It’s all about hope at the NHL Entry Draft: that the young men who are selected will deliver on their potential and become the foundations of future success.
Sometimes it works out. Sometimes it doesn’t.
There are bound to be misses along the way when scouts are asked to gauge the potential of 17-year-olds. But some decisions go beyond the level of mere miscalculation. They’re the missed opportunities that come back to haunt a team for years, creating gaping holes in the organization and leaving everyone to wonder what might have been.
We wanted to determine the most harmful draft decision made by each Eastern Conference team. It’s not just a seeing no-brainer in the top five that didn’t pan out, or a matter of a gamble that failed to pay off. In most cases there’s a context that makes the pick look worse that it might on the surface.
Here are our choices. Let us know yours in the comment section below.
BOSTON BRUINS: STEPHANE QUINTAL (14th, 1987)
The Bruins have such a rich history of draft busts—Zach Hamill, Evgeny Ryabchikov, Lars Jonsson—that it seems unfair to rank a player who has more than 1,000 NHL games to his credit as their worst pick. Still, the B’s had already acquired defenseman Glen Wesley with the No. 3 pick that year, opening the door to snag a forward at 14. Their decision to grab blueliner Quintal left Joe Sakic on the board at 15 for Quebec, and probably cost Boston the 1990 Stanley Cup ... and maybe a few more along the way.
BUFFALO SABRES: SHAWN ANDERSON (5th, 1986)
Anderson crafted a decent career for himself as a journeyman defender, playing 255 career games. But that’s not what a team is looking to land with a pick as plum as a fifth ... especially when Vincent Damphousse and Brian Leetch were plucked with two of the following four choices.
CAROLINA HURRICANES: IGOR KNYAZEV (15th, 2001)
The first 14 players selected in the 2001 draft averaged 537 games played in the NHL. Defenseman Knyazev never made the cut. He spent two seasons in the minors doing little of note before returning to Russia to finish out his career in 2011. Meanwhile, seven of the next nine players selected after him skated in at least 300 NHL games. Passing on this pick altogether would probably have been the only thing that was more embarrassing.
COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS: NIKITA FILATOV (6th, 2008)
Filatov was a wildly talented winger but his inability—or worse, unwillingness—to do more than coast defensively doomed his chances at an NHL career. That he was taken just ahead of reliable two-way players like Colin Wilson and Mikkel Boedker and future stars Erik Karlsson and Tyler Myers only compounded the failure for Columbus.
DETROIT RED WINGS: TERRY RICHARDSON (11th, 1973)
Richardson was a solid keeper with the junior New Westminster Bruins but he never found his footing in the NHL, winning just three times and posting a 5.63 GAA in 20 career games. Things might have turned around more quickly for the Dead Wings if they'd used the pick on Darcy Rota (12th), Rick Middleton (13th) or Ian Turnbull (14th), who went on to score more than 800 goals between them.
FLORIDA PANTHERS: PETR TATICEK (9th, 2002)
Only one player selected among the first 14 picks of the ’02 draft skated in fewer than 480 NHL games. That was Taticek, a center who played less than 20 minutes total before the Panthers fully grasped what a fraud he was. Making his selection even more painful: Florida actually sent a fourth-rounder to the Flames in order to move up one spot and grab him
MONTREAL CANADIENS: DOUG WICKENHEISER (1st, 1980)
It’s not so much about who the Canadiens took as who they left on the table. Wickenheiser was a junior scoring sensation who went on to enjoy a moderately successful NHL career, but in selecting him the Habs passed on francophone star and future Hall of Famer Denis Savard. Culturally, it was a tone deaf decision. It was even worse from a hockey point of view. The Canadiens also missed out on Hall of Famers Larry Murphy (4th) and Paul Coffey (6th).
NEW JERSEY DEVILS: NEIL BRADY (3rd, 1986)
The Devils have made more than their share of first-round blunders, but few stung quite like the selection of Brady. The jumbo center was never much of a scorer in junior, but the Devils preferred his size and physical play to the sleeker skills of Vincent Damphousse (6th) or Craig Janney (13th) or the two-way play of defenseman Brian Leetch (9th). Think 1994 might have played out differently if No. 2 was wearing a Devils sweater?
