Everything You Might Want to Know About the NHL Entry Draft
Part 1 – Draft Order and Eligibilty
What is the NHL Entry Draft?
A once-a-year event usually held in June when NHL teams choose the best available hockey talent. The site of the draft varies from year to year.
How does it work?
Generally speaking, the teams draft in reverse order, that is, the team with the fewest points from the prior regular season chooses first. This pattern continues for all rounds of the draft. Each team makes their selection in turn. There are however, several instances where additional selections are awarded
to a team.
How long is it?
Nine rounds with approximately one selection per team per round plus any additional awarded selections. The draft is divided into two days – the first three rounds on day one and the remainder on day two.
What are the exceptions to the 'reverse-order' drafting system?
First there is a draft lottery, designed to prevent weaker teams from deliberately losing in order to secure an outstanding top prospect. In the lottery, the non-playoffs teams' names are put into a weighted lottery. A weighted lottery assigns the highest chance of winning to the team with the worse record, the second highest chance of winning with the next worse record, and so on. The team that wins the lottery is moved up four places in the draft and no other team moves. Therefore, if the number 5 team's ball is drawn, they would move 4 slots into the number 1 slot (with the teams formerly in positions no.1, 2, 3 and 4 all dropping down one spot respectively). The final draft order is usually determined after the lottery, which generally takes place after the Stanley Cup has been decided.
Next, the fourteen teams that failed to make the playoffs will take all of the first 14 picks even if some of them have better records than teams that made the playoffs.
Finally, the Stanley Cup Champion will pick last in each round preceded by the six divisional champions.
What are the exceptions to the '30 players per round' rule?
There are two. First, compensatory picks are awarded for teams who lost more Group III free agents than gained over the previous year. The round and number of the pick is determined by a system of points based on various considerations. The rule of thumb is the better the player lost, the higher the compensatory pick. But compensatory picks are NEVER added to the first round.
The second case in which the league awards a compensatory pick is when a team does not sign to an entry-level contract a former first round selection. The team is compensated with a second round pick for the current draft in the exact same selecting position as when the player was originally drafted. In illustration, a player taken in position number 17 in 2000 draft and was not signed, the drafting team will be awarded a compensatory pick in the number 17 slot of the second round.
So, each team has one pick per round?
Each team has a base of one selection per round. However, with the additional compensatory picks and trading others, a team can have as many or as few as possible in any round.
Who is eligible?
The primary focus is upon players who have reached the age of 18 as of Sept. 15th in the draft year. That means players born up until Sept. 15, 1986 are eligible for the 2004 draft. Generally, a player who is between the age of 18 and 20 (there are other restrictions) is eligible for the entry draft.
What is an 'underage' player?
A player born after the cutoff date (for this year's draft that is Sept. 15th 1984).
What is an 'opt-in'?
All players who plan to make themselves available for selection for the first time in the draft are required to officially opt-in via a written document submitted to the NHL. Almost all eligible players do so but there are some exceptions. There are occasionally players who simply forget to do it or fail to file the proper paperwork. Some players may be a first-time eligible but have suffered a bad injury, or have had a bad season, and decide to opt out to wait for a year.
OK. So who else is eligible?
Anybody who has opted-in, who is within the age restrictions and who is not listed on a team's reserve list. Often, this includes older junior players who were overlooked in previous drafts, players from the various European leagues (not subject to the age maximum) and re-entry players who were not signed but are still otherwise eligible to be drafted.
What's a 're-entry player'?
This is a special category. It is a player who feels that the NHL club who drafted him is not to his liking and he refuses to sign. If he remains unsigned two years after he was drafted (only for major junior players) he may re-enter the draft again. But the player also runs the risk of being drafted much lower than before or being drafted by the same team that original chose him.
So do all players who want to get to the NHL have to be drafted?
No. Once a North American player, either from juniors or from NCAA, reaches the age of 20 (note that this applies only to North American players and not European players) he can be signed as a free agent by any NHL club.
What's the rule regarding Europeans?
European players, regardless of their age, are eligible for the Entry Draft. That is to say, a European player who, if playing in North America, would otherwise be ineligible for the draft because of his age can opt into the Entry Draft. For example, a North American player of the age of thirty is ineligible for the draft while a European player of the same age is still eligible.