Ranking the Biggest Busts in the NHL Draft of the Past 10 Years
The NHL's annual entry draft is the lifeblood of the league's member teams. It's a chance for clubs to restock their systems with good, young, cost-controlled players and to add the prospects who will support and perhaps eventually supplant the current stars of those teams.
First-round picks, especially early first-round picks, come with the highest level of expectation. Any selection is an opportunity for a team to help itself; the early picks in particular represent extraordinary opportunities to find talent. When it works, the players selected can ultimately end up leading their teams to the Stanley Cup.
However, the magnitude of that opportunity also means that when a team misses with an early pick, the results can be devastating. When a team struggles for years at a time, often the reasons can be traced back to the draft, where instead of landing a franchise cornerstone, it landed a bit player and at times not even that.
Who were the biggest misses of the last 10 years? To answer that question, we looked at each player's professional career, the quality of his draft year and, of course, how high he was selected. Read on to see what we came up with.
10. Riku Helenius, Tampa Bay Lightning
Drafted: 15th overall, 2006
Professional Career: A big goalie, Helenius has carved out a reasonably good career overseas, most recently going 14-5-2 with a 0.918 save percentage for Jokerit of the KHL. But his work in North America left a lot to be desired. In two separate stints, he showed himself incapable of distinguishing himself at even the AHL level.
Draft Quality: Claude Giroux was still on the board and would go 22nd overall, but the players immediately following Helenius were decent in their own right. Ty Wishart was an unspectacular defenceman who would play just 26 NHL games, but Trevor Lewis has been a good role player in Los Angeles, and Chris Stewart has enjoyed a solid career.
9. Alexandre Picard, Columbus Blue Jackets
Drafted: Eighth overall, 2004
Professional Career: Big winger Alexandre Picard played 67 games for the Columbus Blue Jackets over the course of five seasons. He didn't score a single NHL goal and managed just two assists. Picard did enjoy some successful AHL campaigns but was never able to make the transition to hockey's highest level. He's currently playing in Europe.
Draft Quality: Ladislav Smid was the pick immediately after Picard, and he's played 561 NHL games so far. The 2004 draft was an odd one in that there was a lot of talent available, but there were some significant misses in the middle of the first round, while players like Mike Green, Cory Schneider and Travis Zajac were available late.
8. Marek Zagrapan, Buffalo Sabres
Drafted: 13th overall, 2005
Professional Career: Zagrapan never played an NHL game. His best professional season was his last in North America, a 49-point campaign for the AHL's Portland Pirates. That was his third season in the AHL, and after it concluded, he headed overseas, quickly flaming out of the KHL and then posting mediocre campaigns in Finland and the Czech Republic. He was last seen playing in Austria.
Draft Quality: Much like 2004, the 2005 draft had a weird bubble in the middle of the first round. Of the first 45 picks, only four would fail to play in an NHL game; three of those four went between No. 13 and No. 16 overall. Any of the next few centres would have been better bets, though. Ryan O'Marra at least got an NHL cup of coffee, while Martin Hanzal and Andrew Cogliano did significantly better than that.
7. Lauri Tukonen, Los Angeles Kings
Drafted: 11th overall, 2004
Professional Career: Unlike some others on this list, Tukonen at least turned into a good pro. He was a reasonable middle-six option over three AHL seasons and even found his way into five games with the Kings during his entry-level contract. Then he returned to Finland, where he's been a pretty good secondary scorer for most of a decade. Still, it wasn't what the Kings had hoped for when they drafted the big centre.
Draft Quality: Tukonen's selection was followed by a string of reasonably good forwards. Drew Stafford, Alex Radulov, Petteri Nokelainen and Kyle Chipchura won't be getting their names in the Hockey Hall of Fame anytime soon, but three of the four had lengthy NHL careers, and the other certainly could have (and could still) if only he were a little more interested.
6. Zach Hamill, Boston Bruins
Drafted: Eighth overall, 2007
Professional Career: Hamill, a pint-sized (5'10", 180 lbs) offensive dynamo, had issues almost immediately after being drafted. He fell from 93 points to 75 in the WHL year over year, and in hindsight, it certainly looks like his draft year was an offensive bubble. He turned into a reasonable secondary scorer in the AHL and even found his way into 20 NHL games (four assists), but the offence never developed to the point where it compensated for his other weaknesses.
