When April 30th arrives, fans of all seven Canadian NHL teams and those of half a dozen other franchises will be anxiously waiting to see which of them wins this year's draft lottery for the number one pick and the right to draft Auston Matthews. Matthews is already highly regarded as a potential superstar, a player who can help turn around a franchise, before he's even stepped foot on NHL ice. He's obviously earned that distinction and we're not here to suggest that he won't live up to the lofty expectations. However, we are often quick to judge players, hype them up, and pile on expectations before we even have a chance to see what they can do at the highest level.
It's not surprising of course and the media and the teams themselves can often be equally as guilty of building up a player's expectations as fans are. When a team is in a state of turmoil, it's only natural to look for any hope you can and when a player comes along who provides a light at the end of the tunnel, it's easy to anoint him the saviour of your franchise.
Unfortunately, things don't always work out the way the fans, media, and teams would like them to. While some players – the Gretzkys, Lemieuxs, Crosbys. And Ovechkins of the world – prove to be everything anyone could've hoped for, others go on to prove they were never quite worth the premature praise. Here are the top 20 NHL players who never lived up to the hype:
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20 Christian Hanson
In Brian Burke's first year as General Manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs he touted the team's ability to sign undrafted college free agents as a way to help build the team comparing it to finding a wallet that may or may not contain money. The first two players he signed and suggested could develop into top six forwards were Christian Hanson and Tyler Bozak. While the latter has found his way into the Maple Leafs top six, the former never did.
Hanson had a five game stint with the Maple Leafs to finish the 2008-09 season and then spent the majority of the next two seasons playing in the AHL with the Toronto Marlies while getting into 37 more games with the big club. After that, the Maple Leafs opted not to re-sign him and he spent the next three years playing for three different AHL teams and has played the last two seasons in the Black Diamond Hockey League.
19 Matt Gilroy
Matt Gilroy was another highly sought after undrafted college free agent who became available in 2009. The defenseman had captained Boston University to an NCAA Frozen Four title and won the Hobey Baker Award as the top U.S. college player. The Maple Leafs tried to sign him as well, but were outbid by the New York Rangers. Gilroy played just two seasons with the Rangers, but never produced the way they thought he would. He produced 26 points in 127 games before signing with the Tampa Bay Lightning. He also went on to play for the Ottawa Senators, briefly back to the Rangers, and then onto the Florida Panthers before heading to the KHL last season.
18 Jonas Gustavsson
In 2009, 24-year-old undrafted Swedish goaltender Jonas Gustavsson was regarded as the best goaltender not in the NHL after he posted a .931 SV% and 1.96 GAA for Farjestads of the Swedish Elite League and then helped team Sweden to a Bronze Medal at the World Championships with a .914 SV% and 2.83 GAA. When July 1st came, several teams NHL teams lined up for his services and he ultimately chose the Maple Leafs after Burke flew to Sweden to meet with him.
Over three seasons in Toronto, Gustavsson proved to be a disappointment never posting a SV% above .902. After he moved onto Detroit he became a serviceable back-up, a role he now serves with the Boston Bruins, but never the star he was projected to be.
17 Bobby Carpenter
"The Can't Miss Kid" - that was the title Sports Illustrated used when they made a 17-year-old Bobby Carpenter the first American born hockey player to be put on their cover in 1981 while touting "NHL scouts say he's the best U.S. prospect they've seen. Ever." Drafted third overall by the Washington Capitals, Carpenter was the first American born player to be drafted in the first round and the first American player to go straight from high school to the NHL. He had a few productive years in the NHL and even scored 53 goals and 95 points in his fourth season in 1984-85, but his play significantly dropped off after that and despite having a long career, he was never able to live up to the hype that surrounded him as a teenager.
16 Nikita Filatov
In a defense heavy 2008 draft, Nikita Filatov was expected to become a premier scorer and was hailed as "the next best thing to Steven Stamkos". The Columbus Blue Jackets used the sixth overall pick to draft the projected star, but Filatov never became that star. He showed an unwillingness to go to the net and reportedly told a coach on one occasion, "Filly don't do rebounds". Filatov played parts of four NHL seasons, recording just 13 points in 44 games with the Blue Jackets and a single point in nine games with the Ottawa Senators before returning to his native Russia.
