HC Davos' Robbie Earl poses with the trophy after winning their final game against Dinamo Riga at the Spengler Cup ice hockey tournament in the Swiss mountain resort of Davos December 31, 2011

HC Davos’ Robbie Earl poses with the trophy after winning their final game against Dinamo Riga at the Spengler Cup ice hockey tournament in the Swiss mountain resort of Davos December 31, 2011 / REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

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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.

Robbie Earl

Best season:

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).

Ryan Potulny

Best season:

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.

Brandon Bochenski

Best season(s):

2003-04 U. of North Dakota WCHA 41 27 33 60 40
2006-07 Norfolk Admirals AHL 35 33 33 66 31 6

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.

Rob Schremp

Best season:

2005-06 London Knights OHL 57 57 88 145 74

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.

TJ Hensick

Best season:

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.

Johnny Pohl

Best season:

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.

Pavel Brendl

Best season:

1998-99 Calgary Hitmen WHL 68 73 61 134 40 68

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.

Corey Locke

Best season(s):

2002-03 Ottawa 67′s OHL 66 63 88 151 83 46
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.

Pavel Rosa

Best season(s):

1996-97 Hull Olympiques QMJHL 68 63 89 152 56

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.

Peter Sejna

Best season:

2002-03 Colorado College WCHA 42 36 46 82 12

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.

Brett Sterling

Best season(s):

2005-06 Colorado College WCHA 41 31 24 55 66
2006-07 Chicago Wolves AHL 77 55 42 97 96

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.

Brian Bonin

Best season(s):

1995-96 U. of Minnesota WCHA 42 34 47 81 30
1997-98 Syracuse Crunch AHL 67 31 38 69 46

Career peak: 12 NHL games with Pittsburgh and Minnesota

Current status: Retired in 2005 from the AHL

Keli Corpse

Best season:

1993-94 Kingston Frontenacs OHL 63 42 84 126 55

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.

Justin Azevedo

Best season:

2007-08 Kitchener Rangers OHL 67 43 81 124 69 24

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.

Darren Haydar

Best season(s):

2001-02 U. of New Hampshire H-East 40 31 45 76 28 20
2006-07 Chicago Wolves AHL 73 41 81 122 55 24

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.

Simon Gamache

Best season(s): 

2000-01 Val d’Or Foreurs QMJHL 72 74 110 184 70 64
2004-05 Milwaukee Admirals AHL 80 29 57 86 93 11

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?

Peter Sarno

Best season:

1998-99 Sarnia Sting OHL 68 37 93 130 49 32

Career peak: 7 NHL games with Edmonton and Columbus

Current status: Retired in 2010 from the Swiss-B league at 30.

Josh Holden

Best season(s):

1997-98 Regina Pats WHL 56 41 58 99 134
1999-00 Syracuse Crunch AHL 45 19 32 51 113 4

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.

Brandon Reid

Best season:

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.

Kyle Wanvig

Best season:

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

Matt Foy

Best season:

2002-03 Ottawa 67′s OHL 68 61 71 132 112 47

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

Cameron Mann

Best season(s):

1995-96 Peterborough Petes OHL 66 42 60 102 108
2000-01 Providence Bruins AHL 39 24 23 47 59 -8

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.

Christian Dube

Best season:

1995-96 Sherbrooke Faucons QMJHL 62 52 93 145 105

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.