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:
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.
19 Matt Gilroy
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.
17 Bobby Carpenter
16 Nikita Filatov
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
8 Nail Yakupov
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.
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.
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.
4 Brian Lawton
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.
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.
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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