15 Dion Phaneuf
The World Junior Hockey Championships that take place every year around Christmas time often play a key role in teams and fans overhyping a player as their NHL career begins. Dion Phaneuf is a prime example of this. At the 2005 tournament Phaneuf's bone crushing hits helped shut down Alexander Ovechkin and team Russia to bring team Canada a gold medal. He was touted as the next Scott Stevens and when his NHL career began Phaneuf was expected to be a premier defenseman for years to come.
He got off to a well enough start, finishing third in voting for the Calder Trophy. In his third season, Phaneuf finished second in voting for the Norris Trophy on the strength of a 60 point season furthering the hype around him. Unfortunately for Phaneuf, his career never really progressed as expected and although he remains a productive NHL defenseman, he'll always have his detractors, simply for failing to ever live up to the hype.
14 Justin Schultz
A second round pick by the Anaheim Ducks in 2008, Justin Schultz's stock rose while playing defense at the University of Wisconsin. When he finished his college career, Schultz used a loophole in the collective bargaining agreement to become an unrestricted free agent instead of signing with the Ducks. Many teams were in the bidding for his services and Schultz chose the Oilers who used Wayne Gretzky and Paul Coffey to persuade him to go to Edmonton.
His pro career got off to a hot start when he posted 18 goals and 48 points for the Oklahoma City Barons during the 2012-13 lockout. When the lockout ended he had a solid rookie campaign for the Oilers, posting 27 points in 48 games. However, Schultz's offensive game fell off after that and despite praise as a potential Norris Trophy candidate from GM Craig MacTavish in the summer of 2014, he never rebounded. Instead his production continued to decline and his defensive game never really improved leading the Oilers to part ways with Schultz when they dealt him to the Pittsburgh Penguins at this year's trade deadline.
13 Jim Carey
The Net Detective burst onto the NHL scene as a rookie goaltender for the Washington Capitals in 1994-95, going 18-6-3 with a .913 SV%, 2.13 GAA, and four shutouts in 28 games to finish third in voting for the Vezina Trophy and second in voting for the Calder. The following year Jim Carey took home the Vezina after posting a 35-24-9 record with a .906 SV%, 2.26 GAA, and league high nine shutouts. He was expected to be a top goaltender and the centrepiece of the Capitals for the next decade.
Four years later, Carey was out of the game entirely. His fall from grace was equally as sudden as his rise. He began to struggle in his third season and the Capitals traded him to the Boston Bruins in order to hand the goaltending reigns to Olaf Kolzig. Carey's play continued to plummet through parts of two seasons with the Bruins and a brief stop in St. Louis before he hung up his skates.
12 Justin Pogge
There's likely no greater case of a player's performance at the WJHC being overvalued than that of Justin Pogge. The 90th overall pick by the Maple Leafs in 2004 began turning heads in his final season of junior hockey in 2005-06 in which he posted a .926 SV% and 1.72 GAA. Pogge earned his way onto Canada's World Junior team and put on a spectacular performance, posting a tournament record three shutouts and leading the country to their second consecutive gold medal. His performance made him the Maple Leafs' star goaltender of the future in the minds of many, to the point that the team's management had enough faith in him to justify dealing away fellow goaltending prospect Tuukka Rask.
While Rask became a star in Boston, Pogge struggled after turning pro and ended up with just seven career NHL games on his resume.
11 Fabian Brunnstrom
Fabian Brunnstrom began drawing attention of NHL teams during the 2006-07 season when he scored 37 goals and 73 points in 41 games for Boras HC, a third tier Swedish Hockey League team, as an undrafted 21-year-old. He followed that up with 37 points in 54 games for Farjestads of the Swedish Elite League and soon a bunch of teams were in the running to sign a player who was touted as the next Daniel Alfredsson. Brunnstrom ultimately chose to sign with the Dallas Stars and he recorded a hat trick in his first NHL game, but that would prove to be the height of his success.
