Even my friends who are NHL diehards are puzzled by my fascination with the NHL draft. Since college/junior hockey isn’t a high profile sport in the US (even moreso in Southern California), most of them dismiss the draft as nothing more than a random assortment of names.
Free agency generally gets a ton of hoopla, but most championship teams get their foundations at the Draft. Especially in a salary cap environment, there is huge value in hitting on draft picks who are on cheaper contracts.
The other thought is that you as a fan are powerless to watch your team say……draft Steve Bernier over Zach Parise or Devin Setoguchi over Anze Kopitar in recent memory which may or may not be the difference between a championship or two. But as a draft fan, you can point to those as pivotal moments.
The Internet has made the world smaller for each of us. People can follow European soccer with greater ease than say a decade ago. While the coverage isn’t nearly as comprehensive, I can just as easily follow Canadian junior hockey from San Diego.
I am not deluded enough to think I’m a scout by any means, but there is enough information out there to have an informed opinion.
Several of my usual links:
Hockey’s Future Message Board – I stumbled upon Hockey’s Future sometime in 1997. There are some legitimately informative posters. But there is also a lot of garbage which can get highly amusing due to heavily biased fans. There is a natural tendency to comically overrate your team’s prospect pool and it typically show up there.
Buzzing the Net – Yahoo Sports blog covering Canadian junior hockey. Chock full of links for daily consumption.
The Pipeline Show – Prospect blog/podcast run by Edmonton sports DJs. Slight focus towards the WHL, but they usually mix up their coverage fairly well.
OHL Prospects blog – Great blog with a fan’s observations of the Ontario Hockey League.
United States of Hockey – Focused on NCAA and prospects coming from the USHL.
TSN Draft Centre – The Canadian version of ESPN has been providing a little more coverage on the junior game. Bob McKenzie’s compiles rankings from actual NHL scouts which tend to be the best set of free rankings for any of the major sports Drafts.
Red Line Report – Independent scouting service which has been providing free monthly columns for USA Today since 1997. Not particularly a huge fan of their rankings, but can’t complain about free information.
The Hockey News – The one time Bible of hockey has struggled to adapt to the Internet era. They have provided more prospect info online in recent years, although it tends to be fluff pieces.
I figured it would be a fun project to try to reconstruct past drafts from a mix of what I thought at the time, along with digging up old articles.
Anyways, this post may get periodically updated to add more entries to the glossary:
- CHL: The Canadian Hockey League which is comprised of three primary leagues (OHL, QMJHL, WHL). It is a junior aged league (16-20 year olds, with rare exceptions made for dominant 15 year olds). Every year, the Memorial Cup is held between the champions of the three leagues along with a pre-designated host team. The four teams play a round robin followed by a single elimination playoff to determine the winner.
The CHL operates similarly to a professional league in that there’s a draft. Players don’t necessarily get to choose their team, but it’s not unusual to see top prospects pull an Eli Manning. Players can also be traded.
Prior to each season, the CHL has an import Draft for European players. Similarly, top prospects with high demand$ might go later than expected.
- USHL: The United States Hockey League which is a junior aged league currently with 16 teams operating in the Midwst. Level of competition is probably a rung below the CHL, but has been improving in recent years. Most players in the USHL are angling for NCAA scholarships.
The NCAA views the CHL as a professional league. This can get a little tricky.
Martin Mike Brodeur was slated to get a full scholarship to the University of Wisconsin. But somebody discovered that Brodeur had played in two periods of a WHL exhibition game two years previously and the NCAA ruled him ineligible for a full year.
Lately, there’s been a trend of players doing the reverse migration. Ie, they’ll play in the USHL to maintain their NCAA eligibility but can jump to the CHL (either immediately or after a season). Part of this is to get around the NHL/CHL age agreement……….
- NHL/CHL age agreement: Junior hockey is relatively big business in Canada. So teams didn’t want the NHL to start poaching their star attractions and placing them in the AHL. So there’s an agreement where players drafted from the CHL who are aged 18/19 have to be in the NHL or returned to their junior club.
This can put some players in limbo. Most recently, Brayden Schenn had an age 19 year filled with frequent flyer miles. Initially he made the LA Kings’ opening night roster. Then he’d be injured and LA was able to utilize a loophole to send Schenn to the AHL for a finite amount of time on a conditioning assignment. But when that expired, the Kings returned him to the WHL to avoid burning a year of his contract (if a player suits up for 10+ NHL games, a year of his contract is wiped out even if he gets sent back to junior).
