One of the more difficult jobs in hockey is being an amateur scout. Predicting just how good a 17-year-old kid will be when he’s 25 is so tough because everyone develops differently. Some guys gain 50 lbs. of pure muscle between the ages of 17 and 25, and some frames never fill out.
Furthermore, some players learn better ways to think the game during those formative years, and their hockey IQ grows by 50 points. Others stagnate in the area of hockey sense, and therefore so does their overall game at a time when they should be entering their prime years.
Today’s list takes a look at some of the younger players in the NHL today who could officially turn into busts any day now. The term “bust” in this sense simply means that these players aren’t projecting to live up to original expectations. Some of them may still be serviceable NHL players, but a lesser version than what was expected of them as prospects.
Sometimes, a lot was expected from these players based on draft pedigree. Other times, these players burst out onto the scene during their rookie campaigns, raising the expectation bar. Either way, each player on this list, at one point, was expected to be something more than they are.
Here are the Top 20 Young NHL Players Who Already Look Like Busts:
20 Jack Campbell
American goaltender Jack Campbell was drafted 11th overall by the Dallas Stars in 2010. Not only that, but he backstopped the U.S. National team to a Gold Medal upset victory over Team Canada in the 2010 World Junior Championships. Scouts believed Campbell was going to be something.
Still in the Stars system, the young netminder has only played one game for the NHL Stars—he’s played plenty for the Texas Stars, however. The fact that GM Jim Nill went out and got Antti Niemi last offseason was proof that he doesn’t believe the 24-year-old is ready for even NHL backup duty. Perhaps he never will be.
19 Sergei Plotnikov
Sergei Plotnikov wasn’t drafted, but he was lured to the NHL from the KHL by the Pittsburgh Penguins this past offseason. When the season started, Plotnikov was put in a great spot to succeed: on Evgeni Malkin’s wing.
Well, it didn’t go well, as Plotnikov played his way off that line and eventually off the team, earning just two assists in 32 games of action with the Pens. He’s since been dealt to Arizona, where he’s collected just one assist. It doesn’t look as though Plotnikov’s game is well-suited to North America.
18 Ryan Murray
Ryan Murray is certainly one of the better players to appear on this list, and he mostly ends up here due to his draft pedigree. Taken 2nd overall in the 2012 entry draft, Murray has underwhelmed to date.
In a draft that featured eight defensemen selected in the top 10, Murray has been passed by the bulk of the D-men picked after him, despite the fact that he was the first one off the board. He’s still developing of course, but as of today it doesn’t look like Murray will come near the potential he had as an 18-year-old.
17 Valeri Nichushkin
Valeri Nichushkin had a solid rookie campaign in 2013-14, as he made the team out of training camp just months after being selected 10th overall at the 2013 draft. Nearly three years later, Nichushkin hasn’t taken any meaningful steps forward in his development—only a few backward.
It’s important to note that he basically lost an entire season to injury in 2014-15, so it’s safe to assume that’s stunted his growth as a player. There are now rumors that Nichushkin wants out of Dallas, so needless to say the relationship isn’t in a great place these days.
16 Austin Watson
Selected in the 1st round of the 2010 entry draft, Austin Watson is at a point in his career where he needs to truly establish himself as a legitimate NHL player. He hasn’t officially done that yet, and at 24 years old it’s getting to the point where he may never achieve the feat.
The 2015-16 season is the first one that he’s stayed in the NHL for the entirety, although he hasn’t dressed regularly. If Watson doesn’t show some growth soon, he could be headed for Europe.
15 Jake Virtanen
The 2014 6th overall pick of the Vancouver Canucks ends up at no. 15 on our list. This could be unfair to Virtanen, as he was drafted less than two calendar years ago. Also, it’s debatable whether or not it was a smart move on the Canucks part by keeping Virtanen up in the NHL this season.
Virtanen underwhelmed in many ways in his rookie season, recording just 13 points in 55 games. Also, there was the unpleasantness at the World Junior Championships this season. Depending on who you ask, Virtanen cost the Canadians a shot at the Gold with his irresponsible play in the team’s sole elimination game (a 6-5 loss to the Finns).
14 Jarred Tinordi
Defenseman Jarred Tinordi was a 1st round pick of the Montreal Canadiens in 2010, and considering the fact that he was traded this season for a package that included John Scott, I think it’s safe to say that he can almost surely be called a bust.
Tinordi has found his way into 53 NHL games to date, and he’s yet to register a goal. He hasn’t spent an entire season in the NHL yet, and the way things are going for the 24-year-old it seems unlikely that will ever happen.
13 Brandon Gormley
Expectations were high for Brandon Gormley after the then-Phoenix Coyotes selected him 13th overall in the 2010 draft. The club exercised patience with the young rearguard, as he didn’t play his first NHL games until 2013-14, and that was just five games.
The patience never paid off for the ‘Yotes though, as Gormley never developed into an NHL rearguard and has split time between the NHL and the AHL ever since. He’s now a part of the Colorado Avalanche system, still playing more games in the minors than in the majors.
12 Magnus Paajarvi
Expectations for Magnus Paajarvi were at an ultimate high after the 2010-11 season. He’d just completed an impressive rookie campaign with the Oilers (15-19-34), the club that drafted him 10th overall in 2009.
Unfortunately, that first campaign has to this point proven to be a career year for the 24-year-old Swede. He’s now playing for St. Louis, where he splits time between the NHL and AHL, having cleared waivers on multiple occasions.
11 Brett Connolly
Brett Connolly, selected 6th overall in the 2010 entry draft by the Lightning, has not yet lived up to expectations. The winger has since left Tampa for Boston, where he’s finally playing a regular shift—albeit often less than 10 minutes a night.
