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.
7 Gilbert Brule, Columbus Blue Jackets: No. 6 overall in 2005
6 Zach Hamill, Boston Bruins: No. 8 overall in 2007
5 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.
4 Stanislav Chistov, Mighty Ducks of Anaheim: No. 5 overall in 2001
3 Alexander Svitov, Tampa Bay Lightning: No. 3 overall in 2001
2 Cam Barker, Chicago Blackhawks: No. 3 overall in 2004
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.
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