up on aforementioned stars like Getzlaf, Burns, Parise, Eriksson, Weber and Bergeron. Either one of those players could have been the final pieces in helping the Rangers win a championship to say the least.
13 Calgary Flames: Passing On Marian Hossa
The 1997 NHL Draft only had so many standouts, which included Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Olli Jokinen, Roberto Luongo and others. But the Calgary Flames didn't get to pick until sixth, when all those studs were gone. They had the chance to draft all-time great Marian Hossa, but passed on him to select centre Daniel Tkaczuk (not to be confused with Keith Tkachuk).
Tkaczuk only played 19 NHL games and scored 11 points. That was in the 2001-02 season, and he would spend most of his professional hockey career overseas. Hossa has 525 career goals and 1,134 points and led the Chicago Blackhawks to Stanley Cup championships in 2010, 2013 and 2015. He could have been an integral piece for the 2004 Flames that came within a game of winning the Stanley Cup.
12 Hartford Whalers: Passing On Nicklas Lidstrom
Many like to believe that Nicklas Lidstrom is the greatest defenceman of all-time. If he isn't the best at the position, he is undoubtedly the greatest of his era. I mean, four Stanley Cups, seven Norris Trophies and 1,142 career points are nothing to laugh at. Without Lidstrom, the Detroit Red Wings wouldn't have escaped a miserable '80s and early '90s. He made them the NHL's model of excellence for two decades.
As for the Whalers, they are now playing in Carolina and are known as the Hurricanes. Financial and attendance issues were the reasons behind it. But with Lidstrom, there's no telling how great Hartford could have been. The Red Wings didn't get to draft Lidstrom until the 53rd pick in 1989. Who did the Whalers take right before him? Blair Atcheynum, who never played a game for the franchise.
11 Boston Bruins: Drafting Gord Kluzak First Overall
The 1982 NHL Draft strongly lacked depth in quality players, but there were a handful of guys who turned out to be Hall of Famers. This list includes hard-hitting defenceman Scott Stevens and American legend Phil Housley, who went fifth and sixth overall in that draft, respectively. Armed with the first pick, the Boston Bruins selected can't-miss prospect and defenceman Gord Kluzak. But Kluzak suffered numerous knee injuries and never lived up to his potential, playing in just 299 NHL games.
Meanwhile, Stevens became one of the league's greatest blueliners ever, leading the New Jersey Devils to a trio of Stanley Cup championships. As for Housley, he would score 1,232 career points. Imagine if one of those men skated alongside Ray Bourque throughout the '80s and '90s. What could have been...
10 Los Angeles Kings: Taking Doug Smith Over Ron Francis
The Winnipeg Jets used the first overall pick in 1981 wisely, selecting gifted goal-scorer Dale Hawerchuk. The Los Angeles Kings owned the second pick and had the chance to take future superstars like Ron Francis, Grant Fuhr and Al Macinnis. Instead, they selected centre Doug Smith. Smith's NHL career lasted 535 games, and though he had one 20-goal season with the Los Angeles Kings, Smith never formed into a superstar. He was out of the NHL after the 1989-90 season.
Meanwhile, Francis would become a cornerstone of the Pittsburgh Penguins 1991 and 1992 Stanley Cup championships. His 1,798 points are fifth all-time, and we can only guess what he and Wayne Gretzky could have done together in Los Angeles. It absolutely would have been legendary, and may have changed the outcome of the 1993 Stanley Cup Final.
9 St. Louis Blues: Taking Erik Johnson Over Jonathan Toews
Armed with the first overall pick in the 2006 NHL Draft, the St. Louis Blues drafted American blueliner Erik Johnson, who had all the makings to be a franchise defenceman. However, they chose to pass on world class centre Jonathan Toews, one of the most hyped up players in recent memory. Johnson was far from a bust. He was an up-and-coming blueliner, but would later get packaged to the Colorado Avalanche in a trade that brought Kevin Shattenkirk over to St. Louis.
Toews has led the Blackhawks to three Stanley Cup championships, and he's also won two Olympic gold medals. The Blues have been a good team in the West for a while, but haven't been able to reach the Stanley Cup Final. With Toews playing alongside Vladimir Tarasenko, Alex Pietrangelo and others, the Blues could have been the dynasty of the 2010s instead of Chicago.
8 Quebec Nordiques: Passing On Teemu Selanne
The 1988 NHL Draft became the place where many legendary careers began. The Minnesota North Stars drafted Mike Modano with the first overall pick, and he was followed by Vancouver Canucks icon Trevor Linden. The Quebec Nordiques owned the third pick, with the chance to draft Finnish sensation Teemu Selanne or other stars like Rod Brind'Amour, Jeremy Roenick or Rob Blake.
However, the Nordiques chose to go with 6-foot-1 defenceman Curtis Leschyshyn, who was a standout for the Saskatoon Blades of the WHL. However, he wasn't able to develop into the franchise blueliner that Quebec had hoped. The Nordiques became financially strapped and had to relocate to Colorado in 1995. Leschyshyn would win a Stanley Cup with the Avalanche in 1996, but never became a superstar. Had Quebec wound up with a player like Selanne, who knows if the franchise would have even relocated or not?
7 Vancouver Canucks: Passing On Brodeur And Tkachuk
The city of Vancouver hosted the 1990 NHL Draft, and it just so happened that the Canucks owned two picks in the first round. It was an exciting time for the city, except for the fact that Vancouver wouldn't use their picks wisely. Vancouver drafted Petr Nedved with the second pick, and though he had a respectable 717 points in 982 NHL games, he only played three seasons for Vancouver. The Canucks had the chance to draft American star Keith Tkachuk, who wound up scoring 1,065 points in his illustrious career.
