It seems like just yesterday Alexander Ovechkin was celebrating the Washington Capitals’ first-ever Stanley Cup championship in a fountain at the Georgetown Waterfront, but with the season officially behind us, all eyes turn to the 2018 National Hockey League Draft this week in Dallas. It marks the 56th time the league’s franchises will get together to select from a pool of the best prospects and while we await to see who will be selected with the No. 1 overall pick, defenseman Rasmus Dahlin or right winger Andrei Svechnikov, it’s always fun to revisit their predecessors – especially the busts.
Over more than five decades, there have been some extremely talented players selected with the first pick in the draft – names synonymous with professional hockey. Who can forget Guy Lafleur being selected by Montreal in 1971, Mike Modano being selected by Dallas in 1988, or Sidney Crosby being selected by Pittsburgh in 2005? But for every No. 1 selection that turns into a Hall of Fame talent, there’s another player that becomes a massive bust and has long since been forgotten. As we patiently wait to hear the Buffalo Sabres announce the first name on Friday night, here are several players that just never really lived up to the potential – or simply had a solid career not worthy of No. 1 praise.
ALEXANDER DAIGLE – OTTAWA SENATORS (1993)
When it comes to No. 1 busts, Daigle might be the name that comes up more often than anyone. Poised to be a superstar for the Ottawa Senators, a team entering just its second season, Daigle was highly coveted around the league. The Senators were accused of tanking to land the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League center, so the following year the NHL introduced the draft lottery, which is still in place today. To put Daigle’s talent into perspective, the Quebec native tallied 247 points in 119 games at juniors prior to the draft.
Ottawa really put all of its trust in the youngster, signing Daigle to a humongous – for the time – five-year, $12 million contract before he had even played a game for the team. By the end of that contract, one in which Daigle failed to produce more than 26 goals or 51 points in a season, the Senators traded No. 91 to Philadelphia in exchange for two average players and a second round pick. What’s even worse is that three out of the next four picks had Hall of Fame careers – Chris Pronger, Paul Kariya and Rob Neidermayer.
GREG JOLY – WASHINGTON CAPITALS (1974)
For the Washington Capitals, 1974 was an abysmal season – one of the worst in NHL history – and to make matters worse, the expansion team’s No. 1 overall pick turned out to be a bust. Chosen three picks ahead of future Hall of Famer Clark Gillies, Joly had a productive start as a prospect in the Western Hockey League, earning 93 points to go along with 103 penalty minutes. Joly was brought in to add toughness and scoring to the blue line but the team was so pathetic he really made little difference. In his rookie season, Joly finished a minus-69, which was second worst on the team and, after that, he managed to bounce between the Capitals and the American Hockey League affiliate.
In his third season in Washington, Joly was traded to Detroit. He went on to play nine seasons at the NHL level, totaling 21 goals and 97 points over 365 games – playing decent defense along the way. Not a great way for an expansion franchise to start, though I don’t think Washington fans care right now.
PATRIK STEFAN – ATLANTA THRASHERS (1999)
Taken right ahead of both Daniel and Henrik Sedin, Stefan was a highly-touted prospect who played in the Czech Republic, though he didn’t seem to have quite the resume of a classic first overall selection, however that didn’t stop the Thrashers. An expansion team – Atlanta’s second NHL franchise – the Thrashers put complete faith in Stefan – and man, did it ever backfire. But many forget, Atlanta actually had the second pick in the draft but traded it to Vancouver, who had its sights set on the Sedin twins.
Stefan’s first season in Atlanta was abysmal, producing just five goals and 20 assists in 72 games and things didn’t get much better. By his third year in Atlanta, Stefan was already spending some time in the AHL and he’d never put up more than 40 points at the hockey’s highest level. Stefan spent seven seasons in the NHL, finishing up in Dallas, before disappearing to National League A in Switzerland. With very few memorable moments, it’s a missed empty net goal – and subsequent goal by the opposition – that have sealed No. 27’s legacy. See for yourself:
BRYAN BERARD – OTTAWA SENATORS (1995)
Before you stop us and try and validate Berard’s career, he was a decent NHL defenseman for many seasons but he never lived up to the crazy hype of a No. 1 overall pick. The buzz surrounding Berard leading up to draft day was off the charts – he was pegged as the next great defenseman. Berard had spent two years in the Ontario Hockey League where he dazzled with 164 points in 114 games, so it was a no-brainer why Ottawa would choose him first overall. But, after being reassigned back to juniors and concerns at the franchise’s direction – this was just a couple years removed from Daigle, keep in mind – Berard requested a trade. He was then sent to the New York Islanders, along with Martin Straka, for Wade Redden and Damian Rhodes.
In his first season, Berard impressed with stellar defense and 48 points, earning him the NHL’s Calder Trophy, as the top rookie and subsequently earned a trip to the 1998 Winter Olympics. The Rhode Island native followed it up the next season with another strong performance but, in 2000, Berard was hit in the eye with a stick by Senators forward Marian Hossa and he eventually lost the majority of sight in that eye. While he would return to the NHL after being told he’d probably never play again – and earn the Bill Masterson Memorial Trophy as the player that exemplifies perseverance – it was clear he was just a serviceable defenseman at this point. His career would then be tarnished in 2006 when Berard tested positive for steroids, earning him a two-year ban from international play. He played 10 seasons in the NHL and although he might be the best of the crop on this list, he never truly lived up to the hype.
RICK DIPIETRO – NEW YORK ISLANDERS (2000)
When the Islanders, a franchise that failed to make the postseason for the last five seasons, elected to take DiPietro, it was kind of a head-scratcher. Before the selection, the Islanders had an up-and-coming netminder in place by the name of Roberto Luongo and many thought he was to be the cornerstone of the team. Not so much. Luongo was shipped off, along with Ollie Jokinen, to Florida for Mark Parrish and Oleg Kvasha, in a trade that remains among the worst to ever, and DiPietro was selected. The next two picks were Dany Heatley to Atlanta and Marian Gaborik to Minnesota, to add to the disappointment.
Almost immediately, the train derailed for the Massachusetts native and the Islanders, as DiPietro couldn’t stay healthy. Then, in 2006, after putting together impressive back-to-back seasons, New York signed him to a whopping 15-year, $67.5 million contract – an unheard of deal that ultimately led to a buyout. In 11 NHL seasons, DiPietro played in just 318 games, finishing with a 2.87 goals-against average and 16 shutouts. The Islanders will continue to pay the current radio host $1.5 million a year until 2029 – a joke around the league every time he gets his check.