A promising pipeline of prospects is an integral part of a team’s long-term success. During the Detroit Red Wings’ 24-year playoff streak, they managed to strike gold in the later rounds of the draft several times, which considerably lengthened their reign of Stanley Cup contention. Even now, the Red Wings possess a solid core of young talent that is hoping to lead them back to relevancy.
Unfortunately, there have also been a handful of players over the past two decades who have drawn the ire of Hockeytown. While these players may not have all been top-end draft picks, they garnered enough hype to leave fans disappointed. To keep it recent, only players drafted after the 2003-04 season will be considered here, so Joe Murphy and Curtis Bowen will have to sit on the sideline.
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Jakub Kindl – Defenseman
Drafted: First round, 19th overall, 2005
Let us start with one of the more painful names to reflect on. Jakub Kindl, taken 19th overall, was the highest Red Wings draft pick since Martin Lapointe was taken 10th overall in 1991.
Kindl was a productive rearguard in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) with the Kitchener Rangers, tallying 113 points in 114 games over his final two seasons. He put up some steady, if not spectacular, seasons with the Grand Rapids Griffins in the American Hockey League (AHL) before becoming a regular on the Red Wings roster in 2010-11.
The rest is, woefully, history. Kindl played six seasons for the Winged Wheel, averaging a meager 0.24 points per game during that span. The 19 points he put up in 2013-14 were the most he ever recorded in a single NHL season. He left the organization in 2016.
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To make matters worse, the 2005 draft class was ripe with defensive gems. Marc-Edouard Vlasic (35th overall), Kris Letang (62nd overall), Keith Yandle (105th overall), Niklas Hjalmarsson (108th overall), and Anton Stralman (216th overall) are just a few of the other blueliners taken after Kindl in the draft. Woof.
Teemu Pulkkinen – Forward
Drafted: Fourth round, 111th overall, 2010
Pulkkinen is the perfect example of a player that was not a premium draft pick but still failed to live up to the hype. The Finnish sniper first started grabbing attention with two resounding outings at the IIHF World Under-18 Championships. His 28 points through two tournaments are the third-highest total of all time, trailing only Alex Ovechkin and Jack Hughes.
Pulkkinen then impressed with Jokerit of SM-Liiga in the 2010-11 season. As a 19-year-old rookie, Pulkkinen recorded 19 goals and 36 assists in 55 games. His assist total shattered Teemu Selanne’s longstanding single-season rookie assist record of 25.
Once Pulkkinen reached the AHL, the bandwagon was reaching maximum capacity. He scored 31 goals and 28 assists through 71 games during the 2013-14 season before producing a remarkable 48 goals and 31 assists in 62 games (regular season and playoffs) in the 2014-15 season. Pulkkinen’s playing style was reminiscent of Brett Hull, as a wicked slap shot was the most dangerous tool in his arsenal.
Alas, all good things must come to an end, and Pulkkinen’s lack of speed made him an easy target to defend against in the NHL. He was unable to create space for himself, which rendered his cannon of a shot useless.
Pulkkinen mustered 11 goals and nine assists in 70 games with the Red Wings before the Minnesota Wild claimed him off waivers in the 2016-17 season. Now, he is back in Europe, playing with Dinamo Minsk of the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL).
Tom McCollum – Goalie
Drafted: First round, 30th overall, 2008
Once heralded as the goaltender of the future, Tom McCollum never panned out for the Red Wings. The American netminder started to garner hype with three impressive seasons in the OHL.
He was listed as the top North American goaltender by the NHL’s Central Scouting Bureau ahead of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. A mediocre performance at the 2009 World Junior Championships raised some eyebrows, but the organization was still excited for the promise he had shown.
Things changed once McCollum reached the professional level. He endured a miserable 2009-10 season split between the AHL and the ECHL. Again, in the 2010-11 season, he struggled in both leagues, but he also made his first NHL appearance in relief of Joey MacDonald. This debut could not have gone worse as McCollum allowed three goals on eight shots before head coach Mike Babcock decided to put MacDonald back in the game.
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McCollum’s hype quickly fell off after that horrendous first appearance. He continued to toil in the minor leagues for the next two seasons, ultimately being surpassed by Petr Mrazek for the starting job in Grand Rapids during the 2013-14 season.
He made two more relief appearances for the Red Wings during the 2014-15 season, which went considerably better, but he was out of the organization two seasons later. Now in 2019, he has yet to make another NHL appearance.
Tomas Jurco – Forward
Drafted: Second round, 35th overall, 2011
Tomas Jurco was drafted as a renowned YouTube sensation with silky smooth hands, but he eventually became a major disappointment for the Red Wings organization. He played a key role, alongside Jonathan Huberdeau, on the Saint John Sea Dogs who won the 2011 Memorial Cup. Jurco finished his junior career with 239 points in 228 games (regular season and playoffs).
