From Mario Lemieux to Sidney Crosby, the Pittsburgh Penguins have had highly regarded prospects develop into superstars. The list of highly touted prospects who flopped in the NHL is just as extensive, though.
Several first-round draft picks, like Ryan Whitney in 2002, failed to make an impact in the NHL. While others, like ninth-round pick Matt Moulson, thrived despite low expectations.
The franchise made some interesting draft choices in the late 1990s. Looking back at the future NHL All-Stars they passed up must be painful. Hindsight is 20/20, right?
The silver lining is that the Penguins have learned from their mistakes and have recently made better selections.
That said, let’s look at the seven most highly touted Penguins prospects who flopped in the NHL.
The Penguins snagged Josef Melichar with the 71st pick in the 1997 draft. His performance with the Tri-City Americans in the WHL made him a relatively exciting pick.
In 65 games with the Americans in 1998-99, Melichar tallied 36 points from the blue line. More importantly, his plus-30 rating spoke highly of his defensive capabilities.
Or so the Pens thought.
His performance in the WHL never translated to the AHL, let alone the NHL. He finished his first pro season, which he spent with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, with a measly 12 points and minus-18.
Only three times did he play at least 70 games in an NHL season. Of those seasons, Melichar only finished one with a positive rating, a plus-one, by the way.
Melichar had plenty of chances to make an impact as an NHL defenseman in the 349 games he played. He never did, though.
Tomas Surovy looked promising, especially for a fourth-round draft pick.
He had all the makings of a depth winger and even illustrated it in his first season in the AHL—netting 23 goals and 33 points in 65 games.
Surovy ended up hopping back and forth between the Pittsburgh and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. In the 126 NHL games he played over three seasons, he amassed 27 goals and 59 points.
He didn’t completely fail, but he didn’t live up to the hype he received as a prospect.
It’s not often you call a guy that has a Stanley Cup ring a flop.
He was on hand for the Anaheim Ducks during the playoffs in 2007. He didn’t play during the club’s Stanley Cup campaign, but was included in the picture and received a ring.
The Penguins drafted him in the third round of the 1999 draft. It looked like the Pens had quite a steal when he helped lead the Rimouski Oceanic to the Memorial Cup just a year later.
Instead, his NHL performance hardly warranted his status as a third-round pick.
Inconsistency got the better of Caron’s NHL career. Granted, the Pens didn’t help him much on defense.
Carl Sneep is the most recent Pens prospect to flop in the NHL. He joined the franchise after being selected with the 32nd pick in 2006.
With his size—he's 6'3" and 217 points—he had the makings of a quality bottom-line, two-way defender.
His rookie season with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins seemed to confirm his potential. His ice time varied, but he scored 17 points and finished plus-17 in 61 games.
Unfortunately, that’s as far as he’s come. He failed to show much growth in subsequent seasons. He was taken off his AHL club’s active roster early in the 2012-13 season and can now be found with the Wheeling Nailers in the ECHL.
With the fifth pick in the 2002 draft, the Penguins acquired Ryan Whitney, a highly regarded offensive defenseman.
He made his pro debut with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins during their 2004 Calder Cup drive, chipping in with 10 points in the 20 games. Unfortunately, they lost to the Milwaukee Admirals in the finals.
He was re-assigned to the AHL Pens during the 2004-05 NHL lockout and finished the season with six goals and 35 points.
Once promoted to the NHL, Whitney played 253 games with the Penguins over four seasons. In that time, he scored 34 goals and 150 points. The 59 points he recorded in 2006-07 remains his career high.
His offensive play from the blue line didn’t develop as well as the Pens had hoped. Also, his minus-17 rating over those four seasons proves there was a lot to be desired from his performance in the defensive zone.
It’s no surprise that the Pens phased out Whitney once Kris Letang broke onto the scene in 2007.
Going into the 1994 draft, Chris Wells was the complete package, a large forward with a knack for scoring. The Pens snatched him in the first round.
At 6’6” and 223 pounds, Wells was no stranger to the physical side of hockey. He brought an imposing presence to the ice that fits in with any team.
But his scoring talents put him over the top. He scored 30 goals and 74 points in 69 games with the WHL’s Seattle Thunderbirds the season before he was drafted.
It was his performance the season after he was drafted that made him one of the most highly touted Penguins prospects. In 69 games in 1994-95, he scored 45 goals and 108 points.
But Wells’ physicality was the only thing that remotely translated to the NHL. He played 195 games over five seasons and only recorded 29 points.
Saying Wells didn’t live up to the hype is an understatement.
Drafted 17th overall in 1997, Robert Dome was viewed by the Penguins as a relatively speedy winger with good size. Instead, he became the franchise’s biggest flop.
Having won the IHL’s Turner Cup championship with the Utah Grizzlies in 1996, the idea was to take Dome’s flashy style and develop him into a reliable scorer as a right winger on the top two lines.
He was dominant in the AHL. In 36 games in 1997-98, he totaled 46 points. But it never carried over to the NHL.
Dome only played 53 games in the NHL with the Penguins and the Calgary Flames. In that time, he scored a meager 14 points.
Despite having all the potential in the world, Dome's play disappointed the Penguins. It’s not that he didn’t show any growth. He adapted to the competition and was impressive in the AHL.
He just hit a wall when he arrived in the NHL. He failed to stand out as anything more than a quick skater with a decent-sized frame.