Many of the NHL's star players have come out of the Canadian Junior hockey leagues. From Steven Stamkos in the Ontario Hockey League, to Dion Phaneuf in the Western Hockey League, to countless others, junior hockey is an integral stepping stone to the NHL.
Players leave their hometowns as teenagers to play in the junior leagues, hoping to get noticed by NHL scouts ahead of the draft. The reality is, junior hockey is to the NHL what college football is to the NFL. The level of competition is night and day, and the speed is 0-60. That is why it is so tough to predict a junior hockey star's chances of success at the NHL level.
The same goes for success in the minors, success at the college-level, and success in junior leagues around the world. Only the cream of the crop make it to the NHL, and most junior players don't go on to achieve stardom at the next level.
Thus, there have been many great players who have enjoyed prolific success in the junior leagues, only to fizzle out in the NHL. Whether they were first round busts or late-round gambles, these guys just couldn't equal their junior success at the senior-most level of competition.
Here are 20 great junior players who failed in the NHL.
20 Mathieu Biron
The Kings selected Mathieu Biron in the first round of the 1998 draft. The towering 6-foot-6 defenseman was fresh off a 36-point rookie season with the Shawinigan Cataractes of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL). Biron improved in his sophomore season, to the tune of 13 goals and 45 points in 69 games. He helped Team Canada capture the Bronze Medal at the 2000 World Junior Championships.
The Islanders acquired Biron via trade before the 1999-00 season, when he made his NHL debut. Biron appeared in 74 games with the Islanders, scoring four goals and nine points. Biron was dealt to Tampa Bay the following year, and subsequently bounced around between the Panthers and Capitals before leaving the NHL after the 2005-06 season.
Biron’s last pro season came in 2011-12, when he suited up for seven games in the Ligue Nord-Américaine de Hockey (North American Hockey League) in Quebec.
19 Evgeny Grachyov
The Rangers suffered a great loss with the untimely death of top prospect Alexei Cherepanov in 2008. The Rangers drafted another Russian forward that year, Evgeny Grachyov, in the third round. By Grachyov's early success in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), it seemed he could take Cherepanov's place as the team's top European prospect.
Grachyov scored 40 goals and 80 points in 60 games for the Brampton Battalion during the 2008-09 season. He earned the OHL's Rookie of the Year honors that season. Grachyov added another 11 goals and 25 points in 19 playoff games for Brampton.
The Rangers were eager to get a second look at him in camp, and sent him to the American Hockey league for the 2009-10 season. Unfortunately, he didn't enjoy the same level of success he had during that one season in the OHL. He lost his explosiveness, his speed, and his ability to muscle out defenders in the crease. He played just eight games for the Rangers during the 2010-11 season before an offseason trade to the St. Louis Blues.
18 Shawn Belle
The 2003 NHL draft was among the deepest in recent history. Ryan Getzlaf, Dustin Brown, Brent Seabrook, Zach Parise, and Brent Burns were all taken outside the Top 10. Shea Weber, David Backes, and Jimmy Howard all went in the second round.
Who went with the final pick of the first round? None other than WHL defenseman Shawn Belle. The Blues selected him 30th overall, and expected him to be the team’s power play quarterback of the future. Belle emerged as the Tri-City Americans' top D-man over the next two seasons. He scored 22 goals and 74 points in those two seasons.
However, the Blues’ patience ran out on Belle, and they dealt him to the Dallas Stars in June 2004 for goaltending prospect Jason Bacashihua. Belle didn't make his NHL debut until 2007, when he played nine games for the Minnesota Wild. Belle bounced around the league between the Canadiens and Oilers before leaving the NHL for Europe in 2011.
Belle played just 20 NHL games, and registered one assist.
17 Justin Pogge
Pogge is just 30 years old, but has been out of the NHL since 2012. The former WHL goaltender put together a 17-win season for the Prince George Cougars before the Toronto Maple Leafs took him 90th overall in 2004. Pogge stepped up his play from that point, winning 38 games for the Calgary Hitmen during the 2005-06 season. He won the Del Wilson Trophy that season as the WHL's top goaltender. Pogge sported a microscopic 1.72 GAA along with 11 shutouts. He also led Team Canada to a Gold Medal in the 2006 World Junior Championships.