At 23 years old, Connolly should be just entering his prime as an NHL winger. Unfortunately, there still aren’t too many arrows pointing north in terms of his development, and time is likely running out for Connolly to become an impact player in this league.
10 Mikhail Grigorenko
Mikhail Grigorenko has been an interesting prospect since day one. Ranked 3rd of all North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting prior to the draft, the Russian slipped all the way down to 12th overall on draft day, which is a pick the Buffalo Sabres held.
Thought to be a potential steal at that slot, Grigorenko failed to become a regular in upstate New York, and was thus dealt to Colorado as part of the Ryan O’Reilly trade. Grigorenko had his best pro year to date, but as of right now smart money is on him being considered a bust when it’s all said and done.
9 Anthony Mantha
It’s definitely too early to say with any degree of certainty, but early signs are pointing to Anthony Mantha being a bit of a bust for the Detroit Red Wings (which is rare). Selected 20th overall in 2013, we’re approaching the three year anniversary of his draft day and he’s only played 10 NHL games.
He’s already been passed on the organizational depth chart by Dylan Larkin, who was the Wings 1st round selection in 2014 (the following year). Mantha not yet being ready for the NHL is worrisome for the Wings, as he’ll be 22 when the 2016-17 season starts up.
8 Emerson Etem
Emerson Etem was a late 1st round Anaheim Ducks pick in the 2010 draft. He started his professional career in 2012-13, splitting time between Anaheim and AHL affiliate Norfolk Admirals. His career was actually off to a decent start, but Anaheim eventually let him go and he tried his trade in New York with the Rangers.
Well, the Rangers didn’t take long to make their decision on Etem, as he was swiftly dealt to the Canucks after 19 goalless games in the Big Apple. He hasn’t had much success since arriving in Van City either, notching just 9 points in 36 games.
7 Jordan Schroeder
The Vancouver Canucks 1st round pick in 2009 turned 25 at the beginning of the season, meaning he’s only got a few more months left where he can even be considered “young.” However, it also means that we can probably officially say that Schroeder is a disappointment.
After toggling between the NHL and the AHL while in Vancouver’s system, he was shipped off to Minnesota where he’s done much of the same between Minnesota and Iowa. He puts up decent numbers in the AHL on a consistent basis, but he can’t seem to piece it together in the big league.
6 Dylan McIlrath
When the Rangers drafted Dylan McIlrath 10th overall in 2010, they were hoping they’d picked a big, tough franchise defenseman. It is now almost six years later, and I think it’s safe to say that McIlrath is at the very least a disappointment, and at worst a total flop.
He turns 24 this month, which I suppose means that as a defenseman he still has a year or two to take that next step, but the fact that he’s often up in the press box with a clean bill of health these days tells you all you need to know.
5 Alexander Burmistrov
The Winnipeg Jets were delighted when news broke last offseason that former top-10 draft pick Alex Burmistrov was to make a return to the NHL, two seasons after defecting to the KHL. Burmistrov didn’t have the greatest start to his pro career in Atlanta/Winnipeg, garnering just 58 points in 194 games.
Still though, perhaps Burmistrov had grown a little during his two seasons in his home country? Well, no. In fact, speaking strictly from an offensive standpoint, he’s regressed. With the season almost entirely in the books, Burmistrov sits at 20 points, which is what he notched in his rookie season in 2010-11.
4 Slater Koekkoek
Slater Koekkoek was selected 10th overall by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2012 draft. To this date, Koekkoek has only played 12 games for the Lightning. That’s not a death sentence for a 22-year-old defenseman, but the fact that he hasn’t taken huge steps in the minors is troublesome.
The former Windsor Spitfire recently got the call up to Tampa thanks to a rash of injuries to the Lightning defense, but he’s only played about 10 minutes per game, and those minutes have been sheltered.
3 Griffin Reinhart
Griffin Reinhart was the 2nd defenseman selected, after Ryan Murray, in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. Following Reinhart, the next six picks were also defensemen. So far, five of those defensemen have passed Reinhart in their development.
Luckily for the Islanders, they fleeced Edmonton on a trade at the 2015 draft that sent Reinhart to E-Town for the 16th and 33rd overall picks at the draft (which happened to be rather deep). Today, Reinhart can’t seem to find a regular shift on the shallowest defense corps in the league.
2 Jonathan Drouin
It was tough to decide where to stick Jonathan Drouin on this list, but I think if we consider everything that’s happened the past few months, 2nd is a fair spot. Drouin, picked 3rd overall in 2013, has actually shown alright in his brief NHL career thus far, but he still can’t stick on the Lightning roster, and the situation has become awkward.
His eight goals in his 91 games of NHL experience also leave much to be desired, as does his attitude. Drouin seems to believe he should be gifted a spot in the world’s best league based on his draft pedigree, but that simply is not how it works, kiddo.
1 Nail Yakupov
Nail Yakupov has already played over 250 NHL games as a 21-year-old, yet it’s still safe to say he’s a bust. The expectations that come with getting selected 1st overall are huge, and the enigmatic Russian has come nowhere close to meeting them in Edmonton.
Yakupov hasn’t been able to find his role in Edmonton, which in fairness to him hasn’t really been clearly defined by his deployment. He has some elite offensive skill to be sure, but it hasn’t resulted in impressive offensive numbers. His lack of defensive awareness is what really earns him no. 1 on this list, though. Now four seasons into his NHL career, Yak still looks lost in the NHL without the puck, and quite frankly unreliable when he has it.