There are literally thousands of reasons why some amazing young hockey players never make it. Some are from the genre of BS that your Dad’s buddies tell you to explain why they fell short (knee injuries, coach hated them, relationship issues), some are legit (knee injuries, coach hated them, relationship issues), and some just…are. There’s a lot of luck involved with fringe players, and sometimes the dice roll comes up snake eyes.
Whatever the case, we all have dozens upon dozens of stories of players that we thought were virtual locks to make it to the bigs, and for whatever reason things just didn’t go as planned.
I was thinking about a couple of those guys the other day when I threw it out on Twitter: who’s the best player you’ve ever seen in major junior or college hockey that didn’t make it? I got a ton of feedback, so I thought I’d compile a list. (If you’ve got a name that’s not on here, add it in the comments.)
Obviously my bias is going to be skewed towards more recent years (if you go back too far points get way skewed), and in my case, heavily from the WCHA (NCAA), so again: I call on you to help us fill in the blanks. Also, I’m going to be using the definition of “never made it” loosely. While impressive in its own right, I’d say under a 100, 150 games or so total is a decent loose definition of a guy who never established himself in the NHL.
* The list is predominantly forwards, because nobody has any idea how to judge d-men and goalies without watching them and #points are #neat
* You know how to read stat lines, but a reminder:
|Games Played||Goals||Assists||Total Points||Penalty Minutes||Plus-Minus|
* The list starts with more recent players that I’m more familiar with, and gets older (and more major junior-centric) as you work downward.
* Teams like Atlanta, Carolina, Nashville, St. Louis and Toronto seems to come up a lot amongst players who fell just short, for whatever reason.
* This isn’t to embarrass the guys who were so close for not making it, or to call them out – it’s more to admire how great these players were/are, and to drop our collective jaws in awe at the incredible things they did in the sport and it still wasn’t good enough. It’s just good context for how hard it is to really make it.
Lets dive in.
|2005-06||U. of Wisconsin||WCHA||42||24||26||50||56|
Career peak: 47 NHL games with the Minnesota Wild.
Current status: Playing for Zug, Swiss-A league. Point-per-game guy there.
Comment: It’s mind blowing to think that Robbie Earl didn’t make it. He might be the best skater I’ve ever played against, he had a great shot, and even hit hard. I would not have predicted Joey Crabb having a longer NHL career than Robbie Earl back in college (no offense to Joey).
|2005-06||U. of Minnesota||WCHA||41||38||25||63||31|
Career peak: 127 NHL games, Philadelphia, Chicago, Ottawa, Edmonton
Current status: Hershey, AHL, having a curiously off year (obviously hurt). 8 points in 34 games.
Comment: This guy was just built to score goals. I was once told “If you score 20 goals in WCHA games, you’ll make the NHL.” Look at Potulny’s numbers. Just never skated well enough to get those looks at the top level.
|2003-04||U. of North Dakota||WCHA||41||27||33||60||40|
Career peak: 156 NHL games - Tampa, Nashville, Anaheim, Boston, Chicago, Ottawa
Current status: 4th season with Astana Barys in the KHL. Finished 4th in league scoring this year, 58 points in 54 games.
Comment: Another guy whose foot speed held him back. He did have 11 and 11 for 22 points in 31 games in Boston the one year. Amazing that between six NHL teams, no one could find a use for him.
Current status: Zug, Swiss-A league with Robbie Earl
Career peak: 114 NHL games, Edmonton, Atlanta, New York Islanders
Comment: 114 NHL games between three terrible organizations and couldn’t take a roster spot.
|2006-07||U. of Michigan||CCHA||41||23||46||69||38|
Career peak: 112 NHL games, Colorado, St. Louis
Current status: AHL, Hartford. 30 points in 38 games after leaving the Swedish League
Comment: Almost 70 points in a single college hockey season usually implies you’re NHL-calibre. It’s not a guarantee, obviously.
|2001-02||U. of Minnesota||WCHA||44||27||52||79||26|
Career peak: 115 NHL games, St. Louis and Toronto
Current status: Retired after 2009-10 AHL season, where he was near point-per-game
Comment: The Leafs gave him a legit kick at the can – a full season in which he played 74 games and tallied 29 points. He was in the Swiss-A league by the middle of the next season.
Career peak: 78 NHL games with Philadelphia, Carolina and Phoenix
Current status: Moved from the Czech league to Germany’s second division this past season. Still goin’ strong at 33.
Comment: His real career peak was having Easton name one of their blade patterns after him because he was such a lock to be an NHL star. I used to use it, actually.
|2009-10||Hartford Wolf Pack||AHL||76||31||54||85||44||-5|
Career peak: 9 NHL games between Montreal, Ottawa and the New York Rangers
Current status: AHL, traded from Chicago to Abbostford. 45 points in 62 games at age 29
Comment: 151 points in the O one year, holy hell.
