The San Jose Sharks have had success drafting, especially under Doug Wilson in the late rounds, but there have also been many whiffs. While no draft pick is a certainty by any means, and every team has its share of misses, some by the Sharks’ have been massive gaffes.
What Constitutes a Bad Draft Pick?
There are two main criteria to consider. First, a player taken early (first or second round) is expected to be an impact player in the NHL, if he never plays, that is a miss. Even if he plays, but has a minimal impact or plays fewer than one or two seasons, that is also a bad outcome. Second, if you take a player at 15th overall and he has a modest career, but there were two or three players selected after him that became superstars, that is also a blunder. Let’s get to the list.
20. Andrei Zyuzin (1st Round 1996, 2nd Overall)
Zyuzin’s appearance on this list is probably controversial because he did suit up for 496 NHL games, and 81 of those were with the Sharks, not terrible at all. He became a good defenseman, albeit mostly not for the Sharks. What really hurts is that even though San Jose selected Marco Sturm with their 21st overall pick in that draft, who became an All-Star and a very versatile center, they and many other teams missed on Daniel Briere (24th overall).
Briere won two World Championship gold medals, was a two-time All-Star, scored the most points in the 2010 NHL playoffs, and scored the most playoff goals in 2012. Briere was destined for greatness, his draft year star probability per Hockey Prospecting was the best in his class. If the Sharks had drafted Briere at 2nd overall, he would have lasted more than 81 games in teal. I’m sure part of why Briere was passed over was his height (listed at 5-foot-9), but his NHL equivalency and skill were quite high.
19. Tero Maatta (2nd Round 2000, 41st Overall)
Maatta never came to North America and thus never played a game for the Sharks organization. He has had a decent professional career, primarily in the SM-liiga in Sweden, though none of that benefits the Sharks. That 2000 draft didn’t have a lot of obvious picks that the Sharks should have taken instead, but Stanley Cup champions Ilya Bryzgalov, Jarret Stoll, and Michael Rupp were all available at this pick.
18. Gabryel Boudreau (2nd Round 2013, 49th Overall)
Boudreau never played an AHL, let alone an NHL, game. The highest he got was the ECHL where he put up 3 points in 12 games. He is still playing hockey as of 2019-20, now in the Ligue Nord-Americaine de Hockey, a low-level professional league in Quebec, Canada. I suppose a miracle could happen and he could make it to the NHL, but this is assuredly a bust for the Sharks.
Several players who are in the NHL now went just after Boudreau namely Artturi Lehkonen, William Carrier, Tyler Bertuzzi, Zach Sanford, Brett Pesce, Anthony Duclair, and Jake Guentzel.
It’s hard to imagine how Guentzel fell to 77th overall that year. The Sharks would have loved to have any of those players in their lineup now, especially Guentzel.
17. Taylor Doherty (2nd Round 2009, 57th Overall)
The gigantic 6-foot-7 Doherty never played an NHL game, which is the reason he is on this list. He wasn’t a total bust, as he played 257 total AHL games, many with the Worcester Sharks. Most recently, he has been playing in the ECHL and the Czech professional league. I’m sure the Sharks were hoping for a Zdeno Chara type, but instead, they got nothing.
To make matters worse, the list of players they could have selected with this pick are plentiful and include Tomas Tatar, Tyson Barrie, Reilly Smith, Cody Eakin, and Ben Chiarot. Any of those players, who have played regularly in the NHL for years, would have been better than the zero NHL games that Doherty gave the Sharks.
16. William Wrenn (2nd Round 2009, 43rd Overall)
Like Doherty, Wrenn was taken in 2009, but 14 spots earlier. These two picks were a huge opportunity for the Sharks to walk away with impact players, instead, they got zero NHL games out of both of them.
Taken out of the United States Development Program, it was expected to take time for Wrenn to develop his game. But after two NCAA seasons, two WHL seasons, one ECHL season, and a brief stint in the AHL, he was traded to the Dallas Stars. He finally retired from playing professional hockey in 2019 after spending 2017-18 playing in both the KHL and Liiga and in the DEL of Germany in 2018-19.
Since he went earlier than Doherty, the same players would have been available at this pick. Imagine the Sharks now with Tatar and Barrier or Smith and Eakin? None are necessarily superstars but would be nice organizational depth pieces or even trade assets.
15. Dan Spang (2nd Round 2002, 52nd Overall)
Having your 52nd pick never play in the NHL isn’t uncommon. Toward the back half of the 2nd round, draft picks become more uncertain. What makes this pick so hard to stomach is that the Sharks could have had three-time Stanley Cup champion, two-time Norris Trophy-winner, Conn Smythe Trophy-winner, and two-time Olympic gold medal-winner Duncan Keith who went two picks later.
