Twenty years of NHL draft busts

Sunaya Sapurji

Every season since the NHL has held an entry draft, there have been players who have failed to meet the expectations put on them by scouts and general managers – the busts.

As the 2011 NHL Entry Draft in St. Paul, Minn., approaches, Yahoo! Sports takes a look at 10 first-round picks over a 20-year period between 1983-2003 who, despite entering the draft amid major hype, missed the mark on hockey’s biggest stage.

1993: Alexandre Daigle – 1st overall by the Ottawa Senators

Daigle is considered by many to be the poster boy of draft busts. Sure, his NHL numbers were good compared to others on this list – 616 NHL games, 327 points – but when you compare the 1993 draft class, Daigle going first overall is an epic fail.

Daigle didn’t help matters either when he told reporters on the draft floor: “I’m glad I got drafted first, because no one remembers number two,” which is fine, unless you don’t pan out and that No. 2 pick is Chris Pronger.

Players taken after Daigle in the first round: Paul Kariya (4), Rob Niedermayer (5), Jason Arnott (7), Saku Koivu (21), Todd Bertuzzi (22).

1994: Jason Bonsignore – 4th overall by the Edmonton Oilers

Ask a scout why a highly touted junior prospect doesn’t make the jump to the NHL after being drafted in the first round and you might not receive an answer, considering how many players fail to make it. At 6-foot-3 and nudging 200 pounds, Bonsignore had the size and skill requisite to make it to The Show – which leaves many wondering more than 15 years later, what in the name of Sidney Crosby happened? Looking at the centre’s career path from a stellar showing in high school and junior, it looks like his skills regressed once he made the jump to the NHL as he scored only three goals and 16 points in 79 games with Edmonton and Tampa Bay. This is probably the pick that will keep Edmonton Oilers fans awake at night in the days leading up to the 2011 NHL draft.

Players taken after Bonsignore in the first round: Jeff O’Neill (5), Ryan Smyth (6), Jeff Friesen (11), Mattias Ohlund (13), Ethan Moreau (14).

1999: Patrik Stefan – 1st overall by the Atlanta Thrashers

It’s bad enough having to live with the notoriety of being one of the biggest draft busts of the decade, but falling down after missing an easy empty-netter? That faux pas will be Stefan’s NHL legacy.

Actually, 1999 was a pretty stellar year for first-round NHL busts in general with the likes of Pavel Brendl, Denis Shvidki, Scott Kelman, Barrett Heisten and Ari Ahonen among a lengthy list of also-rans. Many thought Stefan, having played in the now-defunct International Hockey League for two seasons before the draft, would have been more adept to the North American style of game. He wasn’t.

Here’s what Bob Owen, a scout/consultant for the now-defunct Atlanta Thrashers, said back in 1998 about the Czech forward: “I have followed Patrik’s progress since December of 1995. The impression he left with me then and throughout the various tournaments I have seen him play, is that he is the brightest young prospect developed in the Czech Republic since Jaromir Jagr.”

In total, Stefan played 455 NHL regular-season games with 64 goals and 188 points with Atlanta and Dallas before returning to Europe.

Players taken after Stefan in the first round: Daniel Sedin (2), Henrik Sedin (3), Tim Connolly (5), Taylor Pyatt (8), Martin Havlat (26).

1990: Scott Scissons – sixth overall by the New York Islanders

To this day, this pick still haunts Islanders fans (Dave Chyzowski, selected second overall behind Mats Sundin in 1989, was a huge bust, too). Scissons, a centre with the WHL’s Saskatoon Blades, was a star in junior averaging more than a point per game and helped the Blades to a Memorial Cup run in 1989. Adding salt to the wound for Isles fans is the top-end talent mined in that ’90 draft – with all five picks ahead of Scissons enjoying productive and lengthy NHL careers: Owen Nolan, Petr Nedved, Keith Primeau, Mike Ricci and Jaromir Jagr.

Scissons’ call to the NHL would be a mere three games (two regular season, one playoff) between 1990 and 1994, where he failed to register a single point or penalty. The bulk of his career was spent in the IHL before injuries forced him to retire at age 22 in 1995.

“Without question it’s disappointing,” Scissons told the Saskatoon Star Phoenix in 2006 of his retirement. “It was as good a chance as anybody at that age. I just spent more time in the hospital than I did on the ice.”

Players taken after Scissons in the first round: Darryl Sydor (7), Derian Hatcher (8), Keith Tkachuk (19), Martin Brodeur (20), Bryan Smolinski (21).

1983: Brian Lawton – 1st overall by the Minnesota North Stars

Compared to most players on this list, Lawton actually had a pretty good NHL career – 483 games, 266 points – but the reason he makes the list is because the North Stars passed over Sylvain Turgeon (second overall) and two future Hall of Famers in Pat Lafontaine (third overall) and Steve Yzerman (fourth overall) by taking him.

Billed as yet another “next coming of Wayne Gretzky,” Lawton played high school hockey at Mount Saint Charles Academy in Woonsocket, R.I., where the left winger put up some incredible numbers over two seasons (85 goals, 171 points in 49 games) en route to becoming the first American to be taken first overall.

