In sports we are drawn to the highs and the lows. We love a good success story, marvelling at the
transformation of a prodigal 14 year old Sidney Crosby shooting pucks at his mom’s dryer all the way to
one of the greatest players in the history of hockey. Perhaps even more fascinating sometimes is the
opposite side of the coin. The players who were supposed to be great and for whatever reason just
didn’t pan out. Today we take a look at the players taken in the top 5 of the NHL draft who played the least number of games at their draft position. We’ll be looking at the 1979 draft and onwards as that was the first year of the Entry Draft.
- Nail Yakupov (2012) – 350 games
- Not the biggest bust relative to expectations but probably the worst player ever taken with the number one pick. Daigle was at least good enough to be in the NHL, Yakupov wasn’t even good enough to occupy a roster spot.
- Gord Kluzak (1982) – 299 games
- Despite higher rated prospects on the board and a history of knee injuries Boston was sold on Kluzak and made him the top pick of the draft. Unfortunately, knee issues would quickly return and despite being a talented player, Kluzak would miss full seasons at a time and was forced to retire at 27.
- Rick DiPietro (2000) – 318 games
- One of only 2 goalies in the Entry Draft era ever taken first overall, DiPietro infamously signed a massive $67.5 million, 15-year contract. After years of injuries and poor play he retired in 2014 and the buyout means the islanders will still be paying him $1.5 million per year until 2029.
- Dave Chyzowski (1989) – 126 games
- After lighting up the WHL in his draft year, Chyzowski couldn’t cut it in the NHL. His 126 games were sprinkled over several seasons as he would routinely get called up from the minors, where he found a lot of success, only to be unable to replicate the production at the game’s highest level.
- Andrei Zyuzin (1996) – 496 games
- While he didn’t have the career that the expectations of going second overall come with, Zyuzin was by no means a bust. He played 10 seasons in the NHL and was a solid defenseman.
- Doug Smith (1981) – 535 games
- He’s played more games than anyone else on this list and was a decent player for a few years before flaming out of the league at 26. Smith is an inspiring story, after being told he’d be a quadriplegic for life due to an injury suffered playing in Europe he worked hard to beat the odds and taught himself to walk and use his limbs.
- Neil Brady (1986) – 89 games
- Brady struggled to stick at the NHL level and got lucky to even play 89 games as most of them he played due to the good fortune of being traded to the awful expansion Ottawa Senators, probably the only NHL roster he could have cracked.
- Alexander Svitov (2001) – 179 games
- A career high of 18 points typically doesn’t lead to a long NHL career. After playing parts of four seasons in the NHL Svitov headed back home to Russia where he played another 13 years as middle six centre.
- Cam Barker (2004) – 310 games
- After a decorated junior career, the top defensive prospect of the 04 draft struggled to find a regular and consistent role in NHL. After 8 seasons of bouncing between the minors and 3rd pairing in the NHL, Barker finished out his career overseas.
- Alexandre Volchkov (1996) – 3 games
- Please do yourself a favour and Google him. The man who insisted on being called “The Volch-inator” is one of the biggest and most fascinating busts in NHL history.
- Griffin Reinhart (2012) – 37 games
- The star prospect taken over numerous big time NHL defenseman never came close to success in the NHL and seems to be struggling to make an impact even in lesser European leagues. The next six straight picks in the draft were all defenseman and all have had better careers.
- Pavel Brendl (1999) – 78 games
- A stellar Junior career including a WJC gold medal and 320 points in 178 games WHL games did not translate to the NHL. Brendl put up just 22 points in the NHL before eventually heading back to Europe where he was a top player across multiple leagues.
- Daniel Dore (1988) – 17 games
- Good Junior career never translated to the NHL and he ended up moving to roller hockey for a few years before retiring.
- Stanislav Chistov (2001) – 196 games
- Chistov showed some promise but was fed up with spending time developing in the AHL and chose to return Russia where he had a long KHL career.
- Ric Jackman (1996) – 231 games
- Despite not hitting expectations Jackman found a decent roll as a depth defenseman and has at least been part of a lot of team success, winning a World Junior gold medal and a Stanley Cup with Anaheim.
While researching this post I noticed a few interesting things that are worth mentioning.
- There are two active players currently at risk. Olli Juolevi and Michael Dal Colle are both young but struggling massively to crack NHL lineups and unless they can improve their career trajectory, they’re candidates to find themselves on this list.
- There has only ever been one player in the history of the Entry Draft to be selected in the top 10 and not play a single NHL game. In 1992 Ryan Sittler, son of Hall of Famer Daryl Sittler was selected seventh overall by the Flyers, one spot ahead of where his dad was drafted back in 1970. Major injuries piled up and unfortunately Ryan never even sniffed the NHL, ultimately retiring at 25. Eleven other players selected in the top ten have played under 10 career games.
- This list was about the top 5 picks in the draft, but it was hard not to notice how inconsistent the 6th pick has been. Between 1989 and 2008 six players taken with the 6th pick have played under 150 games, with five of them playing 69 games or less.