NHL Draft: The 50 Biggest Busts in NHL Draft History
NHL scouts and general managers alike do the best they can to pick the best available player when it comes time for them to make a move in the NHL draft, but sometimes even the surest of picks do not turn out the way they wanted.
Some players who went first overall performed like third-round talent, whereas other first-round draft choices never even made it to the NHL.
50. Claude Gauthier
The early history of the NHL draft exists in the form of the short 1960s “amateur draft” that rarely produced quality players and is a display of negligence from the scouts of the NHL’s earlier times.
In 1964, the Detroit Red Wings drafted Gauthier first overall. He never played in the NHL. Also drafted that year were Ken Dryden and Syl Apps.
49. The 1965 Amateur Draft Class
48. Most of the First Expansion-Era Draft Class
Of the 18 players drafted in 1967, three played in the NHL. The first four selections—Rick Pagnutti, Steve Rexe, Ken Hicks and Wayne Cheesman—did not.
47. Ray Martyniuk
By the 1970 amateur draft, most teams were drafting well. The first four picks were moderately successful NHL players: Gilbert Perreault, Dale Tallon, Reggie Leach and Rick MacLeish.
The fifth pick that year was Martyniuk, picked by the Montreal Canadiens. The goalie never played in the NHL. Only one other player from the first two rounds of that draft failed to make the NHL.
46. Morris Titanic
The Buffalo Sabres drafted Titanic 12th overall in 1973. He played in 19 career games, but a knee injury derailed (or, sunk) his career.
45. Cam Connor
Montreal’s fifth overall pick in 1974 played in just 89 games, delivering 31 points. Connor was drafted ahead of players including Pierre Larouche, Bryan Trottier, Tiger Williams and Ron Greschner.
44. Fred Williams
This is the name of the last center drafted before the St. Louis Blues took Bernie Federko seventh overall in 1976. Detroit went with Williams, who played 44 games in one season then never appeared in the NHL again.
43. Terry Richardson
In 1973, the eighth through 10th picks were Bob Gainey, Bob Dailey and Bob Neely.
Without another “Bob Two-syllable-last-name-ending-in-y” available, the Detroit Red Wings selected Richardson, a goalie.
He gave up 85 goals in a 20-game career.
42. Pat Peake
The two players picked immediately after Washington selected this eventual 69 career point-scorer in 1994 were Alex Kovalev and Markus Naslund.
41. Brett Lindros
The younger brother of Eric Lindros had a career that eerily foreshadowed the end of his brother’s. Brett retired at age 20 due to a series of concussions.
Regardless of circumstance, the New York Islanders cannot be happy that their ninth overall pick in 1994 played in just 51 career games.
40. Riku Helenius
Helenius was the other goalie drafted in the 2006 draft’s first round, along with Jonathan Bernier and Semyon Varlamov. While the other netminders find themselves developing nicely, Helenius has played in just one NHL game.
39. Jesse Niinimaki
Ten years after the Edmonton Oilers drafted Niinimaki 15th overall, he has yet to play in an NHL game. Not only did he never make it to the NHL, he could not make it in the AHL.
38. A.J. Thelan
Thelan was taken 12th overall in 2004 by the Minnesota Wild. The former Michigan State defenseman was never signed and currently plays in the ECHL.
37. Patrick DesRochers
No goalie in the 1998 draft turned out to be worth a first-round draft pick, but that did not stop the Phoenix Coyotes from taking DesRochers 14th overall. In 11 career games, the goalie who was born in Penetanguishene, Ontario (good luck pronouncing that) gave up 33 goals on 258 shots.
The 3.67 goals-against average and .872 save percentage were all he had to show in the NHL.
36. Lauri Tukonen
Tukonen scored 36 points in one season in the AHL after being drafted 11th overall in 2004, but never improved enough to earn a spot on the Los Angeles Kings. His NHL career totals five games.
He is now playing in Finland.
35. Michael Henrich
Of the first 39 players selected in 1998, Henrich is the only player to never appear in an NHL game. Henrich was impressive in his OHL days, averaging more than 70 points over his three junior seasons. Like some other OHL graduates drafted in 1998, he failed to come through at the professional level.
34. Jeff Heerema
With the awesome distinction of being the guy who was taken right before Alex Tanguay 11th overall in 1998, Heerema is one of many OHL players who failed to live up to first-round expectations that year.
The draft class of 1998 seemed to be better in the QMJHL, having delivered Tanguay and Simon Gagne later than several OHL players who were less successful in the NHL.
33. Rico Fata
Drafted by Calgary sixth overall in 1998, Fata totaled a mere 63 career points in 230 games. The Flames passed on Alex Tanguay and Simon Gagne.
32. Alexander Kharlamov
Selected 15th overall in 1994 by the Washington Capitals, Kharlamov never played in the NHL. The closest he got was a 32-point career high in the AHL in 1995-96.
31. Teemu Riihijarvi
The only player picked in the first round of the 1995 draft to never play in an NHL game, Riihijarvi was the unfortunate selection of the San Jose Sharks. What the Sharks saw in Riihijarvi is a mystery; he spent most of his professional career in Finland’s SM-liiga, with a career high of 18 points.
