5 FIRST ROUND DRAFT PICKS THAT HAVEN'T PANNED OUT: PART 2
In last week’s Part 1 of my draft picks story, we took a look at a couple of Vancouver Canucks first round draft picks that didn’t exactly set the hockey world on fire, as initially expected. This week, we’ll take a look at the rest of the 5 first round draft pick busts.
Brett Connolly—Drafted 6th Overall by the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2010
The product of Campbell River, BC, Connolly was a WHL star with the Prince George Cougars where he won the WHL and CHL Rookie of the Year in 2008-09. A highly regarded winger with power-forward potential, Connolly was taken 6th overall by the Lightning in 2010 and was looked at the be a potential line mate for Steven Stamkos. After his first NHL training camp, the Lightning sent Connolly back to junior with the intention of letting their young prospect continue to develop. He ended up being named captain of the Cougars and finished the season with 73 points in 59 games. Tampa was encouraged by Connolly’s results and the right winger made the Lightning roster out of training camp in 2011. His first pro season, however, didn’t yield the results the Lightning were hoping for as Connolly finished with 15 points in 68 games. The following season, Connolly was sent down the AHL Syracuse Crunch due to the 2012-2013 NHL Lockout that resulted in the first half of the season being lost. He fared well with Syracuse, scoring 57 points in 67 games on route to a Calder Cup Final appearance. Despite a strong 2013-2014 training camp, Connolly was once again assigned to the AHL, due in large part to the phenomenal play of then-rookies, Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Richard Panik.
After bouncing between the NHL and AHL, Tampa re-signed Connolly to a one-year, two-way contract at the start of the 2014 season, but injuries and inconsistent play led to him being traded to the Boston Bruins for 2 second round draft picks at the 2015 NHL Trade Deadline. His time with Boston was forgettable and the Bruins subsequently non-tendered the RFA, making him a free agent. Connolly signed a one-year deal with the Washington Capitals on July 1st, 2016 but with established right wingers such as T.J. Oshie, Justin Williams and Jay Beagle ahead of Connolly on the depth chart, he’ll be hard-pressed to crack the opening day roster.
Brian Lee—Drafted 9th Overall by the Ottawa Senators in 2005
Brian Lee’s name won’t register with most people but I added him to this list because I remember watching him at the 2006 World Juniors (one of only a few high school players to play for Team USA at the WJC). He was a solid, stay-at-home type of defenseman who was a bear to play against. Lee’s pedigree began to build while playing in the USHL where he was chosen as Minnesota’s Mr. Hockey as the number one player in Minnesota’s high school boys hockey in 2005. He was also named the Associated Press' Player of the Year for Minnesota prep boys hockey that year. This led to the Ottawa Senators selected Lee 9th overall at the 2005 Draft. Lee opted to attend the University of North Dakota after being drafted and spent two seasons playing for the college team where he amassed 51 points in 81 games. Lee made his professional hockey debut in the 2007-2008 NHL season and was subsequently assigned to the Binghampton Senators for further development, scoring 25 points in 55 games and was named to the AHL All-Star game that year. Lee continued to bounce between the NHL and AHL and when he once again failed to make the team out of training camp in the 2009-2010 NHL season, Lee’s agent expressed how his client was “shocked and surprised he wasn’t part of Ottawa’s top-six defensemen.”
With the relationship continuing to sour, the Senators traded Lee to the Tamp Bay Lightning at the 2012 NHL Trade Deadline in exchange for Matt Gilroy. The following season, while playing for Tampa’s AHL affiliate Syracuse Crunch, Lee tore his ACL and was placed on Tampa’s long term injury reserve list. That all but spelled the end of Lee’s NHL career as the Lightning did not re-sign him at the end of his contract, prompting the then-27 year-old to announce his retirementfrom professional hockey. In 209 NHL games with Ottawa Senators and Tampa Bay Lightning, Lee scored 5 goals and 31 assists for a total of 36 points.
David Fischer—Drafted 20th Overall by the Montreal Canadiens in 2006
It’s not uncommon for defensmen to take longer to become NHL ready but when you’re drafted 20th overall by an organization like the Montreal Canadiens, it’s expected that you’ll at least catch a sniff of NHL action. That’s not the case with Minneapolis native, David Fischer. This pick was a head-scratcher from the start considering in his draft year, Fischer put up a mere 5 points in 42 games with the University of Minnesota. Keep in mind, he was taken two spots ahead of Claude Giroux. Unlike the two previous picks mentioned in this article, Fischer didn’t have any injury issues that contributed to his lack of success at the pro level; for one reason or another, he just didn’t have the cliched ‘it’ factor necessary to make in impact in the NHL. Fischer stayed at the University of Minnesota until 2010 and never signed an entry-level deal with the Canadiens. This wasn’t a case of a college draft pick exercising his right to free agency a la Jimmy Vesey, rather the Canadiens acknowledging their swing-and-a-miss pick thus letting him walk away.
Fischer attended Canucks training camp at the beginning of the 2010-2011 season but was subsequently released. He signed with the Florida Everblades of the ECHL for a couple of seasons before going to Europe to play in the 2nd Bundesliga in Germany. This past April, Fischer signed a deal with EC KAC of the Austrian Hockey League (EBEL). Just think, Habs fans, you could have had Claude Giroux setting up Max Pacioretty instead of Phillip Danault.