The Enduring Beauty of Draft Day
I don’t remember how I first became interested in player development and the NHL Entry Draft. Perhaps it was in early 1982, when I purchased my first copy of The Hockey News.
In high school at the time, I was really becoming more and more interested in hockey, and making a weekly 25-block trek through Manhattan to the closest newsstand that sold THN soon became a ritual.
That year, 1982, was also the moment that legendary hockey journalist and broadcaster Bob McKenzie began his nine-year run as editor of THN. McKenzie, who had covered junior hockey in Sault Ste. Marie before taking his editor’s job, and he had an obvious passion for both the CHL and the draft. He flooded THN’s pages with information about prospects and beefed up draft coverage to make THN the leading print authority on the draft.
It helped that McKenzie took the THN reins just two years before Mario Lemieux’s draft year. He was able to devote plenty of column inches to hyping Mario’s NHL arrival, and the young player did not disappoint. To this day, when The Hockey News throws its weight behind a player and predicts such greatness, I am quick to get on board with them, even if it means getting excited about a player like Alexandre Daigle.
By 1986, McKenzie had put together the first Hockey News Draft Preview, which as been a top-seller for the magazine ever since. Truly the original draft guide, it spawned a host of imitators, which ballooned with the Internet in the late 1990s. McKenzie’s draft guides were a breakthrough. Over the next several years, I spent countless hours poring over them, fueling my own passion for the draft
As a result, I have come to consider draft day one of the calendar year’s greatest dates. Being able to learn about the prospects in the weeks and months leading up to the draft — and then seeing which players go where — is as special to me now as it was 30 years ago.
After years of running this site, when I finally got a chance to work within the NHL, I knew I was going to learn as much as I could from scouts. I wanted to know how draft decisions get made. I came to realize that the brilliance of a good scout is his ability to look at a player today and project what he will be up to five years from now.
Being a star outside the NHL at 18 is no guarantee of making the transition to the next level. At the same time, having certain off-ice attributes can make up for on-ice deficiencies and open the door for an NHL career. I find this ability to project NHL players is as great as any talent the players themselves possess, and I am in awe of those who do it well.
Scouts I have met over the years are some of the nicest people I know, and when a team hoists the Stanley Cup, the scouting staff’s work should be applauded. Those guys are the real heroes of hockey.
Maybe that’s why draft day is so special for me. Because draft day is the one day of the year that belongs wholly to the scouting staffs. We get to see them do their thing and, a few years, later, see how well they did it. Even in a weaker year for talent such as this one, this process is still incredibly exciting — perhaps even more so because the diamonds in the rough are that much harder to find.
So, it’s time for another draft to unfold. Follow it here on this site (I’ll be making updates) or on some other site, but be sure to follow it. And as you watch it, ask yourself why certain players are being taken and certain others are being snubbed. Don’t forget to take notes, because it’s only a matter of time before you can determine the day’s winners and losers.
And in the meantime, as you wait for those results, there’s plenty of time to start learning about the prospects for 2018, 2019, and beyond.