He did not belong in the NHL draft at any round.
30. Jonathan Aitken
Had the Bruins taken the defenseman who went ninth overall, one selection after Aitken, they would have had Ruslan Salei and roughly 850 more career games worth of a first-round pick.
In 44 career games, Aitken totaled one assist.
29. Petr Taticek
Taticek was the only player out of the first 14 overall picks in 2002 to play fewer than 300 games. He fell 297 short in an essentially nonexistent NHL career.
28. Alek Stojanov
Selected one pick after Peter Forsberg in the 1991 “Eric Lindros draft” (as many would remember it), Stojanov played in 109 career games and totaled seven points.
Embarrassing numbers for a forward who was taken before Brian Rolston, Alex Kovalev, Markus Naslund, Glen Murray, Martin Rucinsky and Ray Whitney.
27. Rocky Trottier
Better known as “Islanders legend Bryan Trottier’s kid brother,” Rocky was selected eighth overall in 1982. The forward played just 38 games in the NHL. He was the only player of the first 18 drafted that season to play fewer than 200 career games.
Luckily for the New Jersey Devils, who picked Trottier, they eventually ended up with the player selected fifth overall that year. That player’s No. 4 jersey is now hanging in the Prudential Center’s rafters.
26. Jason Herter
Vancouver picked Herter eighth overall in 1989. He never played with the Canucks. He was signed as an unrestricted free agent with Dallas years later before being traded to the New York Islanders, where he played his only career NHL game.
He is now a head coach in the USHL.
25. Terry Ryan
Montreal selected Ryan eighth overall in 1995. He played the majority of his professional career in the AHL, where he appeared in a grand total of 184 games. In the NHL, he played eight games with no points, but he totaled 36 penalty minutes.
24. Hugh Jessiman
The New York Rangers could have taken Dustin Brown, Brent Seabrook, Zach Parise, Ryan Getzlaf, Brent Burns, Ryan Kesler, Mike Richards or Corey Perry with the 12th overall pick in 2003.
They ended up with Jessiman, a man who has played in two career NHL games.
23. Dan Woodley
Woodley went seventh overall to the Vancouver Canucks in 1986.
He played in exactly 1,200 fewer games, totaling 1,026 fewer points and two fewer James Norris Trophies than the man who was selected two spots later (Brian Leetch, New York Rangers).
22. Lars Jonsson
Jonsson totaled two points and was a minus-four in eight games with the Flyers, who finished last in the NHL that year.
21. Steve Kelly
Edmonton took Kelly sixth overall in 1995. He played in 149 games and totaled 21 points. The Oilers passed on Shane Doan (seventh), Jarome Iginla (11th), Jean-Sebastian Giguere (13th) and Petr Sykora (18th) for Kelly.
20. Nikita Filatov
If you hear speculated hesitation regarding the Columbus Blue Jackets and using their second overall pick on one of the top Russian prospects, Filatov is the reason why.
Columbus took him sixth overall in 2008, but he's played in just 53 games, with a career total of 14 points.
19. Daniel Tkaczuk
After being picked sixth overall in 1997 by the Calgary Flames, Tkaczuk’s professional hockey career would span seven different professional leagues. In the NHL he played in just 19 games, but totaled a noteworthy 11 points.
The five players picked in front of Tkaczuk still play in the NHL today: Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Olli Jokinen, Roberto Luongo and Eric Brewer.
18. Thomas Hickey
The 2007 entry draft’s first seven selections include six young prospects with promising futures. The other guy is Hickey, who the Los Angeles Kings picked fourth overall instead of players such as Karl Alzner, Sam Gagner, Jake Voracek, Logan Couture, Ryan McDonagh and Kevin Shattenkirk.
Hickey has not played in an NHL game.
17. Alexander Svitov and 16. Stanislav Chistov
Svitov was taken third overall in 2001 by the Tampa Bay Lightning after Ilya Kovalchuk and Jason Spezza. The Panthers took Stephan Weiss fourth and the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim took Chistov fifth.
Svitov and Chistov were teammates in Russia with Avangard Omsk, but neither was effective in the NHL. Svitov totaled 37 points in 179 games; Chistov totaled 61 in 196.
15. Neil Brady
What did the New Jersey Devils do with the third overall pick in 1986? Well, with Vincent Damphousse, Brian Leetch and Craig Janney still available, they drafted a player who would total 31 career NHL points.
Brady’s hockey career took him to the IHL, where he posted a career high of 58 points. His most memorable NHL moment was scoring the first goal in the history of the modern Ottawa Senators franchise.
14. Wayne McBean
Taken fourth overall in 1987 by the Los Angeles Kings (one pick after Glen Wesley), McBean had an unproductive 211-game NHL career in which he was an atrocious minus-72 defenseman.
Joe Sakic went 15th overall that year.
13. Dave Chyzowski
Chyzowski was drafted second after Mats Sundin in 1989. He played in just 126 games. He contributed 31 career points but retired with a career minus-29 rating.
The draft was not particularly strong that season, but Chyzowski was a relatively useless second overall choice.
