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The NHL Draft and the Reality of "Making It"


I am pretty sure I wouldn’t normally watch the NHL draft on television. Last night was different as the Leafs had the first pick and there was a little bit of suspense as to who they were going to take - well, probably not really all that much. Anyway, I was out with my wife’s workmates for an end-of-school little celebration that saw us on a patio where the draft was on the television. There was no sound but the graphics were doing a good job at telling the story.


There were a few things that occurred to me as I watched the best players in this year’s draft class get their names called, hug their parents, hug their siblings, hug their girlfriend, shake hands with and hug their agent, take off their suit jacket and then shake/hug everyone that was sitting in the seat next to the stairs as they made their way to the stage. It was there that they shake the hands of the entire management group of the team that drafted him, put on a team jersey, pose for some group pictures then make their way to the press area for some interview time.

One of the things that struck me was how tall they all were. I am pretty sure not one of the first round picks was anywhere under seven feet tall. They towered above former NHLers like Steve Yzerman, Ron Francis and Craig McTavish (OK, Cam Neely is still a VERY large man!). Clearly, genetics is a crucial part of being a successful NHL hockey player.

You also got the feeling that every one of these players was a lock to be playing in the NHL one day. In fact, they were all going to immensely help their team - maybe immediately (unless they had committed to an NCAA program, which some had already done). And with that, clearly they were all going to be incredibly rich and make a lot of money in their new profession.

But, here are some stats from the 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007 NHL drafts (players typically turning 28, 29, 30, 31 and 32 years old this year). For simplicity, I have counted how many players have played 100 games in the NHL (about a season’s worth of games). Now, this isn’t the only measure of hockey success. Many players will have had tremendous careers in Europe as well. These stats though capture NHL success.

To put the years in perspective, here are the top five picks from each of those five years:

2003

#1 Marc-Andre Fleury

#2 Eric Stall

#3 Nathan Horton

#4 Nikolai Zherdev

#5 Thomas Vanek

2004

#1 Alex Ovechkin

#2 Evgeni Malkin

#3 Cam Barker

#4 Andrew Ladd

#5 Blake Wheeler

2005

#1 Sidney Crosby

#2 Bobby Ryan

#3 Jack Johnson

#4 Benoit Pouliot

#5 Carey Price

2006

#1 Erik Johnson

#2 Jordan Staal

#3 Jonathan Toews

#4 Nicklas Backstrom

#5 Phil Kessel

2007

#1 Patrick Kane

#2 James Van Riemsdyk

#3 Kyle Turris

#4 Thomas Hickey

#5 Karl Alzner


To me these are sobering numbers. If a player is drafted in the first round there is still only a 74% chance that they will play a season worth of games in the NHL. The chances drop dramatically after the first round. And this is the NHL draft! How many players are in the same situation in the WHL, OHL and QMJHL drafts where the numbers may be about the same.

Here are some quick numbers on NCAA division 1 rosters. There are 60 men’s division 1 hockey programs in the NCAA. There were 190 players from Ontario, Canada on those rosters (which are large - sometimes 30 players). If you divide that number by 4 college years, there are approximately 48 players each year from Ontario on those rosters (not necessarily on full scholarship or even playing regularly). In Ontario, the main feeder to NCAA programs is Junior A hockey (tier 2, not the OHL) and there are 51 teams that compete at that level in Ontario. That means less than one player per team will make an NCAA division 1 roster each year. And of that group, many are not getting a full scholarship.

On the women’s side, although the competition for spots is not as tough as on the men’s side to play in the NCAA, it certainly is to make the national team or the Olympic team. The Olympic team that represented Canada at the 2014 Sochi games had a youngest player born in 1992 (Melodie Daoust) and the oldest player born in 1977 (Jayna Hefford). That is a 16 year span. If you took the best player from each of those birth years you would only have to add seven more players to make the 23 player roster. In essence, if you are not the best or second best player in Canada in your birth year it’s going to be tough to play for Canada at the Olympics or a world championship.

The point of all this is that players need to enjoy the moment and play the game because they love to play and be part of a team. I have had so many discussions with families about how their player can get to the next level and what the best path is. My advice? Players should get a great education. Play somewhere where the name on the front of the sweater is way more important than the name on the back - to all of the players. Play for a coach that you learn from and enjoy playing for. Find teammates that are hardworking, fun to be around, committed and kind. Goals and dreams are important but the reality is that the chances of “making it” are slim. Players need to have fun and enjoy going to the rink every day. Let’s all make it that way.

All four of Coach Traugott's eBooks are available in a bundle at 30% off. Click the image below for more information.



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