The Canucks then drafted Shawn Antoski with the 18th selection, but he barely played at all for the franchise. Two picks later, the New Jersey Devils drafted the most accomplished goalie of all-time in Martin Brodeur. Just imagine if Vancouver had Brodeur and Tkachuk to complement the likes of Linden, Pavel Bure and Alexander Mogilny. They really could have been a dynasty.
6 Philadelphia Flyers: Passing On Jaromir Jagr
The Flyers haven't won a Stanley Cup since 1975, while their arch rival Pittsburgh Penguins have won five championships since 1991. That's because the Penguins were able to land Jaromir Jagr - the second highest scorer ever - with the fifth overall pick in 1990. As for the Flyers? They drafted Mike Ricci one spot ahead of Jagr. Ricci wasn't a bust by any means. He had two 20-goal seasons in Philly before being packaged to the Quebec Nordiques in the infamous Eric Lindros trade. Lindros was oft-injured and couldn't lead the Flyers to a Stanley Cup championship. There is no doubting that Jagr would have led Philly to at least one Cup, and it would have thwarted some of the Penguins '90s dominance. If there's any consolation, Jagr did play the 2011-12 season with Philly, scoring 19 goals and 54 points.
5 Buffalo Sabres: Passing On Mike Bossy
The New York Islanders formed a dynasty in the '80s, winning four consecutive Stanley Cups from 1980 to '83. This group was led by world class goal scorer Mike Bossy, who could have finished with more career goals than any other player had a back injury not forced him into retirement at the age of 30. Bossy scored 573 goals and 1,126 points in 752 NHL games. There is no doubting he could have been a terrific player for a Sabres team that was dominant at times throughout the '80s and '90s. But instead of taking Bossy (whom the Isles took 15th overall in 1977), Buffalo took Ric Seiling with the 14th selection. Seiling never became a superstar, while the Sabres saw their rivals become a dynasty under Bossy. Without a doubt, passing on the Isles legend greatly hurt this team's chances of winning championships for years to come.
4 San Jose Sharks: Drafting Pat Falloon
The San Jose Sharks used their first draft pick in franchise history on Pat Falloon, who was selected second overall in 1991. Falloon was a gifted scorer for the Spokane Chiefs of the WHL and looked like a franchise changer for the Sharks. He'd register a pair of 20-goal seasons in San Jose, but Falloon would struggle with consistency and was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers.
There were a number of superstars the Sharks could have taken over Falloon. This included Scott Niedermayer, who lead the rival Anaheim Ducks to a Stanley Cup in 2007. Also available were snipers Peter Forsberg, Alexei Kovalev and Markus Naslund. The Sharks could have used any of them to lead a core that consisted of Owen Nolan and Teemu Selanne in the '90s.
3 Colorado Rockies: Taking Ramage Over Bourque
The Colorado Rockies (not the MLB team), owned the first pick in the 1979 NHL Entry Draft. They settled on defenceman Rob Ramage, who had a couple of productive seasons before being traded to the St. Louis Blues. Ramage is also remembered for being sent to the Calgary Flames in the infamous Brett Hull trade, which turned out to be great for the Blues.
Colorado could have instead used defenceman Ray Bourque - who wasn't taken until the eighth pick by the Boston Bruins. He's the all-time leader in goals, assists and points (1,579), among defencemen. Bourque was a five-time Norris Trophy winner and is arguably the greatest blueliner ever. The Rockies eventually had to relocate to New Jersey, where they became the Devils. Bourque would help the Avalanche win a Stanley Cup in 2001, but what if he stayed with the Rockies the entire time?
2 Minnesota North Stars: Taking Brian Lawton First
The Minnesota North Stars owned the very first pick in the 1983 NHL Draft. With the likes of Steve Yzerman, Pat LaFontaine, Tom Barrasso, Cam Neely, Sylvain Turgeon and Russ Courtnall available, Minnesota had the prime opportunity to draft a franchise-changing superstar. They wound up selecting Brian Lawton, a talented American centre with hype written all over him. Lawton never reached his full potential, playing in just bits of five seasons for the North Stars. He'd wind up playing in just 483 NHL games.
The North Stars should have selected Yzerman, whom the Detroit Red Wings took with the fourth pick. 'Stevie Y' led the Wings to three Stanley Cup championships and finished with 692 goals and 1,755 career points. The North Stars ended up relocating to Dallas, but you have to wonder if they would have stayed in Minnesota had Yzerman been able to lead them to greatness.
1 Ottawa Senators: Daigle Over Pronger
The recently founded Ottawa Senators owned the top pick in the 1993 NHL Entry Draft. Though 6-foot-6 defenceman Chris Pronger was a can't-miss commodity, centre Alexandre Daigle was hyped on the same level of guys like Sidney Crosby, Auston Matthews and Connor McDavid. Daigle was an easy first overall selection and choice for the Senators. But Daigle - despite a pair of 20-goal seasons in Ottawa - is widely regarded as one of the greatest draft busts ever. He scored just 74 goals in 301 games with the Senators.
Chris Pronger would become one of the most decorated players in league history. Pronger won two Olympic gold medals with Canada, the 2000 Hart and Norris Trophies, and led the Anaheim Ducks to the 2007 Stanley Cup. Who'd they beat in the finals? None other than the Senators. With so many stars like Daniel Alfredsson, Zdeno Chara, Wade Redden, Alexei Yashin, Jason Spezza and others, Pronger would have absolutely led Ottawa to multiple championships. They settled on the biggest draft bust in league history instead, and it ultimately came back to bite them.