Friday, July 23, 2021

Let’s painstakingly build the worst possible team-by-team first round in NHL draft history

Last year, in the aftermath of the 2020 draft, I took on a challenge from a reader. They wanted me to come up with the ultimate first round, one where I’d use one pick from each team to create the best possible list of 31 choices. I threw in a bunch of rules to make it overly complicated and got to work, and this was the final result.

People seemed to like it. We debated the picks in the comments, readers argued about which teams got shafted, and a few of you even tried to make your own version.

And then, as always, came the request: OK, now do the same thing but for the worst picks.

Yeah, I knew this was coming. So now, as we count down to the first round of the 2021 draft, that’s what we’re going to do. One full round of draft whiffs, one per team.

But first, a quick caveat. Sports fans love to talk about busts and wasted picks and sure-things who never made it. It’s part of being a fan. But before we dive into a full post of “bad” picks, let’s acknowledge that each of these guys was a dominant player as kid, sacrificed a ton growing up to chase a dream, and earned the right to be one of the first players to hear their name called in their draft year. The NHL is a hard league to succeed in, and circumstances will sometimes line up against you. That’s sports. But none of these guys were failures.

With that out of the way, here are the ground rules.

– We’re going to make 30 picks, and each player has to go in the exact draft slot they were picked in. We get to use one and only one pick per team. We’ll cover the entry draft era, meaning we’re going back to 1979.

– Yes, I said 30 picks and not 31. As much as it annoys the completionist in me, I’m excluding Vegas here, for a simple reason: They haven’t been around long enough to have a truly bad pick. They had three in 2017, and all three are on track to be good-to-great NHL players. And they’ve only had two other first-round picks in franchise history, both in the last two years, which is far too little time to cast judgment. I don’t want to include someone just for the sake of it, so Vegas is out.

– We’re looking for picks from current teams only, meaning no picks from the Nordiques, Whalers, Scouts or whoever else. But the Jets are the Jets, so Winnipeg can use either version of the team.

– As with last time, we’ll have a position limit to hit. You told me I had too many forwards last year, so we’ll adjust that a bit and aim to pick at least 15 forwards, at least 10 defensemen, and at least four goalies.

– Finally, two more rules just to make this even more complicated. First, everyone we pick has to have at least made the NHL, because it’s only fun to remember some guys when there’s at least a small chance you’ll actually remember them. And second, each of our picks has to have actually been a first-rounder – we can’t use a 25th overall pick from the 1980s, because back then that was round two. This is really going to limit us the deeper we go, and I will probably hate myself for it.

Got it? Good, because we’ve got 30 picks, access to all of the entry draft era, and endless possibilities to build for the future. Let’s screw this up as badly as possibly with the worst first round we could have.

We’ll begin at the beginning, with the first overall pick, and it’s a tougher slot that you might think. There are plenty of players who are considered busts at number one, but most of them had better careers than you probably remember. Alexander Daigle wasn’t Chris Pronger, but he stuck around for about a decade and had over 100 goals. So did Doug Wickenheiser and Brian Lawton, even though they weren’t Denis Savard or Steve Yzerman.

The obvious choice is probably Patrik Stefan, but we can’t use him because he was a Thrashers pick and they’re not around anymore. That narrows us down to two real options: Gord Kluzak, a hard-nosed defenseman who went to Boston ahead of Scott Stevens and Phil Housley in 1982, or 2012 first pick Nail Yakupov. I’m a little hesitant to use an Oiler right off the bat, because man, that franchise has a ton of first-round misses we might need down the line. But I think a goal-scoring winger who only manages 62 before washing out of the league at 24 years old probably has to be our guy.

Pick #1: F Nail Yakupov, Edmonton Oilers, 2012

We don’t have a ton of candidates for our second pick, as it’s way too early to give up on guys like Nolan Patrick and Kaapo Kakko, and Pat Falloon was better than you think. San Jose’s Andrei Zyuzin gets a good look here, although the 1996 draft was so awful that I’m not actually convinced he was a bad pick. Luckily, there’s one name that stands out: Islanders’ winger Dave Chyzowski, who went second overall in 1989 but only managed 15 goals in a six-season NHL career.

Pick #2: F Dave Chyzowski, New York Islanders, 1989

The field starts to open up just a bit as we head to our next few picks. Neil Brady and Cam Barker get some serious consideration in the three-spot, Pavel Brendl and Wayne McBean make a case at number four, and Shawn Anderson and (maybe) Olli Juolevi are worth a look as a fifth pick. We do lose a strong candidate to our “no defunct teams” rule, as Quebec’s Daniel Dore can’t be our choice, which is a shame given the weird story of how they got that pick.

This is a little concerning: We’re already running into some players who are ruled out by our one-player-per-team rule, as the Yakupov pick means we can’t use Edmonton’s Jason Bonsignore (#4 in 1994) and Chyzowski costs us Michael Dal Colle (#5 in 2014). And if that isn’t enough of a bummer for Oiler and Islander fans, let’s hit them with a double-whammy by mentioning Griffin Reinhart (#4 in 2012).

But even without New York or Edmonton, we can still find some strong candidates for our next three picks. We’ll even have a theme, albeit an accidental one, as we focus on Russian forwards.

Pick #3: F Alexander Svitov, Tampa Bay Lightning, 2001

Pick #4: F Alexander Volchkov, Washington Capitals, 1994

Pick #5: F Stanislav Chistov, Anaheim Ducks, 2001

Yikes, that 2001 draft was a mess. In case you’re wondering, Chistov’s 19 career goals leads this group, ahead of Svitov’s 13 and, uh, nothing at all from Volchkov, who played just three NHL games.

We’re five picks in and we’ve gone with forwards each time. (That’s what the “F” next to each guy means, by the way, although you’d be forgiven for assuming they were Pronman’s draft grades.) That many forwards is far from a disaster, since we’ve got 25 picks to catch up on our position requirements, but we should probably start building out the back end. We’ll start with our first goalie.

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