Drafting prospects always has, and always will be, an inexact science. Countless superstar junior hockey players have gone on to amount to nothing in the National Hockey League, while 6th and 7th round picks have gone on to have outstanding professional careers. The names on this list were supposed to become all-stars, legends, and future Hall of Famers. Instead, they became 4th liners, career AHLers, or standouts in lower-tier European leagues.
For the casual hockey fan, these names will mean absolutely nothing to you, and for good reason: there was never any good reason to talk about them, or mention them, or even watch them play, once they made it to the NHL. Meanwhile, undrafted players like Martin St. Louis terrorize opposing teams night in and night out, all with the label “undrafted” next to their names in all the biographies they will ever be mentioned in.
For every superstar who meets expectations, there is a counterpart who shuddered at the massive hype built around them; some can climb over that wall, and some simply sit at the bottom of the wall, barely getting a good grip on it – let alone getting over it.
If you think the player feels bad about his failed career, imagine what the men who picked him must have gone through. Executives have often gambled their jobs on athletes they’ve entrusted with the future of their franchises, and have often been left disappointed and shattered. The worst feeling for any general manager is to watch a sure-fire prospect crumble at the pro level and get slapped with the dreaded “bust” label, another way of saying “not only we’re you not good enough, you are a downright failure.” It’s harsh, but it’s the truth. The NHL has had its fair share of players who’ve had to deal with that label: this list takes a look at the top 25 biggest draft busts in NHL history.
25 Terry Ryan, LW, Montreal Canadiens
Selected 8th overall by the Habs in 1995, Terry Ryan was supposed to bring a physical, scoring prescence to the Habs left-win position. Instead, he only suited up in eight total games with the Canadiens until moving on in 1999. He spent years toiling in the minor leagues until an ankle injury ended his career in 2001. He was somehow worse than Turner Stevenson, surprisingly enough.
Notable players selected after Ryan: Radek Dvorak, Jarome Iginla, Petr Sykora
24 24. Dan Woodley, RW, Vancouver Canucks
A classic case of a scorer who dominated in every league he ever played in – except the NHL, of course. Woodley was taken 7th overall in 1986 by the Canucks, but was never able to figure out how to beat goalies the way he did during his junior career in the Western Hockey League. In five games, Woodley only scored two goals, the only points of his short and sweet NHL career.
Notable players selected after Woodley: Brian Leetch, Scott Young, Craig Janney
23 Lars Jonsson, D, Boston Bruins
Drafted 7th overall in 2000 by the Big Bad Bruins, Jonsson was expected to be an point-producing defenseman who could man a powerplay effectively. Instead, he only suited up for 8 NHL games (seven years after he got drafted), all in Philadelphia, where his North American hockey career trajectory continued to trend in the wrong direction until he went back to Sweden in 2008.
Notable players selected after Jonsson: Ron Hainsey, Brooks Orpik, Niklas Kronwall
22 Steve Kelly, C, Edmonton Oilers
After putting up massive numbers in the WHL (254 points in 268 games with the Prince Albert Raiders), Steve Kelly was pegged as the next Edmonton Oilers scoring sensation. The sixth overall pick in 1995 went on to post a measly 21 points in 149 career NHL games with the Oilers, Lightning, Devils, Kings and Wild. Not quite the same level was their draft picks from the 70s and 80s.
Notable players selected after Kelly: Radek Dvorak, Jarome Iginla, Petr Sykora
21 Pavel Brendl, RW, New York Rangers
Brendl was on track to follow in the footsteps of other Czech stars of the 1990’s but lost the touch that made him a star with the Calgary Hitmen once he made it to the show. Brendl went fourth overall to the Rangers in 1999, but was only able to muster up a paltry 22 points in 78 games with three teams.
Notable players selected after Brendl: Barrett Jackman, Nick Boyton, Martin Havlat
20 Daniel Tkaczuk, C, Calgary Flames
Everything seemed to be going according to plan for Daniel Tkaczuk. A great junior career with the Barrie Colts led to him being selected sixth overall by the Calgary Flames. He looked to be living up to the billing after a stellar performance at the 1999 World Junior Championships. He hit a wall once he reached the NHL, though, even after putting up an acceptable 11 points in 19 games in his rookie season. He never played another game in the NHL and bounced around Europe for the rest of his playing career.
Notable players selected after Tkaczuk: Marian Hossa, Scott Hannan, Brenden Morrow
19 Brett Lindros, RW, New York Islanders
For all the ways the Lindros brothers were alike on the ice, they were also built very similar: both big, tough players, but both with the inability to avoid concussion issues. The biggest difference between Eric and Brett was the fact that Eric at least lived up to his high expectations. Brett, on the other hand, did little during his time in the NHL, putting up only 7 points in 51 games, falling well short of the what the Islanders expected he would be when they drafted him 9th overall in 1994.
