Since the NHL Entry Draft began in 1963, the first overall pick has been a privilege and an honour to hold. But, with that came enormous pressure and expectations. If your team had the ability to choose from any player in the world not yet in the NHL, you would expect to be able to get a guy who will come in and make a tremendous difference to your team, become a franchise player, and hopefully lead your team to a Stanley Cup. Of course many all time great have been chosen first overall and gone on to win Stanley Cups and even be inducted to the Hockey Hall of Fame. However, some teams became a mixture of being unlucky and also perhaps not doing enough extensive research.
There have been a total of 51 first overall draft picks in NHL history. 39 Canadians, 6 Americans, 3 Russians, 2 Czechs and 1 Swede have held this honour. 14 of those have gone on to capture the coveted Stanley Cup in their career. 7 of them are now members of the Hockey Hall of Fame. About 25 of them could now be considered among some of the all-time greats. Oh, wait. What’s that? Three first overall picks went on to never even play an NHL game? Well… that must be quite embarrassing for those teams. Selecting what was supposed to be the best available player in the world, yet they could never even play a single game in their career? It can’t possibly get any worse than that. And here they are:
Claude Gauthier- Detroit Red Wings – 1964
0 NHL games played.
Andre Veilleux- New York Rangers – 1965
0 NHL games played.
Rick Pagnutti- Los Angeles Kings – 1967
0 NHL games played
Who knows what was up in the 1964-1967 time period that made teams choose players who could never even play a game. Perhaps, in the first few years of the Entry Draft’s history, there was not enough information available to make a wise pick, because you simply didn’t know much at all about these players. So, for that reason, the Worst First Overall Picks in NHL History will not include the first five years in the draft’s history.
Now, on to the real list of the Worst First Overall Picks in NHL History. In this list are players who were expected to become the face of their franchise. Guys who were supposed to turn the team around from worst to best. Guys who could never come close to actually doing that.
5: Alexandre Daigle- Ottawa Senators – 1993
616 games, 327 points, 0 Stanley Cups
First, have a listen to what the experts were predicting Daigle to become when he was selected first overall… try not to laugh.
You laughed, didn’t you? Sure, at the time Dangle was expected to be great, just like every single first overall pick is, but you’ve got to wonder what made the supposed masters of hockey think that this guy was going to be the next Jeremy Roenick, or Joe Sakic. Or, what made his development go so terribly wrong. His career consisted of playing for the Ottawa Senators, Philadelphia Flyers, Tampa Bay Lightning, New York Rangers, Pittsburgh Penguins, and Minnesota Wild. So hey, at least he got to see the some great cities in his career. He never amassed more than 51 points in his career, and his career high in goals was 26. All in all, he turned out to be a second line player at best for a couple of seasons. So, what went wrong? Well, maybe it was the NHL’s fault for placing a lockout on the 1994-95 season, only allowing 48 regular season games to be played.. After the draft he went straight to Ottawa. In 1993-94 he put up 20 goals and a career high 51 points. Then,because of the lockout, he was sent back down to the QMJHL for the start of the next season, and only played 47 games in the NHL that year. Perhaps this short period of time playing the junior style and skill after a pretty good rookie season led to Daigle’s demise. All we know for sure is, Alexandre Dangle did not turn out to be the next Joe Sakic, or anywhere near him for that matter.
4: Brian Lawton- Minnesota North Stars – 1983
483 games, 266 points, 0 Stanley Cups
Brian Lawton is one guy almost everyone knows. Not for his NHL career though, that’s for sure. Sure, those who knew Lawton during his playing tim knew him as the absolute bust. Younger folks now, know him as the guy who ran a pretty decent sports agency, representing players like Mike Modano, Sergei Federov, and Steve Yzerman. After being an agent, he was also the General Manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning for three seasons, from 2008-2010. However, what was initially supposed to his career, turned south in a hurry. Although Lawton was in the NHL for 12 years, he averaged only 40 game per year. His career high in points was a lacklustre 44. The most goals he scored in a season was 21. Those are not the numbers the Minnesota North Stars were expected to get when they chose Lawton. Unbelievably, he was chosen over Cam Neely, Steve Yzerman, Tom Barasso, and Pat LaFontaine. Brian Lawton has stints for six NHL teams including the Minnesota North Stars, New York Rangers, Hartford Whalers, Quebec Nordiques, Boston Bruins, and San Jose Sharks. The only positive in Lawton’s career in the NHL has been that it gave him the opportunity for work after his playing career.
