News broke this week that Nail Yakupov has
asked the Oilers to trade him. That's probably not devastating news for Edmonton fans, most of whom have soured on the unproductive winger. Four years after being taken with the first overall pick in the 2012 draft, there's little question that Yakupov is dangerously close to settling into bust territory. But there's good news for the Oilers. Trading a disappointing first overall pick is far from unprecedented. And in fact, history tells us that it's even possible to extract some value from the deal. So let's look back on five times in NHL history that a first overall bust was dealt a few years into their career, how those trades worked out, and what lessons the Oilers might be able to learn from them.
Brian Lawton, Minnesota North Stars
The bust: In 1983, the North Stars made Lawton the first ever American to be taken with the top pick. Among the players they passed on were another American, Pat LaFontaine, as well as a pair of decent Canadians in Steve Yzerman and Cam Neely. Lawton managed just one 20-goal season with the Stars, and never topped 50 points.
The trade: Days into the 1988-89 season, the Stars sent Lawton, Igor Liba and prospect Rick Bennett to the Rangers for Mark Tinordi, Paul Jerrard, Mike Sullivan, Bret Barnett and a third round choice.
The aftermath: Lawton didn't last long in New York, appearing in just 30 games before he was on the move again, although in fairness that was five games more than Liba and Bennett would have in New York combined. In December, the Rangers packaged him with Don Maloney and Norm MacIver and sent him to the Whalers for Carey Wilson and a draft pick. (Ironically, the Whalers had owned the second pick in that 1983 draft, and had also passed on those future Hall of Famers, opting for a quasi-bust of their own in Sylvain Turgeon.) Lawton bounced around with four more teams before his NHL career ended in 1993; he'd go on to become a player agent, and also had a stint as the Lightning GM. While the pick was a painful miss for the North Stars, the Lawton trade worked out fairly well. Jerrard, Sullivan and Barnett combined for just five games in Minnesota, but Tinordi filled a regular role on the blueline until the franchise moved to Dallas in 1993. He went on to have a son who was so good that Maloney himself would
trade away an all-star captain just to acquire him.
Lesson for the Oilers: While missing on a first overall pick is never fun, it is possible to salvage at least some value out of the eventual trade – assuming you move fast enough.
Alexandre Daigle, Ottawa Senators
Daigle was so heavily hyped coming into the 1993 draft that commentators were comparing him to Rocket Richard and there were rumors that the Senators
considered tanking to get the top pick. He made things infinitely worse by dropping the infamous "nobody remembers number two" quote, which doesn't look good in hindsight consider that year's number two
was pretty good. Here's the thing: Daigle isn't really quite as bad a bust as you probably remember him. He had a pair of 51-point seasons, which isn't bad considering the Senators were awful and scoring rates were plummeting. Rocket Richard he was not. But he also wasn't Patrik Stefan.
The trade: Midway through his fifth season in Ottawa, Daigle was sent to the Flyers for prospect Vinny Prospal, a second round pick, and – in what has to make this the greatest bust-for-bust trade in NHL history – Pat Falloon.
The aftermath: The change of scenery didn't help Daigle, and neither did short stints with the Lightning and Rangers. He was out of hockey by 2000 and moved on to the entertainment industry before attempting a comeback in 2002 with the Penguins. That didn't go all that well, but a 2003-04 stint with the Wild was reasonably solid, as Daigle recorded yet another 51-point campaign. He'd stick around for one more unproductive year after the lockout before retiring for good. As for the Senators, the trade was a minor win. Falloon didn't do anything, but Prospal went on to a long career that included a few decent seasons in Ottawa.
Lesson for the Oilers: Alexandre Daigle doesn't remember Chris Pronger. So apparently, Alexandre Daigle is not an Oiler fan.
