How Does the NHL Entry Draft Work? A Comprehensive Guide!

How Does the NHL Entry Draft Work

Being an ice hockey fan, you have seen NHL entry drafts every year, and you must be intrigued about how they work. Many wait for the NHL draft every season, the same as they do for Christmas, and are excited about it. Similarly, they love seeing rookies or young players enrol in professional sports. Starting their careers in the NHL is a big milestone achievement for young hockey players. But aside from the excitement, fans have many questions about the NHL entry draft procedure.

So, how does the NHL entry draft work? The official NHL entry draft is the procedure by which the NHL will allow franchises to pick players between the ages of 18 and 20. Signing a contract with the NHL makes players part of the NHL franchise. The NHL entry draft has 31 choices within 7 rounds, and the total number of players will be around 217.

Players joining NHL franchises must not be older than 20. This rule is equal for the American players. However, European players over 20 are allowed to join NHL franchises.

Who is Eligible to Entry Draft Selection?

Who are Eligible to Entry Draft Selection

Players who are not younger than 18 years old till September 15th and not older than 20 years till December 31st are eligible for the NHL entry draft selection. The same rule goes for the North American players.

Three major pools players are drafted, which are: 

  1. Canada and USA major hockey leagues: Ontario Hockey league, Canadian hockey league, Western Hockey league, Quebec junior hockey league, Canadian provincial hockey league – US junior hockey league.
  2. European Hockey leagues – all junior and senior men’s.
  3. NCAA teams

Note: Players over the age of 20 can be selected as free agents to the team of their choice.

The Team’s Draft Selection Order

The draft selection order is determined by the team’s previous season standing, which is further breakdown into three levels: regular, playoffs and lottery. Going with the major sports leagues, the draft order generally favours the weak performance team who needs structure improvement to compete with strong teams in their rooster time.

The Team's Draft Selection Order

The draft selection’s first Round differs from the second Round through seven. The second Round is more accessible to explain than the first.

The second Round is the reverse order selection base on the league’s previous year’s record. This means if the team’s last season record is terrible, they will have the privilege to choose top drafted players, while the teams with an excellent previous season record will be left with last drafted players.

First Round is for the sixteen teams weighted lottery who did not make it into the playoffs last year. However, the top two winners can get the opportunity to get on to the top ten spots. Thus, the bottom-standing teams have the luck to choose the top players.

The basic pick order is described below in easy steps:

  1. The teams who failed to qualify for the playoffs last season. Picks (1-16)
  2. The teams who played playoffs but were unable to make win into the regular season or got a chance to join the Conference Finals. Picks (17 – 24 to 28)
  3. The teams in the regular season won the division but could not make it into the Conference Finals. Picks (25 – 28)
  4. The teams who lost to the Conference Finals. (Picks 29 – 30)
  5. The team who is the runner-up in the last Stanley cup. Picks (31)
  6. The team who was the winner of the Stanley Cup last season. Picks (32)

Each group team other than the Stanley cup winner team ordered in their groups based on their preceding regular season total points. The tie-breakers are also listed on the same rule, given their last year’s ties standing in the regular season.

Are Teams Allowed to Trade their Draft Choices?

Yes, teams are allowed to trade their draft picks. It happens every year. The franchise’s general managers trade their draft picks to enrol the present roster of players.

Are Teams Allowed to Trade their Draft Choices

The draft picks trading happens in March, usually six weeks before the deadline at the NHL trade deadline. Teams who made the playoffs or reached the Stanley cup often trade their draft picks with the teams with the least chance to get into the playoffs in return for their best roster.

What Happens If a Team Does Not Sign their Drafted Player?

What Happens If a Team Does Not Sign their Drafted Player

A team has no obligation to sign their draft picks. And a player also has no obligation to sign with a team who drafted him.

  1. A team has two years to make a contract with a junior and European league player to take in an entry-level contract.
  2. If a player still has no sign in two years, he can go back to the draft pick if they are still young and not too old. 
  3. If a player who is not signed and crosses the age limit becomes older will become a UFA – unrestricted player, which means he can join any team of his choice. 
  4. A team has rights for 30 days on an NCAA when they leave school.
  5. After graduating for four years, some NCAA players wait 30 days to turn into an unrestricted free agent so they can choose a team of their choice.

NHL Draft Strategy

NHL Draft Strategy
  1. Avoid Taking a Goalie Too Soon: aside from the key position of goalie, it is always difficult for managers and scouts to project the future footprint of a goalie player. Because mostly, goaltenders take more time to grow as compared to defensemen and forward. So, for goalies coming in their mid-20s to draft into NHL, the time to predict a goalie development is too long. Therefore it would be better to take them into the second and third Rounds.
  2. Most Covet Player: forwards are the most coveted players at entry level draft, given their center position, and their style of play makes it easy to translate in the future. They are the prototype of the center as how they score and play in the first line. Teams’ general managers try hard to get those players as their future is easy to translate that can lead their team to victory.
  3. Be Keen in Taking Russian Players: the reason is that Russia has its own hockey league known as Kontinental Hockey League (KHL). And young Russian players kick off their careers by playing in the KHL, making tax-exempted money, and thus not easily attracted to the NHL. That’s why being a large hockey-playing country, Russians are less in the NHL than Swedish and Finnish.

How Long are the Career Chances of Players Drafted into the NHL?

When players get drafted into the NHL, the common question about career surfaces is what are their career chances?