He joined the Griffins ahead of the 2012-13 season, and while he had a modest regular season, he was vital in the playoffs (14 points in 24 games) en route to a Calder Cup Championship. Jurco produced 32 points in 32 games during the 2013-14 season before being called up to the Red Wings. He enjoyed a solid debut in the NHL with eight goals and seven assists in his first 36 games.
Unfortunately, that was the last time fans felt good about the Slovakian winger as he scored just 17 points in his next 123 games. Jurco’s 6-foot-2 frame, silky hands, and on-ice vision seemed like a perfect combination for success. Once teams started to understand his tendencies, he was unable to adapt. He left the organization in 2017 and spent all of last season in the AHL.
Brendan Smith – Defenseman
Drafted: First round, 27th overall, 2007
Brendan Smith is one of the players on this list that is still an NHL regular. He has 416 NHL games under his belt in his respectable career. The issue with Smith is that he never came close to reaching the potential that made him a first-round pick in 2007.
Smith played for the St. Michael’s Buzzers of the Ontario Provincial Junior Hockey League (OPJHL) in his draft year before joining the Wisconsin Badgers in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).
His first two seasons in college were efficient, but he truly broke out during the 2009-10 season. In 42 games, he recorded 15 goals and 37 assists en route to being named the Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) Defensive Player of the Year.
Smith then starred for the Griffins in the AHL in the 2010-11 season, ranking fifth in points (32) among rookie blueliners despite missing 13 games (and the AHL All-Star game) due to injury. He cracked the Red Wings lineup for a 14-game stint in 2011-12 and impressed mightily with a goal and six assists. With Nicklas Lidstrom and Brad Stuart off of the roster ahead of the 2012-13 season, the path was clear for Smith to become an NHL regular.
Smith, who had shown offensive prowess at every level, became unable to produce. In six seasons with the Red Wings, Smith only managed 67 points in 291 contests. While the lack of offense was disheartening, he also became a defensive liability on the ice.
The Red Wings traded him to the New York Rangers at the 2017 NHL Trade Deadline for a second and third-round pick. He continues to put up modest point totals and frustrate the Rangers’ fan base.
Ryan Sproul – Defenseman
Drafted: Second round, 55th overall, 2011
The 6-foot-4 behemoth with a bomb from the point had fans hoping he was the power-play quarterback of the future in the Motor City. Ryan Sproul was a tantalizing prospect that produced at a high level in the OHL. In three seasons with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, he recorded 57 goals and 96 assists in 172 games while becoming a feared asset with the extra man.
He joined the Griffins in the 2013-14 season and produced 32 points in 72 games as an AHL rookie. Sproul’s size and offensive instinct garnered him attention in the organization, as the Red Wings desperately needed an impact defenseman. While Sproul was never expected to be a top-pairing headliner, his development into a steady NHL rearguard was welcomed among the Red Wings brass.
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He continued to produce at an average rate at the AHL level and earned himself a 27-game stint with the Red Wings in the 2016-17 season. He scored once and added six assists, but a lack of speed and an inability to make clean breakouts became evident.
His struggling defensive play led to a trade to the New York Rangers early in the 2017-18 season. Sproul bounced around the AHL in 2018-19, suiting up for three different franchises while failing to appear in any NHL games.
Riley Sheahan – Forward
Drafted: First round, 21st overall, 2010
Last, but not least, is Riley Sheahan. The Red Wings undoubtedly took the safe approach at the 2010 NHL Entry Draft by selecting Sheahan. He was a responsible two-way center out of Notre Dame in the NCAA, but there was a limit to his offensive potential. Evgeny Kuznetsov, now a star for the Washington Capitals, was a riskier player who went five spots after Sheahan.
Sheahan joined the Griffins for the 2012-13 season and produced 36 points in 72 games. Nothing about his style of play was flashy, but he had a knack for defensive positioning and tight checking. Sheahan became a regular for the Red Wings in 2013-14 and continued to exude the same tendencies.
He tallied 85 points in 202 games through his first three NHL seasons; respectable production but underwhelming for a first-round pick. Then, disaster struck during the 2016-17 season. Sheahan went a full 80 games without scoring a goal until he miraculously found the back of the net twice in the season finale. It was one of the most disappointing seasons in NHL history.
Sheahan then went scoreless through the first eight games of the 2017-18 season before the Red Wings mercifully traded him to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Sheahan produced 19 points in 82 games during the 2018-19 season split between the Penguins and Florida Panthers.
This article suggests that the Red Wings have drafted horribly in recent seasons, but they have had their fair share of hits as well. All teams go through agonizing relationships with prospects as some bonafide players end up turning into busts.
Ville Leino and Damien Brunner were two other players that caused their fair share of headaches, but they were left off of the list as they were European free agents.