From feted to forgotten, in just over five years.
The 2013 NHL Entry Draft in Newark, New Jersey is notable for producing plenty of players who either just becoming or are firmly entrenched as impact players in their primes, and for being the first draft in which all non-playoff qualifying teams had a chance of snagging the overall selection.
However, for every household name, such as Nathan MacKinnon, Alexsander Barkov, Seth Jones, Bo Horvat, or Josh Morrissey, there are also names which are only recognized as high-round selections by draft enthusiasts and hardcore NHL fans.
Samuel Morin: Philadelphia Flyers, 11th Overall
Morin is not totally forgotten yet, but with only eight NHL games played, the 24-year-old is in danger of becoming irrelevant.
Chosen 11th overall, the towering 6-foot-7 defenseman played four seasons — two prior and two after being drafted — for the QMJHL’s Rimouski Oceanic. He won a gold medal with Canada at the 2015 World Juniors and hoisted the President’s Cup with the Oceanic, too.
“He’s probably not going to impress with his offensive output but he gets the puck up ice efficiently and he also has a huge slap shot from the point,” Dobber Prospects’ Nathan Martin wrote after the draft.“Morin is going to get every opportunity with the Flyers to become a top four defenseman. He would benefit greatly from a few years in the AHL as it would be unwise for the Flyers to rush this player because they desperately need him to pan out.”Dobber Prospects’ Nathan Martin
Morin, indeed, spent the entirety of the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms and made his NHL debut on Apr. 4, 2017. He looked poised to become a full-time Flyer in 2017-18.
However, Morin’s past two seasons have been completely derailed by injuries; the Quebecer has played just 24 games since 2016-17. He had two wrist surgeries and suffered from other undisclosed injuries throughout 2017-18 that limited him to 15 AHL and 2 NHL games; his woes continued as he sustained an ACL tear during the 2018 Calder Cup Playoffs that required surgery.
As a result, 2018-19 was another lost season and Morin played just seven games between the AHL and NHL. The blue-liner THW’s own Kurtis Wells called a reincarnation of Chris Pronger and a “towering force who no one wants to mess with” in a 2018 piece needs to prove he can be more durable, and fast, if he wants to remain in discussions when it comes to the Flyers’ future.
THW’s Ryan Black feels Morin still has a chance, and he does have two years left on his contract. He’s currently in Flyers training camp.
Kerby Rychel: Columbus Blue Jackets, 19th Overall
We see them in every draft: sons of former NHLers who are picked up perhaps too early due to name recognition. The draft the year prior was particularly full of such choices.
Kerby Rychel, son of former NHL tough guy and current Windsor Spitfires co-owner Warren Rychel, was touted as a player who could use his hands for more than fisticuffs.
“Rychel is a natural scorer with a fantastic shooting arsenal and is extremely opportunistic,” Dobber Prospects’ Brendan Ross wrote in the February prior to his selection, as the winger was in the midst of a 40-goal, 87-point season for the Windsor Spitfires.
“He’s the type of guy who, when competing really hard, is very effective,” Central Scouting’s Chris Edwards said. “When he’s banging around and separating guys from the puck, that’s when he’s really on his game. He has a good shot and the ability to pass the puck in traffic.”
After being drafted, Rychel returned to juniors, but over his next two seasons, played just 58 combined games and didn’t come close to matching his electric 2012-13 campaign.
After turning pro, Rychel showed his offensive skills at the AHL level. He had his longest NHL stint in 2015-16 — 32 games with the Blue Jackets — but only produced nine points.
The Blue Jackets traded Rychel to the Toronto Maple Leafs prior to the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. THW’s own Ryan Lawson opined that it was a “monumental deal which flew quietly under the radar” and that “Rychel has all the makings of an excellent NHL player and should become a mainstay in the Leafs’ top-six in the near future.”
Related: Maple Leafs Holding a Hidden Gem
Rychel continued to put up points in the AHL, notching 82 in parts of two seasons for the Toronto Marlies, but unlike Lawson thought, never played a game for the Maple Leafs. He was shipped to the Montreal Canadiens in Feb. 2018, where he played two games before becoming a restricted free agent at the end of the season.
Rychel’s Canadian tour continued as the Habs traded him to the Calgary Flames last offseason. He didn’t make an impact there either, playing just two NHL games and not earning a qualifying offer.
As of this writing, he’s a member of the KHL’s HC Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk.
Emile Poirier: Calgary Flames, 22nd Overall
Chosen after a strong with the Gatineau Olympiques where Poirier popped off 70 points (a 30-point increase from the year prior), Dobber Prospects’ Brendan Ross wrote this glowing review on the Quebecer:
Poirier is a player who contributes in all areas of the rink – he scores, he defends, he hits, and he even drops the mitts. He is an intelligent forward with a complete understanding of the game making him extremely versatile. He possesses good top end speed but could stand to become more agile to better elude defenders. Poirier’s puck skills and vision are both advanced and make him an effective penalty killer.Dobber Prospects’ Brendan Ross
Poirier improved on his point total again for the Olympiques in 2013-14, notching 87, and the centre/winger looked to be well on his way to a long and fruitful NHL career.