12. Gord Kluzak
Remember when Ray Bourque won the Stanley Cup in 2001 with the Colorado Avalanche? It was after a 22-year career, most of which was played with the Boston Bruins. On the other side of the ice was future Hall of Fame defenseman Scott Stevens.
Had the Bruins not selected Kluzak first overall in 1982, there is a chance Bourque and Stevens could have been lifting the cup together years before that in Boston.
While Kluzak played in an injury-shortened 299-game career, Stevens had success as the hardest-hitting player of all time, shutting down opponents year after year.
Of players selected first overall in the NHL entry draft, only Erik Johnson (2006) and the past three first overall selections have played in fewer NHL games than Kluzak.
Also selected that year were Brian Bellows, Phil Housley and Dave Andreychuk. All totaled more than 1,000 career points.
Regardless of why, Kluzak did not turn out to be who the Bruins wanted when they drafted him.
11. Ryan Sittler
The Philadelphia Flyers could have selected literally any other player with the seventh pick in 1992 and he would not have been a worse choice than Sittler.
He never played a game in the NHL.
10. Brian Finley
Nashville selected this goalie sixth overall in 1999. The Predators' second first-round pick in franchise history, Finley played just four games in the NHL, giving up 13 goals.
9. Alexander Volchkov
Washington wasted the fourth overall pick in 1996 on a player who appeared in just three NHL games. Volchkov was impressive in the OHL, totaling 146 points in 103 games in the junior league, but that success never translated to the professional level.
8. Jason Bonsignore
Drafted fourth overall in 1994, this center put a grand total of 16 career points on the board in a 79-game career. The players who went third and fifth—Radek Bonk and Jeff O’Neill, respectively—each played more than 800 career games.
7. Scott Scissons
Darryl Sydor, Derian Hatcher, Keith Tkachuk, Martin Brodeur and Doug Weight were all available when the New York Islanders selected Scissons sixth overall in 1990.
Scissons played in two career NHL games.
What makes this pick look even worse is that the Pittsburgh Penguins took Jaromir Jagr just one selection earlier.
6. Rick DiPietro
Perhaps this is more on Mike Milbury for drafting DiPietro first overall, but either way, the much-maligned goaltender’s career was not worthy of a first-round selection.
Never mind than Dany Heatley and Marian Gaborik went second and third, or that Scott Hartnell went sixth overall. DiPietro was drafted 43 spots ahead of another goaltender, Ilya Bryzgalov.
Bryzgalov had a rough first season in Philadelphia, but it was still better than anything DiPietro has done in his career.
5. Patrik Stefan
In 1999, the Atlanta Thrashers took Stefan first overall. The Sedin brothers went second and third to Vancouver. While both Daniel and Henrik have won an Art Ross Trophy, Stefan has this empty-net mishap for fans to remember him by.
Stefan has 188 career points in 455 games.
4. Pavel Brendl
To show how much of a letdown the fourth overall selection from the 1999 draft was, consider who the New York Rangers eventually traded him for.
Brendl was the centerpiece of the trade that brought Eric Lindros over from Philadelphia. Brendl scored just 22 points in the NHL in a 78-game career.
At least the Flyers were able to ship him off for Sami Kapanen before his value completely diminished.
3. Alexandre Daigle
The Hartford Whalers took Chris Pronger second overall. The Mighty Ducks of Anaheim took Paul Kariya fourth overall. Saku Koivu slipped to 21st for the Montreal Canadiens. The three best players in the 1993 draft were passed on in favor of Alexandre Daigle, who went first overall.
The “consensus No. 1 draft pick” was compared to Steve Yzerman and Joe Sakic, but was an incredible letdown. Daigle totaled 327 points over a 616-game career.
Imagine this year’s consensus top prospect Nail Yakupov being upstaged in his career by Alex Galchenyuk, Ryan Murray and Matt Dumba. That’s how bad Daigle was.
2. Daniel Dore
With the fifth pick in 1988, the Quebec Nordiques went with a player who played in 17 career NHL games.
The seventh through 10th picks that year were Martin Gelinas, Jeremy Roenick, Rod Brind’Amour and Teemu Selanne.
Wow. Those four players averaged 1,300-plus games and 1,100-plus points in their careers. Selanne may still play next season.
1. Brian Lawton
Most hockey fans are aware of the effect Steve Yzerman had on the Detroit Red Wings. Lawton’s effect on the Minnesota North Stars? Not so much. He played just five seasons with Minnesota and ended his career after a 483-game, 266-point career.
Minnesota picked the forward first overall out of a Rhode Island high school in 1983. That was the year Yzerman went fourth, right after Pat LaFontaine went third. Cam Neely would be selected ninth.
All three players are in the Hall of Fame.
Former Red Wings general manager Jim Devellano speculated that had Yzerman gone first overall, the team would never have moved (per The Hockey News).
This one draft pick may have changed the fate of NHL hockey in three different cities.
As early as 1985, Minnesota GM Lou Nanne was second-guessing the pick (per Sports Illustrated).
Jason Sapunka covers a variety of NHL topics and is available on Twitter for day-to-day updates, commentary and analysis.