Patrik Stefan is the perfect example of why nothing is guaranteed in the NHL.
Playing in the Czech Republic, Stefan would make the move across the pond to play for the Long Beach Ice Dogs of the IHL with the hope of becoming better prepared for North American hockey and give himself better positioning in the NHL draft. In 1998-99, Stefan would score 11 goals and 35 points in 33 games with the Ice Dogs -- and suddenly became the hottest prospect in the NHL draft.
Stefan would would be called the best prospect in the NHL since Jaromir Jagr, a playmaking center capable of incredible point totals. He was touted as a tenacious forward with tremendous puck skills and good size, and with great character and work ethic as well.
"He is going to be a dominating, play-making center," Ice Dogs coach John Van Boxmeer said of the 6-foot-3 195 pounder before the draft. "He is a guy who looks to make the play rather than shoot himself. He'll be a guy who can get 100 assists and 20-25 goals in the NHL. He is a cross between Mike Modano and Sergei Fedorov."
What is interesting about Stefan is he never had the numbers to back up the reports on him. He was touted because of his "measurables" and while he was impressive in that IHL season before the draft, he didn't have the track record that most top picks have these days.
Stefan was drafted 1st overall by the Atlanta Thrashers in 1999 and would play six seasons there, scoring just 177 points in 414 games. In the summer of 2006 the Dallas Stars would trade Niko Kapanen and a 7th round pick to the Thrashers for Stefan and Jaroslav Modry. Stefan would play 41 games for the Stars that season, scoring just 5 goals and 11 points.
As we all know by now, Patrik Stefan's career is not known for the goals and assists he did score. He's known for the one that didn't find the back of the net.
On January 4, 2007, Stefan and the Dallas Stars were hanging on to a 5-4 lead with a minute remaining against the Edmonton Oilers. Despite his disappointing career in the NHL, Stefan had proven to be a steady defensive forward that Dave Tippett trusted in tough situations on the ice. He was out there in that final minute, and in fact made several great plays to keep the Oilers from even getting through neutral ice and creating an offensive attack.
He was able to steal the puck once and his shot at the empty net hit a player's skate and went wide. Just a few moments later, he'd steal the puck again....and history would be made.
It was a devastating moment, and one that has lived on in infamy in the hockey world. No one remembers that the Stars would eventually win the game in the shootout or that it wasn't Stefan that allowed the goal to Hemsky -- everyone remembers that he missed the wide open net.
Stefan's miss from just one foot out is the perfect microcosm for his NHL career.
Stefan would not play in the NHL after that season. When the Stars chose not to re-sign Stefan in 2007, he would play just three games with SC Bern before retiring from hockey for good.
Stefan is perhaps the biggest NHL bust of all time, scoring just 188 points in 455 NHL games. While he did develop into a decent third line center, his career was doomed from the start -- sabotaged by pre-draft hype that was based on word of mouth and potential.