NHL scouts have a tough job. Evaluating natural talent isn’t so difficult. Even a knowledgeable fan can detect when a kid has the skills and the hockey sense to be a potential star. The tough part for the scouts is determining which of these talented kids will be able to make the transition to the NHL. In most cases they do an admirable job, but once in a while they are just dead wrong. Every now and then a kid comes along that looks like a slam dunk to enjoy a stellar NHL career, yet for whatever reason cannot take that next step when matched up against the best in the game. These are the kids that give NHL scouts nightmares, and these never-quite-made-its have the dubious distinction of having their names etched in the minds of hockey historians for all the wrong reasons. Hundreds of players have proven the scouts wrong over the years, but a few have managed to mangle their careers so horribly they deserve special mention. Without further ado here is my list of the top 10 NHL draft busts:
10 – Eric Lindros
This will be a controversial choice for two reasons. First of all, Lindros didn’t exactly put up poor numbers during his NHL career. With 865 points in 760 career games he definitely had an offensive impact, especially early in his career. Secondly, since Quebec was actually the team that drafted Lindros, it can be claimed that his drafting was actually the best thing to ever happen to the franchise. After he refused to play for them, they were forced to trade him to the highest bidder: Philadelphia. The Flyers paid big to land Lindros, providing Quebec with enough talented players and prospects to build a powerhouse team for years to come. Two Stanley Cups later for the franchise it can be argued that they owed it all to drafting Lindros. However, I’m going to allow myself a little creative leeway on this one and treat Lindros as though Philadelphia was the team that drafted him.
Lindros had more hype surrounding him that any junior prospect ever. Dubbed “The Next One” by the media, this hulking power forward with surprisingly soft hands was just as comfortable demolishing an opposing player as he was filling the net. During his time with the Oshawa Generals he was definitely a man playing among boys, averaging well over two points a game while playing there. By the time he entered the NHL he had grown so large he still looked like a man playing among boys, and even the league’s toughest hitters came out second best when they collided with Lindros. Sadly, it was that runaway freight train style that saw Lindros tumble from his status as the game’s next superstar to a never-will-be in just a few short years. Concussion problems stalled his career, and following a memorable collision with Scott Stevens, Lindros was never more than a third line calibre player. It is hard to justify putting a former Hart trophy winner on a list of top 10 draft busts, but the hype surrounding Lindros was so astronomical that he fell well short of expectations. Many will protest his inclusion, but with no Stanley Cups and only a few good years “The Next One” is deserving of a spot.
9 – Bryan Fogarty
After he netted a 155 points in a single season of junior as a defenseman, many were touting Bryan Fogarty as the next Bobby Orr. Huge expectations and even greater pressure comes with being compared to the greatest defenseman of all time, and it became clear early on that Fogarty was not ready to handle the pressure of wearing the mantle of NHL superstar. Problems with drinking and drugs surfaced early on in his NHL career, and his inability to win the battle with substance abuse ended his NHL days quickly. Three different NHL teams, the Quebec Nordiques, Pittsburgh Penguins, and Montreal Canadiens all took a chance on him, hoping he would live up to the huge potential he showed in junior, but he was unable to recapture his former glory, and never played close to a full season with any of the three teams. Though he played for several seasons in the minors, he only suited up for 156 NHL games, managing 74 points during his brief career. A sad ending for a player once compared to a legend like Bobby Orr.
8 – Vladimir Krutov
A superstar with the hugely successful Soviet Red Army team, Vladimir Krutov’s arrival in the NHL was a true blemish on what was otherwise a remarkable career. With little hope of getting Soviet players to the NHL few teams were willing to waste a draft pick on the off chance they might some day be able to dress the player. Still, such was Krutov’s ability the Vancouver Canucks took a chance on him, drafting him in the 11th round, 238th overall. When it became apparent that Krutov was indeed going to be able to come to Canada and play for the Canucks, along with fellow countryman Igor Larionov the hype went through the roof. Hockey fans that had spent years watching the shifty forward torch Canada in international competition were now going to have him on their side. It didn’t take long for the love affair to sour, however. Though fellow Soviet defectors Igor Larionov, Sergei Makarov, and Viacheslav Fetisov were all having an impact throughout the league, Krutov was a bitter disappointment. He arrived in Vancouver badly out of shape, and his eating habits earned him the nickname Vladimir Crouton. His lack of work ethic and all-around poor team attitude saw Vancouver show him the door after just a single season. Krutov, once one of the most feared snipers in the game, finished his brief NHL career with a mere 11 goals.
7 – Doug Wickheiser
This selection is not so much a maligning of Doug Wickenheiser’s playing career so much as a condemnation of the Montreal Canadien’s decision to pick him first overall, skipping over home town superstar, Denis Savard in the process. Granted, Wickenheiser tore it up his final year of junior, potting a 170 points for the Regina Pats, but Savard had amassed a staggering 455 points for the Junior Canadiens in the three years leading up to the draft, so his pedigree was just as impressive. Known for drafting Flamboyant Flying Frenchmen, the fact that the Canadiens would pass on Savard is even more confusing. Wickenheiser was a solid two way player during his NHL career, but he never recaptured the offensive magic he had in that last year of junior, finishing with just 276 points in 556 career games. Savard, on the other hand, never missed a beat in the transition from junior to the big leagues and was an offensive dynamo scoring 1,338 points in his career. Ironically, Savard would end up with Canadiens for three seasons in the early 1990s, and was a member of the team the last year they won the Stanley Cup in 1993.
