The 2014 NHL Entry Draft in Philadelphia produced a number of current star players, with eight of the first 10 picks having already played 300-plus NHL games as of April, 2022. Players selected in the top 10 include Aaron Ekblad (1st,) Sam Reinhart (2nd,) Leon Draisaitl (3rd,) William Nylander (8th,) and Nikolaj Ehlers (9th.)
But in every draft, there are plenty of misses to go along with the hits. Here are five high-round selections who have mostly been forgotten and are remembered only by hardcore hockey nuts, draft enthusiasts, and the fans of the teams who selected them.
Julius Honka: Dallas Stars, 14th Overall
The Dallas Stars drafted Finnish defenseman Julius Honka after a single season with the Swift Current Broncos in which he recorded 16 goals and 40 assists for 56 points in 60 games. He also helped his country capture a gold medal at the 2014 World Juniors in Malmo, Sweden.
“The thought was that the team was taking a franchise defenseman,” THW’s Scott MacDonald wrote in 2018. “At 5-foot-10 and 180 pounds, his stature certainly (didn’t) scream NHL defenseman, but his offensive upside earned him some high-praise and the accolade of being one of the best in the 2014 class.”
Honka signed an entry-level deal and immediately turned pro, suiting up for the AHL’s Texas Stars that fall. Some would argue that the Stars rushed him to the professional level, but his AHL play didn’t seem to be a big issue as he showed potential to be a consistent offensive threat from the blue line, recording 31, 44, and 31 points over three full seasons in the AHL.
Honka made his NHL debut in November, 2016, and played 16 games throughout the 2016-17 season, recording five points. In 2017-18, he made the opening night roster but was not an impactful player, dressing for 42 games but only skating an average of 13:01 and recording four points. He was then sent back down to Texas.
THW’s MacDonald wrote than Honka — a speedy, puck-moving defenseman — had the type of skill set Lindy Ruff, who was head coach during Honka’s rookie season — favoured. However, when Ruff’s contract was not renewed after the Stars missed the playoffs and Ken Hitchcock came on board, it was not a good match.
“The combination of Honka and Hitchcock was not an ideal player-coach relationship from the jump,” MacDonald wrote, explaining that Hitchcock preferred to play more rugged, defense-first blue liners (Dan Hamhuis, Stephen Johns, Jamie Oleksiak, and Greg Pateryn) “while Honka’s untapped potential withered away at the craft services table in the press box.”
In September, 2019, Honka requested a trade, as he was unhappy with being a healthy scratch for the last four months of the 2018-19 season and playing only 29 games.
“Hopefully, we can get it resolved quickly and as more and more players sign and rosters become more of a certainty and cap space has more of a certainty, hopefully this will get the market moving again,” Honka’s agent Todd Diamond said at the time. (from “Former first-round pick Julius Honka requests trade from Stars: ‘It’s time to move on,” The Dallas Morning News, Sept. 13, 2019.)
A month later, with GM Jim Nill not finding a trade partner and the NHL season beginning, Honka signed with Liiga team JYP Jyväskylä. He recorded four goals and 15 points through 46 regular season games before the post-season was cancelled due to the emerging COVID-19 pandemic.
In October, 2020, Honka returned to the Stars’ organization, signing a one-year, two-way contract. But his second stint with the Stars didn’t last long.
The Stars loaned him to theLiiga’s Lahti Pelicans to get up to speed before the shortened NHL season began in January, and he played nine games and recorded seven points there. However, he never graced the Stars’ lineup as they placed him on waivers shortly after the season began. Unclaimed, he played 17 games during the truncated AHL campaign for the Texas Stars, recording five points.
In May, 2021, Honka signed a two-year contract with SHL club Luleå HF.
Conner Bleackley: Colorado Avalanche, 23rd Overall
Of the 30 players drafted in the first round, only one has never appeared in an NHL game: Conner Bleackley.
Bleackley, a right-shot centre, was a high achiever in juniors. In 2013-14, he was named the Red Deer Rebels’ captain despite being only 17 years old and recorded 29 goals and 68 points in 71 games.
