The NHL Draft is a roll of the dice and washout picks like these can be a disaster that lingers for years.
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 Western 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.
ANAHEIM DUCKS: MARK MITERA (19th, 2006)
The former captain of the Michigan Wolverines was regarded as a stay-at-home type who would add size and toughness to the Ducks’ back end. In other words, the sort of guy teams typically burn a fourth-rounder to acquire. Mitera never made it to the NHL, but two of the players selected among the next four picks sure did: Claude Giroux and Semyon Varlamov.
ARIZONA COYOTES: EVERY 2003 PICK
So much for long-term planning. The Coyotes traded away their first two picks in the deepest draft in NHL history, including the No. 11 that was eventually used by Philadelphia to obtain Jeff Carter. That might not have hurt so much if the Yotes had gotten anything from the rest of the class. Phoenix made eight picks in total that day. Not one of them played so much as a single game in the NHL.
CALGARY FLAMES: DANIEL TKACZUK (6th, 1997)
Contextually, Greg Nemisz was a bigger miscue but that 2008 first-rounder was taken 25th overall. Tkaczuk’s name was called sixth, the second-highest selection in franchise history, making it all the more painful when the former Barrie Colts star was the only top-12 pick who failed to play at least 250 NHL games. After skating 19 times for the Flames he fled to Europe where he starred in the Italian and German leagues.
CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS: KYLE BEACH (11th, 2008)
A bruising power forward who drew comparisons to Owen Nolan early in his draft year, Beach was destined for great things ... until his leaden stride and hamster-wheel hockey sense caught up to him. Beach spent six seasons in the minors but never came close to earning a call-up to Chicago. He’s currently plying his trade in Austria. Meanwhile, Tyler Myers (12th) and Erik Karlsson (15th) are doing O.K. for themselves in the NHL.
COLORADO AVALANCHE: DANIEL DORE (5th, 1988)
The Avs have made a few blunders since moving to Colorado, but none quite as misguided as this one when the franchise was still in Quebec. The Nordiques had two top-five picks in 1988. They took Curtis Leschyshyn at No. 3—not the best choice in hindsight but the big defenseman did play more than 1,000 games in the NHL. Dore, however, was an unqualified disaster at No. 5. The hard-hitting power forward accrued nearly 700 penalty minutes during three junior seasons but wasn’t a point-per-game player until after his draft year. That pretty much said it all about his upside. Dore hung around the fringes of the pro game for a few years, totaling 17 NHL appearances, before sliding into the near-obscurity of Roller Hockey International. Meanwhile four of the next five choices went to to play at least 1,200 NHL games: Martin Gelinas, Jeremy Roenick, Rod Brind’Amour and Teemu Selanne.
DALLAS STARS: VOJTECH POLAK (36th, 2003)
He’s the only non-first rounder to make this list, but there’s a good reason for Polak’s inclusion. The Stars acquired this pick by dropping out of the first round, trading the 28th pick to Anaheim for a pair of seconds, including the No. 36. Polak was a washout, playing just five career games for the Stars before fleeing North America. Their original selection was used by the Ducks to pick some kid named Corey Perry.
EDMONTON OILERS: JASON BONSIGNORE (4th, 1994)
Bonsignore was the ultimate great tools/no tool box cautionary tale. There was a great anecdote in Gare Joyce’s book Future Greats and Heartbreaks in which a former junior coach was asked how he graded out Bonsignore’s potential. He gave the kid top marks for natural talent and zeroes for hockey sense and character. Bonsignore later admitted to his own immaturity but by that point it was far too late. He ended up playing 21 games for Edmonton before being cut adrift. Fortunately for the Oilers they recovered (somewhat) by taking Ryan Smyth two picks later.
LOS ANGELES KINGS: THOMAS HICKEY (4th, 2007)
The Kings have pulled bigger busts out of the hat (Lauri Tukonen, Jens Karlsson, Craig Duncanson and Dan Gratton), but no pick was more controversial than the selection of Hickey, an undersized puck-moving defender out of Seattle. Hickey was the greatest reach in recent memory, a player who arguably could have slipped into the second round if not for the enthusiasm of the Kings scouts. And while he’s slowly matured into a serviceably defender, he simply should not have come off the board that early. Not when forwards like Sam Gagner, Jake Voracek and Logan Couture where there to be had with the next four picks. And if Los Angeles was set on a blueliner, they could have had Karl Alzner, Ryan McDonagh or Kevin Shattenkirk. A total disaster.
MINNESOTA WILD: A.J. THELEN (12th, 2004)
There was plenty of hype for Thelen, the first native Minnesotan selected by the Wild in the first round. But the big defenseman might have gotten a bit too big for his britches. He was booted from the Michigan State Spartans the following year for disciplinary reasons and ended up bouncing around the junior and minor ranks for the next six seasons. He played just 10 games above the ECHL level and never came close to making the Wild. The players taken with the next two picks, Drew Stafford and Devan Dubnyk, might have been of more use to the Wild.
NASHVILLE PREDATORS: BRIAN FINLEY (6th, 1999)
It’s not so much that Finley busted. That’s going to happen sometimes, and he was hardly the lone failure in a miserable 1999 draft class. It’s that the Preds took a goalie in the first place. They already had a 27-year-old Mike Dunham and a 23-year-old Tomas Vokoun with the big club and Chris Mason was putting in time in AHL Milwaukee. Meanwhile, they had finished 24th out of 27 teams in scoring that year, and desperately needed offense. There weren’t many stars on the board that day, but Finley—who went on to play just four games in the NHL—should never have been in the mix. The fact that they nabbed Slovak national team goalie Jan Lasak in the second round made this pick even more of a waste.
SAN JOSE SHARKS: TEEMU RIIHIJARVI (12th, 1995)
The Finnish winger had jaw-dropping size (6' 6", 214 pounds), but skated like he had a piano on his back. Riihijarvi never played a single game in North America. Three of the next four players (J-S Giguere, Jay McKee and Martin Biron) each played at least 500 in the NHL.
ST. LOUIS BLUES: KEITH OSBORNE (14th, 1987)
There aren’t a lot of whiffs in St. Louis’s draft ledger, but Osborne is an obvious exception. He was a decent scorer in juniors and, later, the minors but lacked the wheels to make an impact in the NHL. He played just five games for the Blues, 16 in total. Four of the next five players selected, including Joe Sakic, skated in at least 900. Whoops.
VANCOUVER CANUCKS: SHAWN ANTOSKI (18th, 1990)
The Canucks staked their fortunes on bigger busts over the years (Libor Polasek, Jason Herter, Patrick White), but Antoski was their biggest whiff. It’s not just that the big winger tallied three goals in 183 career games, it’s that they chose him over Keith Tkachuk (19th) and Martin Brodeur (20th). Think either of those two might have put them over the top in 1994?
WINNIPEG JETS: PATRIK STEFAN (1st, 1999)
It might not be fair to criticize the former Atlanta Thrashers for selecting the player widely regarded as the top prospect (ahead of the Sedin twins—that's Daniel on the left in the photo at the top—at two and three; Pavel Brendl, right, a misfire by the Rangers went fourth), but a No. 1 pick should be remembered for something more epic than falling down while on an empty net breakaway, right? On second thought, that was pretty epic.