However, he could never catch on with the Leafs. He put up a 4.36 GAA in seven games for the team during the 2008-2009 season. The Leafs traded Pogge to the Ducks in 2009, who then traded him to the Hurricanes in 2010.
Pogge left the NHL for Europe in 2012. He spent last season playing for Slovan Bratislava in the KHL.
16 Nolan Baumgartner
Baumgarter enjoyed a great career in the early to mid 1990s with the Kamloops Blazers of the WHL. The young defenseman was taken tenth overall by the Washington Capitals in 1994 after a stellar 13-goal, 55-point campaign. He continued his WHL success with two consecutive Memorial Cup championships in 1994 and 1995. Baumgartner also won the 1995 Bill Hunter Trophy as the WHL's best defenseman.
Best of all, he won back-to-back Gold Medals with Team Canada at the 1995 and 1996 World Junior Championships.
However, an untimely shoulder injury delayed his NHL career with Washington, and he played 18 games for the Caps before being traded to Chicago in 2000.
15 Marty Murray
Murray was one of Baumgartner’s teammates on Team Canada’s 1995 Gold Medal-winning junior team. The high-scoring center led the tournament in points that year, and was named to the World Junior All-Star team.
Murray’s success on the world stage came after his 1993 draft to the Calgary Flames. The Flames took Murray 96th overall after a standout 29-goal, 94-point season for the Brandon Wheat Kings of the WHL.
The draft must have boosted Murray’s confidence, as he scored 83 goals and 242 points in 129 games over his next two seasons. Murray’s 1995-1996 season got off to a promising start in the AHL, and he earned his first call-up that year. However, he played just 26 NHL games over the next five years before signing with the Philadelphia Flyers in 2001.
Murray put up his best season in 2001-2002, with 12 goals and 27 points in 73 games. He couldn’t establish a consistent presence in the NHL, and spent short stints on the Hurricanes and Kings before brief tenures playing in Europe and the AHL.
14 Kyle Beach
When the Chicago Blackhawks selected Kyle Beach with the 11th overall pick in the 2008 draft, they figured they were selecting a hard-nosed forward that would seamlessly add to their young core of Kane, Toews, Seabrook, and Saad.
Beach had earned 2006-20 WHL Rookie of the Year honors. By the time of his 2008 draft, the left wing had just completed his second straight 60-point season for the Everett Silvertips.
In 2009-2010, Beach had his best junior season, scoring 52 goals and 86 points with the Spokane Chiefs. At the same time, his bruising style of play and attitude issues off the ice kept him in the AHL for the entirety of his professional career. The Blackhawks traded Beach to the Rangers in 2013, where he again toiled in the AHL.
13 Chris Bourque
Chris Bourque grew up in Boston, Massachusetts, and never played in any Canadian Junior leagues. One might think that disqualifies him from this list, but take into account his minor league success in the AHL.
The Capitals took Bourque 33rd overall in 2004, 32 picks after they chose All-Star sniper Alex Ovechkin. Bourque was assigned to the Hershey Bears of the AHL, where he had two straight 25+ goal seasons. He earned his first NHL call-up during the 2007-08 season, appearing in four games, and going scoreless. He began the 2008-09 season in Hershey, registering his first point-per-game AHL season.
Bourque played another eight games for the Capitals that year, but scored just one goal. He spent a brief period with the Penguins before being waived, then reclaimed by Washington, in 2009. In 392 games with the Hershey Bears from 2005-2012, Bourque scored 131 goals and 393 points.
He led the Hartford Wolf Pack in scoring during the 2014-15 season, and won the AHL MVP Award for the 2015-16 after he led the Hershey Bears to the Calder Cup Finals.
12 Igor Grigorenko
The Detroit Red Wings have been draft gurus over the past 20 years. From scoring late round gems like Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, to higher picks like Tomas Tatar and Dylan Larkin, the Wings certainly know how to draft and develop prospects.
Igor Grigorenko was one such prospect the Wings had coveted. The young Russian forward finished second in scoring at the U-18 tournament in 2001, with 10 points in six games as Russia captured the Gold Medal. The Red Wings took him 62nd overall that year. By 2002-03, Grigorenko seemed destined for NHL stardom. He was among the leading scorers in the Russian Super League (RSL) that season, and was named MVP of the 2003 World Junior Championships as Russia won another Gold Medal.