If the Sharks had drafted Keith instead of the Chicago Blackhawks, maybe they would have three Stanley Cup banners hanging from the rafters instead.
14. Angel Nikolov (2nd Round 1994, 37th Overall)
Nikolov was another defenseman the Sharks selected who never played a game in the NHL. Like Maatta, he never left Europe. He played in several professional leagues, mostly in the Czech Republic until he retired in 2012-13. Instead of zero NHL games, the Sharks could have had Jose Theodore, Patrik Elias, Sheldon Souray, Chris Drury, or Milan Hejduk. Elias, Drury, and Hejduk all have their name on the Stanley Cup, Elias twice. It would have been nice to see them lift it in teal.
13. Peter Roed (2nd Round 1995, 38th Overall)
Roed made it as far as the AHL. The center from St. Paul, Minnesota suited up for 142 games for the Kentucky Thoroughblades, the Sharks’ affiliate in the late ’90s. Taking a player early in the 2nd round who never makes it to the NHL is unfortunate, but what makes this pick particularly bad is that the Sharks could have had Marc Savard, who was taken all the way down at 91st overall.
Despite his low draft number, Savard had the highest NHL equivalency (NHLe) of anyone in the 1995 Draft (Hockey Prospecting), just ahead of 1st overall pick Bryan Berard. The Sharks could have used an elite playmaker like Savard who was a two-time NHL All-Star, in 2007-08 and 2008-09, and became a Stanley Cup champion in 2011 with the Boston Bruins.
Many other teams missed on Savard so you can’t hold the Sharks too much at fault, but there were several players taken after the 38th pick who became NHL regulars, including Sami Kapanen and Michael Handzus. Savard’s career sadly came to an early end due to concussions, though it may have helped bring the discussion of head injuries to the forefront.
12. Matt Nieto (2nd Round 2011, 47th Overall)
Lacking a 1st-round pick in 2011, the Sharks selected the Long Beach, California native Nieto, who has been a mostly regular NHL player. His ability to stick in the NHL is the main reason this pick isn’t higher on the list. In his 221 games with the Sharks, Nieto put up only 70 points.
Sure, his deployment could have been better, getting mostly third-line minutes and little power-play time, but in the end, he was a bit disappointing and was waived during the 2016-17 season where he was claimed by the Colorado Avalanche. His 81 points in 251 games with the Avalanche suggest Nieto is what he is at this point – a bottom-six forward with minimal scoring potential. What makes this pick even more painful is that at 58th overall, the Tampa Bay Lightning selected Art Ross, Ted Lindsay, and Hart Trophy-winner Nikita Kucherov.
The Sharks would have preferred Kucherov in hindsight, and imagining the 2016 Stanley Cup Final run with Kucherov on the roster seems like it would have had a different ending. The Sharks could also have had William Karlsson or Vincent Trocheck with this pick.
11. Devin Setoguchi (1st Round 2005, 8th Overall)
Even though right-winger Setoguchi played a fair amount for the Sharks, he never quite lived up to the hype. In his best season with the team, he put up 65 points in a nearly full 81-game season in 2008-09, which is pretty good. Injuries limited his next two seasons and, during the 2011 Draft, the Sharks traded Setoguchi, Charlie Coyle, and their 2011 first-round pick to the Minnesota Wild for Brent Burns.
That 2011 pick ended up being 28th overall and used on Zack Phillips who never played an NHL game. Coyle has been a serviceable player, who is still in the league and Setoguchi was out of the league by 2017, without leaving much of an impact after that 2008-09 season.
In the end, the Sharks did well to acquire Burns, but they could have had some pretty good players at 8th overall including Anze Kopitar, Tuukka Rask, TJ Oshie, Matt Niskanen, Andrew Cogliano, Keith Yandle, Kris Letang, Paul Stastny, and James Neal. I imagine the Sharks-Kings rivalry would be a bit different with Kopitar in teal.
10. Jeff Jillson (1st Round 1999, 14th Overall)
Jillson struggled in the NHL, something a 14th-overall pick shouldn’t do. According to Hockey Prospecting, his NHLe was 10th among defensemen, with only a 10% chance of becoming a star but a 34% chance of becoming a regular NHLer. His 74 games with the Sharks led to only 24 points and a minus-5 rating. Luckily, the Sharks were able to package Jillson with Jeff Hacket in trade with the Bruins for Kyle McLaren and a 2004 4th-round pick (Torrey Mitchell). McLaren played 302 games for the Sharks and was known for throwing devastating hip checks.