As a result, his draft stock rose and he became considered a possible first round selection, and ultimately was one, being chosen by the Colorado Avalanche 23rd overall. At his first NHL training camp that fall, head coach Patrick Roy was critical of his conditioning and the organization returned him to the Rebels without inking him to an entry-level contract.
Despite that snag, his 2014–15 WHL season was productive, as he recorded 27 goals and 49 points in 51 games before suffering a groin injury that kept him out down the stretch.
In 2015-16, Bleakley had still not earned a contract, and was returned again to the Rebels for a fifth season (while he did appear in a preseason game with the Avalanche.) In February, 2016, the Avalanche included his rights in a trade that sent Alex Tanguay and Kyle Wood to the Arizona Coyotes in exchange for Mikkel Boedker.
The Coyotes, concerned with Bleackley’s injury history — he sustained a broken kneecap the month before — also declined to offer him a contract and instead received a compensatory 2016 pick; Bleackley was required to re-enter the same draft.
This time, Bleackley was chosen 144th overall by the St. Louis Blues and finally signed an three-year entry-level deal, but he was no longer the top prospect he was. For the next three seasons, he played exclusively in the minor leagues, suiting up for the Chicago Wolves, the ECHL’s Tulsa Oilers, and the San Antonio Rampage.
In 2019, the Blues declined to tender him a qualifying offer, making him a free agent. Since, Bleackley has bounced around the AHL and ECHL, spending the 2021-22 season with the Maine Mariners.
Nikita Scherbak: Montreal Canadiens, 26th Overall
A player who achieved even greater success in juniors than Bleackley was Russian Nikita Scherbak. Both players are a cautionary tale against putting too much stock in those stastistics.
The Russia Scherbak had 28 goals and 50 assists for 78 points as a member of the Saskatoon Blades and participated in the CHL’s Top Prospects game the season prior to being drafted 26th overall by the Montreal Canadiens.
“It’s hard not to like a lot of things about Scherbak’s game. He’s got a big frame but still has room to fill out, so his relative physical maturity… isn’t as stark as you’d expect,” THW’s Ryan Pike wrote in a 2014 prospect profile. “He’s a good skater with strong acceleration, and he’s quite aggressive on the fore-check. He sees the ice well, has good patience and anticipation with the puck and has shockingly good consistency for a player so new to the North American game.”THW’s Ryan Pike on Nikita Scherbak
The next season, he was traded to the Everett Silvertips because of a WHL rule that stated no more than two non-North American players could be on the same club’s roster at any given time. Despite the chance of scenery, Scherbak had an even better campaign, racking up 27 goals and 55 assists for 82 points.
In 2016-17, he turned pro and played nearly two full (and decently productive) seasons for the AHL’s St. John’s IceCaps, while also making his NHL debut on Jan. 7, 2017 and scoring on his first professional shot in a 5-3 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs.
In 2017-18, he split time between the Canadiens and their new AHL affiliate in Laval, playing 26 games at both levels. While he had 30 points for the Rocket, he had just six for the Canadiens.
Scherbak began the 2018-19 season as a healthy scratch and was sent to the Rocket before being placed on waivers on and getting claimed by the Los Angeles Kings. Scherbak played eight games for the Kings, scoring one goal, and 23 more for AHL affiliate Ontario Reign. That summer, he was not tendered a qualifying offer, making a free agent.
Without any NHL suitors, Scherbak went back to Russia after signing a three-year contract with with Avangard Omsk. After just 16 games, though, he was released, and spent the latter part of the season with and Traktor Chelyabinsk.
In 2021, he briefly returned to North America, signing an AHL contract with the Texas Stars for the shortened season, and recording five goals and 10 assists in 28 games. He then departed again, signing a contract with Slovak Extraliga’s Hockey Club ’05 Banská Bystrica for the 2021-22 season.
John Quenneville: New Jersey Devils, 30th Overall
The name Quenneville is synonymous with hockey, but John Quenneville’s career hasn’t been as successful as his first-cousin’s.
Joel Quenneville, of course, played more than 800-career NHL games, coached nearly 1,800 more, and won three Stanley Cups as the bench boss of the dynastic Chicago Blackhawks. John Quenneville, on the other hand, has played 45 games.
