PensNation Spotlight: Looking Back At Worst Draft Picks Of The Metropolitan Division

By Larry Snyder

For the 30 teams in the National Hockey League, June’s Entry Draft allows them the opportunity to refresh their rosters. There are about 210 North American and European players selected through the process. The number fluctuates due to the addition or subtraction of compensatory picks by the league office.

The Pittsburgh Penguins acquired the Stanley Cup in part through their efforts in the draft. Marc-Andre Fleury, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, Derrick Pouliot, Olli Maatta, Bryan Rust, Tom Kuhnhackl, Scott Wilson. Oskar Sundqvist, and Matt Murray all came to the Black and Gold somewhere in Rounds 1-7. Prospects like Daniel Sprong, Dominik Simon, Tristan Jarry, and Josh Archibald seek their chance to be the roster when the team breaks training camp this fall.

However, just like the Steelers with running back Walter Abercrombie or defensive end Huey Richardson, and the Pirates with left-handed reliever Daniel Mosko or right-handed starter Bryan Bullington, not all picks come to fruition. Here is one writer’s review of the worst draft picks by the teams of the Metropolitan Division.

Pittsburgh Penguins: Most pundits like to point to the Pens taking center Angelo Esposito with the 20th pick overall in the first round of the 2007 draft. His lasting contribution was being part of the three-player package, along with Colby Armstrong and Erik Christensen, that went to the Atlanta Thrashers in 2008 for Marian Hossa and Pascal Dupuis. So, something good came from having Esposito in the organization.

My choice is another first round selection from the 1996 draft, the 23rd player taken overall, goaltender Craig Hiller. Pittsburgh hoped the 6-foot-1, 185-pound netminder would succeed Tom Barrasso between the pipes. This native of Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia was 9-18 for the Syracuse Crunch of the American Hockey League during the 1998-1999 campaign. A change of scenery the next season to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the AHL did not help as Hiller went 1-6-2 with a 4.15 goals-against-average. He floundered in the ECHL for four seasons with the Johnstown Chiefs, Charlotte Checkers, Toledo Storm, and Wheeling Nailers, amassing a record of 6-20-1. Next exit ramp on the hockey highway is a place known as obscurity.

Carolina Hurricanes: The Canes opted for Igor Knyazev with the 15th pick overall in the first round of the 2001 draft. The 6-foot, 185-pound defenseman never made it to the NHL. The native of Elektrostal, Russia spent two seasons in the AHL with the Lowell Lock Monsters and the Springfield Falcons respectively. Knyazev put up three goals and 11 assists in 140 contests. He returned to Russia for the 2004-2005 season and played for six different teams in the Russian Superleague (RSL), the Kontinental Hockey League, and Vysshaya Liga conferences before hanging up the skates in 2010-2011.

Columbus Blue Jackets: Another Russian for your consideration is Nikita Filatov, grabbed by the Jacks sixth overall in the opening round in 2008. The 6-foot, 190-pound left-wing played in eight match-ups in 2008-2009, 13 contests in 2009-2010, and 23 games during 2010-2011 campaign in Columbus. The forward from Moscow, Russia recorded six goals and seven assists for a whopping 13 points in 44 NHL meetings. His next address was the Ottawa Senators for the 2011-2012 season. Filatov collected one assist in nine contests for the Sens. He returned to Russia during that same season and played in the KHL through last season.

New Jersey Devils: The team that began as the Kansas City Scouts in 1974, went to Denver to become the Colorado Rockies in 1976 and landed in the Garden State in 1982, missed with Neil Brady, who was the third pick overall in the first round in 1986. The 6-foot-3, 205-pound center participated in a total of 29 NHL match-ups with the Devils from 1989-1990 to the 1991-1992 seasons. The Montreal, Quebec native put up two goals and four assists in a New Jersey sweater. His best season came with the Ottawa Senators during the 1992-1993 campaign when he had seven goals and 17 assists in 55 contests. Brady had a cup of coffee with the Dallas Stars for five meetings in 1993-1994.

New York Islanders: For the Isles, it is Kevin Cheveldayoff, who never played a minute in the NHL. The 6-foot, 202-pound defenseman was the 16th selection overall in the opening round of 1988. This sturdy member of the blue line crew from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan played his entire pro career in the AHL and International Hockey League with three different teams. Hopefully, Cheveldayoff will be better in the front office as he is the current general manager of the Winnipeg Jets.

New York Rangers: While left-wing Pavel Brendl in 1999, right-wing Hugh Jessiman in 2003, and defenseman Bobby Sanguinetti in 2006 are all legitimate contenders for the title of a total bust, you have to go with center Lee Falardeau taken with the third pick of the second round in 2002. The Blue Shirts did not own a first-round pick that year, so the pressure was on to get this selection right. The 6-foot-4, 215-pound center has yet to skate at Madison Square Garden. The forward from Midland Michigan, and who played his college hockey at Michigan State, has spent five seasons in the ECHL and just three at the AHL level. Falardeau may have to buy a ticket to see the ice at MSG.

Philadelphia Flyers: We need to steal a time machine to check the Orange and Black’s contribution to this dubious list. Bob Currier was a 6-foot-1, 175-pound right-wing from Cornwall, Ontario when he went as the sixth pick overall in round one of the 1969 draft. Over five seasons, Currier was with five different teams across the AHL, the Western Hockey League, and the Central Hockey League. He did not make it to Broad Street.

Washington Capitals: The Boys from the Beltway hold the honor of not getting it right with either of their two first-round draft picks of 2005. The Caps chose defenseman Sasha Pokulok with the 14th pick overall, and the 6-foot-5, 228-pound native of Vaudreuil-Dorion, Quebec never skated in the NHL. He has spent the last four seasons in the Ligue Nord-Américaine de Hockey (LNAH), a low-level professional league based in Quebec.

With the 27th selection overall in the opening round, Washington took another defenseman, Joe Finley. The 6-foot-7, 252-pound blueliner from Edina, Minnesota has played a total of 21 contests in the NHL. The University of North Dakota product appeared in five match-ups with the Buffalo Sabres during the 2011-2012 campaign and 16 meetings with the New York Islanders in 2012-2013. Zero games with the Capitals.

From YouTube.com – Esposito’s goal in a shoot-out drill during the Pittsburgh Penguins’ rookie conditioning camp in 2007…