NEW YORK: SCOTT SCISSONS (6th, 1990)
Maybe it was the presence of several promising young defensemen in their system. Maybe it was a mis-read of Scisson’s potential after he scored 173 points in two junior seasons. But the decision to grab the Saskatoon center over top-notch defenders Daryl Sydor (7th) and Derian Hatcher (8th) put the cap on a brutal four-year stretch at the draft table for the Isles. The previous year, New York had taken winger Dave Chyzowski at No. 2, another infamous bust. But at least he logged 126 middling games on NHL ice. Scissons went on to play in only two. (Defenseman Kevin Cheveldayoff, the Isles’ 1988 first rounder, never made it to the Show.)
NEW YORK RANGERS: HUGH JESSIMAN (12th, 2003)
Jessiman may go down as the greatest draft blunder of the new century. The 6' 6", 230-pound right winger was coming off a monster freshman season at Dartmouth, prompting the Rangers to grab him ahead of Dustin Brown, Zach Parise, Brent Burns, Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Kesler, Corey Perry, Mike Richards and others. But injuries and the absence of high-end hockey sense doomed Jessiman to wander the hockey hinterlands for eight seasons before he finally made his NHL debut with the Florida Panthers in 2011. While a dozen players selected after him are All-Stars, he’s now skating in the Austrian league.
OTTAWA SENATORS: BRIAN LEE (9th, 2005)
Eyebrows were raised when the Sens reached to grab defenseman Lee, a player widely regarded as a mid-first rounder, over higher-rated options like Anze Kopitar (11th) and Marc Staal (12th). They believed they’d acquired a top pairing defender who’d man their blueline for the next decade. They were wrong.
PHILADELPHIA FLYERS: GLEN SEABROOKE (21ST, 1985)
With just 19 games and one goal to his credit, the not-so-sharpshooting center was out of hockey within four years after being drafted. Meanwhile, the Flyers missed out on goalies Sean Burke and Mike Richter, as well as future Hall of Fame sniper Joe Nieuwendyk. All three were selected within the next seven picks and could have staved off Philly’s painful five-year playoff drought.
PITTSBURGH PENGUINS: ANGELO ESPOSITO (20th, 2007)
Heading into his draft year Esposito was tagged as the best prospect available and the likely top pick ... until everyone realized that he had no real desire to play the game. The Pens ignored the warning signs and swung for the fences hoping they could turn him around. The kid never got a sniff of the Show and ended up playing, no doubt half-heartedly, in Italy.
TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING: ANDY ROGERS, (30th, 2004)
The 6' 5", 225-pound behemoth blueliner was one of just two players selected in that first round who never played a game in the NHL. Taken one pick behind Mike Green and two ahead of Dave Bolland, he was out of hockey within five years, a victim of a limited skill set and a series of injuries.
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS: SCOTT PEARSON (6th, 1988)
Tough to overlook 1999, when Toronto’s entire nine-member class combined for three career games (thanks to eighth-rounder Pierre Hedin), but Pearson is a unique case. It’s not that the junior scoring ace was a complete washout, but injuries, a poor development plan and mediocre wheels limited him to 56 goals in 292 games. What really makes him a disaster is that each of the next four selections played at least 1,200 games. Among those picks: Jeremy Roenick, Rod Brind’Amour and Teemu Selanne. What might have been ...
WASHINGTON CAPITALS: GREG JOLY (1st, 1974)
Joly, a defenseman, went on to play 365 games in the NHL, but he never matured into the franchise building block the Caps needed their first-ever draft pick to be. His mediocrity was highlighted by the ability of the Islanders to snag future HOFers with their first two picks that season: Clark Gillies and Bryan Trottier. Three of the next seven selections (Gillies, Wilf Paiement and Pierre Larouche) went on to score at least 300 NHL goals each.