How Long are the Career Chances of Players Drafted into the NHL

Well, if you look at the draft aspect, it will not give a definite answer but rather a 50-50 guess. This means half part can guess the player’s ability and career. In comparison, the other half is like a rough guess about the player’s career. It’s a common understanding and a concept that players drafted at the top will have a good and long career, and the bottom-drafted players won’t have good chances.

See the breakdown of players drafted at each Round by research from Jamie Bisson:

  • Round 1: 66.7% of picks (120 of 180) played at least 100 games.
  • Round 2: 26.7% of picks (50 of 187) played at least 100 games.
  • Round 3: 17.2% of picks (31 of 180) played at least 100 games.
  • Round 4: 14.7% of picks (27 of 184) played at least 100 games.
  • Round 5: 8.6% of picks (16 of 187) played at least 100 games.
  • Round 6: 9.8% of picks (18 of 182) played at least 100 games.
  • Round 7: 7% picks (13 of 186) played at least 100 games.

Check the list of first overall drafted players, last 20:

12003Marc Andre FleuryPittsburgh Penguins
22004Alex OvechkinWashington Capitals
32005Sidney CrosbyPittsburgh Penguin
42006Erik JohnsonSt. Louis Blues
52007Patrick KaneChicago Blackhawks
62008Steven StamkosTampa Bay Lightning
72009John TavaresNew York Islanders
82010Taylor HallEdmonton Oilers
92011Ryan Nugent HopkinsEdmonton Oilers
102012Nail YakupovEdmonton Oilers
112013Nathan MacKinnonColorado Avalanche
122014Aaron EkbladFlorida Panthers
132015Connor McDavidEdmonton Oilers
142016Auston MathewsToronto Maple Leafs
152017Nico HischierNew Jersey Devils
162018Rasmus DahlinBuffalo Sabres
172019Jack HughesNew Jersey Devils
182020Alexis LafreniereNew York Rangers
192021Owen PowerBuffalo Sabres
202022Juraj SlafkovskyMontreal Canadiens

These first-overall players, almost all, are the All-Star players and the current superstars of the NHL and within the league too. The players drafted first overall have bright future chances, and the later draft picks have low chances.

However, it’s not some kind of a universal truth that it first overall will always going to be the superstar. There are also some gems in later draft picks who were the lead scorers for seasons, like Nikita Kucherov was the lead scorer of the season 2018-19. He was not the first overall but rather a bottom 158th drafted overall.

Same as the case of Johnny Gaudreau; he was the 104th overall in the 4th Round. Still, he outshined the first drafted Ryan Nugent of the Edmonton Oilers. It also depends on the draft picks. Not all seasons’ draft picks are good. Some draft picks are considered weak, and some are strong.

Look at the 2003 entry draft pick, considered as best and deep overall draft selection. The draft players are Marc Fleury, Jeff Carter, Eric Staal, Ryan Kesler, Dustin Brown, Brent Burns, Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, and Brent Seabrook. These players have long and well-built careers.

In contrast, the entry draft of 2012 was considered weak and poor in overall selection. The first-class players are Ryan Murray, Morgan Reilly, Nail Yakupov, Alex Galchenyuk, and Griffin Reinhart. Only Reilly succeeded in making his NHL career above average, while the rest of the draft picks are Survivable NHL players.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is there another way to get into the NHL besides the draft?

Yes, a player can get into the NHL other than through the draft option. The NHL teams can sign a player who has not had any contract with any team and is aged enough that he can play as a free agent. Teams can sign a contract with undrafted players of 20-27 years of age, but the team would hold the player’s rights for a specific time.
A player who crosses the age of 27 can sign with any team of their choice and go again for another team once their contract ends.
You can see the examples of many undrafted players who went without any scouts and selection analysis and managed to have pretty good careers. Such as Marc Giordano, Curtis Joseph, Artemi Panarin, Martin St. Louis, and Adam Oates.

Do drafted players get paid enough?

Getting into the NHL does not mean that you are going to have fascinating money.
Usually, in the current era, general managers sign their top prospect players in the NHL entry draft. They only give players bonuses and a contract package when they start playing. But as with the long-shot prospects, players soon find the need to sign a proper contract with an NHL team while playing in the development league like a junior.
Some drafted players usually return to their original minor amateur leagues, where they will not get any money for playing. Considering their development in the junior league, the NHL leagues can then determine whether to sign a contract with those players or leave them unchanged.
Even if a player signed a contract with the NHL team, he could still be assigned to the AHL minors on a low package as they are taking in the NHL.
So, drafting into the NHL is just the first step of the new beginning with no certainty of how strong their career will be and how many odds they will have to face in their way.
Hence, it’s a game of big struggle and effort that takes time to settle.


The entry-level draft of the NHL is a big event for the NHL franchises and the young players. One of the most crucial and significant parts of the NHL. It is getting more influential, well-connected, and momentous as young players are jumping to the NHL faster than in the past. The NHL leagues have also started taking it more seriously and looking keenly at their preparation and scouting, annually drafting new young talents in their companies. Players from all over the world come to make their dreams true of becoming professional hockey NHL players.

Austin Taylor

Who is Austin Taylor?

Meet Austin Taylor, your go-to source for everything ice hockey! With a passion for the sport that’s as deep as the ice itself, Austin Taylor brings you concise, expert insights and nitty-gritty details on all things hockey. From gear reviews to strategy breakdowns, Austin Taylor is your trusted guide to navigating the exhilarating world of ice hockey. Get ready to lace up your skates and dive into the game with Austin Taylor as your ultimate companion.

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *