The NHL Draft always brings out excitement when it arrives. That’s because this is the place teams with high first-round picks are picking the player they hope becomes their next star. In many cases, this is true.
But today, we are not talking about the success stories. We’re going to go to the dark place and talk about the other side of holding a high draft pick. Just because a team holds a lottery pick in the draft doesn’t guarantee success.
The truth is that nothing is guaranteed. While higher draft picks have a better chance of becoming a high-impact player in the NHL, it’s not 100%. The dark reality actually happens more than we realize.
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Today, we are going to look at six prospects plus four honorable mentions who were taken in the first round of their draft who fell way short of expectations. While many players will fall short of expectations, these ten each stand out for one reason or another. First, we need to define our parameters for this exercise.
We will be looking at players who were drafted in the first round from 2010-2015. This would mark at least seven completed seasons since players were drafted which gives us enough of a sample to review. In almost every case, these prospects didn’t make it to 100 NHL games despite being a lottery pick. We’ll explain if a player falls outside of these parameters.
Related: 2022 NHL Draft Guide
Our hope for this piece is to show you that a high draft pick can either set you up for a decade or set you back a decade depending on what happens after their selection. We’ll also show you that drafting is still an inexact science that no one has the perfect solution for.
For each player we discuss, we’ll show you where they were drafted, some highlights on their scouting report, a summary of their career and then players who were drafted after them. While it’s fair to be excited for the draft, it’s also fair to be worried especially if your team misses their chance to land an impact player. So buyer beware. Let’s look at some recent first-round busts.
6 Recent First-Round Draft Busts
Drafted 4th overall by the New York Islanders in 2012.
Scouting report: “Reinhart continues to be a prospect that you wish just could be physical more often, and while that aspect of his game can be frustrating, he still has a number of tools which make him a high-end prospect. Reinhart has a very heavy point shot and makes good first passes while being equally effective in the offensive and defensive ends. Has a good feel for when to jump into the rush. Reinhart at times seems disinterested in the game and could benefit from showing more competitiveness and emotion in his game. He’s got all the tools to be a high-end NHL defenseman, but he needs to use them more consistently.” -Central Scouting
Draft hype: Scored 12 goals and 36 points to lead the Edmonton Oil Kings to a WHL championship. Was ranked 10th on Central Scouting’s final rankings in 2012.
Career summary: 37 NHL games, zero goals and two assists. Reinhart is best remembered for being the catalyst in a trade with the Edmonton Oilers to help them acquire two draft picks, a 2015 first rounder (Mat Barzal) and a 2015 second rounder (Mitchel Stephens.) He never found consistency with the Oilers and was left exposed to the Vegas Golden Knights in the 2017 Expansion Draft. The Golden Knights took him and was sent to the AHL. He hasn’t been in the NHL since.
Take: Oof. This is a classic case of a great junior player who could never translate to the next level. Credit to the Islanders for making the most out of this situation. At least this scouting report had some concern before the draft.
Players taken soon after: Morgan Rielly, Hampus Lindholm, Filip Forsberg.
Drafted 10th overall by the New York Rangers in 2010.
Scouting Report: “Big and mean, old-time typical NHL defenseman. He scares people not only with some frequent fights he might get in, but with 6-4, 212 lbs. straight ahead speed and offensive ability to match. Often, and in a very complimentary sense, makes puck carriers cut to the other side of the ice with his intimidating size.” -Central Scouting
Draft hype: McIlrath played in the CHL/NHL Top Prospects’ Game in 2010.
Career summary: 66 NHL games, three goals scored. He has spent most of his career in the AHL. He did make the Rangers’ roster in 2015 playing 34 games that season. But he was never able to consistently get back to the NHL since.
Take: The 2010 class of defensemen overall was not strong, but playing in just 66 NHL games while having the hype and being drafted 10th overall is a massive bust.
Players taken soon after: Cam Fowler, Vladimir Tarasenko, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Justin Faulk. Of note, John Klingberg and Mark Stone were late-round picks in 2010 also.
Drafted 11th overall by the Colorado Avalanche in 2011.
Scouting Report: “He’s a strong, smooth skater with good composure and very poised under pressure. He’s got good size and isn’t afraid to use it. Duncan isn’t overly offensive, but does play on the power play and moves the puck well. He gets shots through and is solid defensively, 1-on-1. There are a good line of top offensive forwards in the WHL this year, but Duncan still should go near the top 10 in the draft.” -Central Scouting
Draft hype: Won gold in the Hlinka tournament in 2010. Played in the CHL/NHL Top Prospects’ Game in 2011. Was rated the fourth best defenseman available in the 2011 draft.
Career summary: 20 NHL games, one goal scored. Siemans’ early career was bumpy thanks to a concussion he suffered in his D + 1 year. He was also stripped of the captaincy on his junior team the Saskatoon Blades at the start of their Memorial Cup hosting season. Siemans struggled with injury and consistency and recorded his only two NHL points in 2018. He last played hockey for the AHL Milwaukee Admirals in 2018-19.
Take: Defensemen can be tricky to project and Siemans’ career is one example why. Despite his tools, he never could get established in the NHL and was out of hockey within eight years.
Players taken soon after: J.T. Miller, Phillip Danault, Rickard Rakell.
Drafted 19th overall by the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2013.
