With the reception of my 5 CHL Players Ready For the NHL being overwhelmingly positive, I decided I would make this a mini-series. This time out we will be covering five players who were highly regarded in the CHL, but have struggled to transition to the NHL. In this list, there will be well-known flops, as well as some controversial picks, which I’m sure could be a subject of discussion in the comments.
Related: Best & Worst Oilers of the Decade
For the rules of this post, I have focused on players who have been drafted in the last decade. I tried to include those who have a variety of reasons for not being successful. That being said, there may be common trends among them. Finally, I measure success based off of where they were drafted. For example, a player going second overall, I expect more than just third-line stagnation. With all of that out of the way, let’s get into the first player.
1. Nail Yakupov
Let’s get this one out of the way first as Yakupov had an infamous transition to the NHL. Selected first overall by the Edmonton Oilers in 2012, he was expected to solve all of Edmonton’s offensive woes. He was drafted off of a stellar season where he had 69 points in only 42 games for the Sarnia Sting.
In an alright, lockout-shortened, rookie season Yakupov showed promise with 31 points in 48 games. There were flashes of elite offensive skill, but his two-way game was immediately far behind most of his peers. In this shortened season he reached his career high of 17 goals and a 0.65 points-per-game rate.
After his rookie season, he quickly sputtered out, but saw time in a depth role with the Oilers before brief stints with the St. Louis Blues and the Colorado Avalanche. His 0.39 points-per-game ranks worst overall among first-overall picks, and Yakupov’s career just never took off.
He now applies his trade in his homeland of Russia for St. Petersburg of the KHL. In St. Petersburg he has not managed to reignite his scoring touch as he managed only 33 points in 47 games during his return season.
2. Olli Juolevi
As a lifelong Canucks fan, this one hurts to write. Although he could reach his potential, this seems very unlikely with recent events. With 42 points from the blue line in his rookie CHL season for the London Knights, Juolevi showed great promise at his age. Following a strong performance in the OHL playoffs, he was selected fifth overall in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft by the Vancouver Canucks.
Juolevi has had a tough road to the pro’s filled with trouble and unfortunately not much triumph. Suffering severe back pain in the 2018 offseason, he had to have his first surgery to repair a disc in his lower back.
Returning for the start of the 2018 season, Juolevi’s season was over after just 18 games due to a new knee injury that took late into the summer to fully recover. After a training camp the following season where he struggled to keep pace, he was sent to the AHL and underwhelmed. Since his time in London, the most games in a season he’s played in is 45, and he’s a combined plus/minus of minus-20 in the AHL over two seasons.
Juolevi still has potential, but at 22 years of age, it is becoming ever more unlikely that he will reach his potential. Canucks fans will end up getting their young defensive phenomena in Quinn Hughes, but Juolevi will always be one who got away.
3. Erik Gudbranson
Another sore spot for many Canucks fans, Erik Gudbranson’s story started long before he wore the Orca jersey. He — like most on this list — had a strong performance in Juniors, but maybe wasn’t as prolific as some of the others.
When I said prolific, his point totals were mediocre, but how he threw around the body was something to behold. In his draft year, he had 22 points, but 63 penalty minutes. He was selected third overall by the Florida Panthers but played one more season in Junior for the Kingston Frontenacs before turning pro.
In his first season as a Panther, Gudbranson had only 8 points in 72 games. Due to underperforming in his rookie season, he spent most of the next season switching back and forth between the Panthers and their minor-league affiliate the San Antonio Rampage.
After the 2012-13 season, he would become a permanent NHL player, but he never managed a full 82-game season. Gudbranson moved to the Canucks in 2016, but never played more than 57 games in a season during his three-year stint with the team.
Although a solid NHL player, so much more was expected of Gudbranson at third overall. He has played more than 500 games in the NHL as of writing this article, but it is difficult to see him as more than a bottom-pair defenceman going forward into his career.
4. Sam Bennett
It’s difficult to imagine now that Calgary Flames’ Sam Bennett was once the top-ranked skater going into the NHL Draft. In 2014, he topped all North American skaters, ranking first on the final central scouting list before the draft.
In the actual draft, he fell to fourth, and Calgary drafted a center that they thought could lead their team in scoring. Bennett excelled in Junior, and in his draft year he had 91 points in 57 games, averaging almost an assist per game. A creative player, he showed great hockey sense, which only increased the speculation on his future potential.
In Calgary, he was never able to duplicate that same success, although there have been flashes of brilliance. This was evident during his rookie season where he had a four-goal game against the Panthers. Even with that game, he only had 36 points on the season.
Incidentally, the 36 points was also a career high — after his rookie season he was never able to break the 30-point mark. Like many of the other prospects on this list, so much was expected out of Bennett but he failed to make a steady transition out of Junior. He is still a strong role player for the Flames; nonetheless, it is incredibly unlikely he will reach the scoring potential most scouts saw in him during his time in the OHL.
5. Nolan Patrick
In one of the last true tossups at first overall in the 2017 NHL Draft, it was between Nico Hischier and Nolan Patrick. Two offensively minded centres who put up elite performances in their draft-eligible years. Hischier ended up going first overall and is having a strong start to his career with the New Jersey Devils, while Patrick has mainly under-achieved so far.
Unfortunately, due to a mysterious migraine ailment, Patrick was unable to play in any games this season, and it is truly probable that this season could’ve been the one to turn it around for him.
Patrick’s performances stood out during his time in Junior playing for the Brandon Wheat Kings. In his draft-eligible season, he had 102 points in 72 games. His ability to create and find space on offence made him such a highly rated prospect and set him up for what should’ve been a stellar NHL career.
Whether it is due to his role in the lineup, a lack of ice-time, or lingering effects of previous injuries, Patrick has yet to stand out at the NHL level. In his rookie season, he accumulated 30 points in 73 games while accumulating 31 in his sophomore season.
Patrick has failed to find chemistry up or down the Flyers’ lineup and has only a slightly superior points-per-game rate to Yakupov. Although it would be unfair to call him a flop at 22 years old, he has yet to hit the heights expected of a player picked second overall in the draft, and has fallen behind many of his peers of that draft year.
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Hopefully, Patrick is able to return healthy and find his scoring touch at the NHL level soon. I wish him all the best as he recovers from this injury, as missing an entire season would be difficult for any young player.
Fallen Star or Late Bloomer?
If there is a player you think is a flop, or if you think I was too harsh on any of these players, let me know in the comments! This list is just for fun, and hopefully, it provokes some discussion on the players and their unique stories.
Aidan is a current Bachelor of Communications and Media Studies student at Carleton University, who always had a passion for sports. Aidan is also a Para-ice Hockey player, former arena announcer, and Hockey Canada licenced coach.