The New Jersey Devils selected Quenneville with the final pick of the first round. The Devils originally didn’t have a first-round pick, as they had forfeited it due to an NHL ruling that they had attempted to circumvent the salary cap by signing Ilya Kovalchuk to the infamous and massive 17-year, $102 million contract four years prior. However, after the Devils appealed, the NHL acquiesced and reinstated the pick, allowing them to select 30th.
Quenneville enjoyed a productive 2013-14 with the Brandon Wheat Kings, recording 25 goals and 58 points in 61 games, and also represented Canada at the World Juniors. “His game is very substance over style,” THW’s Ryan Pike wrote in a prospect profile. “That’s not to say that he’s not flashy, just that he’s not overly showy; he’s just a quietly efficient player… Quenneville plays a generally responsible three-zone game, but needs a bit more discipline at times. He plays physical and is willing to scrap – he had 5 fights in 2013-14 – but sometimes needs to rein in the aggression before it gets out of hand.”
When he can tie it all together, though, Quenneville can be a good player verging on great,” Pike continued. “He led the Wheat Kings in playoff scoring and was easily their best player through two playoff rounds, utilizing his size, speed, instincts and superior hockey sense.”
After two more strong seasons in the WHL — include a 73-point 2015-16 campaign — Quenneville turned pro. In his rookie season, he produced nicely for the AHL’s Albany Devils, recording 46 points in 58 games and being named an AHL All-Star. and also appeared in the first 12 NHL games of his career, scoring once and adding three assists.
It was looking like the Devils were destined to have a top-six centre capable of producing at a near point-per-game clip — not bad, considering they originally didn’t have a first-round pick at all — but Quenneville’s production went downhill shortly after.
In 2017-18, he spent most of the season in the AHL, playing just two NHL games and not registering a point. His 2018-19 season was similarly unsuccessful — at least for someone expected to burgeon into a legitimate big-league threat — with 19 NHL games played and just one goal scored.
In the offseason, Quenneville was traded to the Blackhawks in exchange for John Hayden, and he signed a two-year deal with the Blackhawks. However, the new surroundings did not bring NHL success. He spent most of his time with the Rockford IceHogs and played just nine total regular-season and two postseason games with the Blackhawks, registering no points.
The Blackhawks left Quenneville exposed and he was selected in the 2021 Expansion Draft by the Seattle Kraken. But the Kraken didn’t sign him, and he signed with the ZSC Lions of the Swiss National League.
Mason McDonald, Calgary Flames, 34th Overall
Mason McDonald was the first goaltender drafted in 2014. The Flames would come to rue choosing him over Thatcher Demko (36th overall, Vancouver Canucks) Alex Nedeljkovic (37th overall, Carolina Hurricanes,) and Vitek Vanacek (Washington Capitals, 38th overall.)
the Nova Scotian’s first two seasons in the QMJHL were nothing to write home about, making this pick seem like a reach in retrospect. In his rookie season with the Acadie-Bathurst Titan, he went 6-8-3 with a 4.72 GAA and .885 SV% in 26 appearances. In his second season, split between the Titan and the Charlottetown Islanders, he went 8-15-3 in 29 appearances.
Despite the underwhelming stats, he rose from being listed number seven on Central Scouting’s midterm North American goalie rankings to number two on the final list.
After being drafted, McDonald spent two more seasons with the QMJHL’s Islanders as the Flames went with a tandem of Jonas Hiller and Karri Ramo in goal. His 2014-15 season was his best, when he went 28-22-4 with a 3.06 GAA and 9.06 SV%. He was also one of three goaltenders to represent Canada at the 2016 World Juniors, making two starts for the team that finished sixth.
McDonald then turned pro for to the 2016-17 season, but had trouble progressing in the organization. Over the next three seasons, he made just five appearances for the Flames’ AHL affiliate Stockton Heat, and 92 between the ECHL’s Adirondack Thunder and Kansas City Mavericks.
In 2019, at the end of his entry level contract, McDonald was not tendered a qualifying offer and became a free agent. He signed an AHL deal with Colorado Avalanche affiliate Colorado Eagles, but did not make the team and spent the entire season in the ECHL with the Utah Grizzlies.
McDonald was without a team for the shortened 2020-21 season, and for 2021-2022, signed with the ECHL’s Tulsa Oilers.
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.