NHL Prospects at Risk of Becoming Busts
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For every Sidney Crosby or Alex Ovechkin, there is a Patrik Stefan or Pavel Brendl. High draft picks going bust is a fact of life for general managers in the NHL, and it's always awful to see it happen to a teenager who once had a promising career ahead of him.
While there are other professional options for players who don't pan out in North America—Alexandre Daigle, for instance, was a point-per-game player in the Swiss A League prior to retiring—that doesn't ease the burden on the teams that initially drafted them.
Having a first-round pick go bust can put a franchise in a hole that takes years to climb out of. Especially if they traded other assets to move up at the draft to pick a kid who seemed like a can't-miss player.
Anyone who has been around the game long enough knows that there's no such thing as a can't-miss prospect though, and there are several once-promising young studs who are close to seeing their fortunes turn at the professional level.
All statistics and draft information appear courtesy of Hockeydb.com unless otherwise noted.
2011, first round (fourth overall)
Scouting reports before the draft in 2011 suggested that Adam Larsson could eventually become the next Nicklas Lidstrom. George Malik over at Kukla's Korner expressed a desire for the Detroit Red Wings to trade up to draft him for that very reason prior to the draft.
Larsson was billed as a smooth-skating defenseman who was responsible in his own zone. A lot of people also liked the fact that he was a right-handed shot and had a rocket from the blue line. Per NHL Central Scouting's Chris Edwards:
Adam is one of the best skater’s in this year’s draft -- he has excellent speed and mobility. He also has patient puck handling abilities and can surprise an opponent with a solid hit. His size and skating ability make him comparable with Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman.
Larsson is still a young player who could eventually make an impact at the NHL level. He's only 20, but the New Jersey Devils have put a lot of pressure on him since bringing him to North America.
The lockout could have been a boon for Larsson as he was able to spend 33 games in the AHL. Sometimes it only takes a handful of games for a kid to find his game in the minors, and that seemed to be the case here.
After a 19-point showing with the Albany River Rats, Larsson returned to New Jersey after the work stoppage ended. He went on to post zero goals and six assists through 37 games.
While his play has been solid in his own zone, so far Larsson has failed to live up to his pre-draft billing.
2012, first round (12th overall)
We here at Bleacher Report weren't immune to the allure of Mikhail Grigorenko's combination of size and talent. He projected cleanly as a future NHL All Star in the eyes of many due to his style of play and skill level.
Per Grant McCagg of TSN.ca:
Possesses the size, strength and skill teams covet in a first-line centre, protects the puck well and has great hands for a big man. Also has a smooth, powerful stride and drives to the net with force. Has a heavy shot, great vision and passing skills, elite offensive talent. Not afraid to get his nose dirty when so inclined.
The ship hasn't sailed on Grigorenko's career. Far from it.
Still, what kind of mental impact did a sloppy first season with the Buffalo Sabres have on a kid who slipped in the draft due to questions about his commitment to being an excellent professional?
Per that same report from TSN.ca:
(He) has to continue working on his all-around game, needs to bring more consistency, will take some shifts and games off... Has been compared to Viktor Kozlov in terms of his size/skill package, but also because of his inconsistency. Has the capability of being a skilled number one center at the NHL level, but will he have the desire?
Hockey's Future also pointed out the inconsistent areas of Grigorenko's game, which brings the concerns over his potential as a bust full circle. The upcoming season will be very important for Grigorenko, who will need to prove once and for all he has to focus needed to meet his pre-draft hype.
2010, first round (fifth overall)
As we see during every NHL draft, teams tend to lean toward prospects who have size and skill when it comes to early selections. Nino Niederreiter fits that bill perfectly. He currently weighs in at more than 200 pounds and stands at 6'2", and he's been playing a power game since before he was drafted.
THN.com's Forecaster had this to say about Niederreiter:
Boasts good size, great scoring prowess and a flair for the dramatic in his game. Shoots first, asks questions later. Not shy about venturing into heavy traffic areas, he can play on either side of center. Also has a mean streak.
This is the power forward the New York Islanders believed they were drafting in 2010. While Niederreiter hasn't gone south as a player, there are now some questions about his attitude. It was an ugly he-said, he-said situation between the young Swiss native and the Isles, and in the end the divorce between player and team was ugly.
He was traded to the Minnesota Wild for Cal Clutterbuck and the 70th overall selection in the 2013 draft, prompting Ray Ferraro to tell Michael Russo of the Minnesota Star-Tribune the following:
Niederreiter’s upside is a lot bigger. I mean, to me, this is a no-brainer. They traded Cal Clutterbuck for a first-round pick. They got the fifth overall pick, a potential goal scorer, for a bowling ball. I don’t mean that as disrespect to Cal. But they traded a goal scorer for a guy that hits.
That's all fine and well, but how will the 21-year-old adjust to life in Minnesota? Are his odds of playing top-six minutes better with the Wild than they were with the Islanders? It's tough to see that being the case, and we all know how Niederreiter responds when he doesn't get his way.
2009, first round (second overall)
Early big boards for the 2009 were actually projecting Victor Hedman to go ahead of John Tavares at the draft. You can't teach size and teams were drooling over this 6'6" monster from Sweden.
