With the NHL Draft having come and gone, perhaps it’s fitting that draft busts have been a huge part of the “What The Hell Happened To…” series.
From Pavel Brendl to Patrik Stefan, the draft is littered with “what ifs” and “never weres”. Few are on the scale of bust as those two but former Calgary Flames first round pick Rico Fata might be close.
During a stellar career for the OHL’s London Knights, Fata was made the sixth pick in the 1998 NHL Draft by the Flames. Part of their youth movement that included Daniel Tkaczuk (6th in 1997) and Oleg Saprykin (11th in 1999), Fata was supposed to help lead the Flames into a new era, one that reached the successes of their teams of the late ‘80s.
With blazing speed matched by few in the game, Fata was one of the game’s rising prospects. This despite scouting report after scouting report which questioned his hockey sense, something teams might consider a red flag.
Here’s the scouting report via Calgary Puck:
Rico Fata has a higher upside than most prospects because of his blazing foot speed. At the same time however, he also has a lower downside because of his perceived lack of hockey sense. Rightly or wrongly, Fata will have to prove his sceptics wrong on the ice to put those critics to rest. With a centerman able to take advantage of his speed, Fata could be a big league, first line scoring winger. If he continues to work on his defensive game he could evolve into a player similar to Edmonton’s Todd Marchant.
That’s a lot of “yeah, but” right there. And the comparison to Marchant ended up being pretty apt considering Marchant ended up being “that really fast role player” for most of his career.
Despite showing promise with the St.John’s Flames of the AHL, posting back-to-back 50+ point seasons, he only managed 27 games as a Calgary Flame and just one assist in that time.
He was placed on waivers after the 2000-01 season, claimed by the New York Rangers who put him with the Hartford Wolfpack, their AHL team. He had a great season that year, with 35 goals and 71 points in 61 games.
Despite his successes in the AHL, he was given very little ice time in the NHL when he was actually called up, getting mostly fourth-line minutes when he saw any time at all.
He would bounce around the league for the next few years, from the Rangers to the Pittsburgh Penguins to the Washington Capitals, finally realizing after the 2006-07 season that the NHL was never going to work out for him.
After spending a year and a half with Adler Mannheim of the German League, he has spent the last five seasons in the Swiss A League, splitting time between Biel and Geneve-Servette. He’ll be playing for HIFK of the Finnish League (SM-liiga) for the 2013-14 season.
Rico Fata was once thought to be poised to take the NHL by storm with his blazing speed and potential. His NHL totals? Just 230GP and 63 career points. Unfortunately, like many Flames prospects around that time, Fata never seemed to put it together on the big stage.
In the end, Rico Fata was just another Flame Out.
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