The 2011 NHL Entry Draft is fast approaching, and with it hope and excitement for the downtrodden fans of also-ran teams. With a high draft pick comes the expectation of a good hockey player, and the hope that this year the team will add a truly elite player.

The early-90’s Ottawa Senators were as focused on building ‘the right way’,’ through the draft, as any team in recent memory. In June of 1993, they possessed the first overall selection for the first time in their young existence, the second in a string of five top-three selections that the team would make during their expansion years.

The player they took was a QMJHL phenom named Alexandre Daigle. Daigle has since seen his name become synonymous with draft day disappointment, but it wasn’t always that way and there are a few items worth considering in his early career.

Daigle’s rookie season was anything but a disappointment. He was a point-per-game player over the first two dozen games of his NHL career, and finished second in scoring on the Senators (behind Alexei Yashin) with 51 points. To be sure, he also had a minus-45 rating, but he was playing heavy minutes and that still put him ahead of Yashin (minus-49), Darren Rumble (minus-50) and Gord Dineen (minus-52).

In Daigle’s second season, the NHL was hit by its first major work stoppage. Daigle, generally described as entitled (no doubt thanks in part to his enormous rookie salary), didn’t want to sit on his backside, and requested that he be reassigned to his junior team – despite the fact that he had already played a year in the NHL, and that Victoriaville was a weak club (they finished second-last in the league). Daigle was by far the team’s best player, scoring at just under a goal-per-game pace, and continued to impress when NHL play resumed, recording 37 points in 47 games. That total put him slightly behind Yashin again, and with 16 goals he was one of only four players on the team to score more than five.

It wasn’t until three seasons in that people started using the word ‘bust’ to describe Daigle. Ottawa had caused a lot of anger when they had signed Daigle to a massive, long-term pact (worth around $2.0-million per season), and that contract became a millstone as Daigle struggled with much of the rest of the team. An early season holdout by Alexei Yashin and top prospect Bryan Berard’s refusal to sign a contract with the team left Daigle as a focal point; he scored just five goals and 17 points in 50 games.

Daigle played better in the fourth year of his career before slumping again in 1997-98. He still had value, though; Ottawa traded him 38 games into a bad season, and they were able to get back a package that included:

  • 25-year old Pat Falloon, a fellow disappointing draft pick, but a guy who had scored 20+ goals just a season and a half earlier, and would go on to record 40 points the following season as an auxiliary offensive player.
  • 22-year old Vaclav Prospal, a promising prospect in his rookie season after recording 95 points in 63 AHL games the year before and putting up 15 points in an 18-game NHL cameo.
  • A second round draft pick.

Daigle still had some ups and downs left in him after that; he rebounded and then disappointed for the Flyers, was dealt away in a three-way trade that included some decent players (Andrei Kovalenko, Alexander Selivanov), left hockey for a few years, and he even played as an offensive specialist in Minnesota for a couple of seasons.

The lesson here, or at least the one I take away, is a simple one. It takes years to properly evaluate any of the young players that will be selected a little later this month. Early success is not necessarily indicative of a successful career, while early failure doesn’t automatically devalue a young NHL’er entirely.