Notable players selected after Lindros: Jeff Friesen, Mattias Ohlund, Ethan Moreau
18 Bryan Fogarty, D, Quebec Nordiques
After a legendary junior hockey career, Fogarty was taken 9th overall by the Quebec Nordiques in 1987. Fogarty spent the majority of his career battling a drinking problem that ultimately played a role in his tragic death in 2002. His NHL career spanned 156 games with three teams, collecting only 74 points. Who can only assume that his career might have been decent if it weren't for his off the ice issues.
Notable players selected after Fogarty: Stephane Quintal, Joe Sakic, Andrew Cassels
17 Alexander Svitov, C, Tampa Bay Lightning
Svitov was yet another classic example of a big-bodied center who didn’t pan out in the big leagues. Drafted 3rd overall by Tampa, he recorded only eight points in his rookie season, which led to him being traded to Columbus. After heading to Russia for a few seasons he came back to the Blue Jackets for a year, but never lived up the hype.
Notable players selected after Svitov: Stephen Weiss, Mikko Koivu, Ales Hemsky
16 Stanislav Christov, LW, Anaheim Ducks
Christov only got through two entire NHL seasons despite being drafted 5th overall by Anaheim in 2001. He managed only 61 points in 196 games and was never able to find his footing during his time with the Ducks or later on in his career with the Boston Bruins. He’s since gone back to Russia and has been a consistent scorer in the KHL.
Notable players selected after Svitov: Stephen Weiss, Mikko Koivu, Ales Hemsky
15 Neil Brady, C, New Jersey Devils
Neil Brady will only be remembered in Ottawa for scoring the franchise’s first-ever National Hockey League goal (against Patrick Roy, no less). He was already a bust by this stage of his career, though; three years into his career (after being selected 3rd overall in 1986 by the Devils) and only 6 points in 29 games to show for it. After one half-decent season with Ottawa in ’92-’93, he fizzled out in Dallas and spent the rest of his hockey career playing in the International Hockey League.
Notable players taken after Brady: Vincent Damphousse, Brian Leetch, Scott Young
14 Brian Finley, G, Nashville Predators
Being one of the only goalies to make this list gives Brian Finley another not so glorious notch to add to his belt. Despite being taken sixth overall by the Nashville Predators in the 1999 draft, Finley spent most of his career bouncing around the minors, appearing in only four NHL games. Five years later the Preds selected Pekka Rinne in the eighth round, a number double the amount of games Finley ever played.
Notable players selected after Finley: Barrett Jackman, Nick Boynton, Martin Havlat
13 Alexander Volchkov, LW, Washington Capitals
Volchkov was selected fourth overall in the 1996 draft by the Washington Capitals but played only three games in the NHL before heading back overseas to play out what turned out to be a fairly long professional career in Russia. Volchkov never managed more than 26 points in any season he played with a North American pro team.
Notable players selected after Volchkov: Derek Morris, Danius Zubrus, Daniel Briere
12 Dave Chyzowski, LW, New York Islanders
Chyzowski’s brilliance with the Kamloops Blazers led to Islanders to believe they were taking a franchise player with the 2nd overall pick of the 1989 draft. Instead, they had acquired a dud who only managed 31 points in 126 NHL games. If Chyzowski had been the second overall pick in the AHL draft, different story…but that’s not how these things work.
Notable players selected after Chyzowski: Stu Barnes, Bill Guerin, Bobby Holik
11 Jason Bonsignore, C, Edmonton Oilers
Bonsignore’s solid junior career led to him being selected 4th overall by the Oilers in 1994, but he only put up 16 points in 79 career games, spending the majority of his career bouncing from league to league and team to team before ultimately ending his long journey in 2008. Bonsignore probably gets on a much better list pretty often, though: Best Names in NHL History.
Notable players selected after Bonsignore: Jeff O’Neil, Mattias Ohlund, Ethan Moreau
10 Nikita Filatov, LW, Columbus Blue Jackets
Tapped as a Russian dynamo with speed to burn and tons of skill, Filatov was a seemingly logical choice for the talent-starved Columbus Blue Jackets. Instead of blossoming alongside Rick Nash, Filatov clashed with teammates and coaches, moving back and forth between the NHL, AHL and KHL before being shipped to Ottawa, where he was unable to resurrect his once promising career. The 6th overall pick in the 2008 draft is now in Russia for good.