Scouting report: “Rychel is a natural scorer with a fantastic shooting arsenal and is extremely opportunistic. He owns the size to play as a power forward but lacks the consistent physical aspect to be tagged as that type of player. He can stand to make better decisions with the puck as a passer but it is his scoring prowess that will carry Rychel to a first round selection.” -Dobber Prospects
Draft hype: Ranked 17th on the final Central Scouting rankings in 2013. He helped the Guleph Storm to an OHL title and trip to the Memorial Cup.
Career summary: 43 NHL games, three goals scored. Did you know one of his three goals was with the Montreal Canadiens? After being taken by the Columbus Blue Jackets 19th overall with the second of their three first-round picks, Much was expected from Rychel given his play in junior and NHL bloodlines. However he never could stand out and reportedly requested a trade out of Columbus due to his lack of NHL playing time. He got his wish after the 2016 Draft when he was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs in the Scott Harrington deal. He was traded two more times after this. He is now out of hockey.
Take: You get what you ask for, right? Rychel never figured things out and earned himself a fast pass out of the NHL. Just because you have the tools doesn’t mean success and there might not be a better recent example of that than Rychel. The reason he makes this list is most first rounders are not out of hockey this soon. Couple that with the trade request and you have a classic bust.
Players taken soon after: Anthony Mantha, Shea Theodore.
Drafted 22nd overall by the Calgary Flames in 2013.
Scouting report: “Poirier is a player who contributes in all areas of the rink – he scores, he defends, he hits, and he even drops the mitts. He is an intelligent forward with a complete understanding of the game making him extremely versatile. He possesses good top end speed but could stand to become more agile to better elude defenders. Poirier’s puck skills and vision are both advanced and make him an effective penalty killer. In 65 games with Gatineau, Poirier posted 32 goals and 70 points while racking up 101 penalty minutes.” – Dobber Prospects
Draft hype: Poirier exploded for 32 goals and 70 points in advance of his draft year. He was ranked 46th by Central Scouting on their final rankings. He was best known at the time for scoring highlight reel goals.
Career Summary: Played in just eight NHL games recording one assist in 2015. This was after having an even better year in junior after the draft scoring 43 goals and 87 points. He did have shoulder surgery after the 2013-14 season. Although he made it to the AHL All-Star after, he could never find consistency and was not tendered an offer by the Flames. He now plays overseas after not successfully landing an NHL deal.
Take: Poirier makes this list because he is the classic buyer beware situation. Yes the highlight reel looked real good. However there were concerns and was appropriately ranked by Central Scouting with those concerns in mind. Despite the ranking of 46th, Poirier went 22nd overall and he’s now out of the NHL. Author’s note: Poirier opened up about issues with alcohol abuse in 2017. This may have had a direct effect on his career.
Players taken soon after: Andre Burakovsky, Shea Theodore, Tristan Jarry.
Michael Dal Colle
Drafted 5th overall by the New York Islanders in 2014.
Scouting Report: “The 6-foot-2 forward is capable of playing both centre and the wing and possesses impressive puck protection skills and offensive zone creativity that project well on his ability to be a big-time producer at the next level…. his elusiveness, stickhandling ability, and long reach create matchup problems for any OHL defenseman.” -The Scouting Report
Draft hype: Dal Colle was ranked 5th on Central Scouting’s final rankings in 2014. He won a gold at the Hlinka tournament and was named to the OHL’s First All-Rookie Team in 2012-13. He eventually helped the Oshawa Generals to a win at the Memorial Cup.
Career summary: 112 NHL games played, eight goals scored. He was just re-signed by the Islanders and still could become a productive player. The reason he makes this list is because he played in just one game for the Islanders last season.
Take: When you are a top-five overall pick, much more is expected from you at this stage. While Dal Colle has time to get on a roll, it seems the hype of his draft year was vastly overvalued.
Players taken soon after: William Nylander, Nikolaj Ehlers, Dylan Larkin, David Pastrnak.
- Brandon Gormley: Played just 58 NHL games despite being drafted 13th overall by the Coyotes.
- Mark McNeill: Drafted 18th overall by the Chicago Blackhawks and appeared in just one NHL game while never making the team out of training camp.
- Julius Honka: Drafted 14th overall by the Dallas Stars in 2014 and is now in Sweden after not being able to stick in the NHL.
- Zach Senyshyn: The third of three straight Bruins’ first rounders in 2015. He has one goal in 16 career NHL games. He sticks out because of the next three players taken after him. Barzal, Kyle Connor, Thomas Chabot.
As you can see, there are several examples of draft busts with higher first-round picks. While they might have the same or even better tools than some of their peers, it’s still not a guarantee of future success.
So as we embark on the 2022 NHL Draft, teams in the top-20 better be on alert. There’s bound to be one or two players ranked highly by most of the scouting community but will fall short of what is expected. Most every draft has a recent example of this playing out.
That’s why every pick matters, no matter what round. McIlrath went 10th overall while Stone went 178th overall in the same draft year of 2010. Scouting is far from perfect. But those that make the fewest mistakes tend to be the best teams in the long run.
The NHL Draft is truly buyer beware. Spend your draft picks wisely. Otherwise, you might need a decade or more to recover.
I am a fully credentialed writer who covers the Columbus Blue Jackets, Cleveland Monsters and Erie Otters as well as the Ontario Hockey League and NHL Draft. The 2021-22 season will mark eight seasons with the Hockey Writers. I am also the site’s Credentials Manager.