Hey Manti Te'o,
Pretty rough week huh? It must be hard right now with the whole nation just pointing and laughing at you. You thought you knew someone, you trusted her, opened your heart, only to find out she wasn’t who you expected or even a person at all. I understand that feeling my friend…I’m a Flyers fan. We might not be on the exact same page, but there have been plenty of occasions I’ve been emotionally invested in a person who ended up not being real. Too many times my gullibility has been taken down the road of "can’t miss pick". Hell, I’ve been duped by former junior coaches, pro scouts, assistant GMs, columnists, and broadcasters, who’ve all told me that a certain prospect is the kind of talent my hockey team has been missing for years. Here are three particularly bad draft picks that still hurt:
Hoax #: Steve Downie
"Steve is a real gamer, a tremendous competitor. He has evolved into a very complete player at this level, and continues to get better and better. He scores, controls our power play, plays on the penalty kill, hits, fights, does just about everything." – Vince Malette
Despite James Neal still being on the board (a player who was
universally considered by pro-scouts the better option), Flyers GM Bobby Clarke went with his gut and selected Downie as the 29th overall pick in the 2005 NHL Draft. Previous coaches touted Downie’s energy, willingness to battle in corners, junior/international experience, and his ability to overcome adversity. All these blue collar Philadelphia traits, coupled with the heartbreaking story of Downie's father passing while driving him to practice when he was 16, gave the first round pick major spotlight before he even dressed for his first game...we swooned over this guy!
If "tremendous competitor" is OHL talk for "no talent asshole" than Vince Malette hit the nail on the head. On returning to the Petersborough Pete’s for the start of the 05/06 season, Downie took it upon himself to enforce the team’s hazing policy by cross checking teammate Akim Aliu in the face (busting out three of his teeth) after Aliu refused to join his follow naked rookies in the team bus bathroom (Why?!). Once Downie joined the Flyers, it became obvious his offensive talents in juniors were not going to translate to the big show. With only 12 points in 32 games over a 2 season span in Philly, Downie’s game changed from future Bill Barber to future Raffi Torres. His resume of incidents with the orange and black include: sucker punching Jason Blake after their fight was broken up, leaving his feet to hit Dean McAmmond (20 game suspension) and destroying Peter Sykora (who never had the puck) after Ryan Malone scored in Game 3 of the 2008 Eastern Conference Finals.
Downie was dealt to Tampa Bay for Matt Carle in 2008.
Hoax #2: Maxime Ouellet
"Relies mostly on a butterfly-style game but is also a very stable stand-up goaltender. Very strong and solid on his skates. He has very good quickness and reaction time, and possesses an excellent glove hand. He also uses his stick well around the net to deflect passes away. Has excellent concentration and likes to challenge the shooters."- The Sports Forecaster 1999-2000, p. 115)
After putting up a 1.83 GAA in the 1996 WJC for Team Canada and winning the Mike Bossy Trophy (QMJHL MVP) in the 1998/99, Maxime Ouellet made a big enough impression on Bobby Clark, enough to take the goaltender 22nd overall in the 1999 draft. Ouellet was considered to be the next Jose Theodore (a compliment at the time) since he easily covered both posts down low with his butterfly style, but also could handle shots up top because of this quick reflexes and large frame. Finally it seemed the Flyers had found a suitable goaltender they could groom within the system to stick between the pipes one day.
The goaltender struggled back in juniors and was considered too inconsistent to be given an opportunity for regular appearances with the Flyers. At the start of the 2000/2001 the former 1st round pick backed up Brian Boucher for a couple games but was eventually booted down to the minors once Roman Cechmenak (unibrow alert) turned out to be a pleasant surprise. All in all, Ouellet only featured in two NHL games for the Flyers before being traded to the Washington Capitals in 2001 (he failed there too) for Adam Oates.
(P.s. I’ve seriously contemplated whether or not Maxime Ouellet was a real person, he disappeared THAT quickly from competitive hockey. Former 1st rounder to questioning the player’s actual existence? Easy qualifies as the most depressing career arc ever.)
Hoax #3: Joni Pitkanen
"His ability to see the ice is one strength he has, but he can really skate himself out of so much trouble, too. It seems like he's very comfortable for somebody that's only 20 years old. He's going to be a special player when he matures." – Ken Hitchcock
I have no idea why, but picking a European defenseman, who wasn’t known for his hitting, couldn’t speak any English and had a terrible shot, with the fourth overall pick (!!) in the 2002 draft somehow seemed like a magnificent idea to Clarkey. However, once training camp started reporters marveled on Pitkanen’s skating ability, even comparing him to NHL greats Paul Coffey and Nicholas Lindstrom. Joni continued to impress during his inaugural season, even being named to the NHL All Rookie team in 2003-04 (which was actually a pretty pathetic class).
I think this video basically sums up Joni Pitkanen’s career a defenseman. For all of his ability to rush up the ice and dish the puck, the Finn was TERRIBLE when it came to defensive coverage. Joni coughed up pucks in the defensive zone, NEVER HIT THE NET FROM THE POINT (no joke my father still grumbles, "fucking Joni" every time a defenseman misses the net…still…and Pitkanen has been gone for 6 years) and was a defensive liability. Eventually rumors started to leak that the defenseman simply wasn’t smart enough to quarterback Philadelphia’s system in their own zone. He got lazy, and usually resorted to skating the puck out of the Flyers defensive end, which 9 times out of 10 meant a give away in the neutral zone.
Once the Flyer’s brass realized that Joni development hit the ceiling he was trade bait. On paper his assist totals over shadowed a complete ineptitude for defensive play and Pikanen sent to Edmonton in a packed deal for Joffrey Lupul and Jason Smith. Once away from the Flyers Joni's play improved slightly, but still nowhere near first round status.
So see Manti? It’s not so bad!! I’ve fallen in love with people before seeing them too! In fact, there have been other terrible players (I’m looking at you Jeff Woywitka) that I thought for sure were easily going into the Flyer’s Hall of Fame based on prospect magazines. So don’t despair and remember, whenever you feel down, there are plenty of people (maybe not as high profile) who’ve gone through this before.