Grigorenko suffered a broken left leg in a serious car accident in May of 2003, and his NHL debut seemed doubtful. Fortunately, he was able to sign an entry-level contract with the Red Wings in 2007, but failed to make the team out of camp that season.
11 Stan Drulia
Drulia enjoyed prolific OHL success in the 1980s. He played five seasons in the league, split between the Belleville Bulls, Hamilton Steelhawks, and Niagara Falls Thunder. He amassed 198 goals in those seasons, and holds the OHL record in scoring with 479 points.
It would seem, then, that Drulia would go on to enjoy at least some semblance of that success in the NHL. Unfortunately for the American-born winger, his fortunes did not turn out that way. The Penguins selected Drulia 214th overall in the 1986 NHL draft, but never saw him play an NHL game.
He got his first taste of NHL action during the 1992-93 season, when he suited up for 24 games with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Drulia then spent seven seasons in the International Hockey League (IHL) before returning to the Lightning in 1999. He retired after the 2000-01 season.
He played 126 games for the Lightning, and scored a meager 15 goals and 26 points.
10 Glen Goodall
Stan Drulia set the OHL scoring record, but who set the WHL scoring record? The honor belongs to Glen Goodall. In just six years from 1984-1990, Goodall set league records in goals (262), points (573) and games played (399). Unfortunately, Goodall’s small 5-foot-8, 170-pound frame scared off teams in the 1988 draft. He wasn’t taken until the tenth round of that year’s draft, when the Detroit Red Wings took him 204th overall.
Goodall remained in the WHL for another two years before joining the Adirondack Red Wings in the AHL for 1990-91 season. However, he never came anywhere close to his otherworldly WHL production. Goodall spent much of his professional career in the 1990s-2000s playing in the German DEL.
Goodall never played an NHL game, so it might be a bit unfair to say he “failed’ in the NHL. At the same time, he never even got a chance because of his lackluster play in the AHL.
9 Angelo Esposito
Angelo Esposito was the talk of the town ahead of the 2007 NHL draft. Scouts touted him as a potential number-one overall pick. The Penguins took the Quebec native 20th overall, ahead of Riley Nash and Max Pacioretty.
Esposito deserved the hype. He earned Rookie of the Year honors playing for the Quebec Remparts of the QMJHL in 2005-06. He finished that season second in the league in scoring with 98 points. The next season, Esposito scored 27 goals and 79 points in 60 games. The Penguins thought they had a steal at number 20.
However, he turned out to be dud in the NHL.
He scored just 10 goals and 38 points in 124 games at the AHL level. Embarrassingly enough, Esposito's most valuable contribution to the Penguins was his inclusion in the 2008 trade package that brought Marian Hossa and Pascal Dupuis to Pittsburgh for the team’s run to the Stanley Cup Final.
8 Brian Sakic
Goodall set the WHL scoring record, but Brian Sakic was right behind him. Sakic scored a staggering 186 goals and 591 points in 343 WHL games. If his name sounds familiar, that’s because it is. He is the younger brother of Quebec Nordiques/Colorado Avalanche Hall-of-Famer Joe Sakic. The two began their playing careers on the WHL’s Swift Current Broncos.
The elder Sakic began his NHL career in 1988-89, while the younger Sakic remained in the WHL, registering his first of four 100-point seasons in the league. Brian Sakic finally got a shot in the NHL when the Washington Capitals took him in the fifth round of the 1990 draft.
7 Scott Glennie
Turning to more recent NHL busts, let's take a look at Scott Glennie. The Dallas Stars took the high-scoring forward with the eighth overall pick in the 2009 draft. He was a point-per-game player for the Brandon Wheat Kings of the WHL, and was initially forecast as a top-10 draft talent.
Glennie put up 67 goals and 180 points over his final two WHL seasons. He joined the Texas Stars in the AHL, but struggled mightily. He scored 12 goals and 37 points in 70 games for Texas in 2011-12, before the Stars called him up for his NHL debut. He played just one game with the team before being sent back down.
The Stars cut ties with Glennie in 2015, after he labored through another disappointing season in the AHL.
6 Gilbert Brule
Gilbert Brule was one of the most talented prospects to come out of the Western Hockey League. He scored 25 goals and 65 points for the Vancouver Giants in 2002-03, winning the Jim Piggott Memorial Trophy as the WHL’s Rookie of the Year. The next season, Brule improved to 39 goals and 87 points for the Giants.
