The 2004 NHL Entry Draft in Raleigh is notable for being the final draft before the 2004-05 NHL lockout that quashed the entire season. Despite being 15 years ago, there are still players from the draft excelling in the NHL — Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin, picks one and two, respectively — among them.
While more than a dozen players who were chosen in the draft are still currently active NHLers a decade and a half later, and countless others had good careers and are now retired, the following five do not belong in either category. Whether they found fleeting big-league success or no success at all, here are a handful of players from the draft you likely haven’t thought about in years.
Boris Valabik: Atlanta Thrashers, 10th Overall
Boris Valabik was just another terrible pick for a franchise that was utterly incompetent at the draft table.
Chosen after a single unremarkable season with the OHL’s Kitchener Rangers, the left-handed Slovakian defenceman didn’t make his Thrashers debut until 2007-08, when he played seven games with no points and 42 penalty minutes.
At six-foot-seven and 245 pounds, Valabik had size for sure, but that’s just about all he had. He split the 2008-09 and 2009-10 seasons between the AHL’s Chicago Wolves and the Thrashers, playing 73 NHL games while tallying seven assists, spending 168 minutes in the sin bin, and posting poor possession metrics.
“He resembled a massive pylon that was manoeuvred around by speedy Ferraris on the track,” wrote THW’s own Jeremy Wiebe back in 2014.THW’s Jeremy Wiebe on Boris Valabik
In Feb. 2011, the Thrashers traded Valabik to the Boston Bruins along with Rich Peverley in exchange for Blake Wheeler and Mark Stuart, a rare good move for a franchise that made the playoffs just once in its mostly futile 12-season existence.
Valabik never played for the Bruins, nor the Pittsburgh Penguins, with whom he signed a one-year contract in 2011-12.
After that, he had stints with four European teams in four different leagues interspersed with a brief stint with the Portland Pirates. He hasn’t played since 2016-17.
AJ Thelen: Minnesota Wild, 12th Overall
AJ Thelen is the highest pick in the draft to never suit up for an NHL game.
The Wild drafted the Minnesotan d-man after his promising rookie season with the Michigan State University Spartans, where he recorded 29 points in 43 games.
After a disappointing sophomore season, Michigan State dismissed him from their hockey program, with head coach Rick Comley stating he “did not meet the expectations for a student-athlete in the ice hockey program at MSU.” Thelen, who Comley had called out for his fitness and effort levels, claimed the coach had “double standards for certain players” but later admitted that underage drinking was the reason for his ouster.”
Thelen played in the WHL for the Prince Albert Raiders and Vancouver Giants between 2005 and 2007. In 2005-06, he played one AHL game, with the Houston Aeros.
Between 2007 and 2010, Thelen played nearly exclusively in the ECHL — for the Texas Wildcatters and Florida Everblades — save a nine-game stint with the Rochester Americans in 2009-10. His final professional hockey season was 2010-2011, when he played for the Kalamazoo Wings and recorded 29 points in 65 games.
After that, Thelen, who sustained at least three concussions in his career, opted to retire at age 25.
As MN Sports Fails points out, the Wild could have chosen Cory Schneider, Travis Zajac, Mike Green, or Pekka Rinne instead.
Others they could taken include Drew Stafford, Devan Dubnyk, and Alexander Radulov, who were chosen 13th, 14th, and 15th, respectively.
Marek Schwarz: St. Louis Blues, 17th Overall
Drafted after a single season split between a trio of Czech teams, the St. Louis Blues took a gamble on a goaltender who didn’t work out.
After being drafted, Schwarz spent one season with the Vancouver Giants, posting a 26-24-4 record, a 2.67 Goals Against Average, and .900 Save Percentage before turning pro to begin the 2006-07 season. He made his NHL debut on Dec. 12, 2006, when he made 24 saves in a 3-2 loss against the Chicago Blackhawks.
That NHL appearance was one of just six Schwarz made between then and 2008-09. He spent most of his time with the Peoria Rivermen — and a little bit with the ECHL’s Alaska Aces — as Manny Legace, and later, Chris Mason, got the bulk of the big-league crease action.
