The NHL Draft, like every draft for every sport, is a time for hope for every fan of every team. It’s a chance for every team to get better right then and there. It’s a beginning to a new season so everybody has the hope that your team could be on the verge of something special. Any pick can be the next great player for your team or the next favorite player for you or anyone in the world and could inspire some little kid to start playing the game.
Maybe your team makes a big trade that can get them to the playoffs or get another piece closer to making them a contender for the Stanley Cup. A trade could also get your team that high-profile prospect who could turn into the best player on your team in the next season or two.
The NHL moves the draft around to a different team’s city every year so fans of every team have the chance to experience what it’s like to be at the NHL Draft. That city is the center of the NHL for about a week and every team’s front office along with their scouts are there. This makes for easy communication between teams which is a big reason why the draft has become a time for big trades.
A team can find any kind of player in the NHL Draft. Everybody wants the top 6 forward, the goal scorer, the playmaker, the offensive defenseman who can quarterback the power play or the #1 goalie who can shut down the other team. Teams also need role players like checking forwards, penalty killers, two-way forwards, defensive defensemen to block shots and shut down other team’s top lines and enforcers or pests so the other team doesn’t take liberties with their best players.
There’s always great players in the first round but great players can be found in every round of the draft. Maybe the pick in the 3rd round will be Cal Clutterbuck or the 6th round pick will be Pavel Datsyuk or a pick in the 7th round could be Derek Boogaard. Who would’ve thought back in 2001 that a 6’7″, 265 pound kid from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan would mean so much to people of Minnesota and around the NHL?
It’s a worldwide draft so your team could pick a player from Russia, Finland, Sweden, Switzerland, France, Denmark, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Lithuania, Germany, Norway and more. A player could be picked and you could know absolutely nothing about them. Luckily today we have the internet and the ability to Google them to alleviate this problem. It wasn’t always like that.
Here’s the thing about players from other continents, they could be playing in a league like the Swedish Elite League (SEL), the Finnish Elite League (SM-liiga) or a league in Russia. These leagues are pro leagues like the NHL in North America so usually a 17 or 18-year-old kid playing in a professional league isn’t going to put up a lot of points because they aren’t usually the best players on their team but they’ve shown the talent to play in the best hockey leagues in their countries.
Take someone like Mikko Koivu, who was drafted in 2001 out of Finland as an 18-year-old. He had just started playing for TPS Turku of the Finnish Elite League (SM-liiga) and all there was to look at was his current stats which showed him playing 21 games and having a total of 1 assist* in those games. Wild fans were wondering what the Wild were thinking taking this guy with the 6th pick. Back in 2001, we were at the mercy of the coverage on ESPN and the local reporters. They said Mikko was a great player, of course, but that’s hard to tell with stats or highlight videos. I might be able to put together a video that makes me look like an NHL player! Ok, probably not but hopefully you know what I mean.
*I thought the same thing about the first overall pick in 2001, a Russian kid by the name of Ovechkin. He was playing in the Russian Superleague (RSL) and his stats were a whopping 2 goals and 2 assists in 21 games played! WHAT? He’s the best player in the whole draft? What’s going on? Turns out he’s pretty good!
Another reason I love the NHL Draft is because each team has a table on the draft floor and they come up to announce their picks so you get to see the front office personnel who make the decisions for the organization, the General Manager, the Director of Scouting and the many Amateur Scouts that evaluate the talent all around the world. This is their time to shine so why shouldn’t they get to be a part of it? The NBA and the NFL has the league commissioner announce the first round and the teams are in their war rooms back in their team cities like it’s a big secret. Major League Baseball just started televising their first round and they are more like the NBA & NFL with the way they do their draft.
One of the coolest parts of having each team announce their first round picks is that most of the players picked are in the crowd with their friends and families so when they get picked, they hug or shake the hands of some 10-20 people on their way to the stage. When they get up to the stage, they are given a hat and a jersey, they shake hands with team representatives and they get the draft photograph. The player, of course, is always in the middle and they always throw their arms around the team employees and it’s just a great sight to see every year. It’s just cool to see all the emotion for these kids on what is probably the best day of their lives so far.
One of the greatest things about the NHL draft is the announcement of the first trade of the two-day event. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman gets booed* every time he speaks but he says, “we have a trade to announce” and the crowd perks up with enthusiastic “ohs” throughout the arena. Bettman always seems surprised by the response, unless that’s just a reaction that he’s surprised they actually want to hear what he has to say like, “oh now you care?” He then announces the trade and no matter what arena the draft is in, the crowd always reacts with oohs and ahhs like they are watching fireworks on Independence Day.
*I’ve never really understood why NHL fans hate NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. He’s a big reason for the lockouts in 1994-95 and 2004-05 and he’s made changes to the game that include renaming the conferences and divisions, expansion watering down the talent in the league and the current NHL TV Deal with Versus. These may be valid reasons but the league is in a good place right now so maybe we can quit booing the man every time he speaks!
The bottom line is every player picked by every team has a story that has brought them to this point in their lives. They’ve gone through some adversity along the way and have now been drafted into the NHL to get paid to play a game. A majority of them will never make it to the NHL but they will get the experience of living out their dreams of playing hockey professionally and will make new friends and connections that will forever change their lives. How many 18 year olds get to say that about their jobs.