If there’s a silver lining for NHL teams that finish at the bottom of the standings, it’s the prospect of a high selection at the off-season entry draft.
In the past decade alone, we have seen how a few early draft picks can change the fate of an entire franchise. Before winning the Stanley Cup in 2009, the Pittsburgh Penguins hadn’t made it to the finals in nearly two decades and had missed the playoffs in four of the past five seasons. But led by the quartet of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Marc-Andre Fleury and Jordan Staal (all former top-five draft picks), the Pens were able to establish a whole new identity and have been one of the top teams in the league ever since.
In an even more extreme example, the storied Chicago Blackhawks franchise had gone without a cup since 1961 and missed the playoffs in nine of elven seasons before they won it all in 2010 (and again, in 2012) and chances are they wouldn’t have done it without back-to-back first-rounders Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.
This season, one only needs to look at the Colorado Avalanche and their quartet of recent first-rounders (Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog and Nathan MacKinnon) to see the potential upside to their struggles over the past few seasons.
As beneficial as early draft picks can be, however, they do not always translate to success. As too many general managers have discovered the hard way, there are no guarantees when it comes to making that all-important decision on draft day. For every Sidney Crosby there is an Alexandre Daigle. For every Patrick Kane, a Patrik Stefan. And while GMs have not always know exactly what they’re getting, they will – for better or worse – always be remembered for the choice they made.
Given the benefit of hindsight, here are the top 10 NHL draft busts since 2000.
10. Al Montoya, New York Rangers: No. 6 overall in 2004
While drafting goalies early in the first round is notoriously risky, the Rangers took a shot on Montoya, making him the first Cuban American to ever play in the NHL. Despite a spectacular career at the University of Michigan, however, Montoya failed to crack the Rangers’ starting lineup and played primarily in the AHL. He was eventually traded to the Phoenix Coyotes, who also gave up on him after a couple of seasons, and then the New York Islanders. Now 29, Montoya is a backup with the Winnipeg Jets and has only 89 games of NHL experience behind him.
9. Gilbert Brule, Columbus Blue Jackets: No. 6 overall in 2005
After a player by the name of Sidney Crosby, Brule was widely considered one of the best Canadian forwards available in the 2005 NHL entry draft. In his junior career with the WHL’s Vancouver Giants, Brule earned rookie of the year honors in 2004 and was named playoff MVP two years later when he led the Memorial Cup in scoring and helped his team win the WHL championship. Unfortunately for Columbus, who could have selected Anze Kopitar, T.J. Oshie, James Neal or Paul Stastny, Brule’s success ended there; in 146 games with the Blue Jackets he managed only 12 goals and 20 assists. After equally disappointing stints with his hometown Edmonton Oilers and the Phoenix Coyotes, Brule retired from hockey earlier this year.
8. Zach Hamill, Boston Bruins: No. 8 overall in 2007
After his impressive career with the WHL’s Everett Silvertips (262 points in 250 games), Hamill appeared poised for a productive career with the Bruins. Over the next several seasons, however, Hamill would only appear in a total of 20 NHL games and fail to score a single goal. He has since cleared waivers with several different teams and landed in the KHL, where he has yet to rediscover his scoring touch. Players the Bruins could have taken instead of Hamill include forwards Logan Couture, David Perron and Max Pacioretty and defensemen Ryan McDonagh, Kevin Shattenkirk and P.K. Subban.
7. Hugh Jessiman, New York Rangers: No. 12 overall in 2003
While expectations for a 12th overall pick may not be quite as high as those for a top-10 selection, the 2003 draft class was an exceptionally strong one. Perhaps it was Jessiman’s size – 6’6″ and 230 pounds – that attracted the Rangers, or perhaps the fact that he was born in New York City. Either way, the pick turned out to be a huge mistake; not only did Jessiman never play a single game in a Rangers uniform, but he spent the prime of his career bouncing around from one team’s affiliate to another, eventually landing in the KHL. Some of the players still available when New York selected Jessiman include Zach Parise, Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Kesler, Mike Richards and Corey Perry.
