PITTSBURGH – Almost half of the players whose names will be called by the 30 teams during the NHL draft will never have an impact. But for some, the draft will define their careers. A club’s fortunes can take a different direction with one selection. Expert Pierre McGuire explains to IIHF.com what’s behind the two-day event that opens in Pittsburgh on Friday.
The NHL draft celebrates its 50th season this year. It started as a way for teams to claim all 16-year-olds who hadn't signed a so called C-form, committing them to an NHL team. In 1969, it became a "universal" draft for all 20-year-olds. And, in 1979, it became an "entry draft" for all players over the age of 18.
A look at the draft charts from 1963 and forward will show thousands of names of players who never played one single NHL game.
A rough summary of five decades of drafting shows that nearly 60 per cent of all draft picks never play an NHL game. And, of the 40 per cent who do play, one in five play less than 10 games.
On the other hand, selections of players such as Mario Lemieux, Alexander Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby, Nicklas Lidström or Daniel Alfredsson, defined their lives and careers and dramatically changed the fortunes of the clubs that selected them.
The 30 NHL teams have all staffs of 10-15 people who work the whole season just for these two days. The first round – when each team selects their first player with accolades and fanfare – is on Friday while the Saturday is an arduous, marathon-like process when rounds 2 to 7 are completed.
When it’s all over at Pittsburgh’s Consol Energy Center on Saturday afternoon, 211 of the World’s most promising 18-20 year olds will have been assigned to an NHL-club as their "property".
Pierre McGuire, one of North America’s best-known hockey broadcasters, has covered every draft since 1998. Earlier, when still in coaching, McGuire sat at various team’s draft tables and helped make draft-day decisions.
Few people have a better overview of the process and knowledge about the upcoming crop of players than McGuire. He shared some of his draft insights with IIHF.com:
The draft is full of high-pick busts and a large percentage of drafted kids never get to play one single game. Why is it still such a big deal?
The draft is a big deal because it is the way that most players enter the NHL. It is an exercise that is important because it helps build the core of your team for many years if done correctly.
Can you see a link between long-term NHL success and good drafting?
Yes. Teams that are organized and have a clear vision for the type of team they want to build can do amazingly well at the draft. The one thing that should always stand out for any scout is the players’ character.
What are the major draft trend changes over the last, say, 10-15 years?
Teams are putting a premium on mobility and speed. Size is not the most important thing that scouts look for now. Twenty years ago there were teams that would not draft a player if he was under six feet tall. Now that is not the case. If you are a slow player now, teams might think about not taking you even if you are huge.
What are the main elements that a club must have to be optimally prepared for the draft and thus draft well?
Information is key. You need to have as much as possible; Injury info, school info, coachability, attitude, ability to handle pressure. All are key elements to drafting solid players. Remember the other major key is character. I can’t stress character hard enough.
What is the most difficult part of scouting?
A lot of lonely nights on the road. You have to have serious passion and love for the game if you are going to be a top-level scout. The most difficult part of scouting is knowing that you work all year for only two days of reward.
Some clubs/GMs get praise for late-round success like Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Alfredsson, Lidström. But isn't that mostly luck?
Not luck at all. It is skill and boots on the ground. It’s hard working people who are really professional. [European scout] Håkan Andersson of Detroit has done an amazing job. He seemingly always gets it right on late picks. His goes the extra mile to get things right.
The IIHF supports Hockey Canada's proposal to increase draft age from 18 to 19. Do you see that the proposal has merits, and would you support that?
It doesn't matter if I support it. It won't happen. Labour laws [in Canada and in the U.S.] will prevent it. 18-year olds are allowed to work as adults.
Is there a chance according to you that this proposal will be accepted by the NHL/NHLPA?
Given the fact that very few Euros are NHL ready at 19, 20 or even 21, the Europeans associations have pleaded with the NHL/NHLPA to change the 2-year rule* to 4-years, simply not to force a signing when a player is not yet NHL ready. What is your opinion to have a 4-year rule apply to Euros as the case is with NCAA players?
That makes sense. Hopefully people will use common sense. The Swedes and the Finns are doing a great job developing players. Now it is time to get the Czechs and the Slovak programs back to full strength. This [a change to 4-years] might help.
Montreal 1993 was the last team to win the Cup without Europeans. Is it still possible to be a successful NHL club and not have good Euro scouting?
You need to draft and scout well all over the world. Swiss players and German born players can help you win a Cup. Ask the Bruins with German Dennis Seidenberg, ask the Hawks about their Slovaks Hossa and Kopecky. Players can help you win from anywhere as long as they have character.
The latest buzz-word linked to the draft is the "Russian factor". Do you agree with the belief that Russian players are not as NHL committed as other Euros or is this something that some NHL teams started to justify their failure with some Russian players?
Russian born players clearly have another option in the KHL. The money is strong and it keeps them closer to home and their families. That being said, the NHL is the best league in the world and the Stanley Cup is the ultimate trophy for a hockey player to win.
A record 28 Swedes were drafted last year in St. Paul and a record of 69 Swedes played in the NHL this past season. Do you think that this trend will continue?
Yes. The Swedes are back to teaching skills rather than systems. They deserve credit after having almost an entire decade of lost players. Swedes have serious work habits and they are low-maintenance players. The also understand the language of the NHL.
Finally, who are your top-3 three picks on Friday?
Nail Yakupov, Ryan Murray, Alex Galchenyuk.
* The 2-year rule means that an NHL-club has two years to sign a player after the draft. If the player is not signed, the club loses his NHL-rights and the player can re-enter the draft. All IIHF-affiliated ice hockey associations in Europe feel that this rule forces NHL teams to sign players who are not yet ready for the NHL.