After 2008-2009, Schwarz returned to the Czech Republic and has stayed overseas ever since. He’s still as of this season at age 33, playing for Liberec Bili Tygri HC. 2019-20 is his sixth season and second stint with the Czech Extraliga squad; he also played two seasons in Austria for Znojmo Orli HC from 2016 through 2018.
Rob Schremp: Edmonton Oilers, 25th Overall
Rob Schremp’s 2005-06 London Knights’ season was one for the ages: he led the OHL with an almost-unthinkable 145 points in 57 games (an average of 2.54 per game) and 47 more points in just 19 playoff games (an average of 2.47.)
The season capped off an outstanding, five-year junior career for the slick playmaker, who looked poised to take the NHL by storm and become an Oilers’ cornerstone up the middle.
Related: What Ever Happened To Rob Schremp?
His first professional campaign, with the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins, was promising as he recorded 53 points in 69 games. However, like many other elite juniors players, Schremp had trouble producing at the NHL level.
Shockingly, the player who lit the lamp 154 times in juniors never did so a for the Oilers. Between 2006 and 2009, he appeared in just seven games for the Alberta-based squad, tallying three assists.
The Oilers placed their seemingly can’t-miss pick on waivers in Sept. 2009 and he was picked up by the New York Islanders. He found a little success in two seasons there, tallying 25 points in 2009-10 and 22 in 2010-11 before being placed on waivers again and getting claimed by the Atlanta Thrashers in their final season before relocating to Winnipeg.
After not being tendered a qualifying offer by the brand-new Winnipeg Jets franchise, Schremp tried to revitalize his career in Europe. He didn’t stick around anywhere for very long across the pond, suiting up for no fewer than six teams in six different leagues before returning to North America in 2015-16 to lead the Portland Pirates in scoring with 42 points in 75 games.
Schremp returned to Europe thereafter but finally called it quits after spending the 2017-18 season with the Austrian League’s Salzburg EC.
Dave Bolland: Chicago Blackhawks, 32nd Overall
The reason Dave Bolland is on this list is not that he was never a productive NHLer. It’s because his fall from two-time Stanley Cup champion to total obscurity was incredibly swift, if not meteoric.
Bolland, a hard-nosed agitator with the unflattering nickname “The Rat,” had as many as 47 points in an NHL campaign. He, most memorably, scored the game-winning goal with just 59 seconds to go in Game 6 of the 2013 Final against the Boston Bruins that clinched their second Stanley Cup in four seasons.
That was the centre’s career high point, as he went from Cup hero to completely out of hockey in just three seasons.
Even after a 12-point 2013-14 campaign with the Toronto Maple Leafs in which he played just 23 games due to an ankle injury, the Florida Panthers still signed him to a five-year, $27.5 million contract in July 2014. It was a terrible decision; he played just 78 games over two seasons in Sunrise before being sent down to the AHL, where he played two games.
In 2016, the Panthers traded Bolland to the Arizona Coyotes; that October, Bolland’s agent Anton Thun said the then 30-year-old “may never play again” due to the combination of back and ankle injuries.
Thun was right: Bolland never suited up for the Coyotes. 2018-19 was his final season on their books.
- Lauri Tukonen: Los Angeles Kings, 11th Overall. He played just five NHL games for the Kings before playing in Europe — primarily in the SM-Liiga — from 2009-10 through 2018-19.
- Lukas Kaspar: San Jose Sharks, 22nd Overall. He played sixteen games for the Sharks between 2007 and 2009; has played in Europe since 2010-11 and is currently playing the Czech Republic.
- Kris Chucko: Calgary Flames, 24th Overall. He played just a pair of games for the Flames in 2008-09 and has been out of hockey since 2011.
Declan Schroeder is a 27-year-old communications specialist and freelance journalist in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He holds a diploma in Creative Communications with a major in journalism from Red River College and a bachelors in Rhetoric and Communications from the University of Winnipeg.
Deeply rooted in the city’s hockey culture, the original Jets skipped town when he was two and the 2.0 version came onto the scene when he was 17.