Prospects Ramblings: Giving up on top picks is…bad

Hayden Soboleski




The rumors are out there that Puljujarvi’s time in Edmonton may be coming to an end. The team has been disappointed in his performance over the last couple seasons, and are under immense pressure to make the playoffs this season. He has value, therefore the high-pedigree 20-year-old is now trade bait. 


We can talk all day long about Edmonton’s asset management and player development, but the focus of this article is the most recent top picks in similar positions who have been “given up on” by the teams that drafted them.


Dylan Strome (at 21 years old)

This is obviously the most relevant example. Drafted 3rd overall in 2015, he returned to Junior for two more seasons (requiring the second season was a disappointment), then was lackluster in his rookie campaign and spent most of it in the AHL (that being said – he was seeing limited NHL minutes, and ended up being an AHL All-Star). After 6 points in 20 games for Arizona this season, he got shipped to Chicago 3 years after being drafted and is now up to 31 points in 34 games there. He is seeing very sheltered minutes mainly starting in the offensive zone, but it has been effective.

The lesson here: Maybe a change of scenery helped, but a change of linemates and usage is what it takes to show his offensive prowess.


Jonathan Drouin (at 21 years old)

Here’s another 3rd-overall pick, this time from 2013. Returned to Junior for one season, then jumped straight into the NHL. He had a decent rookie season with 32 points, but a lackluster sophomore showing resulted in significant time in the AHL. In this particular case – no one doubted Drouin’s talent level, he was still scoring outstanding goals. But his status as a core piece was in doubt even after he tallied 53 points in 2016-17. So, the team decided to move on 5 years after Drouin’s draft by dealing him for an (at the time) propsect d-man. His first season in MTL was comparable to his pre-draft totals, but he is on pace for a career-year by the end of 2018-19.

The lesson here: Sometimes the points aren’t the problem, its the expectations to be a core piece and not fitting in the plans as expected.


Mika Zibanejad (at 22 years old)

Oppositely to Drouin, Ottawa’s concerns with Zibanejad being a core piece for them at the time were more focused on his point production. After spending his first pro year in the AHL, the centerman (drafted at 6th overall) started with 20 points, then 33, then 46, then 51. He was viewed as a 2C at a time when the team wanted a 1C. So, Ottawa traded him for a 28-year-old who at neared the 60-point mark in the two prior seasons. In the aftermath, Brassard never hit 40 points with Ottawa, while Zibanejad became a bona-fide goal scorer with 27 goals in 2017-18, a total he will improve upon again in 2018-19.

The lesson here: A player’s “upside” is strongly tied to the team he’s on and the situation he is thrust into. Someties you have to blame yourself rather than underestimate a player.


Nino Niederreiter (at 20 years old)

Here is a comparison that the Oilers should take note of. Drafted 5th overall, he returned to junior for a productive year, then jumped to the NHL. His first NHL season was EXTREMELY poor – only one point in 55 games. Even with limited minutes on a bad team, that is