The 1999 NHL Entry Draft might be one of the only drafts that could act as a cautionary tale itself.
We all know about Patrik Stefan. Then there are the Islanders four first rounders; all of whom failed (Kristian Kudroc, Branislav Mezei, Tim Connolly, and Taylor Pyatt). But arguably the biggest bust, after Stefan for obvious reasons, was a Czech sniper by the name of Pavel Brendl.
Taking the Western Hockey League by storm in 1998-99, the Calgary Hitmen winger earned a spot on the WHL All-Star Team and played in the Top Prospects game. Even more impressive than those accolades were his stats from that season: in 68 games that year, he scored 73 times and finished with 134 points. His reputation as a sniper was obviously an understatement.
Heading into the 1999 Draft, he was regarded as one of the four truly elite prospects alongside Stefan and the Sedin twins, Daniel and Henrik. The New York Rangers were clamoring for Brendl and traded up to the fourth spot to get him. But even then, there was potential cause for concern. From EliteProspects:
A Czech forward with an impressive sniper instinct. Pavel Brendl has a good release and is usually at the right place in the right moment. Defensively Brendl is below average and his work ethic has been questioned as well.
Defensive issues aren’t terribly uncommon in Junior players so that really wasn’t a huge concern but work ethic issues can absolutely dog a player for the rest of his career.
Brendl, after insisting to the Rangers that he was ready for the big time right away, would not help his reputation with his first camp appearance. Showing up in poor shape, refusing to learn the coaches tactics or to play defense, Brendl was returned to Calgary. His diet was starting to come into question and doubts were creeping up.
His second season in Calgary was a big success as well, scoring 59 times and posting 111 points in 61 games for the Hitmen. Brendl would return to Rangers camp the following year, his attitude and conditioning much improved, but would be one of the final cuts.
After one last season in the WHL, scoring 40 times for 75 points in just 49 games, it looked as though Brendl was finally ready to make the jump but it wouldn’t happen with the Rangers.
Brendl was sent to Philadelphia in a package for the disgruntled Flyers star Eric Lindros who had wanted out of Philly after an ugly dispute with management. He would make the team out of training camp but after only one goal in eight games, was sent to the AHL’s Philadelphia Phantoms.
He would have parts of two disappointing seasons in Philadelphia, never scoring more than five goals, before being shipped off to Carolina for Sami Kapanen. His fortunes didn’t improve in Raleigh, either, as he only played in 26 games (scoring five goals) in the two seasons before the 2004-05 NHL lockout.
The formerly explosive Czech sniper would attempt to make his return to North America after the work stoppage was resolved, splitting time in the AHL between Lowell and San Antonio. But after just two games with the Phoenix Coyotes, he called it quits in the NHL.
Brendl would bounce around the world, spending time in the German SEL, the Russian KHL, and currently plays in his home Czech Republic for Pardubice HC.
Brendl would serve as a warning to teams taking a risk on a high-reward player with attitude and work ethic concerns. The Rangers paid a heavy price to find that out about Brendl, never even seeing him suit up for a single NHL game.
Many big time busts emerged from the 1999 draft but Brendl will go down as perhaps one of the most gifted and, in the end, one of the most wasted talents.
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