It didn’t turn out that way. Between turning pro to begin the 2014-15 season and the 2017-18 season, Poirier appeared in only eight NHL games and was surpassed by other Flames picks such as Sam Bennett, Andrew Mangiapane, and Matthew Tkachuk.
In 2016-17, Poirier took a personal leave of absence while playing for the Stockton Heat. In July, 2017, he bravely faced the media and admitted he was struggling with alcohol abuse issues.
“I want to thank the organization, especially (general manager) Brad Treliving for his support,” Poirier said. “He helped me. I had some issues regarding drinking off the ice, and I called him for support. It wasn’t easy for me at that time. The whole organization has been supportive, my teammates … Now, I’m looking forwards, and I’m fully healthy and here for the summer.” (from ‘Calgary Flames prospect Emile Poirier opens up about alcohol abuse,’ Postmedia, 05/07/17.)
After the 2018 season, Poirier was not tendered a qualifying offer, making him a free agent. He spent the 2018-19 season with the Manitoba Moose on a professional tryout, but only played in 24 games due to a broken leg he suffered in December.
One definitely has to root for Poirier going forward. Even if he can’t reboot his hockey career, the author hopes Poirier stays mentally healthy, happy, and addiction-free. He’s currently with the Winnipeg Jets on a PTO.
Morgan Klimchuk: Calgary Flames, 28th Overall
It’s a good thing the Flames snagged Sean Monahan sixth overall in this draft, because the rest of their first-round selections have not worked out at all.
Six picks after selecting Poirier, the Flames took Morgan Klimchuk, who’d finished second in team scoring with 76 points for the Regina Pats.
In a draft profile, THW’s own Ryan Pike called Klimchuk, among other things, a “smart positional hockey player on both sides of the puck,” “a savvy skater in the offensive end, and “smart with the puck, boasting crisp passing and a very accurate shot.”
Klimchuk showed those skills, to some extent, at the AHL level. In 2016-17, he had 43 points for the Stockton Heat, and in 2017-18, he had 40. However, that output was not impressive enough to earn him NHL work, save a single game in 2018.
Klimchuk signed a one-year deal worth $700,000 with the Senators for the 2019-20 season, and is on the team’s training camp roster, but his chances of being a full-time NHLer at this point look sketchy, at best.
Zach Fucale: Montreal Canadiens, 36th Overall
He backstopped the Halifax Mooseheads to a 2013 Memorial Cup. He won gold with Canada at the 2015 World Juniors. He impressed THW’s own Ryan Pike with his “poise, vision, athleticism, and talent” and other scouts for his strong glove hand, lateral mobility, fluidity, and stamina. Zach Fucale was the first goaltender selected in the draft, and looked like a can’t miss pick.
But he was, in fact, a miss, who has never played an NHL game. That’s despite his absolutely lights-out juniors career — he was the youngest goalie to reach 100 wins in QMJHL history, posted 144 victories over five seasons, and recorded 13 shutouts.
However, he did the majority of it in front of some of the most talented and high-scoring Mooseheads’ squads in team history — his teammates included Nikolaj Ehlers, Jonathan Drouin, Nathan MacKinnon, and Timo Meier. The 2012-13 championship-winning squad, in particular, ran roughshod over just about everyone.
It’s clear based his numbers and career thus far that Fucale is not as good a goaltender as the Canadiens thought they were getting, and that his juniors feats were propped up by high-octane squads.
In his first pro season, the 2015-16 campaign, he posted below-average numbers with the AHL’s St. Johns’ IceCaps. By 2016-17, Fucale found himself buried in the ECHL with the Brampton Beast. That year, he also took the crease for Canada’s championship-winning 2016 Spengler Cup team, reminding many that he did, indeed, still exist.
Fucale got back to the AHL in 2017-18, but only played 18 games for the Canadiens’ new affiliate in his hometown of Laval and 11 more for Brampton. After the season, the Canadiens didn’t offer Fucale and qualifying offer, Fucale signed with the expansion Vegas Golden Knights.
The Golden Knights, who proved they weren’t the tire fire most were predicting they’d be in their first kick at the NHL can, clearly didn’t have any plans to give Fucale an NHL shot last season. The upstart franchise popped off 51 wins in their inaugural 2017-18 campaign and made the Stanley Cup Final thanks to the heady play of Marc-Andre Fleury.
In 2018-19, Fleury and Malcolm Subban made up the Golden Knights’ goalie tandem; Fucale, meanwhile, was back in the ECHL for the majority of his season, playing for the Fort Wayne Comets and posting a goals-against average of 3.18 and a sub-.900 save percentage.
Despite his disappointing career thus far, one has to give Fucale credit for not giving up. He inked a one-year deal with the Syracuse Crunch — the Tampa Bay Lighting’s AHL affiliate — for this season.
Honourable Mentions: Connor Hurley, Tommy Vannelli, Gabryel Boudreau