Check out what Gare Joyce had to say about him back in January of 2009, per ESPN.com:
It's easy to look at the towering Hedman and see Chris Pronger. If anything, the 6-foot-6, 220-pound Hedman is a little farther along than Pronger was at the same age, a better skater as a junior. He's also still growing. Hedman was on the ice for all the important shifts in Sweden's run to the world juniors final and has been a dominant player in under-18 play. Most scouts liked Hedman over Tavares a year ago, but there has been a shift in opinion since the start of the season.
The Tampa Bay Lightning bought into the hype, and drafted Hedman ahead of players like Matt Duchene and Evander Kane.
Hedman has been in the NHL for four seasons now. 2013-14 will be his fifth in the league, and while he's been a minute-muncher in Tampa, he hasn't even come close to providing the kind of offensive spark many hoped he would.
The Hockey News thought that Hedman had some offensive upside. So did ESPN. And while the Lighting have been one of the most explosive offensive teams in the league over the last few seasons, Hedman has yet to cash in.
Through 258 games played, he's notched 89 points. While posting 20 points in a season isn't bad for a defenseman, it's likely that the Lightning would take one of the players they passed on at this point if they had a do-over.
2010, first round (12th overall)
The folks over at thehockeywriters.com wrote that they wouldn't be surprised to see Cam Fowler go as high as third come draft day. His skating was considered the best available in a draft that also included Tyler Seguin and Taylor Hall, and while Fowler was outstanding in the offensive zone, his defensive game was thought to be polished enough to be workable at the NHL level.
Has good size for the blueline position, but it's his fantastic mobility and powerful stride that stand out in terms of his physical traits. Transitions easily from defense to offense, and can quarterback the power play. Plays with confidence and poise.
Things have taken a turn for the ugly for Fowler and the Anaheim Ducks. According to Kukla's Korner, the young defenseman had the worst adjusted plus-minus rating in the NHL in 2011-12. Things didn't get much better for the Ducks or Fowler in 2013 either.
He posted a minus-four rating through 37 games played and only managed to score one goal—unacceptable for a defenseman who was supposed to be money in the offensive zone.
All told, Fowler has played in 195 NHL games. He's scored 16 goals, assisted on 64 others and compiled a mind-numbing minus-57 rating. He's only 21 though, and defenseman obviously take longer to pan out than forwards, but becoming that kind of defensive liability is just ridiculous for someone who was so highly touted.
2010, first round (11th overall)
Goaltenders are infamously hard to project and scout, but there seemed to be a lot to like about Jack Campbell heading into the 2010 draft. He'd seen his stock skyrocket after stepping in and playing out of his mind at the WJC that year despite being the backup, and he was on top of the world.
While scouts loved his athletic ability, what they loved more was his mental approach to the game. Bruce Ciskie had this to say for AOL sports in 2010 ahead of the draft:
Goalies are very tough to evaluate. A big part of the reason for that is how important the mental side of the game is. Campbell is an example of the potential that exists when you mix physical ability with the proverbial ice water in the veins. He's a talented, fundamentally sound goaltender who simply isn't going to be easily rattled.
THN.com wrote that Campbell "has great size and supreme confidence in his puck-stopping ability. (he) Is also quite athletic for a 6-3 goaltender... capable of making the highlight-reel save look routine."
A strong combination of skill and mental toughness? How could this possibly go wrong?
After being touted as a supremely mentally tough netminder, Campbell has proven to be anything but. The Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds missed the playoffs during his final year in the juniors, and he had this to say about his overall experience, via ESPN:
“I'll leave it at this: I learned a lot and I've taken a lot from it, more from the mental side of it. I am ready to move on.”
Prior to being drafted, upon being asked to describe his play style, Campbell merely told TheScoutingReport.org that "I win big games." Since then, he hasn't done a whole lot of that.
Campbell has been in the AHL for two seasons now, and played 40 games last year. He posted 19 wins to go along with his sub-par .905 save percentage. His GAA was headed in the right direction, down to 2.65 from 3.02, but those just aren't the kinds of numbers or mental breakdowns you want to see from the goaltender of the future if you're the Dallas Stars.
2010, first round (ninth overall)
The words that were swirling around Mikael Granlund as the 2010 draft approached should remind fans of what pundits were saying about Aleksander Barkov prior to the 2013 draft. He'd already proven his chops as a professional in the SM-liiga, had already played against men and bested them, and appeared ready for NHL action immediately.
Hockeysfuture.com summed up the expectations of Granlund nicely: "A superlative playmaker and puckhandler, Granlund's upside seems to be that of an NHL All-Star."
THN.com echoed that sentiment, stating that "(Granlund is) a smart playmaker with excellent vision and the versatility to play all three forward positions. Works hard, can skate and shoot. Great hockey sense, he can score highlight-reel goals.
The Minnesota Wild had Granlund slotted in as the team's No. 2 center heading into the 2013 season. He'd been very effective in the AHL as he adjusted to the North American style of play, and appeared to be on his way to fulfilling his promise.
He scored his first NHL goal in his first NHL game, but really seemed to struggle with the size of the competition after that.
...he struggled to get to grips with NHL-level hockey, often getting knocked off his feet by bigger players and being unable to control the puck. His consistency issues weren't helped when he was demoted to the 4th line or sent back to the AHL regularly rather than being given a decent chance to play with the same linemates for a while in the NHL.
Overcoming a confidence issue is one thing, but if Granlund doesn't learn to perform as an undersized player in the NHL, he could end up busting out of the NHL entirely. He has plenty of time to prove himself, but there is reason for concern moving forward.