The 2012 NHL Entry Draft in Pittsburgh is notable for being the 50th NHL Entry Draft and for producing many present-day stars who have just entered their primes, such as Morgan Rielly, Jacob Trouba, Filip Forsberg, Tomas Hertl, and Andrey Vasilevskiy.
Conversely, it’s also notable for the number of players chosen in high rounds who are sons of notable NHLers but failed to find success similar to their fathers’, and for producing one of the greatest draft busts in NHL history.
Nail Yakupov: Edmonton Oilers, First Overall
Perhaps he hasn’t been forgotten — although Oilers fans would certainly like to forget — but Nail Yakupov is undoubtedly one of the worst first-overall picks of all time, behind perhaps only Alexandre Daigle and Patrik Stefan.
With their third consecutive first-overall pick, the Oilers took the seemingly can’t-miss Russian prospect, hoping he could further bolster a team already featuring Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Yakupov seemed to have all the skills — great vision, a scintillating shot, and speed to spare, to name just a few — to succeed.
Prior to the draft, THW’s own Christopher Ralph wrote a glowing report on Yakupov.
“The feisty, dynamic, explosive right-winger who possesses a heat-seeking one-timer is simply electrifying with the ability to cause a jaw-dropping reaction to all those watching his super array of skills,” Ralph wrote. “He is destined to become one of the true must-see players around the league. Fans in hockey cities everywhere will be circling the dates when Yakupov comes to town when he is inevitably donning NHL battle colours.”
Ralph — along with just about everyone else — was wrong. Yakupov never became a “must-see player,” and was never able to find his footing in the NHL.
“The affair between the NHL and the young right-wing played out more like a summer fling than a marriage, with infrequent periods of promise that eventually proved to be more exhaustive than they were exciting,” wrote Steve Kournianos in a 2018 feature on Yakupov’s rapid fall from grace.
While he scored at an outrageous clip — 170 points in just 107 games — over two seasons with the Sarnia Sting, he never came close to replicating his OHL output as a professional. His raw talent could not compensate for his stunning lack of hockey IQ.
He stumbled and bumbled his way through four seasons in Edmonton, never recording more than 33 points. To compound matters, he was abhorrent without the puck: he was never a plus player and on two occasions, he finished a season at minus-30 or worse.
He even once flat-out told reporters “I don’t really like playing without the puck, skate all the time and do forecheck and hit somebody every shift. I don’t think it’s my game.” (from ‘Oilers’ Nail Yakupov not happy about sitting out,’ Edmonton Sun, 10/13/13.)
Yakupov was also never given the stability a young player needs to find his game. In his 242 games with the Oilers, he played under no less than five coaches: Ralph Kreuger, Dallas Eakins, Craig MacTavish, Todd Nelson, and Todd McLellan.
The Oilers traded Yakupov for pennies on the dollar to the St. Louis Blues in October 2016, but he played just 40 games there in 2016-17 and was frequently a healthy scratch after new head coach Mike Yeo took the helm from the fired Ken Hitchcock.
After a similarly unsuccessful stint with the Colorado Avalanche in 2017-18, Yakupov returned to Russia to play for the KHL’s SKA St. Petersburg during the 2018-19 season and posted 33 points in 47 games there. Whether he will ever return to the NHL or any team will take a chance on him is a massive question mark.
The great irony, Kournianos wrote, is “that a draft system designed to help downtrodden clubs build a brighter future was why Yakupov ended up an Oiler over the likes of competent (and needed) two-way defenders such as… Morgan Rielly, Matt Dumba and Jacob Trouba.”
Griffin Reinhart — 4th Overall, New York Islanders
Selections four through 10 of the draft were all defensemen. Picks five through 10 were as followed: Morgan Rielly, Hampus Lindholm, Matt Dumba, Derrick Pouliot, Jacob Trouba, and Slater Koekkoek.
The man chosen over all of those, at fourth overall? Griffin Reinhart.
The New York Islanders took the 6-foot-4 Reinhart — who had just helped the Edmonton Oil Kings to a WHL championship and was touted by Zenon Herasymiuk as “a towering rearguard who is mature beyond his years… blessed with NHL size and a blistering shot,” — after a season in which they’d allowed 48 more goals than they scored and missed the playoffs. THW’s Ryan Pike pointed to Reinhart’s vision, passing, shot, and positioning as assets.
Reinhart seemed like a safe selection. He had pedigree as the son of Paul Reinhart, who played more than 600 NHL games with the Atlanta Flames, Calgary Flames, and Vancouver Canucks between 1979 and 1990.
After being drafted, Reinhart returned to the Oil Kings for two more seasons, acting as their captain and leading them to another WHL championship in 2013-14.
While he had an illustrious junior career, Reinhart’s glimmer quickly faded as he turned pro. He made the 2014-15 Islanders out of training camp, but was quickly sent down to the AHL’s Bridgeport Sound Tigers where he fared well, posting 22 points in 59 games.