Notable players selected after Filatov: Tyler Myers, Erik Karlsson, Jordan Eberle
9 Wayne McBean, D, Los Angeles Kings
Not only did Wayne McBean become an all-time NHL bust, he wasted a glorious opportunity to turn his name into an iconic brand all over the bean world. McBean was taken fourth overall by the Kings in 1987, but after two short, unproductive seasons he was shipped off to the Islanders where he was mostly a warm body to call-up from the minors. At least he wasn't a bust pick for the Islanders this time.
Notable players selected after McBean: Stephane Quintal, Joe Sakic, Andrew Cassels
8 Scott Scissons, C, New York Islanders
Scissons was the ugly duckling of the star-studded 1990 draft, which consists of one of the best first-round classes of all-time. Scissons only appeared in 3 NHL games – although one of them happened to be during the 1993 playoffs. Scissons never caught on in the big leagues and played in the IHL for a while before calling it a career in 1995.
Notable players selected after Scissons: Darryl Sydor, Derian Hatcher, Keith Tkachuk, Martin Brodeur
7 Doug Wickenheiser, C, Montreal Canadiens
Not only was Doug Wickenheiser burdened with the expectations of being the first overall pick of the 1980 draft, he also had to deal with being the first overall pick of the Montreal Canadiens. To top it all off, he had to deal with the fact that Habs media and fans were enraged that he had been the pick over Denis Savard, a French Canadian who had grown up in Montreal. Suffice to say it didn’t work out in Montreal for Wickenheiser – or anywhere else, for that matter. He only put up 276 points in 556 career games, drastically low numbers for a top pick.
Notable players selected after Scissons: Denis Savard, Larry Murphy, Paul Coffey
6 Hugh Jessiman, RW, New York Rangers
At 6’6, 224 pounds, Hugh Jessiman was supposed to be a wrecking ball right-winger for the New York Rangers. Instead, he’s been more of a tennis ball, bouncing around from team to team ever since he was drafted 12th overall by the Rangers in 2003. He’s played in more professional hockey leagues (5) than he has NHL games (2).
Notable players selected after Jessiman: Dustin Brown, Brent Seabrook, Zach Parise, Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Kesler, Mike Richards, Corey Perry…ouch.
5 Patrik Štefan, C, Atlanta Thrashers
If Patrik Stefan had gone in any other round – or even later in the first round – he would have simply been another solid NHLer. Instead, he was handed the lofty status of first overall pick, but only totalled 188 points in 455 games; 189 points if you count his most famous assist, when he slipped on a breakaway towards an empty net, only to watch Ales Hemsky tie the game with seconds to spare.
Notable players selected after Stefan: The Sedin Twins, Martin Havlat
4 Rick DiPietro, G, New York Islanders
Without a doubt one of the biggest busts in the history of the NHL, Rick DiPietro’s story is a disheartening tale. After being selected 1st overall by the Islanders in 2000, he put up solid numbers in the first six years of his career – somehow solid enough to warrant a 15-year contract that was subsequently bought out in 2013 after he suddenly became the most injury prone player of the new millennium.
Notable players selected after DiPietro: Dany Heatley, Marian Gaborik, Scott Hartnell
3 Alexandre Daigle, RW, Ottawa Senators
The most overrated player to ever come out of the junior ranks, Daigle was a huge bust with the Ottawa Senators. The first overall pick of the 1993 draft still put up 327 points in 616 NHL games, but he never attained the elite superstar status he seemed destined to obtain coming off a legendary junior hockey career.
Notable players selected after Daigle: Chris Pronger, Paul Kariya, Saku Koivu, Todd Bertuzzi
2 Daniel Dore, RW, Quebec Nordiques
Dore was touted as the next French Canadian superstar of the Quebec Nordiques. Instead, the 5th overall pick in the 1988 draft turned out to be a major bust, appearing in only 17 NHL games and collecting a grand total of 5 points. Daniel Dore is not a name that is mentioned that often among draft busts, but when analyzing situation and after seeing who was selected after him, it’s stunning that he isn't discussed much more.
Notable players selected after Dore: Jeremy Roenick, Rob Brind’Amour, Teemu Selanne
1 Brian Lawton, LW, Minnesota North Stars
Lawton is one of the few who can claim he was a bust as a player and as a general manager in the National Hockey league. He ended his playing career with 266 points in 483 games, nowhere near good enough for a guy drafted 1st overall (in 1983), and even worse for a guy who was taken ahead of Steve Yzerman.
Notable players selected after Lawton: Pat LaFontaine, Steve Yzerman, Tom Barrasso