Being successful at the NHL Entry Draft is like throwing a dart across a room; if you plan and aim carefully, you might hit a bullseye, but you never know what's going to get in the way. The Phoenix Coyotes are no exception. Throughout the years the Coyotes have had the privilege (or misfortune, depending on your perspective) of drafting high for several years, and there have been several players who have hit the big time and who have fallen well short of expectations. We've pared down the list to the five best and five worst draft picks in franchise history.
5. Ben Eager (LW - Drafted 1st Round, 23rd Overall in 2002)
Ben Eager was a tough young forward when the Coyotes selected him in 2002 from the Oshawa Generals of the Ontario Hockey League. A consistent league leader in PIMs, Eager would enter Coyotes' draft infamy as one of several promising players that never took the ice in a Coyotes sweater. Eager would be part of a deal that also sent Sean Burke and Branko Radivojevic to the Philadelphia Flyers in 2004 in exchange for Mike Comrie. Comrie would play less than two full seasons for the Coyotes over four years (thanks in part to the lockout), while Eager would go on to win the Stanley Cup in 2010 with the Chicago Blackhawks.
4. Dan Focht (D - Drafted 1st Round, 11th Overall in 1996)
Focht is on record as the first draft pick in Phoenix Coyotes history; unfortunately for him that fact is the most significant accomplishment of his NHL career. Focht would play in the Western Hockey League until 1997-98, when he joined the AHL affiliate Springfield Falcons. It would take four more seasons before Focht saw NHL ice, and he only remained with the Coyotes for a season and a half before being traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins. In his time with Phoenix, Dan Focht appeared in nineteen games, recording just one assist.
3. Krystofer Kolanos (C - Drafted 1st Round, 19th Overall in 2000)
I devoted a feature to Kolanos before the lockout began, in which I mentioned how Kolanos permanently entered Coyotes' lore with his famed penalty shot goal against Patrick Roy (go watch it again, I'll wait here). Despite this one shining moment, injuries derailed Kolanos' career and prevented him from fully realizing his potential. He would never play a full season with Phoenix in the 4+ years he spent in the Valley of the Sun, and has thus far been unable to find a permanent home in the NHL. So while making Roy cry like a baby is still one of the greatest moments in hockey history, Kolanos has simply not panned out as a hockey player.
2. Kyle Turris (C - Drafted 1st Round, 3rd Overall in 2007)
In fairness to Turris, adjusting to a totally different playing system can be difficult. After being drafted to play in Wayne Gretzky's high tempo, high skilled system, Turris simply got called up too early to really familiarize himself with the NHL game. After a couple of dominating seasons in the AHL, Turris looked poised to come back strong. Unfortunately for him, Gretzky had been replaced with defensively minded Dave Tippett. Tippett's emphasis on earning minutes and playing a two way game ultimately reduced Turris' role on the team to bottom six minutes.
What is inexcusable about Turris is the way he handled his second contract with the team. After demanding a contract in the $4-5 million range, Turris refused to sign with the Coyotes, who controlled his rights, and was extremely vocal about his dissatisfaction with the parent club. Instead of quietly requesting a trade or accepting a smaller deal in the hopes of proving himself, Turris essentially forced Don Maloney's hand and won himself a trade to the Ottawa Senators. Kyle Turris is an abject lesson in what happens when philosophical differences and high expectations mix.
1. Blake Wheeler (RW - Drafted 1st Round, 5th Overall in 2004)
Deep breaths everyone, you probably knew this one was coming. Blake Wheeler had all the makings of being an exceptional NHL talent; he was fast, had a lot of skill, and a solid nose for the net. It didn't come as a terribly big surprise that the Coyotes would draft him 5th overall. What happened afterwards will make a lot of stomachs churn. Wheeler was evidently dissatisfied with the prospect of playing hockey for Wayne Gretzky in Arizona, and would not sign a contract with the Coyotes for four seasons after being drafted, at which point he became an unrestricted free agent. The decision flummoxed the usually reserved Don Maloney, who felt as though Wheeler was unlikely to receive a contract anywhere close to the maximum entry-level deal the Coyotes were offering. Wheeler would go on to play with the Boston Bruins, and in an act of revenge courtesy of the hockey gods was traded to the Atlanta Thrashers during the season in which the Bruins won the Stanley Cup. Wheeler now plays in Winnipeg, a somewhat fitting destination for the worst draft selection in Phoenix Coyotes history.
Think we missed someone? Got the order wrong? Tell us who else should have been considered a draft bust in the comments section. Later this week we will look on the bright side of life and select the five best draft picks in Coyotes' history.