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Draft Bust Debate: Patrik Stefan vs. ... Rick DiPietro?

Another checkered figure from the Class of 2000.
Another checkered figure from the Class of 2000.

What makes a draft bust? Is it in the overreaching by the drafting team, or is it a player's failure to meet his pre-draft hype through the whole of his career?

Or a combination of both?

This topic came up recently in a debate among two of our writers at Lighthouse Hockey, and a version of that debate appears below.

It largely centers around maligned Islanders goaltender Rick DiPietro, who had the perfect storm fortune of being: 1) a draft reach as the first-ever (and still one of just two) goalie selected first overall; 2) handed the first of what are now many 11-year+ NHL contracts, and 3) suffering a run of injuries that have kept him from being even average for four seasons and counting.

Mark D. Opens with His Thesis:

What makes a bust? Someone who hasn't fulfilled their potential.

When it comes to the NHL and 1st overall busts, it's likely that Rick DiPietro will go down as one of the biggest. While Alexandre Daigle and Patrick Stefan are usually the other two major contenders, at least they were both considered top-tier talent in their draft. DiPietro was considered top 10 but was still neck and neck with Brent Khan in the days leading up to the draft.

For the 2000 Draft it was a decision between Marian Gaborik and Dany Heatley. Hindsight being 20/20 you can look back and see why they were in contention for the top overall pick. No one else in the draft class has over 500 points, let alone the 647 points for Gaborik and 742 (nearly a PPG over his career) for Heatley.

DiPietro for a short time might have been considered an elite goalie. His .919 SV% in 2006-07 was sixth in the league, and before his injury in 07-08 he was carrying the Islanders to another possible 8th playoff seed. But even without the injury, continually making the playoffs just to get knocked out in the first round doesn't really do much to help the team. If you miss the playoffs you're in an even worse spot.

Even without injuries, there's the question of how long DP could have maintained that level of play. We have seen time and time again top goalies come crashing down to the league average after 2-3 seasons. Meanwhile Gaborik was a key cog in the Rangers rise this season, and Heatley although declining is still good for 50+ points a season. Heatley and Gaborik are still tradeable in the NHL, no one would be insane enough to trade for Rick DiPietro.

Chris McNally Responds: Mind the Stefan

Even Rick DiPietro's failure to live up to the top overall pick in the draft pales in comparison to the abomination that was Patrik Stefan. General managers draft based on who they believe will be the best NHL player for their team. That being the case, there's not much question Rick DiPietro was better for the Islanders, even for a short while, than Stefan ever was for the Thrashers.

While DiPietro is compared to the careers of all-stars Heatly and Gaborik, Stefan couldn't even come close to matching the career statistics of 5th overall pick Tim Connolly. Stefan's career statistics were 64-124-188, while Connolly, considered an average NHL player, has posted 131-300-431 over his career.

Even though DiPietro's reign as a good hockey player didn't last long, for 3 seasons (03-07) he managed each year to find his name in the Top 10 of a major statistical category. Patrik Stefan's best showing in a statistical ranking? 119th in assists in 03-04 with a whopping 26, tied with offensive juggernauts Sean Hill and Randy Robitaille. In fact Robitaille and Stefan's rookie season were both 99-00 and between then and 06-07 (Stefan's last season) Robitaille had 10 more goals and 29 more assists in only 8 more games played than Stefan. This guy couldn't outproduce career journeyman Randy Robitaille!

I should rest my case there, but I won't. DiPietro isn't a regular when it comes to the playoffs, but his 10 games and 3 playoff series are 10 games and 3 series more than Patrik Stefan ever found himself in.

The Thrashers may have been forced to pass on the Sedins in '99, but there are a handful of other Top 10 picks that turned into serviceable NHLers, more than Stefan ever became. Hell, Taylor Pyatt just signed a 2 year deal with the Rangers this off-season (yes Pyatt has passed Stefan on the NHL All-Time scoring list too), while Stefan can barely get NHL contracts for the mediocre NHL talent he represents these days. I guess it takes one to rep one.

Mark Strikes Back

(Ed. Note from Dom: I swear this is really about Roberto Luongo.)

The problem with the Stefan comparison is that at least Stefan was considered the top of his class. The Sedins (who have become the stars of that class) were rumored to be unwilling to play if separated. Daniel was considered the higher rated Sedin, with many people placing him in the top 5. Henrik was placed anywhere from the top 10 all the way as low as 15-17th. Stefan, coming off a PPG season in the IHL looked to have the makings of a long term power forward in the league. If you didn't like Stefan, and couldn't pick the Sedins, that leaves Pavel Brendl (78 GP), Tim Connolly (injury prone), Brian Finley (4 GP) and Kris Beech (198 GP) as the players remaining at the top.

In comparison to the rest of the first round (outside of the Sedins), only three first rounders from the draft have more points then Stefan. Only 5 first rounders (once again not counting the Sedins) have more games played then Stefan. Quite simply there were very few options for the Thrashers with the first overall pick. While Stefan might not have put points on the board, he managed to improve defensively. Following his rookie year at -20, he was a -3 and a -4 in his 2nd and 3rd seasons while playing 14-15 minutes a night.

When DiPietro looked like he was going to break out, it was under defense-oriented Ted Nolan. During the same time lightly regarded Wade Dubielewicz posted a .934 SV% (in the push to get the team into the playoffs) and a .919 SV% during his 20 games replacing the injured DP. Since leaving the Islanders Dubie has not posted another SV% above .900. Hell, even Joey MacDonald looked good posting a .918 SV% that season.

The Islanders had choices, you could argue that DP would have still been there at #5 with their second pick in the 1st round. Plus even if a goalie is one of the best of a generation, it's rare that he'll reach the same level of stardom as a forward. Passing on Gaborik and Heatley passed on having players who could be instantly recognizable and tied to the team.

Chris Closes it Out: Mind the Lawton

I won't debate DiPietro was a huge bust when it comes to first overall selections, but I will argue that it wasn't the biggest gaffe by a team. I take you back to a time when the Islanders were king of the NHL and the team in Minnesota wasn't called the Wild.

In 1983 the North Stars selected Brian Lawton number 1 overall in the draft. While NHL Central Scouting Bureau had him listed as their top overall prospect, he was by far the consensus around the league. The Hockey News Draft Preview had him ranked as the fifth best prospect in the draft.

Number 1 and number 2 in the preview? Well those would've been future Hall of Famers Steve Yzerman and Pat LaFontaine. Not to mention no US-born player had ever been drafted first overall, but Lawton was also coming out of U.S. High School (no other U.S. High School player has ever been drafted first overall, not before, not since). That should've been enough right there to select Yzerman or LaFontaine.

Lawton amassed a career 112 goals, 154 assists, and 266 points. In 1988-89 alone, Yzerman and LaFontaine combined for 110 goals and 133 assists. Lawton's career high in points was 44 in 1986-87, ranking him 123rd in the league. In total, 27 players from the 1983 draft bested Lawton's career high in points. The Top 10 that year included three future Hall of Famers (Yzerman, LaFontaine, Cam Neely) and four other future NHL All-Stars, none of them was named Brian Lawton.

Minnesota finished in dead last in their division in Lawton's final two season with the club, and only had a winning record twice during his tenure. A valid argument can be raised that if the North Stars had drafted Yzerman or LaFontaine instead of Lawton, a string of playoff appearances may have saved the North Star franchise (sexual harassment allegations and blackmail not withstanding). Because of one snafu with the number 1 pick, we could be looking at the Dallas Wild. So while DiPietro has been a major disappointment, the repercussions of drafting Brian Lawton first overall seem to be much more devastating.