He finished his rookie season with a respectable 17 goals and 29 points in 55 games, but produced just two goals and 11 points in 44 games while battling injuries the following season. He then spent the majority of the next two seasons playing in the AHL for the Texas Stars, Toronto Marlies, and Grand Rapids Griffins – with a five game stint with the Detroit Red Wings thrown in – before returning to Sweden.
10 Pavel Brendl
After leaving the Czech Republic to play Canadian junior hockey, Pavel Brendl scored 73 goals and 134 points in 68 games for the WHL's Calgary Hitmen and headed into the 1999 draft in the running for the number one pick. Patrik Stefan – we'll get to him – went first followed by the Sedin twins, and the New York Rangers traded Dan Cloutier, Niklas Sundstrom, and their first and third round picks in 2000 to draft Brendl fourth overall believing he could make an immediate impact.
Instead Brendl showed up to his first NHL training camp out of shape and unwilling to listen to coaching tactics or play defense. He was returned to the Hitmen for two more seasons and ultimately traded to the Philadelphia Flyers in the Eric Lindros trade before having played an NHL game. He would go on to play just 78 games between the Flyers, Carolina Hurricanes, and Phoenix Coyotes scoring 11 goals and 22 points before continuing his career in Europe.
9 Petr Nedved
Perhaps no one bought in to the hype surrounding Petr Nedved more than Nedved himself. After defecting from what was then Czechoslovakia as a 17-year-old, Nedved scored 65 goals and 145 points in 71 games for the WHL's Seattle Thunderbirds leading to the Vancouver Canucks drafting him second overall in 1990 and immediately throwing him into the NHL. Nedved didn't produce much in his first two seasons but broke out with 38 goals in 71 points in his third, which the resulted in him holding out for more money.
Nedved returned for brief stints with the St. Louis Blues and New York Rangers before enjoying a career year with the Pittsburgh Penguins, posting 45 goals and 99 points in 1995-96. After another 71 point season, Nedved once again held out for more money before being dealt back to the Rangers. He finished his career with a productive 310 goals and 717 points in 982 games, but never got to be quite as good as he could've been.
8 Nail Yakupov
Heading into the 2012 NHL Draft, Nail Yakupov was the consensus number one pick and a surefire star in the making, leading to a "Fail for Nail" campaign among fans of rebuilding teams. Not surprisingly, the Edmonton Oilers beat out the Columbus Blue Jackets in the draft lottery to land the Russian phenom. Yakupov went on to produce a respectable 17 goals and 31 points as a rookie in 48 games during the lockout shortened 2012-13 season, but since then he's failed to produce much of anything and recently he asked for a trade out of Edmonton. It's still early in the 22-year-old's career, but so far he hasn't lived up to the hype.
7 Warren Young
Drafted 59th overall by the California Golden Seals in 1976, Warren Young became a collegiate star with the Michigan Tech Huskies before turning pro with the Central Hockey League's Oklahoma City Stars. He signed as a free agent with the North Stars in 1981 and played a handful of games for Minnesota and 15 for the Penguins over three seasons before becoming a full-time NHL player for Pittsburgh in 1984-85. In his first full season, Young scored 40 goals and 72 points in 80 games playing alongside fellow rookie Mario Lemieux. Young's play that year prompted some NHL teams to scout collegiate players more closely and earned him a large free agent contract from the Detroit Red Wings.
The Red Wings quickly found out that Young's success was likely just a by product of playing with Lemieux and that he wasn't worth the hype. He scored just 22 goals and 46 points in his lone season in Detroit and was subsequently dealt back to Pittsburgh. By that point Young had been replaced on Lemieux's line. He played just 57 more games for the Penguins across two seasons scoring eight goals and 21 points and was out of the league entirely by the time 1987 ended.
6 Doug Wickenheiser
Doug Wickenheiser recorded a whopping 89 goals and 170 points in 71 games for his hometown Regina Pats of the WHL heading into the 1980 NHL Draft to be named the Canadian Major Junior Player of the Year and was taken first overall by the Montreal Canadiens ahead of Denis Savard and Paul Coffey. However, Wickenheiser was slow to develop - partially because Canadiens coach Claude Ruel had wanted the team to select Savard and took his disdain out on the young Wickenheiser - and he never lived up to his superstar potential.