Career peak: 36 scattered games with the LA Kings
Current status: With the Pelicans in SM-liiga (Finnish elite league), 10 pts in 20 games at age 36
Comment: Always a bummer to fall below that goal-per-game line in junior, isn’t it? We all know the feeling.
Career peak: 49 NHL games with St. Louis
Current status: 20 points in 48 game with Rapperswil-Jona of the Swiss-A league at 34
Comment: 82 points in a year in college. That’s like, just under my four year career total in the same league. Damn.
Career peak: 30 NHL games, with Atlanta, Pittsburgh and St. Louis
Current status: 23 points in 48 games in the Swedish elite league, with Orebro HK at age 29. Was point-per-game in the AHL the season before.
Comment: Him and his linemate Marty Sertich weren’t playing the same game as the rest of us in college. Their powerplay was basically NHL caliber (and Joey Crabb ate buckets of seconds assists as a result).
By the way, 55 goals in the AHL as a rookie, and this kid isn’t in the NHL. It’s incredible to me.
|1995-96||U. of Minnesota||WCHA||42||34||47||81||30|
Career peak: 12 NHL games with Pittsburgh and Minnesota
Current status: Retired in 2005 from the AHL
Career peak: Some IHL and AHL hockey
Current status: Retired in 2005
Comment: I just wanted to include this guy for his wicked-ass name, and the fact that he literally averaged two points-per-game, to the number, in the OHL.
Career peak: 27 points in 48 games in the KHL, few good AHL seasons.
Current status: Coming off a season with 27 points in 48 games in the KHL, with Prague Lev, at 26
Comment: Think being 5’7″ has anything to do with not getting any NHL games? I’m thinking it might.
|2001-02||U. of New Hampshire||H-East||40||31||45||76||28||20|
Career peak: 23 NHL games with Nashville, Atlanta, and Colorado
Current status: 35 points in 44 games with Munich EHC of the DEL (German elite league). 34 years old.
Comment: I think Halls-of-Fame for leagues that aren’t the top in their sport are kinda silly because it’s an arbitrary cut-off for talent – You’re the best that wasn’t good enough, congrats! But if you’re into that sort of thing, Haydar is probably an AHL HoFer.
|2000-01||Val d’Or Foreurs||QMJHL||72||74||110||184||70||64|
Career peak: 48 NHL games with Atlanta, Nashville, Toronto and St. Louis
Current status: 33 points in 46 games in the DEL (German elite league) with the Mannheim Eagles at age 33. Had a nice run in the Swiss-A league prior to that.
Comment: Sorry, what were your stats in the Q? Are those a string of typos?
Career peak: 7 NHL games with Edmonton and Columbus
Current status: Retired in 2010 from the Swiss-B league at 30.
Career peak: 60 NHL games with Vancouver, Carolina, and Toronto
Current status: 33 points in 39 games with Zug of the Swiss-A league, where he’s been since 2005 (the league I mean, not Zug). He’s 36 now.
Comment: I won a junior golf tournament in 1999, and my prize was getting to caddy for a celebrity at the Greater Vancouver Open. I drew Lanny McDonald…who couldn’t make it. So, they assigned me to Josh Holden’s bag instead. All I remember is that he seemed pretty set on becoming a DJ, for some reason.
|2000-01||Val d’Or Foreurs||QMJHL||57||45||81||126||18||47|
Career peak: 13 NHL games, all with Vancouver
Current status: 9 points in 26 games with CSKA Moscow of the KHL. He’s 33.
|2000-01||Red Deer Rebels||WHL||69||55||46||101||202||46|
Career peak: 75 NHL games with Minnesota and Tampa Bay
Current status: Retired after playing in Austria in 2011-12 at 31 years old
Career peak: 56 NHL games with Minnesota
Current status: 17 points in 31 games with the Berlin Polar Bears of the DEL, 30 years old
Career peak: 93 NHL games with Boston and Nashville
Current status: Retired in 2010 from the EIHL (UK) at age 32. He tallied 63 points in 49 games in his last season.
Career peak: 33 NHL games with the NY Rangers
Current status: 20 points in 36 games with Fribourg-Gotteron of the Swiss-A league. 36 years old.
One of the things that confuses me is the players on this list who played just some NHL games, and they were all with the same organization. You would think that if it’s not working out in one place, and you seemed like a guy destined to make it, your agent would get you to a new team so you can take another shot. It’s odd when that doesn’t seem to have happened.
Who makes it and who doesn’t isn’t necessarily decided purely on merit. There’s a lot of luck involved in getting to hockey’s biggest stage, and all you can do is be the best player you can be and roll those dice. For the 23 dudes who were oh-so-close that I mentioned above, their roll of the dice just happened to come up bust. They were all incredible players, but the world of professional sports can be cruel to some.