The yearly NHL Entry Draft is a tricky proposition. This isn’t the NFL draft where the talent pool is almost exclusively playing in American colleges and viewable any Saturday during the season. Potential NHL players are spread across the globe and competing against varying levels of talent. Oh, and the players selected in the NHL draft are usually teenagers, still developing physically and emotionally.
This year’s top pick, Connor McDavid, who many compare to NHL superstar Sidney Crosby, was 18 on draft day. Crosby was 17, 5-foot-10 and 180 pounds when the Pittsburgh Penguins picked him first in 2005. Today, the 28-year-old Crosby is 5-foot-11 and 200 pounds.
In short, there are a lot of things that can go wrong during the NHL draft, and a lot that can change between draft day and a player’s debut in the NHL. For every Sidney Crosby, who quickly establishes himself as the face of his franchise, there is a player that doesn’t live up to expectations. Here’s five of them.
5. Brian Lawton
With the first selection of the 1983 NHL draft, the Minnesota North Stars chose Brian Lawton. Lawton’s credentials were glowing. He played for the United States at the 1983 World Junior Championships and led his Woonsocket, Rhode Island high school, Mount St. Charles Academy to four straight prep school state titles. Entering the draft, he was the top rated amateur in North America.
Lawton had a serviceable career, putting up 266 points over 483 NHL games with six different teams, but he didn’t live up to his exalted status as the first American-born player to be picked first overall. His exploits on the ice look even worse when you compare him to the eight players picked after him in 1983. Of those players, seven went on to earn All-Star nods, and three are enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Those Hall of Famers picked after Lawton? Pat LaFontaine, Steve Yzerman, and Cam Neely.
4. Patrik Stefan
The Atlanta Thrashers first draft pick as an NHL franchise was also the first draft pick in the 1999 Entry Draft. The team selected Patrik Stefan. Stefan came from the IHL’s Long Beach Ice Dogs, where he had put up 50 points in 58 games. Unfortunately, Stefan could never stay healthy during his time in the NHL, and by his last season with Atlanta he was playing on the third line. In the offseason of the 2006-07 season, the Thrashers traded him to Dallas with Jaroslav Modry for Niko Kapanen and a seventh round pick. Kapanen himself had been a sixth-round pick in the 1998 draft; that’s how far the stock of the 1999 No. 1 pick had fallen in a few short years.
Stefan would be out of the NHL at the end of the 2007 season, scoring 188 points in 455 games. The two players drafted after him in 1999, Daniel and Henrik Sedin continue to play to this day with the team that selected them, the Vancouver Canucks.
3. Gord Kluzak
Gord Kluzak makes this list, not because he was a terrible player, but because of the defensemen the Boston Bruins passed up to select Kluzak with the first overall pick in the 1982 draft. Two players, in particular, stand out in the first round. Scott Stevens and Phil Housley. Both those players are Hockey Hall of Famers. Both of those players played well over 1000 games in the NHL (Stevens: 1,635, Housley: 1,495) Both those players are in the top 15 in points scored by defensemen (Housley: 1,232, Stevens: 908).
Between 1983 and 1991, Kluzak played in 299 NHL games, scoring 123 points. He missed two full seasons due to injury and played only 13 games in his final three seasons due to injury. After retiring, Kluzak graduated from Harvard. Today he is a managing director at Goldman Sachs.
2. Alexandre Daigle
“I’m glad I got drafted first, because no one remembers number two.” Alexandre Daigle, the high-scoring forward who came out of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, had the audacity to utter those words following his selection at the 1993 NHL Draft.
Sorry Alex, but every hockey fan remembers the guy that was drafted directly after you, Hockey Hall of Fame inductee Chris Pronger. You? You bounced around the NHL for 616 games, playing for six different teams before heading to the AHL and then Switzerland before hanging up your skates. You had 327 NHL points in 616 games. That guy that no one would remember? He played 1167 games and scored 698 points, as a defenseman and would have played in the NHL longer had he not been forced to retire from the game due to injuries.
1. Rick DiPietro
NY Islanders GM Mike Milbury traded away potential franchise goaltender Roberto Luongo two days before the 2000 NHL draft. When the draft rolled around, Milbury stepped to the mic and selected Rick DiPietro with the No. 1 overall pick. The trade of Luongo and the pick of DiPietro were bad decisions, but the worst was yet to come.
In June 2006, the Islanders decided to offer DiPietro what many now see as the worst/craziest contract in NHL history, $67.5 million over 15 years. Almost immediately after signing the deal, injuries began to stack up for DiPietro. Between 2009 and 2013, DiPietro played a total of 50 games for the Islanders. In July 2013, the team bought out the remainder of DiPietro’s contract, paying him $1.5 million a year until 2029. That’s not a typo — he’ll be getting paid until 2029.
Today, DiPietro co-hosts the Hahn and Humpty show on ESPN 98.7. The Humpty nickname that DiPietro goes by is a play on the often broken Humpty Dumpty.