Everything You Might Want to Know About the NHL Entry Draft
Part 2 – Where do the players come from? And how are they found?
Where do the drafted players come from?
Basically, anyone in the world can play professional hockey. However, the vast majority of players come from North America and Europe.
There are two main sources of draft eligible players – Canadian major junior hockey and NCAA hockey.
Canadian major junior hockey is actually made up of three leagues: the WHL (Western Hockey League), the OHL (Ontario Hockey League) and QMJHL (Quebec Major Junior Hockey League). The players in these leagues are all under 21 years of age with a minimum age (in all but extreme cases) of 16. There are some overage players, also, with a limit of three per team.
The second main source of North American draft prospects is the NCAA. These are players who participate in one of the many university hockey programs in the U.S.
Finally, players will also be drafted from what are known as Canadian and American 'tier-2' leagues, such as the USHL, NAHL, NEJHL in the U.S. and the BCJHL. These leagues tend to supply players for NCAA schools. U.S. High-School players are generally too young for the draft, but if they meet the age requirements, they also may be drafted
How about in the minor leagues such as the AHL or ECHL?
No. These players are all over junior age and are therefore already drafted or are available as free agents. You may occasionally see junior-aged players in these leagues, but it is usually the result of a 10-day injury or conditioning stint or if a player has completed four years of junior already (very rare).
What about Europe?
Russia, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Finland and Sweden are the major NHL feeder countries. To a lesser extent, Switzerland, Denmark, Germany, Norway, Belarus, Latvia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan also contribute to the growing numbers of European players in the NHL.
Are European players coming from a European juniors or NCAA-like program?
No. Each European country is different but generally each country has its own top professional league, a couple of minor pro leagues and its junior leagues. Unlike in North America, the better younger European prospects are scattered all over this hockey spectrum. The very best first-time eligible prospects may well already be in the super or elite league, but other good prospects will be in the minor pro league, with some in junior.
Naturally, this makes scouting players and comparing them very difficult. Is a prospect that is dominating the Slovak junior league as good as a similarly aged player who plays only sporadically in the Finnish elite league? Not only is it difficult to compare players of different levels, but the quality of each top professional league varies greatly from nation to nation. Moreover, one can occasionally find Slovaks playing in the Czech Republic, Fins in Sweden and so on.
So, outside of watching each good prospect playing for his own league team how are the top prospects identified?
Generally, scouts will watch teams that have a number of good prospects. The "killing two birds with one stone" approach. Also, they prefer to watch prospects play against top teams and will undergo special scrutiny in the playoffs since scouts want to see how players do when the chips are on the table.
What other special tournaments or games exist?
The most well known tournament for prospects are the Under-18 and Under-20 World Juniors Championships. These tournaments bring in the top young prospects from all over the globe to play in several high prestige games. Often a draft eligible prospect can make a name for himself at these tournaments and find himself rising dramatically on the draft board.
Other tournaments of all-stars between the various junior leagues and between nations showcase talent from around the world.
Finally, there is a testing and interviewing session held in Canada after the season is over called "the Combine". The top draft eligible prospects are invited to attend for fitness, medical and personality testing.