Brule's WHL stardom prompted the Columbus Blue Jackets to select him sixth overall in the 2005 draft. Brule made the Blue Jackets roster for the 2005-06 season, but returned to the WHL after an early-season leg injury. Brule scored 23 goals in 27 games for the Giants that season. He scored 12 points in five games during 2006 Memorial Cup, and was named tournament MVP.
Unfortunately, Brule was never able to adapt to the speed and physicality of the NHL game. He struggled to stay healthy. He was traded to Edmonton in 2008, where he suffered another injury that sidelined him for an extended period. Brule was dealt to Phoenix in 2011, where he played just 36 games before leaving the NHL three years later.
5 Brent Tully
Tully was another World Junior All-Star defenseman in the vein of Mathieu Biron. He enjoyed a bit more success on the World Junior stage, though. Tully won back-to-back Gold Medal with Team Canada at the 1993 and 1994 World Junior Championships. He served as team captain in 1994, the same year he played his final season for the OHL’s Peterborough Petes.
In four seasons with Peterborough, Tully scored 47 goals and 146 points.
4 Scott Scissons
The Islanders might still be kicking themselves over their selection of Scissons with the sixth overall pick in 1990. Consider how deep that draft was. Darryl Sydor, Keith Tkachuk, Doug Weight, and Martin Brodeur were all taken after Scissons. That draft also featured Owen Nolan, Petr Nedved, and Jaromir Jagr taken ahead of Scissons.
Given the depth of that draft, one would think Scissons would be able to play more than one season in the NHL. It’s safe to say he did not. In fact, he played just TWO games with the Islanders.
The Islanders based their high draft selection on Scissons' two stellar seasons with the Saskatoon Blades of the WHL, where he scored 70 goals.
3 Daniel Tkaczuk
The 1999 World Junior Championships boasted some pretty impressive names, including Brian Gionta and Simon Gagne. One name you might not recognize is Daniel Tkaczuk. The young center led Team Canada in scoring and went on to be selected sixth overall by the Flames in the 1997 draft. Tkaczuk also excelled in the OHL during this time. He scored 145 goals and 334 points in 238 games for the Barrie Colts.
Tkaczuk earned a call-up to the AHL for the 1998-99 season, and was named the league’s Rookie of the Year with 25 goals and 66 points.
Despite his AHL success, Tkaczuk played just 19 total games for the Flames at the NHL level, all coming during the 2001-02 season. Tkaczuk left the NHL for Europe in the mid-2000s.
He scored four goals and 11 points in the 19 NHL games he did play.
2 Rick DiPietro
Rick DiPietro deserves some slack on this list. The Islanders goalie showed promise early in his career, but his body betrayed him. DiPietro had a 130-136 record, and only started more than 60 games just three times in his career. DiPietro suffered through a laundry list of injuries, including knee, groin, hip, and concussion ailments.
In hindsight, perhaps the Islanders should not have taken DiPietro first overall in the 2000 draft. However, they can't really be faulted for snatching him up with the top pick. DiPietro shined for the United States Development Team, with 22 wins and three shutouts during the 1998-99 season. He was named Hockey East's Rookie of the Year in his freshman season playing for Boston University. DiPietro was named MVP of the Beanpot Tournament in 2000.
Had DiPietro stayed healthy, he could've been the Islanders' franchise goalie, an equal rival to the Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist.
1 Pavel Brendl
The Rangers suffered a seven-year playoff drought in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Poor drafting was a primary reason for this futility. Pavel Brendl, taken fourth overall in 1999, was among the worst Ranger draft picks in franchise history.
There was no way they could've known the young Czech would become a bust. He scored an astonishing 73 goals and 134 points for the WHL's Calgary Hitmen during the 1998-99 season.
Brendl followed that up with 59 goals and 111 points in 1999-00. Brendl was named a WHL All-Star that year and joined the Rangers' AHL affiliate in Hartford for the end of the season, appearing in two games.
Brendl never played an NHL game with the Rangers. He was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers in 2001 in a deal that brought Eric Lindros to New York. Brendl played just 78 NHL games over the next five years before leaving for the Swedish Hockey League in 2006. He scored 11 goals and 22 points in those games.
By comparison, Brendl scored 172 goals and 320 points in 178 games over three seasons in the WHL.
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