6 – Pat Falloon
In the same year that Lindros was getting all the hype, another prospect was making quite a name for himself as the number two overall pick. He’d been sniping in the WHL, netting 124 goals in his last two seasons of junior leading up to the draft, and the San Jose Sharks were certain he was the man they would build the franchise around, selecting him with their first pick in their inaugural season, forgoing both Scott Niedermayer and Peter Forsberg in the process. Falloon had the all the opportunity to flourish early in his career. With all the hype surrounding Lindros, and Falloon playing in a non-traditional hockey market in San Jose, he was free of the usual pressures that come with superstar expectations. Despite this advantage, Falloon never really lived up to the potential that saw him go number two overall in such a strong draft year. He had a decent rookie season, netting 25 goals, and finishing with 59 points, but the following year saw his numbers drop off sharply. After that Falloon seemed to suffer from a lack of confidence and he never eclipsed the 59 points he had that first season. A lot of great players came out of that 1991 draft, but Falloon was not one of them.
5 – Brian Lawton
Drafted first overall in the 1983 entry draft by the Minnesota North Stars, Brian Lawton was a draft bust from day one. Touted as the next Gretzky when he was selected, Lawton quickly dispelled such ludicrous comparisons. He did not possess the vision, passing ability, scoring touch, hockey sense or any of a myriad other abilities that made Gretzky the greatest to ever play the game. He managed just 10 goals and 31 points in his rookie season and only eclipsed the 20 goal mark once in his career. Brian Lawton was the epitome of a draft bust, and a shining example of just how wrong the scouts can be sometimes.
4 – Joe Murphy
Joe Murphy is the poster boy for those who have all the talent in the world but none of the work ethic. It is sad to see so many marginally talented players working so hard for their shot at the NHL while a player like Joe Murphy is squandering his tremendous natural ability. The Detroit Red Wings had huge expectations for this super talented young player when they selected him first overall in the 1986 entry draft. Already boasting a budding superstar in a young Steve Yzerman, the Wings hoped that Murphy would give them that one-two offensive punch that would make them a force to be reckoned with. Unfortunately for them, Murphy was no Steve Yzerman. Despite the weakness of the Wings, Murphy’s lack of work ethic left the coaching staff unimpressed, and he spent all but five games that year toiling in the minors. He spent the next couple of seasons bouncing back and forth between the big club and the farm team in Adirondack before Detroit finally grew weary of waiting for him to develop and shipped him to the Edmonton Oilers. The trade may have been a wake-up call for Murphy who finally started to put some points on the board, and went on to win a Stanley Cup that season. Though Murphy managed to redeem himself throughout the rest of his career, there can be no question he was a draft bust for the Red Wings.
3 – Greg Joly
The Washington Capitals were an absolute mess during much of the 1970s, and much of the blame has to be laid at the feet of their scouting staff. When they joined the league along with expansion cousins Kansas City Scouts in the 1974-1975 season, Washington was given a golden chance to jumpstart the franchise, earning the first overall pick. Their scouts failed miserably in recommending puck-rushing rearguard, Greg Joly, touting him as the next coming of Bobby Orr. Joly played just over half the season, hampered by injury, yet somehow managed an appalling plus/minus rating of -68. The Caps gave their fans absolutely nothing to cheer about that season, winning the fewest games in a single season in NHL history when they finished with an 8-67-5 record. Joly finished the year with just eight points.
2 – Radek Bonk
If there were worse scouts in NHL history than those who worked for the Capitals in the 1970s, then they would surely belong to the Ottawa Senators of the early 1990s. After the debacle that saw them land Alexandre Daigle (more on him in a minute) with their first pick in the 1993 entry draft, they compounded their stupidity by selecting Bonk third overall the following year. Bonk, with his size and skill set elicited comparisons to Penguins superstar, Mario Lemieux. But Bonk’s obvious reluctance to initiate or receive any physical contact effectively removed his size advantage from the equation. He played on the fringe, clearly intimidated, and managed a paltry 3 goals and 11 points in half a season during his rookie year. Ottawa were determined to wait it out and endured five terrible seasons from Bonk, before the big Czech forward’s game finally started to improve.
1 – Alexandre Daigle
So coveted was Alexandre Daigle leading up to the 1993 NHL draft that Ottawa was accused of intentionally losing to obtain the number one draft pick that year, prompting the league to openly investigate the team. The burden of proof is difficult in such cases, however, and Ottawa was free to make Daigle their property. They happily did so, ignoring both Chris Pronger and Paul Kariya in their eagerness to get their hands on the handsome young star. So sure were the Sens of Daigle’s potential they rewarded him with a ridiculously rich contract (for that era), offering him twelve million dollars for five years, an unheard of sum for a player who had yet to play an NHL game. Perhaps the money and the hype went right to Daigle’s head. He was just a kid after all. Still, if there was ever a player that took the money and ran, Daigle is it. Despite putting up decent numbers (20 goals, 51 points) in his rookie year, Daigle defined the term “floater”. Coaches, teammates and fans grew increasingly agitated as they could clearly see the talent that lay dormant in Daigle, yet he seemed completely disinterested in living up to his potential. Later in his career Daigle would admit that acting was his true passion, and he actually took a sabbatical from the game to pursue his ill-conceived dream. He returned in short order to resume his so-called hockey career. Though he moved on to greener pastures, Daigle never managed to best the 51 points he earned in his rookie campaign. He was a career underachiever, and is remembered with a bitterness by Senators fans that is perhaps only eclipsed by the loathing they feel for Alexei Yashin.
So, there you have it: the top 10 draft busts in NHL history. It just goes to show that even the best prospects don’t always pan out, and even the most astute scouts pick a stinker every now and again.