After watching a team like the Leafs go through rough years of basement-dwelling in the NHL standings, nothing excites a dejected fanbase more than a top pick in the upcoming draft. And if you are one of those so-called “lucky” teams to have one of the first five selections in the first round, chances are you’ll be selecting a young man who could potentially lift a franchise out of ruin.
Alexander Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby, Patrick Kane, Drew Doughty, and Steven Stamkos are all proof that high overall draft picks can pull a team back from the brink of death to competing for the Stanley Cup year after year. The touted prospect in the 2015 draft class, Connor McDavid, is being advertised as a “franchise-saver” whom any team would kill to have in their jersey.
But what about the draft busts? While many in this class of players have gone on to have lengthy NHL careers, other picks couldn’t quite live up to the expectations and are known for all the wrong reasons. Here’s our countdown of the most regrettable and forgettable selections made in the top five of the draft in the past 25 years.
1999: 4th overall pick, New York Rangers
This 6-foot Czech player was a point machine and high-rated junior star with the Calgary Hitmen. He looked so good that the Rangers decided to trade goaltender Dan Cloutier and other picks to move up to the fourth spot to select him. He ended up never suiting up for the club, as he was packaged in a trade to the Philadelphia Flyers for Eric Lindros. In Philly, Brendl was abysmal, scoring only 12 points in 42 games. After a short tenure in Carolina and Phoenix, Brendl left to play in Europe and was never seen in the NHL again.
Other notable players picked after him: Martin Havlat (26th), Ryan Miller (138th), and Henrik Zetterberg (210th).
2001: 3rd overall pick, Tampa Bay Lightning
With Ilya Kovalchuk and Jason Spezza off the board, Tampa went ahead and drafted Alexander Svitov, a big-bodied centre from Russia, in 2001. His big debut in 2002 was nothing more than a disappointment; he recorded only eight points in 63 games. Labelled as a guy with bad work ethic, he was shipped to the Columbus Blue Jackets where he had another underwhelming year. After the 2006/07 season, Svitov decided the NHL wasn’t for him and has now found refuge playing in the Kontinental Hockey League.
Other notable players picked after him: Stephen Weiss (4th), Mikko Koivu (6th), Mike Cammaleri (49th), and Patrick Sharp (94th).
1991: 2nd overall pick, San Jose Sharks
The San Jose Sharks joined the league as an expansion in 1991, and unfortunately, the franchise didn’t get off to a great start in drafting Pat Falloon second overall. After scoring 25 goals in his rookie year, Falloon would spend the rest of his career bouncing around the league for the next decade trying to find his groove again before retiring after the 1999/2000 season. What hurts even more is knowing that San Jose passed on two future hall-of-famers—Scott Niedermayer (4th) and Peter Forsberg (6th). Ouch.
Other notable players picked after him: Brian Rolston (11th), Alexei Kovalev (15th), Markus Naslund (16th), and Ray Whitney (23th).
1999: 1st overall pick, Atlanta Thrashers
Looking back, the 1999 NHL draft was a weak one, but selecting Patrik Stefan with the first overall pick was a big mistake. Despite performing well at the junior level, Stefan couldn’t translate his talent into NHL stardom. In 455 career games with the Atlanta Thrashers and Dallas Stars, Stefan posted just 64 goals and 124 assists for 188 points. It doesn’t end there—Stefan will be forever remembered for this embarrassing moment when he missed the puck on a breakaway and fell towards an empty net.
Other notable players picked after him: Daniel Sedin (2nd), and Henrik Sedin (3rd).
1993: 1st overall pick, Ottawa Senators
Leading up to the 1993 draft, Daigle was considered a “can’t miss” prospect and an NHL superstar-in-waiting. He was so sought-after that the Senators were accused of deliberately losing games late in the season to guarantee the right to draft him. In the end, Ottawa did indeed draft him with the first pick. Can you guess what happened next? Daigle never lived up to the hype and quickly wore out his welcome in Ottawa. He was criticized for a lack of effort, the rumours being that he was more interested in partying and the limelight. He’s often considered the epitome of a player who let fame and fortune get to his head.
On the day he was drafted, Daigle infamously said, “I’m glad I got drafted first, because no one remembers number two.” He couldn’t be more wrong. Defenceman Chris Pronger was drafted right after him and his career accolades include a Norris Trophy, a Hart Trophy, and a Stanley Cup. Talk about putting your foot in your mouth.
Other notable players picked after him: Paul Kariya (4th), Jason Arnott (7th), Saku Koivu (21st), and Todd Bertuzzi (23rd).