The reason this pick isn’t higher is that the Sharks did well to get value out of a player who only appeared in 140 NHL games, more with the Sharks than after they traded him. Some have suggested that Jillson was the best player available at 14, but this far from true. Several regular NHLers were picked in 1999 after Jillson, including Henrik Zetterberg (210th overall!), Nick Boynton, Martin Havlat, and Barret Jackman, to name a few.
9. Milan Michalek (1st Round 2003, 6th Overall)
I’m sure some will scoff at the inclusion of Michalek on this list. After all, he was included on an All-Time Sharks list. He suited up for 317 games with the Sharks and scored 214 points, not bad at all, but consider that they could have selected franchise players like Ryan Suter, Dion Phaneuf, Jeff Carter, Dustin Brown, and Brent Seabrook.
In the end, the Sharks got decent value for Michalek when they packaged him with Jonathan Cheechoo and a 2nd-round pick in 2010 and traded him to the Ottawa Senators for Dany Heatley and a 5th-round pick in 2010. Neither of those picks ended up playing in the NHL, and Michalek and Cheechoo didn’t have as much of an impact as Heatley. The Sharks ended up doing okay with this pick, but it could have been so much better.
8. Steve Bernier (1st Round 2003, 16th Overall)
The big-bodied Bernier only played 160 games for the Sharks, posting 81 points, just over .5 points per game. While not a total bust, like his fellow 2003 pick Michalek, this one comes down to what the Sharks could have had. Just after Bernier in the first round, regular NHLers and All-Stars were selected including Zach Parise, Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Kesler, Mike Richards, and Corey Perry. What makes this even worse is the Sharks traded their 21st, 66th, and 107th picks in 2003 to trade up for Bernier.
If they had kept their 21st-overall pick, they could have had any of the above players except for Parise and Getzlaf. They also could have drafted Brent Burns (who went 20th in a bit of a surprise move by the Wild) and saved them the need to trade away assets for him.
7. Andrei Nazarov (1st Round 1992, 10th Overall)
At 6-foot-5 and 230 lbs, Nazarov was an imposing figure. He was a hard-nosed player who finished his 571-game NHL career with 11 times more PIMs than points. He played 169 games with the Sharks, so this wasn’t a total loss, but after those games, the Sharks traded him to the Tampa Bay Lightning with the rights to swap first-round picks in 1998 for Bryan Marchment and David Shaw.
Marchment for Nazarov was fine, they were similar players and Marchment played 334 games for the team and became an assistant captain. Shaw never played a game for the Sharks. What about those 1st-round picks? Well, the Lightning got Vincent Lecavalier who was their captain when they won the Stanley Cup in 2004, and the Sharks got a very good, but not quite as impressive Brad Stuart.
The real problem with this pick, though, was that the Sharks could have had Sergei Gonchar. Gonchar earned many accolades, including scoring the most goals in the NHL by a defenseman (2001-02, 2002-03), most playoff goals by a defenseman (1998), most points by a defenseman ( 2001-02, 2003-04), and of course winning the Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009.
He’s another Stanley Cup winner that the Sharks passed on. Not only did they miss Gonchar, but they botched the trade involving Nazarov. Had they not made the trade, perhaps they would have picked Lecavalier. I think the Sharks would have been a pretty scary team in the mid-2000s with Gonchar and Lecavalier on the team.
6. Mirco Mueller (1st Round 2013, 18th Overall)
The 25-year-old Mueller is still playing in the NHL, but he might not be for long. In 185 games, he has 28 points and is a minus-25. According to Evolving Hockey, he was 241st in expected wins above replacement (xWAR) in 2019-20. For those unfamiliar, xWAR is a complex metric that takes into account unblocked shot attempts for and against per 60 minutes, expected goals for and against while a player is on the ice, and shot attempt quality for and against while the player is on the ice, all while controlling for the goaltending for and against while the player is on the ice).
Mueller’s rank of 241 would put him just outside the 192 regular defensemen assuming each team is dressing 6 per night, which is most common, and including the Seattle Kraken as the 32nd team. Even if you add another 2 defensemen per team for a total of 34, Mueller’s rank would still be 5 over that. Mueller will be out of a job very soon unless he somehow becomes a much better player.
What makes the Mueller pick even worse is that the Sharks traded the 20th and 58th-overall picks to the Detroit Red Wings to move up two spots to nab Mueller at 18th. Who did the Red Wings take with those two picks? Anthony Mantha and Tyler Bertuzzi.
Both players are in the NHL and according to that same xWAR model, Mantha is 86th, between Steven Stamkos and Brayden Schenn, while Bertuzzi is 114th, ahead of Alex DeBrincat and Dylan Larkin. Instead of Bertuzzi, the Sharks could have taken Shea Theodore at 26th overall. All-in-all, this was a bad pick that the Sharks made worse by trading a pick that could have become a useful forward.