Because of this, we’re seeing a handful of prospects play in the USHL during their draft year before jumping to the CHL. Since they were technically drafted out of the USHL, they aren’t subject to the AHL age restriction and can theoretically expedite their NHL debuts.
- OHL: Ontario Hockey League – It’s not just a clever name. The OHL primarily operates out of the province of Ontario along with a handful of American teams in Michigan/Ohio. Broadly speaking, the OHL produces a more frequent amount of high end prospects than its WHL and QMJHL counterparts. But that might just be a reflection of simply having a higher population.
- WHL: Western Hockey League – The WHL operates out of Western Canadian provinces of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba. There are also three teams operating in Washington State and another team in Portland, Oregon. Broadly speaking, the skill level has improved in recent years but the WHL maintains a reputation of being more of a rugged league.
- QMJHL: Quebec Major Junior Hockey League – The QMJHL currently operates out of Quebec, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island. Has the reputation for being more of a finesse league. Perhaps it’s the Patrick Roy effect, but an inordinate amount of goaltenders have come from Quebec since I’ve been following the draft.
- WJC: World Junior Championship – In late December/early January, there’s an annual international tournament for players aged under 20. This has become a particular big deal in Canada. For prospect junkies, it’s like a two week All-Star game for prospects on the cusp of making the NHL.
It has generally been dominated by Canada and Russia, but the US and Sweden have improved their development pools in recent years.
- USNTDP: United States National Team Development Program – Started in 1996 partially in reaction to getting creamed every year at the WJC. USA Hockey started this program to round up the best young (under-17) talent in the country. The players would play together for a couple years. The idea was that the players would develop chemistry that would be invaluable in a short tournament. Other countries still pull their rosters together just before the tournament and players sometimes just mesh.
As a result, the US won the tournament for the first time in 2004 and won again in 2010.
- SEL: Swedish Elite League – The top league in Sweden. Each team has a junior squad. Typically the SEL skews a little older, so younger players who can crack the senior league aren’t given a ton of ice time.
It’s an annual facepalm moment when somebody tries to compare a prospect’s CHL stats to another prospect’s SEL numbers. For example, some disgruntled Ottawa fans were upset that supposed offensive defenseman Erik Karlsson only put up 10 points in 45 SEL games after being drafted.
And sometimes there’s some confusion between the senior/junior league when publications are too lazy to designate the difference. Ie, I still recall one overzealous fan claiming that 1999 2nd rounder Jonas Nordqvist was on par with the Sedin Twins. Nordqvist put up 39 points in 34 games in 1999-00. Meanwhile Daniel and Henrik Sedin put up 45 and 47 points in 50 games respectively. Except that the Sedins did in the senior league and Nordqvist did it against U-20s.
- SM-liiga: Finnish Elite League – Take the previous blip and replace “Sweden” with “Finland”. For that matter, there are similar (but recently less successful) setups in Slovakia, Czech Republic, Switzerland, and Germany.
- KHL: Kontinental Hockey League – The Russian League which is setting itself up as a primary competitor to the NHL. It has it’s own development league called the MHL (Major Hockey League).
- Cutoff: The NHL year begins on September 16th (happy birthday to me). So for any given draft year, first time eligibles have to be born in a certain range. For the 2013 Draft, first time eligible players will have been born between September 16th, 1994 and September 15th, 1995.
- Late birthday: This term can go a couple of ways. Sometimes it can be described towards somebody who barely made the cutoff. Some believe that these players can have greater untapped upside than those born earlier since an 8+ month difference could be significant physically amongst teenagers.
It can also refer to players born between September 16th and December 31. The CHL has its own cutoff of January 1st. So all players born in 1994 would have had their rookie years in the CHL during the same year. But a player born in January 1994 will be eligible for the NHL Draft a year earlier than a player born in October 1994. By the time the October 1994 kid is NHL Draft eligible, scouts would have had an extra season to scout him.
Theoretically, this should mean they have a better grasp on the player. But it can seem to work against certain players as scouts inherently start to pick out flaws with the extra year. Meanwhile, scouts can occasionally overrate somebody’s upside with fewer viewings.