This article was originally written in June, 2014 and updated in May, 2020.
The Atlanta Thrashers had a brief, disappointing tenure in the NHL. The main reason they failed was their abysmal performance at the draft table. The Thrashers and general manager Don Waddell had an awful time scouting and selecting players from the junior ranks and never developed anything resembling meaningful organizational depth.
That was never more evident than in the Winnipeg Jets’ early seasons, when their cupboard was completely bereft of any viable prospects.
Despite having nine top-10 selections and two first-overall picks, the Thrashers made the playoffs just once and finished above .500 only twice.
Thankfully for the Jets, GM Kevin Cheveldayoff is a wizard at the draft table. Since the Thrashers relocated to Winnipeg, he has made many deft selections in the first round and in late rounds as well. The core of the team is now made up largely of home grown talent such as Kyle Connor, Nikolaj Ehlers, Connor Hellebyuck, Patrik Laine, Josh Morrissey, and Mark Scheifele.
However, getting to that point took nine years due to the Thrashers’ overall incompetence. Here are the five biggest draft busts in Thrashers history.
Patrik Stefan — First Overall, 1999
The Thrashers’ first-ever draft pick turned out to be a major flop, one of the worst first-overall selections of all time, and a sign of things to come for the team. 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, but quickly found out he wasn’t ready for the NHL.
In his first season, the centre appeared in 72 games, tallying five goals and 20 assists. In 2001-02, he improved his point total to 31, but in 2002-03, he recorded just 23. He had his best statistical season in 2003-04, when he registered 14 goals and 26 assists for 40 points while playing all 82 games.
After the 2004-05 lockout and subpar 24-point 2005-06 campaign, the Thrashers traded Stefan to the Dallas Stars for Niko Kapanen and a 2006 seventh-round pick. His final totals for the Thrashers: 414 games, 59 goals, 118 assists and a minus-41 rating.
Stefan’s 41-game stint with the Stars in 2006-07 is rightly most remembered for the embarrassing moment below, in which he missed an empty-net gimme against the Edmonton Oilers that resulted in Ales Hemsky scoring the game-tying goal with just two seconds left.
What a fitting play to cap off an inglorious and wholly underwhelming career.
Boris Valabik — 10th Overall, 2004
The Thrashers were lacking defensive depth and they thought Boris Valabik would be an anchor on the blue line for many seasons. Instead, they got a player who only played 80 NHL games who recorded more fights (12) than points (zero goals and seven assists) in his 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-foot-7 and weighing in at 245 pounds. He also carried a mean disposition on the ice as he wasn’t afraid to drop the gloves with anybody, piling up a whopping 725 penalty minutes in 163 games over three seasons in Kitchener.
Unlike Chara — who has played in more than 1500 NHL games and is still active at the age of 43 — Valabik was tall and that’s all. His main issue was his mobility or lack thereof. He was constantly beaten by speedy forwards going to the net and resembled a massive pylon that was manoeuvred around by speedy Ferraris on a track.
Valabik played seven games for the Thrashers in 2007-08, 50 in 2008-09, and 23 in 2009-10. His career highlight came in December, 2008 when he fought Chara what must be one of the tallest tussles of all time.
Valabik was traded to the Boston Bruins in 2011 along with Rich Peverley for Blake Wheeler and Mark Stuart but did not appear in a single game for the Bruins. He last played in 2016-17 for Lustenau EHC of the Alps Hockey League.
Grant Lewis — 40th Overall, 2004
The 2004 Draft wasn’t very kind to the Thrashers. They continued attempting to improve their blue line in the draft but failed in the second round as well.
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 three 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.
He only managed one 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 hurt his game as teams adjusted and cut off passing lanes when Lewis had the puck in the offensive zone. Lewis was called up to the big club in the 2008-09 season, where he appeared in his first and only NHL game on March 3, 2009 in a 4-3 loss to the Florida Panthers.
Lewis was traded to the Nashville Predators prior to the 2010-11 season for Ian McKenzie. After one year with the Admirals, Lewis signed with the KHL’s Poprad Lev. He last played in 2015-16 for the Austrian League’s Linz HC.
Alex Bourret — 16th Overall, 2005
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 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.
After he was drafted and sent back to junior, he decided he wanted to play closer to his Drummondville, Quebec hometown. He requested a trade and was dealt to the Shawinigan Cataractes. Bourret put up eye-popping offensive numbers in his lone season with the Cataractes, registering 44 goals and 70 assists for 114 in 67 games.
“Bourret is a strong skater, who combines skill with physical play, and is a tireless worker. Beyond his offensive ability, the most dominant aspect of Bourret’s game is his physical play. He is more than willing to get his nose dirty, and stick up for his teammates,” Hockey’s Future noted. “If Bourret can become a consistent player, he has the potential to be a top-line forward.”A Hockey’s Future talent analysis report on Bourret
That potential was not realized. He went pro prior to the 2006-07 season, but didn’t make the big club. After a short stint with the Wolves, Bourret was traded to the New York Rangers in exchange for Pascal Dupuis and a third-round pick in the 2007 draft. After spending two seasons with the Hartford Wolf Pack, he was traded to the Phoenix Coyotes in 2008 and played for the San Antonio Rampage in 2008-09.
Bourret never appeared in an NHL game. He last played professionally in 2014-15 for the ECHL’s Wichita Thunder. He suited up for various squads in the Ligue Nord-Américaine de Hockey — a Quebec-based semi-pro league — through 2018.
Daultan Leveille — 29th Overall, 2008
The Thrashers had two first-round selections in the 2008 draft. They chose Zach Bogosian third overall and he played 393 games with the Thrashers/Jets franchise through 2016, when he was traded to the Buffalo Sabres.
The second first-rounder didn’t play a single game in the NHL.
Leveille made history by being the first player ever 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 OHL’s Ottawa 67s, but decided to play for his hometown 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. His speed was a major reason why scouts were keen on making him a first round selection. In fact, he was touted by Hockey’s Future as a “perhaps the fastest in the 2008 draft class” and possessing “solid puck skills and offensive instincts.”
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 Thrashers moved to Winnipeg, Leveille was still without a contract. The Jets decided not to sign him, making him an unrestricted free agent.
Leveille last played with the ECHL’s Brampton Beast in 2016-17. He is now a firefighter and psychotherapist, according to his personal Twitter account.
Dishonourable mentions: Luke Sellars (30th overall, 1999,) Riley Holzapfel (43rd overall, 2006,) Carl Klingberg (34th overall, 2009.)