“It would be nice to know what I know now, go back and start over. I’d love to say it’s not too late. I know in my heart I’m not a bust.”
-Jason Bonsignore in a 2007 interview
The criteria to be considered an NHL draft bust is convoluted at best. As Jonathan Willis wrote over the weekend, former first overall pick Alexandre Daigle is often considered to be one of the all-time biggest busts – although, he enjoyed moderate success through the first two years of his career. In reflecting on Daigle’s underwhelming NHL career, Willis concluded that it can take years to properly assess the true abilities of young hockey players. Early failure, just like early success is not always a fair indicator of how a career will pan out. Jason Bonsignore is an exception to this school of thought.
At 6’4″ and some 200-plus pounds and fresh off a 62-point/41-game season with the Niagara Falls Thunder, Jason Bonsignore was headed toward the 1994 NHL Entry Draft with some hype. Coming off a disappointing last place finish in the Pacific Division, the Edmonton Oilers held two of the top ten picks in the draft with the fourth and sixth overall selections at their disposal. With the fourth overall pick, the Oilers took Bonsignore and believed that they were in possession of the next great power forward. Bonsignore would play a total of 79 games in the NHL, amassing 16-points.
By and large, Bonsignore is considered one of the all-time greatest draft busts. The Oilers managed to save some face by taking Ryan Smyth just two spots later in the draft, but the disappointment of Bonsignore lives in infamy. Of the top ten picks in the 1994 draft, only Brett Lindros would play less games in his career than Bonsignore, and it was concussions that ended his playing days prematurely… although nepotism probably catapulted him up the draft board to begin with.
After just 21 games with the Oilers, Bonsignore was shipped to Tampa where he would suit up for the bulk of his NHL games over parts of two seasons. Numerous stops in the IHL, AHL, Switzerland, Finland, and the ECHL just produced more disappointment.
Bonsignore lamented his regrets in a 2007 interview with the Edmonton Journal:
“There are days when it really eats away at me and makes me miserable and there are days when knowing I could have done the job is enough for me. I’m man enough to say I’m largely responsible for a lot of stuff that happened to me. I was lazy at times. A lot of times I was out of shape and that’s my fault. I spouted off when I shouldn’t have.
But I’m not a bad guy. I was a little immature as a player, but I still feel if they had given me time, I would have panned out. I think I could have been a pretty good player for them.”
Many top prospects fail to pan out for a variety of reasons. Some simply fail to meet expectations, but still manage to enjoy long careers. Others, like Bonsignore, fail miserably.
Maybe the scouts had it all wrong with Bonsignore, perhaps he was just inherently lazy, or maybe it was the weight of expectations that ultimately did him in. Whatever the case, the NHL draft is always an exercise in risk – with the memory of epic busts like Bonsignore serving as the proverbial nightmare.