Doug Wickenheiser, Montreal Canadiens
The bust: The Canadiens owned the first overall pick in 1980 thanks to yet another classic Sam Pollock "trade veterans today for a first rounder years down the road" trick. But while other examples of that move yielded cornerstones like Larry Robinson, Guy Lafleur and Steve Shutt, this one brought Wickenhesier, a WHL scoring phenom who never duplicated that success in the NHL. While the 1980 draft was a thin one, the Habs did pass on three future Hall of Famers who went with top six picks: Paul Coffey, Larry Murhpy, and – perhaps most painfully for Montreal – French-Canadian star Denis Savard.
The trade: After three lackluster years, the Canadiens made the decision to move on midway through the 1983-84 season, sending Wickenheiser, Gilbert Delorme and Greg Paslawski to the Blues for Perry Turnbull.
The aftermath: While his numbers never really improved, Wickenheiser gradually morphed into a useful two-way center. He spent parts of four seasons in St. Louis before stints with the Canucks, Rangers and Capitals. The Canadiens didn't gain much from the trade; Turnbull finished the season in Montreal, then was flipped to the Jets for two seasons of Lucien DeBlois. But the good news is that in 1990, the Habs righted their draft day wrong by acquiring Savard from the Blackhawks. All it cost them was a second round pick, and a 28-year-old defenseman who
probably only had a few years left.
Lesson for the Oilers: Maybe go easy on any future trades for Ryan Murray.
Patrik Stefan, Atlanta Thrashers
The bust: The expansion Thrashers took
Stefan with the first overall pick in the 1999 draft. The Canucks followed that by taking the Sedin brothers with the second and third picks, after which all the NHL's GMs agreed that there was nobody left, this was the worst draft ever, and they should all just head to the bar. (The Red Wings snuck back
a few hours later.) Stefan lasted six injury-plagued seasons in Atlanta, never cracking the 15-goal mark or scoring more than 40 points, and is widely regarded as the worst first overall pick of the draft's modern era.
The trade: With Stefan's full-fledged bust credentials well-established, the Thrashers finally pulled the chute in 2006, sending him along with veteran Jaroslav Modry to Dallas for Niko Kapanen.
The aftermath: Kapanen lasted half a season in Atlanta before being lost on waivers. Stefan played one year in Dallas, during which
he did this. Let's all agree to never speak of any of this ever again.
Lesson for the Oilers: That Stefan highlight was fun, wasn't it? Try not to think about how it
cost you Patrick Kane.
Greg Joly + Rick Green, Washington Capitals
The busts: We'll go for a combo platter here, since these two picks serve as a helpful guide to the best and worst outcomes when trading a first overall bust. The mid-70s Capitals will probably go down in history as the worst team in NHL history, and ended up holding the first overall pick for three consecutive years. They traded their 1975 choice to the Flyers (who took Mel Bridgman), but used the picks in 1974 and 1976 on a pair of disappointing defensemen. The two barely even got to be teammates in Washington, as Joly was weeks away from being banished to Detroit by the time Green arrived in 1976. Neither was all that good, although it's worth pointing out that both draft years were weak, largely because the NHL draft was
just a mess back then.
The trades: Joly went to the Red Wings for 34-year-old journeyman Bryan Watson in November, 1976. Green lasted longer, making it through six years before heading to Montreal with Ryan Walter in exchange for Brian Engblom, Rod Langway, Doug Jarvis and Craig Laughlin in September, 1982.
The aftermaths: The Joly trade was not good; the Caps turned the first overall pick into two seasons of a grizzled defenseman in a little over two years. We mentioned the part about being the worst team ever, right? But the Green trade worked out far better. Langway blossomed immediately, winning the Norris in each of his first two years in Washington. Sure, it was undeniably weird that Langway earned those honors even though Paul Coffey was outscoring him by 90 points, but it was the 80s so we all just went with it. Meanwhile, Jarvis was an excellent defensive forward who won the Selke in 1984, and Engblom was flipped to the Kings a year later for Larry Murphy. The Green trade helped turn the Capitals from a laughingstock to a playoff team.
Lesson for the Oilers: Know hope, Edmonton fans. Trading a first overall bust can be hit and miss. But if you play your cards right, you could turn things around and eventually become one of the league's very best teams (within another three decades or so).