He played less than four seasons with the Canadiens before being dealt to the St. Louis Blues. Wickenheiser went on to finish his career with just 111 goals and 276 points in 556 career games.
5 Eric Lindros
Eric Lindros won almost every award imaginable during his time in the Ontario Hockey League and heading into the 1991 NHL Draft he was given the moniker of "the Next One", drawing comparisons to Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux. After refusing to play for the Quebec Nordiques team that drafted him first overall, Lindros was so highly sought after that the Philadelphia Flyers traded six players, including Peter Forsberg, as well as two first round draft picks and $15 million to acquire him.
Lindros won the Hart Trophy as a 21-year-old, was a four time 40 goal scorer, and there were times in his career when he was the most dominant power forward the game had ever seen. His career was also shortened by injuries and he would've had to challenge Gretzky's scoring records and win multiple Stanley Cups in order to live up to all of the hype that surrounded him as a teenager.
4 Brian Lawton
The top ranked prospect by NHL Central Scouting heading into the 1983 NHL Draft, the Minnesota North Stars made Brian Lawton the first U.S. born player to be taken first overall picking himahead of the likes of Pat LaFontaine, Steve Yzerman, and Tom Barrasso. Lawton never lived up to the hype that comes with being the top pick, scoring just 112 goals and 266 points in 483 career games. Less than two years after the draft, North Stars General Manager Lou Nanne admitted the pick was a mistake saying in 1985, "If I had it to do over again, I'd take Barrasso. I'm not an idiot."
3 Patrik Stefan
It's doubtful that any single play in the history of the game represents the career of one player better than the infamous one involving Patrik Stefan. Playing for the Dallas Stars, Stefan stripped an Edmonton Oilers player of the puck and skated towards the empty net to ice the game, only to lose control right in front of the gaping net and fall to the ice, allowing the Oilers to come back the other way and tie the game. What began with so much potential ended in disaster.
The first overall pick by the Atlanta Thrashers in 1999, Stefan was referred to by one scout as "the brightest young prospect developed in the Czech Republic since Jaromir Jagr". John Van Boxmeer, the coach of the Long Beach Ice Dogs IHL team that Stefan played for prior to being drafted, called him "a cross between Mike Modano and Sergei Fedorov". That wasn't quite the case. Stefan produced just 188 points in 455 career games and is statistically the worst player to ever be drafted first overall. An overall weak draft class and less hype than other number one picks is the only thing that keeps him out of our top spot.
2 Rick DiPietro
At the 2000 NHL Draft, the New York Islanders made Rick DiPietro the first goaltender to be drafted first overall and traded away both Kevin Weekes and Roberto Luongo to hand the reigns to DiPietro. GM Mike Milbury said at the time, “We’re hanging a lot of reputation on this kid. It’s gutsy, and maybe crazy… but we think he’s a really special player.” Of course, the craziness didn't just end there. DiPietro became the team's full time starter in 2003-04 and after two seasons of moderate success he was handed a 15 year, $67.5 million contract, building the hype and expectations so high that he couldn't possibly meet them.
DiPietro had two more moderately successful seasons before a rash of injuries took their toll on his career and the Islanders ultimately bought out the final eight years of his contract.
1 Alexandre Daigle
It's funny to look back and see that Alexandre Daigle provided the impetus for the NHL implementing a draft lottery after the Ottawa Senators were accused of intentionally losing games to draft him first overall in 1993, but that's how much hype there was surrounding Daigle at the time. At the draft, TSN analyst Bob McKenzie compared Daigle's speed to that of Pat LaFontaine, his ability to see the ice and make plays to that of Joe Sakic, and the "fire in his eyes" to that of Maurice "Rocket" Richard.
Daigle was a "can't miss" prospect, but he did miss and missed badly. He played less than five seasons in Ottawa before being dealt to the Philadelphia Flyers and later had stints with the Lightning, Rangers, Penguins, and Wild. He never surpassed the 51 point mark and is arguably the biggest draft bust in NHL history and the obvious choice as the number one player who couldn't live up to the hype.
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