Category Archives: 2017 NHL Entry Draft
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.
In a little over three months, the hockey world will focus on Chicago for the 2017 NHL Entry Draft.
Draft Day is usually an eagerly-awaited event, when talented young players take their first steps toward pro careers. It is usually a time great excitement, as each club and its fans dream of the possibilities that come with new faces.
In other words, Draft Day is usually very special and worth its year-long wait.
But this year? Not so much.
Three months out, the hockey world should already realize that 2017 is not a strong draft year. In fact, it has all the signs of a classic weak one.
What factors make for an obviously strong or weak draft year? Consider these definitions:
1. In a strong draft year, each team can reasonably expect to get a future NHL regular in the first round, and at least half the teams can expect to land a future All-Star. It is also clear that the second and third rounds will produce some gems that go to the teams with the best scouting staffs. In other words, a strong draft year is deep in talent, and this usually become evident by the time these players are 16-year-olds.
2. In a weak draft year, as many as half the teams picking in the first round can’t expect to get a future NHL regular, and only a handful (up to three or four) come away thinking they have a future All-Star. The second and third rounds both appear wide open with few or no potential gems. Thus, there is no real separation between players available late in the first round and those available in the third, and none of these players are guaranteed to play in the NHL. This is also evident by the time these players turn 16.
There have been many strong draft years of late, but let’s look back to 2003, one of the strongest ever. All 30 first-rounders reached the NHL, a group that included Marc-Andre Fleury, Eric Staal, Thomas Vanek, Ryan Suter, Dion Phaneuf, Jeff Carter, Dustin Brown, Zach Parise, Ryan Getlzaf, Corey Perry. That list goes on and on. Even the second round produced gems in Patrice Bergeron, Shea Weber, and David Backes.
Scouts who assessed the 2003 draft class understood this was a special group at least two years before Draft Day.
On the other hand, four years before the 2003 draft, the hockey world had to endure the painfully weak year that was 1999. Only two stars, Daniel and Henrik Sedin, came out of that first round, and they were only really available as a package deal. The vast majority of 1999 first-round picks, including No. 1 overall Patrik Stefan, are long forgotten. Three first-rounders never played a single NHL game, and there were no legitimate second- or third-round gems.
I was working at a sports website in 1999, covering that draft. I sensed something was wrong when I found myself hyping players like Branislav Mezei, Scott Kelman, and David Tanabe. I didn’t want to admit it at the time, but I knew I was dealing with a weak pool –something NHL scouts had known for years. Even players who were supposed to be good, like Pavel Brendl and Oleg Saprykin, were mediocre at best.
Is it a coincidence that players born during that forgettable draft year already look like a weak group overall? Maybe so, and maybe the future will prove me wrong, but it is hard to get up for the 2017 draft in much the same way it was hard to get excited about 1999.
At the very top end of this year’s draft are players who would be considered lower first-round picks in most other years, and the league will be lucky if half of the top 30 players go on to have substantial NHL careers. Even the heavily-hyped players in the mix for No. 1 overall, Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier, are far from can’t miss stars. Of the two, Patrick is the safer pick, while Hischier has greater upside. Still, it’s a reach to say either one of them is a future superstar or could change the fate of an NHL franchise.
If I had to pick one, I’d gamble and take Hischier, but this is hardly a choice between Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel or Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine. So there isn’t much reason to be counting the days until June. In a good draft year, nobody has to qualify their excitement like this. In a bad draft year, it’s the only way to keep your sanity. Swallow the medicine of 2017 and move on to 2018.
And that’s the silver lining here. Next year will be worth the wait for its very deep talent pool, because those 2018 players, most of whom are still 16, are miles ahead of where the 2017 crop was a year ago.