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NHL Entry Draft Deconstructed

If everything goes well, 2 years from now, we will be planning our draft party to see how a newly-minted Seattle NHL franchise will be building their prospect pool in the 2020 NHL Entry draft.

Since moving to Seattle 14 years ago, I’ve developed a huge enthusiasm for the draft. It spawned when Seattle Thunderbird Thomas Hickey and Everett Silvertip Zack Hamill were drafted in the top 10 of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. Ever since then, I eagerly watch for any WHL players to get drafted and determine which prospects will play Seattle and Everett the following year. Even without an NHL team, there is always a reason to watch. Last year I was watching highly-touted local Spokane boy Kailer Yamamoto get selected 22nd overall by the Edmonton Oilers. In 2016, Everett Silvertip Carter Hart was the top goalie selected in the draft and 2015 had a slew of Thunderbirds with Ethan Bear, Ryan Gropp, Keegan Kolesar and a certain kid named Mathew Barzal.

There are a lot of avid hockey fans that don’t really understand the NHL Entry Draft and a bunch of newer fans that don’t have a clue what it is all about. To a novice fan, I would explain it as a hybrid of the NFL and MLB Drafts. It’s similar to the NFL Draft in that a lot of players drafted in the first couple rounds will have a significant impact on their teams. It’s also like the MLB draft in that we won’t see a lot of the players in the league for years down the road.

To help bring everyone up to speed, I thought it would be fun to share my insights on the draft.


The NHL Entry Draft is the annual event in late June in which all teams get together and draft the top amateur hockey players between the ages of 18 & 20. (After 20, players become free agents.) The draft is seven rounds long and takes two days (Round One is usually on Friday, the remaining six rounds are Saturday). Players are drafted across about 35 leagues and about 12 countries.

Expectations & Projections

It is rare that we will see players drafted in the summer and then playing in the NHL the following year. Usually there are less than five players drafted that will play more than 10 games the very next season.

The expected number of NHL games played for draft picks drops off dramatically the deeper the draft goes. First rounders average 428 games played while second rounders average 163 games in the NHL. Note that these numbers are a little understated since some of these players’ NHL careers are not complete, thus they will be moving the average games played up a bit.

It is also interesting to look at expectation timeline on when prospects are expected to peak in the league by looking at the average games played in each season after the draft.

This is not how NHL general managers evaluate talent and games played is a very narrow view on measuring the success of a particular player. It is just a good way to set expectations when looking at your team’s draft.

The first round has a higher degree of fidelity that I won’t really get into, but you can imagine it isn’t fair to compare Sidney Crosby, first overall pick in 2005, and expect the same output from Vladimir Mihalik, 30th overall in 2005, just because they were both drafted in the first round of the same draft.

Fun Outliers

One thing I enjoy is identifying the players that have far exceeded expectations of an average draft pick in the same position.

Hopefully that gives you a bit more appreciation for the NHL Entry Draft coming up this weekend. You can catch the first round on NBCSN Friday night and rounds two through seven on Saturday via the NHL Network.

John Barr
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