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 where 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?
Seven rounds with approximately one selection per team per round, plus any additionally awarded compensatory selections. The draft is typically divided into two days – the first round on day one and the remaining six 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 14 non-playoffs clubs, or the clubs that have acquired the first-round drafting positions of those non-playoff clubs, have the opportunity to win the right to make the first overall selection of the NHL Draft.
Teams in the lottery drawing are ranked in inverse order of their regular season point totals, with team one being the club with the fewest points and team 14 being the club with the most points among those outside of the playoffs. While every non-playoff team has the opportunity to move up to first overall, no team will move down more than one position as a result of the lottery.
The final draft order is determined by the Stanley Cup playoffs. Whichever team wins the Stanley Cup is awarded the last (30th) overall pick of the draft while the runner up is awarded the 29th. The teams eliminated in the conference finals are awarded the 27th and 28th overall picks, with the 28th pick going to the team with the better regular season record.
The 26th to 15th spots in the draft are then filled, first by the remaining division winners, then by whichever teams are left. In both situations, the team with the better regular season record will pick later in the draft.
What are the exceptions to the '30 players per round' rule?
The league will award a compensatory pick to a team that made a bona fide offer to a former first-round selection, but was unable to sign them to an NHL entry-level deal. The team is compensated with a second-round pick for an upcoming draft in the exact same selecting position as when the player was originally drafted. For example, if a club drafts a player fifth overall, but is unable to sign that player despite making a bona fide contract offer, then the club will be awarded the fifth pick in the second round of a subsequent NHL Draft.
So, each team has one pick per round?
Each team starts with 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 September 15th in the draft year. That means players born on or before September 15th, 1996 are eligible for the 2014 draft.
Generally, a player who is between the age of 18 and 20 years and six months (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 September 16th 1996).
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 is a major junior player who was unsigned two years after he was drafted and still meets the age requirements, he can re-enter the draft. But the player also runs the risk of being drafted much lower than before, being drafted by the same team that original chose him, or not being selected at all.
So do all players who want to get to the NHL have to be drafted?
No. Any player who went unclaimed in the NHL Draft can sign an entry-level deal with an NHL club. Likewise for any North American players who are older than 20 on December 31st of the draft year.
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 technically eligible.