Upon the Winnipeg Jets move to become the Phoenix Coyotes in the summer of 1996, their first official draft pick was Dan Focht. The hulking six foot six 240 pound defender from Saskatchewan played on Team Cherry as an injury replacement for Ric Jackman during the inaugural 1996 Canadian Hockey League Top Prospects game.
It was largely his performance in this game that led former general manager John Paddock, currently an assistant coach with the Philadelphia Flyers, to draft him with the 11th overall pick in the 1996 NHL Entry Draft. Dan Focht was projected to be a punishing defensive defenseman that would use his size to his advantage.
He played the majority of his junior career with the Tri-City Americans in the Western Hockey League. His totals there were 113 games played, eight goals, 19 assists and 312 penalty minutes. He also added 16 playoff games with one goal, three assists and 31 penalty minutes.
From the time of his move to the Phoenix Coyotes then American Hockey League affiliate Springfield Falcons in 1996-97, it would take Dan Focht six years to reach the NHL. This included stops in the American Hockey League, the East Coast Hockey League and the Finnish Elite Hockey League.
He made his NHL debut at the age of 24 during the 2001-02 season for the Phoenix Coyotes. His time in the NHL was short lived with the Coyotes, only appearing in a total of nine games with just one assist and five shots in an average of just over 12 minutes of ice time per game.
The following 2002-03 season he would spend another 10 games with the Coyotes contributing 10 penalty minutes and one shot in an average of less than nine minutes of ice time per game. At this point it appears that then Phoenix Coyotes General Manager Mike Barnett knew that Dan Focht was no longer in the team’s future plans.
In March 2003 Dan Focht was sent along with others to the Pittsburgh Penguins in exchange for Jan Hrdina. Unfortunately the change in scenery did not help Focht and he would see only another 64 NHL games over the 2002-03 and 2003-04 seasons. During that time he contributed two goals, six assists and 124 penalty minutes in an average of just under 17 minutes per game on a rebuilding Penguins club.
After just 1286 minutes his NHL career was over at 26 years old. He would go on to play two additional seasons at the American Hockey League level. Spending 2004-05 with the Hamilton Bulldogs and 2005-06 with the Rochester Americans. His nine season AHL career saw him play 378 games with 12 goals, 45 assists, 871 penalty minutes and a minus 25 rating.
After the 2005-06 season his professional hockey career came to an end at the age of 28 years old. Dan Focht can, without an argument, be deemed a true draft bust. Is that his fault? In this case I would say no.
This appears to be a case of a General Manager falling in love with his size based on one viewing at the Top Prospects game. In a recent NHL.com ranking of the top 30 picks from the 1996 NHL Entry Draft Dan Focht did not make an appearance.
Since his retirement, with a minimum of $550,000 in career earnings, Dan Focht appears to be happy keeping busy coaching minor hockey.
Dan Focht is a classic example of size being overvalued at the NHL Entry Draft table. There are relatively few defensemen in the NHL that are six foot six or taller that are impact players. Currently I would only count Zdeno Chara (6’9”) and Tyler Myers (6’8”) in that category.
While it is enticing to draft a huge defenseman and hope that he turns out to be the next Chara, it is more prudent to save those picks for later in the draft and treat them as a project player.
Overall Dan Focht had a solid ten season professional hockey career, but he unfortunately never lived up to his 11th overall draft status.