Just like in any sport, when an NHL team tanks (for example, the Detroit Red Wings may have had the biggest tank in the history of tanking), or is just bad (we’re looking at you, California teams), they are usually compensated with a huge reward; a high draft pick. And just like in other sports, they use these picks to draft who they think are the best future poster players for their franchise. However, hockey isn’t void of draft busts, and we’re going to list the top five draft busts in NHL history (spoiler: most of these might be first overall picks).
P.S. We’re only listing skaters here, hopefully in the future we’ll bring you a goalie ranking!
5. Nail Yakupov (Selected first overall by the Edmonton Oilers in 2012)
The Oilers had been pretty awful for a few years, receiving the third overall pick for the third time in this draft, and in the 2011-12 season finished second-to-last in the Western Conference with only 74 points and 32 wins. And just like their other two first overall draft choices, Taylor Hall, a future Hart Trophy winner although not with the Oilers, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, a 2015 All-Star with the Oilers, they expected Yakupov, the highest North American prospect (he played his junior hockey with the Sarnia Sting in the Ontario Hockey League), to bolster their roster and bring Alberta’s capital back into the playoff scene. This ultimately failed, pretty badly. He had one great month (April 2013, when he won Rookie of the Month with 11 goals), and honestly a pretty decent rookie season, but it went downhill from there. He ended up getting traded to the St. Louis Blues in 2016, where he only appeared in 40 games and posted nine points. His last season in the NHL, with the Colorado Avalanche, wasn’t much better, with 16 points in 58 games. He’s now in the KHL, where the best prospects in the draft typically don’t end up so soon in their career. If the draft class wasn’t one of the weaker ones in recent history, he’d be ranked higher, but the Russian right winger comes in at number five.
4. Alexandre Volchkov (Selected fourth overall by the Washington Capitals in 1996)
Volchkov, the second Russian winger from the OHL to appear on this list, dominated the junior leagues, and the Caps were hoping to see the same production rate in DC when they took him with their selection in the 1996 draft. Unfortunately, he only played three games in his NHL career. That’s right, three. He was a points machine though. Just kidding, he didn’t score anything. He was thrown around minor leagues again, and after playing in the Russian second division and the Belarusian league, he retired in Kazakhstan with Yertis Pavlodar, tallying one assist in five games. Again, there have been stronger draft classes than this one, but by far the best player to be drafted this year came in the third round, with the New York Islanders taking Zdeno Chara, who will probably end up in the Hall of Fame after he retires, at the 56th pick. Volchkov, however, became the Capitals’ second consecutive first round pick whose games could be counted with one hand; Brad Church played two games in the league after being taken 17th overall the year before. Not a great look for the Capitals, although eight years later they took another Russian forward in Alex Ovechkin, who was just a little better than Volchkov.
3. Brian Lawton (Selected first overall by the Minnesota North Stars in 1983)
Lawton, who was the first player born in the United States to be taken first overall, didn’t have a horrible career. He put up way more points than the other two choices combined, so why is he the third-biggest bust? Well, when you’re taken ahead of Pat LaFontaine, Steve Yzerman, and Cam Neely, who are all Hall of Famers, as well as Tom Barrasso, an All-Star, a career high of 44 points in a season isn’t good enough, especially as the first overall pick. He was moved around countless times, which he said affected his performances; he would end up playing in six different cities, although it took him longer to get out of the league, with his last season being in 1992-93, playing 21 games for the San Jose Sharks. But there’s no excuse for a mediocre player at best being taken ahead of three Hall of Famers in any sport.
2. Patrik Stefan (Selected first overall by the Atlanta Thrashers in 1999)
ATL’s hockey team just seemed to suck, suck, and suck more in every possible aspect. The 1999 draft was no different, with them selecting Patrik Stefan with their first overall selection. He only had one first-overall-pick-like season in 1998-99, where he put up a pretty great 35 points in 33 games. That play never transferred in his years in Georgia’s capital however, and he was only able to muster 177 points in six seasons, which isn’t awful, but again, not great for a top pick like him. After he got traded to the Dallas Stars, he had a particularly huge blunder when he missed on an empty net to seal the game for Dallas due to the puck hitting bad ice, who were beating the Oilers with seconds left to go. The Oilers regained possession of the puck, and Stefan’s compatriot Ales Hemsky scored with two seconds left to tie the game, which the Stars won 6-5 after a shootout. The Stars didn’t want him after his contract expired in 2007, and he was immediately out of the league afterwards. He had sustained many injuries over the years, which could’ve explained why he wasn’t great, but he’ll sadly always be remembered for being one of the greatest draft busts in history, and “the guy who missed the empty net”, although arguably not as big as our final player.
1. Alexandre Daigle (Selected first overall by the Ottawa Senators in 1993)
Unlike some of the other players on this list, Daigle was super hyped. Termed a “superstar-in-waiting” and a “can’t-miss prospect” leading up to the 1993 draft, Daigle was the premier prospect. Ottawa was even accused of tanking in the season before in order to draft him, and the Quebec Nordiques, who wanted the next big superstar from their province, offered countless star players, such as Owen Nolan and Peter Forsberg, to trade for him, but Ottawa declined all of these offers. To put it into basketball terms, he was the Zion Williamson of hockey back then. Everyone knew he would go number one, but unlike Zion, his tenure in the league did not match with the hype. He had a pretty solid rookie season with little attacking help, with 51 points and 20 goals, but that would ultimately become his highest point tally in the NHL. He’ll probably be most remembered for uttering an infamous statement after he was selected: “I’m glad I got drafted first, because no one remembers number two”; Chris Pronger, who was taken number two by the Hartford Whalers, was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2015. Daigle is widely considered to be the biggest draft bust in NHL history and on the list of biggest busts in sports history.
Do you have any other players in mind who could fit on this list? Let us know in the comments what you think!