Draft Quality: It's a little unfair to look at the players taken on either side, because obviously the Bruins had no chance at the guy who went one spot earlier, Jakub Voracek, but it does tell the tale of this pick. Voracek had 81 points last year. The next selection went to San Jose, and they drafted two-way threat Logan Couture.
5. Kyle Beach, Chicago Blackhawks
Drafted: 11th overall, 2008
Professional Career: Beach was a big man with skill and a nasty disposition, and that always gets the attention of scouts. "This guy could be the best player in the draft," one scout told The Hockey News in 2008. "He's Owen Nolan." Not so much, as it turned out. Beach recorded 200 penalty minutes in the AHL but topped out as 36-point player. He never played an NHL game; these days he's plying his trade in Austria.
Draft Quality: All six players drafted directly after Beach played in the NHL, albeit not a lot in the case of No. 13 pick Colten Teubert. Erik Karlsson, at No. 15, was the best pick of that group, but Chicago would have done well to land the next guy selected, the Buffalo Sabres' Tyler Myers.
4. Sasha Pokulok, Washington Capitals
Drafted: 14th overall, 2005
Professional Career: Some will be wondering why Pokulok's here, and the answer is because he wasn't just some minor league journeyman who didn't have much of an NHL career. He didn't even have much of an AHL career. Pokulok played four seasons in North American professional hockey, and the vast majority of it was spent at the ECHL level, where it must be said that he was pretty good. Those years were followed by a season in Germany, then Austria and then the Quebec-based LNAH. That's a spectacularly bad career for a first-round pick in the NHL draft.
Draft Quality: Pokoluk was in that same weird mid-draft bubble as Marek Zagrapan, who appeared earlier in this piece. There was a lot of talent available from 17th to 46th overall, but the clubs drafting from 13th to 16th struck out on it.
3. Nikita Filatov, Columbus Blue Jackets
Drafted: Sixth overall, 2008
Professional Career: Filatov had genuine talent, he really did. At age 18, he scored at a hair under a point-per-game rate in the AHL; at age 19, he did the same thing in the KHL. When he returned to North America at age 20, he should have been a decent major league scorer.
He wasn't. He went goalless in 23 games; when he went back to the minors, his numbers fell off. He was dumped to Ottawa the next summer and didn't even last the year with the Senators before going back to the KHL, where in three full seasons he's never managed to equal his achievements as a 19-year-old.
Filatov did play 53 NHL games, but for whatever reason, he never realized his extraordinary potential.
Draft Quality: The next four teams in the draft order all landed solid forwards. Colin Wilson, Mikkel Boedker, Josh Bailey and Cody Hodgson all delivered value to the teams that picked them and all have already topped 250 career major league games.
2. Scott Glennie, Dallas Stars
Drafted: Eighth overall, 2009
Professional Career: Glennie posted solid numbers over three years of junior, then in his first year as a pro, he got into an NHL game and managed 37 points in the AHL. It wasn't a great start for a No. 8 selection, but there was promise there. Then over the next two seasons, he suffered a series of injuries and when healthy wasn't a particularly good player. He's now 24 years old and coming off a 39-point AHL campaign.
Draft Quality: Glennie has one career NHL game. To find the next player drafted in 2009 with an equal or lesser number of games, we need to scroll all the way down to Philippe Paradis, at No. 27 overall. After Paradis, the next player with so few NHL games played is Zach Budish at No. 41 overall. This was a spectacular miss in a decent draft year.
1. A.J. Thelen, Minnesota Wild
Drafted: 12th overall, 2004
Professional Career: What a disaster. After a promising draft year at Michigan State, Thelen's numbers collapsed in his sophomore campaign. He moved to the WHL next, where he was firmly mediocre. Over the course of two seasons. His professional career consisted of 10 games in the AHL and 210 in the ECHL. He hasn't played pro hockey since 2011.
Draft Quality: Only two first-round picks in 2004 failed to appear in an NHL game. One of those picks came at No. 30 overall, Andy Rogers; the other was Thelen. The next four defencemen taken were Andrej Meszaros (645 NHL games), Jeff Schultz (408 NHL games), Mark Fistric (325 NHL games) and Mike Green (575 NHL games). Even if we pretend that Thelen's 10 AHL games were NHL contests, he'd still be the fifth-worst selection of the first round.
Statistics courtesy of HockeyDB.com.