6. Nikita Filatov, Columbus Blue Jackets: No. 6 overall in 2008
It’s difficult to label a 23-year-old as a bust, but given his short and disappointing career in the NHL, Filatov is exactly that. Heading into the 2008 draft, Filatov was the highest-ranked European skater and the most promising Russian prospect since Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin in 2004. Despite fleeting glimpses of his offensive talent, however, the winger never looked at home in the NHL and played a total of only 53 games with the Blue Jackets and the Ottawa Senators (scoring six goals and adding eight assists). By the end of the 2011-12 season, Filatov had joined the KHL and has played there ever since. Looking back, Columbus would have been much better off selecting Erik Karlsson or Jordan Eberle, both of whom were still available.
5. Stanislav Chistov, Mighty Ducks of Anaheim: No. 5 overall in 2001
While Chistov had a respectable rookie season, scoring 12 goals and 30 points in his first 79 games, he followed it up with only two goals in 56 games and finished his second campaign in the minors. After bouncing around the AHL and the Russian Elite League for the next several seasons, he got a second chance to play in the NHL when the Boston Bruins traded for him in 2006. Unfortunately for Chistov – and the Bruins – he only scored five goals and 13 points in 60 games; the following season, he joined the KHL, where he has played ever since. Players still available when the Ducks selected Chistov included Mikko Koivu, Ales Hemsky and Mike Cammalleri.
4. Alexander Svitov, Tampa Bay Lightning: No. 3 overall in 2001
Selected two spots ahead of Chistov in the 2001 entry draft, Svitov’s time in the NHL was as short and disappointing as his Russian countryman. While Svitov seemed to have all the tools – size, speed and a good hockey sense – the centerman was never able to break through in the NHL, scoring only 11 points in 74 games with the Lightning. After a demotion to the minors and a brief stint with the Columbus Blue Jackets and their AHL affiliate, he moved back to Russia and joined his hometown Omsk Avangard. He has since played for three different teams in the KHL, never quite reaching the potential he had more than a decade ago.
3. Thomas Hickey, Los Angeles Kings: No. 4 overall in 2007
Heading into the 2007 NHL entry draft, Hickey was considered by many to be the best available defenseman. He was supposed to be so good, in fact, that the Kings passed over forwards including Jakub Voracek, Logan Couture and Max Pacioretty to select him fourth overall. As it turned out, there were some good defensemen in that year’s draft (Ryan McDonagh and Kevin Shattenkirk to name a few) – unfortunately for Los Angeles, Hickey wasn’t one of them. In five years with the Kings’s AHL affiliate, he only put up 74 points and never played well enough to warrant a shot with the big club. To make matters worse, the Kings eventually lost Hickey for nothing when the New York Islanders claimed him off waivers in 2013. At only 25, there is still time for Hickey to turn his career around, but if he does, it will only add insult to injury for the Kings.
2. Cam Barker, Chicago Blackhawks: No. 3 overall in 2004
Thanks to a stellar career with the WHL’s Medicine Hat Tigers, Barker was another defenseman with high expectations heading into his draft year. Despite ample opportunity, however, he never became a regular with the Blackhawks and was eventually dealt to the Minnesota Wild in 2010. The change of scenery didn’t help; in two seasons with the Wild, he scored only two goals and added 10 assists. By the time he finally gave up on the NHL and joined the KHL in 2013, he had compiled 96 points in 310 NHL games for four different teams.
1. Rick DiPietro, New York Islanders: No. 1 overall in 2000
In the 50-year history of the NHL entry draft, only three goaltenders have been selected first overall; Rick DiPietro is one of them. To say expectations were high for the young American – especially after the Islanders traded away former first-round pick, Roberto Luongo – would be an understatement. After struggling through his first several seasons on Long Island (only 80 starts and 28 wins from 2000 through 2004), DiPietro finally appeared to be breaking through in the mid-2000s, when he posted back-to-back 30-win seasons and played well as the U.S.’s starting goaltender at the Torino Winter Olympics.
After being awarded an NHL-record 15-year/$67.5 million contract in 2006, however, DiPietro struggled with injuries and inconsistent play. Over the next six seasons, he would only start 50 more games in the NHL, compiling mediocre stats in the process. In 2013, the Islanders bought out the remainder of DiPietro’s contract and he signed a tryout contract with the Carolina Hurricanes’ AHL affiliate, only to be released less than a month later. He hasn’t played professional hockey since.