This article was originally written in June, 2014.
The Atlanta Thrashers had a brief, disappointing tenure in the NHL. The main reason why the Thrashers failed was their poor performance at the draft table. The Thrashers had an awful time selecting and scouting players in the junior ranks, which greatly affected their performance on the ice. The bad drafting led to poor attendance, which led to the franchise moving to Winnipeg to become the Winnipeg Jets.
The Jets haven’t made the playoffs since the franchise arrived from Dixie, largely due to the weak draft classes the Thrashers produced. Here are the five biggest draft busts in Thrashers history.
Patrik Stefan (1st overall, 1999 draft)
The Thrashers first ever draft pick turned out to be a major flop, and a sign of things to come for the Thrashers. The Czech Republic native showed signs of promise when he was with the Long Beach Ice Dogs of the IHL, despite being a teenager playing against men. The Thrashers took a chance with Stefan’s potential, and selected him first overall at the draft. They quickly found out Stefan wasn’t ready for the NHL.
In his first season, Stefan appeared in 72 games, tallying a mere 5 goals and 20 assists. Stefan continued to struggle with the big club, and was eventually assigned to the Chicago Wolves of the AHL during the 2001-02 season. His best year came in the 2003-04 season, when he registered 14 goals and 26 assists, while playing all 82 games.
Stefan was traded to the Dallas Stars just after the lockout that wiped out the 2004-05 season. His tenure with the Stars was best remembered for this embarrassing empty net miss against the Edmonton Oilers. That play is probably the signature moment of Stefan’s inglorious career.
Boris Valabik (10th overall, 2004 draft)
— Kris Walleyn (@GladiatorKris) June 16, 2014
The Thrashers were lacking defensive depth in their first few years and they thought that Boris Valabik would be an anchor on the blue line for many years. Instead, they got a player who only played 7 games in his NHL career.
The Slovakian native, who idolized Zdeno Chara, came to North America as a 17-year-old, playing junior hockey with the Kitchener Rangers of the OHL. Valabik was an imposing presence, standing 6’7 and weighing 245 pounds, Valabik also carried a mean disposition on the ice as he wasn’t afraid to drop the gloves with anybody.
The issue with Valabik was his mobility, or his lack of mobility. Valabik couldn’t out skate an atom age player, and was constantly beat by speedy wingers going to the net. He resembled a massive pylon that was manoeuvred around by speedy Ferraris on the track.
Valabik was traded to the Boston Bruins in 2011 along with Rich Peverley for Blake Wheeler and Mark Stuart. He shortly disappeared soon after, without appearing in a single game for the Bruins.
Atlanta Thrashers Selected Grant Lewis (40th overall, 2004 draft)
The 2004 draft wasn’t very kind to the Thrashers. The Thrashers continued attempts to improve their blue line in the draft failed in the second round as well.
Grant Lewis was a lanky defenceman, who played his collegiate hockey at Dartmouth University. The native of Upper Saint Clair, Pennsylvania, was drafted in the second round by the Thrashers, after a solid freshman season with the Big Green.
A stay-at-home defenceman, Lewis tallied 3 goals and 22 assists in his freshman season, and started to show some offensive upside in his sophomore and junior seasons. However, his senior season showed regression in his play.
Lewis only managed 1 goal and 14 assists while battling an ankle injury. Following his tenure at Dartmouth, Lewis joined the Thrashers AHL affiliate, the Chicago Wolves in the 2007-08 season. While solid defensively, Lewis struggled to find offence from the blue line.
A weak slap shot really hurt his game as teams adjusted and cut off passing lanes when Lewis had the puck inside the blue line. Lewis was called up to the big club in the 2008-09 season where he appeared in one game for the Atlanta Thrashers.
He was quickly sent back down to the Wolves immediately after. Lewis was traded to the Nashville Predators prior to the 2010-11 season for prospect Ian McKenzie.
After one year with the Milwaukee Admirals of the AHL, Lewis bolted to Europe, as he signed with Lev Poprad of the KHL. Currently, Lewis is playing for EHC Munchen of the Deutsche Eishockey Liga.
Alex Bourret (16th overall, 2005 draft)
Hey remember when the #Thrashers had the #8 pick in the 2005 draft & traded down twice to take Alex Bourret, passing on Anze Kopitar?
— laura taylor (@soundbylaura) June 14, 2014
When the Thrashers selected Alex Bourret in the first round of the 2005 entry draft, they thought they were getting a future power forward.
The popular Lewiston Maineiacs right winger enjoyed a fine season in his draft eligible year, recording 31 goals and 55 assists while spending 172 minutes in the penalty box with the QMJHL club. But problems arose after he was drafted.
After being sent down to junior to hone his game, Bourret asked for a trade from his junior club. His request was granted as the Drummondville, Quebec native was dealt to the Shawinigan Cataractes. Bourret put up his best offensive numbers with Shawinigan, registering 44 goals and 70 assists in 67 games.
Bourret joined the Thrashers prior to the 2006-07 season, where he didn’t impress anyone at training camp with his poor play. After a short stint with the Chicago Wolves of the AHL, Bourret was traded to the New York Rangers in exchange for Pascal Dupuis and a third round pick in the 2007 entry draft.
Bourret is currently playing for the Wichita Thunder of the CHL. He has yet to appear in an NHL game.
Daultan Leveille (29th overall, 2008 draft)
The Thrashers had two first round selections in the 2008 draft. Zach Bogosian was taken third overall and is still with the franchise. The second first round pick didn’t work out so well.
Daultan Leveille made history by being the first player in history to be drafted in the first round out of the Junior B level. The St. Catharines, Ontario native had an opportunity to play for the Ottawa 67s of the OHL, but decided to play for his hometown St. Catharines Falcons of the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League.
Leveille put up decent numbers for the Falcons, netting 29 goals and 27 assists in his final season with his hometown club. His speed was a major reason why scouts were keen on making him a first round selection.
Leveille was offered a scholarship with Michigan State which he accepted after the draft. His game dropped off with the Spartans as his numbers steadily decreased over his four years with Michigan State.
When the Atlanta Thrashers moved to Winnipeg, Leveille was still without a contract. The Jets decided not to sign him, thus making Leveille an unrestricted free agent.
Daultan Leveille, ATL's first-round selection in 2008, signed w Evansville (ECHL) this week. He went 6-4-10 in 31 ECHL gms this past season.
— PATRICK WILLIAMS (@pwilliamsNHL) July 26, 2013
Leveille is currently with the Evansville IceMen of the ECHL and is not affiliated with any NHL club.