NHL Draft Busts

By: Ryan Smithers

Imagine giving every last breath to a dream. A dream that soon becomes reality due to all your hard work and restless nights in the gym. You accomplish your goal of making it on the big stage with the bright lights and fans with high expectations, but it was all too much. You underestimate the amount of work needed to become respected in your league, and you fall into the deep, dark, “bust” abyss.

This happens to at least one upcoming pro athlete each year. They come out of college as a high-profile playmaker, being the top prospect out of hundreds in the draft class. Almost as soon as they begin their pro careers, they either substantially underperform or suffer from injuries that are too tough to overcome. Just like that, their careers are over. It’s called a “bust.”  

There can be busts in any of the four major pro-sports leagues, and though the situation may be amusing to the outside world, it can set the player and the organization who drafted them back years. For example, the Portland Trail Blazers drafted Greg Oden first overall in the 2007 NBA Draft. In his rookie season, Oden fractured his knee, which resulted in him being ruled out for the remainder of the season. He wasn’t the player the Trail Blazers expected coming out of college and ended up playing in the Chinese league by 2015. The Trail Blazers didn’t begin to recover until 2012, when they drafted Damian Lillard 10th overall. So what am I getting at here? Like I said, every league has their busts, but one league seems to produce more than the rest.

Through my knowledge, it SEEMS like the NHL (National Hockey League) has the most busts out of any sport. There’s no statistical evidence to prove that statement to be true, but the logical reasoning should be good enough.

Comparing each draft is really how you find your answer here. Obviously, none of this is possible without the draft, but the contents within make it different than the others. In the NHL, you only have to be 18 years of age to be eligible for the draft, while in other leagues, such as the NFL, you have to be out of high school for at least three years to become eligible. The NHL also extends throughout more than 17 countries, making it the most international sport out of the major four.

  • The NHL draft is the 3rd largest draft out of the four major sports leagues after the NFL and MLB. The NBA only has two rounds compared to the NHL’s seven and has about 200 less selections. It’s safe to rule out the NBA from the conversation because it’s easy to find the top 60 players from the NCAA. Every player selected in the NBA draft goes directly to the team, and more than 50 percent get playing time. Plus, only a handful of international players are selected each year, and players must be out of high school for at least one year. The chances are most definitely there, but the sample size isn’t.
  • The NFL draft is the most comparable draft to the NHL, size-wise. Both contain seven rounds with only about a 50-selection difference between the two. The NFL heavily lacks the presence of international players and restricts eligibility until the player has been out of high school for at least three years. Another major difference is the competitiveness of making the team. NFL draft picks get recognized right away, while NHL picks get shoved into developmental leagues. Most of these guys have to work their way up instead of being given the opportunity.
  • The MLB draft has the whole package that matches with the NHL. The age requirements, number of international players, and input of developmental leagues are all right there with each other. There’s really only one difference, and it’s huge: The NHL draft has 217 selections a year compared to the MLB’s 1,214. Right off the bat (pun not intended), about 1,000 of those players won’t even see the big leagues and zero first round picks will play with the team immediately. The MLB is just as development-heavy as the NHL, which helps players in the long run, but if we’re just being honest here, there hasn’t been a complete MLB player bust in a while. Players coming in are usually able to live up to the hype.

To sum all that up, I’d say the NHL is the most diverse out of the four leagues, and that adds to the difficulty of being successful in any sport. Though, I believe the grind of being a professional hockey player is more strenuous than the rest. An 18-year-old can be thrown into the league with grown men and potentially waste his own future. You can easily throw international recruiting in the mix of difficulties, as well. Scouts could be overestimating a player’s skill level based on the competition, and when they do come into the league, they can be overwhelmed by the cultural change and play style. Some players are drafted high overall just because the organization believes they match the team’s game plan. Often, the player doesn’t fit right with the team, leading them to the deep, dark, NHL hopeful filled “bust” abyss.

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