The Islanders avoided getting burned by the Reinhart pick because they were able to flip him when his stock was still high for a good return. At the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, they traded him to the Oilers in exchange for the Oilers’ first- and second-round picks (16th and 33rd overall). Those picks turned into Mathew Barzal and Mitchell Stephens.
Despite predictions Reinhart would be a blue-line mainstay as an Oiler, and could even give Darnell Nurse a run for his money, Edmonton was where Reinhart’s career fell off the rails and where the lopsided nature of the deal became clear.
Even on defensively porous squads, Reinhart could not find a role as a regular, spending most of the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons in the AHL as his lack of foot speed became more obvious.
The Oilers left Reinhart exposed in the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft and he was selected by the Vegas Golden Knights. However, with the team already possessing Deryk Engelland, Colin Miller, Nate Schmidt, Shea Theodore, and others, they didn’t require Reinhart’s services and he was buried in the AHL for all of 2017-18 and 2018-19.
Reinhart, now 25 and with only 37 career NHL games under his belt, is an unrestricted free agent. If any team opts to take a chance on him, it’ll be for cheap, and Reinhart will have quite the hill to climb if he wants to crack a roster over younger, more promising players.
Henrik Samuelsson: 27th Overall, Phoenix Coyotes
What the heck is up with these Oil Kings and sons of NHLers not panning out?
Son of two-time Stanley Cup winner Ulf Samuelsson, Henrik Samuelsson captured two WHL championships alongside Reinhart, and also a gold medal with the U.S. at the 2011 IIHF World Under-18 Championship, but was even more disappointing as a professional than his WHL teammate.
Samuelsson was described as a “big and strong player… (who plays) an impressive physical type of hockey.” The 6-foot-3 centre’s rookie season was promising — 40 points in 68 games for the Portland Pirates and a three-game NHL stint in 2014-15. However, those three NHL games were the only ones he would ever play.
The list of teams Samuelsson has suited up for since then: the Springfield Falcons, Tucson Roadrunners, Bakersfield Condors, Idaho Steelheads, and Rockford IceHogs. His 2018-19 season saw him split time between the last two.
Samuelsson’s currently a UFA, and has the dubious distinction of being the 2012 first-round pick with the fewest NHL games played.
Stefan Matteau: 29th Overall, New Jersey Devils
Here’s yet another story similar to Reinhart’s and Samuelsson’s: someone who couldn’t stick with any squad despite coming from “good hockey genes.”
Stefan Matteau’s dad is Stephane Matteau, who played 848 NHL games between 1990 and 2003. The elder Matteau is known for scoring the iconic Game 7 double-overtime goal during the 1994 Eastern Conference Final that sent the New York Rangers to the Stanley Cup Final (they won it and snapped a 54-year championship drought).
The junior Matteau was touted as an aggressive, hard-nosed power forward and was described by Hockey’s Future as someone who “plays the game with a lot of energy, passion, and intensity” and “uses his big, strong frame to play an in-your-face physical style along the boards and the corners.”
Unlike his father, Matteau couldn’t carve out a niche. Between 2012 and 2016, he played 43 games for the Devils, and while he dished out a few hits here and there, he recorded a paltry five points and didn’t have much impact.
The Devils gave up on Matteau in 2016 and traded him to the Montreal Canadiens for Devante Smith-Pelley. He played 12 games for the Habs in 2015-16 and 67 games for the St. John’s IceCaps the season after before signing a two-way deal with the Vegas Golden Knights in 2017.
Matteau ended up playing only eight games for the Sin City squad. He spent most of his 2017-18 season, and the entirety of his 2018-19 campaign, with the Chicago Wolves.
Like Reinhart and Samuelson, Matteau’s currently an unrestricted free agent.
Lukas Sutter: 39th Overall, Winnipeg Jets
The Lukas Sutter story is a short but strange one.
The Winnipeg Jets, in their second draft since the team relocated from Atlanta, committed their first big draft blunder by choosing Sutter 39th overall.
How could a player from the legendary Sutter clan — one of hockey’s royal families that has produced two generations of dynamic players who’ve logged nearly 6,000 games between them — go so wrong? It’s hard to say.
Related: Jets NHL Entry Draft Days Ranked
Lukas Sutter, Rich Sutter’s son, put up 59 points to go along with 165 penalty minutes in 60 games for the Saskatoon Blades prior to being drafted, but never came close to that point total again and suffered an injury in his final year with the Blades that limited him to 45 games.
In 2014, the Jets chose not to sign him and Sutter re-entered the draft. He was subsequently chosen 200th overall by the Islanders and played 17 AHL and 40 ECHL games in 2014-15.
Sutter disappeared until 2016-17, when he popped up at the University of Saskatchewan and played 13 games for the Huskies.
Any stats or sightings end there. He appears, by 2019, to be out of hockey completely.
Honourable Mentions: Dalton Thrower, Tim Bozon, Scott Kosmachuk
Declan Schroeder is a 26-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.