3: Patrik Stefan- Atlanta Thrashers – 1999
455 games, 188 points, 0 Stanley Cups
Take a look a look at Patrik Stefan’s proudest moment in his NHL career, probably the only moment he wants to remember.
The Atlanta Thrashers began their time in the NHL with a bang, being awarded the first overall pick. Unfortunately, the choose the wrong guy. With both Henrik and Daniel Sedin available, GM Don Waddell and company simply picked wrong. Arguably, the demise of the Atlanta Thrashers franchise began before they had even played their first game. Patrick Stefan went on to play six NHL seasons, with his career highs coming in 2003-04 with 14 goals and 40 points. Stefan had turned into a third line player. Stefan retired in 2007 when a hip injury had plagued him for far too long. One of the large reasons Stefan never turned out was that he seemingly always had nagging injuries holding him back. To make it all worse, both Patrik Stefan and the Atlanta Thrashers organization are gone now, while the second and third overall picks of the 1999 draft are still leading their team to success in 2014-15. The only memorable moment in Stefan’s career was Draft Day. Oh, wait. No, no, that’s not right, he must have had another memorable moment. Let’s see…
2: Rick DiPietro- New York Islanders – 2000
318 games, 2.87 GAA, .902 SV%, 0 Stanley Cups
Probably the most infamous first overall pick in NHL history goes to Rick Dipietro and the New York Islanders. The extremely highly touted goaltender was the only guy GM Mike Mibury wanted in the draft, so much so that he saw it fit to trade Roberto Luongo away in order to allow DiPietro to be the only goalie the Islanders could rely on. However, DiPietro could never stay healthy which led to short and infuriating seasons. In 2006, the New York Islanders believed DiPietro was healthy and ready to take his role as one of the best goalies in the NHL. So, they signed him to, at the time, the longest contract in NHL history. 15 years at $67.5 million was the deal. To this day, it is known as the worst contract in NHL history. Rick DiPietro’s best season was in 2006-07, and it was a great season, unfortunately, it was the only one. He was 32-19-9 with a 2.58 GAA and a .919 save percentage. He took the Islanders to the playoffs, but were ousted by the Buffalo Sabres in the first round. All in all, when a franchise trades away it franchise goaltender to draft you first overall, they would expect more than 318 career games out of you.
1: Gord Kluzak- Boston Bruins – 1982
299 games, 123 points, 0 Stanley Cups
Gord Kluzak is one of the lesser heard of Draft busts, but he was certainly one of, if not the, worst first overall pick in NHL history. He only managed to play in four full NHL seasons, missing two full years due to injury and playing three, eight, and two games in his last three seasons, respectively. His 299 career NHL games are the least ever for a first overall draft pick, after 1967 of course. Instead of being known as one of the NHL’s best defenceman, he became more known for his fighting ability. Kluzak accumulated 541 penalty minutes in his brief NHL career. One positive is that after his career he was very successful, earning a degree in Economics and an MBA from Harvard. But, unfortunately for Kluzak, we’re discussing his hockey career, not his education. Good Kluzak went through an unbelievable 11 surgeries during his 9 years in the NHL. Kluzak was picked ahead of Hall of Famers and All-Time greats, Scott Stevens, Phil Housley, Dave Andreychuk, Pat Verbeek, and Doug Gilmour. What was going through Boston Bruins management in selecting Gord Kluzak, only they can tell, but they probably wouldn’t be too happy to reminisce of that day. And from the beatings Kluzak took, it is amazing his could earn his education after his NHL career.
All in all, there have been some downright horrible choices as the first overall pick in the NHL Entry Draft, but I don’t think there were any worse than these five. And, of course, the three who never even played an NHL game. It just goes to show, a player’s success in junior hockey does not mean it will translate over in the NHL game. Team management has to do extensive research and really get to know the player inside and out before they make a pick no one will ever forget. Also, if you’re taken first overall, first round, or anywhere in the draft, it does not mean you’ve made it. There is still years of hard work ahead before you pull the NHL jersey over your head.
Think there were worse first overall picks? Feel free to discuss in the comments below!
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