5. Ty Wishart (1st Round 2006, 16th Overall)
The 6-foot-4, left-handed defenseman never took to the NHL, as evidenced by his 26 games played. He never suited up for the Sharks, so in some ways, they got out from under this bad pick by shipping him to the Lightning. The Sharks received Dan Boyle and Brad Lukowich in return for Wishart, Matt Carle, a 2009 1st-round pick (Kyle Palmieri), and a 2010 4th-round pick who never played in the NHL. Lukowich played one season for the Sharks and didn’t do much. Not many defensemen can do this:
Boyle was a fantastic player and a fan favorite in San Jose, who still lives in the Bay Area. This seems like a win for the Sharks, even if they gave up two pretty good players. It hurts that the Sharks could have drafted Trevor Lewis, Claude Giroux, Semyon Varlamov, or Nick Foligno with the pick they used on Wishart. That’s why this pick is so high, despite salvaging some value.
4. Lukas Kaspar (1st Round 2004, 22nd Overall)
This pick was a total whiff. Kaspar only played in 16 NHL games. The Czech left-winger returned to Europe after not making an impact in the NHL and had a good career in the Finnish SM-liiga and KHL. As of this writing, he is still playing professional hockey.
The Sharks made up for this pick slightly by drafting Thomas Greiss and Torrey Mitchell in the 3rd and 4th rounds, respectively. However, by taking Kaspar, the Sharks passed on Cory Schneider, Alex Edler, Mike Green, Alex Goligoski, Dave Bolland, Bryan Bickell, and Blake Comeau, all in the 1st round. Any of those players would have made a huge impact for the Sharks, and since they got nothing out of this pick, it sits outside of the worst three draft picks.
3. Nick Petrecki (1st Round 2007, 28th Overall)
The left-handed defenseman only played one NHL game. The big-bodied rearguard seemed to be a better fit for the AHL. The reason this pick is among the worst is that the Sharks basically got nothing for it.
One NHL game is essentially equivalent to zero, and to make matters worse, they could have had PK Subban, Wayne Simmonds, or Jamie Benn (who went 129th overall). A terrible waste of a 1st-round pick, but not as bad as the worst two.
2. Mike Morris (1st Round 2002, 27th Overall)
Like Wishart, Morris never played a game in the NHL. In fact, he only managed 26 AHL games after his four years at Northeastern University before he called it a career. At 27th overall, it may not seem that early a pick, but 2002 had some great players the Sharks missed out on by wasting this one on Morris, namely Duncan Keith, Jiri Hudler, Johnny Boychuk, and Frans Nielsen.
The Sharks had two picks that they could have used on Keith. I can’t get the dreamy image of Keith in a Sharks uniform hoisting the Stanley Cup out of my head. Instead, the Sharks have yet to win the Cup, and this pick didn’t help their cause.
1. Teemu Riihijarvi (1st Round 1995, 12th)
The 6-foot-6 right-winger never crossed the Atlantic to play in North America. He did enjoy a long professional career spanning 12 seasons but topped out at 18 points in 50 games for SaiPa Lappeenranta of the SM-liiga in Finland. What really makes this pick exceptionally egregious is that the Sharks could have had JS Giguere, Petr Sykora, or Brian Boucher.
Perhaps they were hoping Jarome Iginla would fall to them at 12th and panicked when he was selected right before they were on the clock. A franchise Stanley Cup-winning goalie or a two-time Stanley Cup champion left-winger, either would have been nice, instead they got zero NHL games and a total bust.
Lessons to Be Learned
I hope the Sharks have learned the lesson that they don’t need to use high draft picks on big, bruising defensemen, as many of them don’t pan out. You also might have noticed, no bad goalie picks mentioned. This is because the Sharks have NEVER used a 1st or 2nd-round pick on a goalie. They might want to consider drafting netminders a bit earlier if they want to improve their chances of picking a good one.
Related: 2007 NHL Draft – 5 Forgotten Picks
Finally, if the Sharks want to move up a couple of draft picks in the 1st round, they shouldn’t pay with a 2nd-round pick, as they often turn into really good, sometimes great, NHL players. On the positive side, they have salvaged assets when they did make a bad selection, instead of waiting for their trade stock to hit zero. They should continue to do that. It will be worth revisiting these picks in another 5-10 years to see how they stack up to future picks.
Victor Nuño is a physician in private practice in Santa Cruz and an associate professor of osteopathic manipulative medicine at Touro University in California. He is an avid hockey fan ever since the San Jose Sharks joined the NHL in 1991. He plays, watches, and consumes everything related to hockey, but especially the Sharks and AHL affiliate Barracuda. In addition, he is a father to two beautiful young girls and husband to a wonderful wife. Follow me @VictorNuno12