“The first pick was really sort of a bust when you compare him with the other three players (who followed), and that was Brian Lawton,” said Detroit senior vice-president Jim Devellano, who was the Wings’ general manager for that draft. “Lafontaine was No. 1 on our list.”

After finishing his middling hockey career in the IHL, Lawton became an NHL agent and then GM of the Tampa Bay Lightning - before being fired and once again overshadowed by Yzerman.

Players taken after Lawton in the first round: Tom Barrasso (5), John MacLean (6), Russ Courtnall (7), Cam Neely (9).

2003: Hugh Jessiman – 12th overall by the New York Rangers

After toiling in the minors for a number of years, Jessiman finally got into his first NHL game with Florida Panthers last February. His stint in the NHL lasted two games where he collected five penalty minutes.

“It has been a long road,” Jessiman told the Miami Herald, “but definitely worth the wait.”

The 2003 draft class is considered one of the deepest in history; first-rounders include Marc-Andre Fleury, Eric Staal, Nathan Horton, Jeff Carter, Dion Phaneuf, Mike Richards, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry…the list goes on and on. At the time of the draft, Jessiman was ranked No. 20 among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting and was already 6-foot-5 and 200 pounds, earning the nickname “Huge Specimen” and making him one of the biggest – quite literally – disappointments in first-round history.

Here’s what USA TODAY wrote about Jessiman back on June 20, 2003: “He’s got plenty of size and a hard, accurate shot. Came out of nowhere to draw the attention of scouts after playing high school hockey at the Brunswick School in Connecticut. Scouts consider him a project, but like his raw talent and hockey sense.”

Players taken after Jessiman in the first round: Dustin Brown (13), Brent Seabrook (14), Zach Parise (17), Ryan Getzlaf (19), Mike Richards (24), Corey Perry (28).

2001: Alexander Svitov – 3rd overall by the Tampa Bay Lightning and Stanislav Chistov – 5th overall by the Anaheim Ducks

The big talk at the 2001 draft was which great Russian prospect – the growing 6-foot-3 Svitov or the slick 5-foot-10 Chistov – would finally become the next big NHL star. In hindsight, the answer was neither. Svitov scored four goals and four assists in his first NHL season (68 regular-season games) with Tampa Bay and finished his career with a total of 37 points in 179 NHL games. Svitov was traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2003-04 (for veteran Darryl Sydor) and after a couple years went back to Russia, where he’s now playing in the KHL for Ufa Salavat Yulayev.

Chistov was more productive with decent NHL numbers – 19 goals and 61 points in 196 NHL games with both Anaheim and Boston. Chistov left North America for good in 2007 and, like Svitov, is also playing in the KHL. The player taken No. 4 overall, between Svitov and Chistov? Florida Panthers center Stephen Weiss, who has more NHL points and games played than the two Russians combined.

Players taken after Chistov in the first round: Mikko Koivu (6), Dan Hamhuis (12), Ales Hemsky (13), Chuck Kobasew (14).

1996: Alexandre Volchkov – 4th overall by the Washington Capitals

Very few Russian prospects arrived with the kind of hype Volchkov did after starring as a junior player with the OHL’s Barrie Colts. The alleged next Russian superstar had scouts salivating when he finished his rookie junior campaign by leading the team in scoring with 36 goals and 63 points in only 47 games. His sophomore season was even better, with 29 goals and 82 points in 56 games. But with the points also came problems as there was talk, at the junior level, about Volchkov’s diva-like attitude and petulant nature.

That attitude became all too apparent during a playoff game in March 1998 when Volchkov, then with the AHL’s Portland Pirates, played one shift in the first period, changed and walked out on the team during the intermission. In total, Volchkov played three NHL games recording zeros across the stats sheet. His foray into minor pro was no better, with his best season coming in 1999-2000 with Portland where he scored 11 goals and 26 points in 35 games. Volchkov moved back to play hockey in his native Russia in 2000.

Players taken after Volchkov in the first round: Ruslan Salei (9), Derek Morris (13), Marco Sturm (21), Daniel Briere (24).

1986: Dan Woodley – 7th overall by the Vancouver Canucks

Woodley is considered by some to be the biggest NHL disappointment of the 1980s. The big winger showed so much promise during his junior career with the Portland Winterhawks, which included a trip to the Memorial Cup final, that scouts are still scratching their heads over how Woodley could have only lasted five games in the NHL (during the 1987-88 season with Vancouver). He finished his final year in the WHL with 30 goals and 80 points in only 47 games. After the draft the Oklahoma City, Oakla., native spent a successful season in the IHL where he won the Ken McKenzie Trophy as the top first-year player in the league. The following season he got his first and only shot at the NHL. He was eventually traded to the Montreal Canadiens and after playing out the rest of his pro career in the minors, he retired from hockey in 1995.

Players taken after Woodley in the first round: Pat Elynuik (8), Brian Leetch (9), Scott Young (11), Craig Janney (13).

Join Buzzing The Net for a NHL draft chat on Friday, beginning at 1 p.m. ET.
For more NHL draft coverage, visit Yahoo's Junior Hockey page.

Sunaya Sapurji is the Junior Hockey Editor at Yahoo! Sports.
You can reach her at or on Twitter @Sunayas