Editor’s Note: I started writing this piece last June around the time of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. That was the one where Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel were selected first and second overall respectively. For some reason I was halfway through it and decided to put it on the shelf. But with the recent NFL Draft and the NHL Draft Lottery, I have decided to dust this off and finish it up.
The NHL draft sees some of the top junior players around the world get the opportunity to play in the NHL. But outside the 211 taken in the draft, there are dozens more who have not been draft for whatever reason. Some of them have made it to the NHL despite not being a first-round pick, or getting drafted period.
Martin St. Louis of the New York Rangers is the best example. Another is Rangers’ defenseman Dan Boyle. Both those guys went through the draft without having their name announced. But instead of sulking because they were not picked by a team, they used that as motivation to work hard and eventually become a reliable player for their clubs. Another example is Tom Brady. He is arguably the best quarterback in the NFL today. Brady was taken in the 2000 NFL draft but was a 6th round pick by the New England Patriots, a team that selected Drew Bledsoe 1st overall seven years earlier.
The success of late round or undrafted players happens even in junior hockey. Barrie Colts forward Andrew Mangiapane twice had 100-point seasons and more recently put up 51 goals. Did I mention he was not drafted by an OHL club? Mangiapane’s teammate Justin Scott was not drafted by an NHL club. But his performance in the OHL playoffs have caught the eye of several NHL teams and was eventually signed by Columbus.
The draft is kind of like a school yard pick ’em. Everybody gathers around in a room and the two sides pick players to form a team. Their decisions are based on the physical attributes of the individual player. The thinking is anyone who is 6-foot-2, 200 pounds can throw a pass or knock one out of the park. But part of the decision also involves how well these players perform in game situations. Hitting home runs in batting practice is different than in an actual game.
Yes, getting the best player through the draft can no doubt help your team in the long run. But not getting the first overall pick (or a Top-5 pick for that matter) is not the end of the world. Finding great players that were initially passed over is where general managers and scouts make their money. As St. Louis and Boyle will tell you, the draft is not the be all to end all as a lot of people may think.