Hockey doesn’t stop when the winning team hoists the Stanley Cup.
There’s the Stanley Cup Parade through the streets and over the bridges of Pittsburgh. There’s the annual NHL Awards ceremony in Las Vegas, which could also be the locale of the league’s 31st team in the very near future. In Canada, July 1st is Canada Day, the nation’s birthday celebration, but in NHL circles, it’s Free Agent Frenzy Day. The one day in most player’s career when they get to cash in their ticket and set up their family, and their family, and their family, for life.
Sandwiched in between all that is The Future. The National Hockey League Entry Draft. The day (actually days, as it rolls into Saturday) when the players you’ll be whining and complaining about in about five years’ time hop up on stage and put on the team’s sweater and smile for the camera.
Dreams are spun from this gold.
This time around, Buffalo New York will play host to the NHL Entry Draft. The International City of Hockey is the perfect setting for such a reformative event, as the Sabres are currently undergoing a rebuild, centered around centre Jack Eichel, who was taken 2nd overall last year in the Entry Draft.
Held in Sunrise Florida, the Edmonton Oilers dropped by with yet another first overall pick in their quiver, and plucked teenage phenom Connor McDavid from the bumper crop of young hockey studs.
This time around, thanks in part to a few tweaks to the rules, the Oilers will have to settle for the 4th overall pick, if they don’t trade it. Most hockey observers fully expect a flurry of movement in and around the Draft, as some teams struggle to conform with the salary cap, and other outstanding roster issues.
The beleaguered Toronto Maple Leafs ended up with the first pick overall, which put long suffering Leafs’ fans in an unfamiliar position. They won something of merit. The rebuilding Leafs are expected to step up to the podium in Western New York and…thank the city of Buffalo for their hospitality…congratulate the Pittsburgh Penguins on their Stanley Cup championship…and utter the name of Auston Matthews.
Born near San Francisco, but raised in Scottsdale, Arizona, the 18 year old 6 foot 2 centre is proof that someone actually attended Phoenix Coyotes’ games all those years. Matthews grew up a fan of Shane Doan and Daniel Briere, and is the current graduating jewel in the crown of the U.S. development program. He missed being eligible to be taken in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft by two days, so Matthews packed up his hockey bag and took his act to Switzerland, playing for the ZSC Lions and head coach Marc Crawford (now the associate coach of the Ottawa Senators).
The smart money is on the Maple Leafs’ brain trust to bark out the name of Matthews, but some scouts are leaning in the direction of Swedish centre’ Patrik Laine. Whichever way they go, the Winnipeg Jets will be the recipient of a great prospect, as they hold the second overall pick.
Expected to go third overall is Finnish right winger Jesse Puljujarvi, and the Columbus Blue Jackets have that pick. Currently. Because it’s fully expected that NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman will walk up to the podium and utter those words hockey fans love…”We have a trade to announce”.
And when all that happens, Sirius XM NHL Network Radio will be there in Buffalo to keep you appraised, with over 21 hours of coverage.
On Friday, NHL Game Day gets things underway with Nick Alberga at 11 am Eastern, 8 am Pacific. Scott Laughlin and Jim “Boomer” Gordon follow at 3 pm Eastern with The Power Play.
At 7 pm Eastern, 4 pm Pacific, the First Round of the NHL Entry Draft gets underway, and Steve Kouleas, Matthew Barnaby, and Shane Malloy will be on site to walk you through each pick.
On Saturday, rounds 2 through to 7 will begin at 10 am, as Nick and Shane are joined by Michelle Sturino, and Russ Cohen, as the 30 NHL teams rapidly work their way through the remaining six rounds of picks.
And keep this in mind as you sit on your couch and watch (or listen) to the old hockey men wax poetic about the unlimited potential of the young hockey men they just drafted.
Most players taken never see the NHL, unless they buy a ticket on StubHub like the rest of us. Most of these guys will end of being organizational fodder. And the guys that do play a significant number of games in the big leagues? There’s no guarantee they’ll do it with the team that drafted them.
Take a look at the 2006 NHL Entry Draft…held a decade ago in Vancouver. 213 players had their names called that day. 90 of them played at least a game in the NHL. Meaning almost 58% never realized their dreams.
The St. Louis Blues held the first overall pick, and jumped at defenceman Erik Johnson, who has spent most of his 500 plus NHL games with the Colorado Avalanche.
Pittsburgh took the stage next at General Motors Place, and took Jordan Staal, who spent a half a dozen years with the Penguins (winning the Stanley Cup in 2009) before being shipped to Carolina.
The Chicago Blackhawks hit pay dirt with the third overall pick, selecting Jonathan Toews from the University of North Dakota. All he’s done is captain the Blackhawks to three Stanley Cup championships (and counting) and polish up his Hockey Hall of Fame resume.
Of the 30 players taken in that first round in 2006, 20 have played at least 100 games in the league. Three have never stepped foot on NHL ice during a regular season game.
The Anaheim Ducks elected to take defenceman Mark Mitera with the 19th overall pick, but injuries got in the way of that dream. Montreal were up next, and swung and missed with defenceman David Fischer. Both the Ducks and Canadiens passed on…are you ready for this…Claude Giroux, who went 22nd overall that year to the Philadelphia Flyers.
Buffalo had the 24th overall pick, and wasted it on defenceman Dennis Persson.
The First Round holds most of the gems, but hidden gold is panned in the later rounds. Continuing with that 2006 NL Entry Draft, 13 of the 30 players taken in the 2nd round have laced up the skates for more than 100 NHL games. How many players in the later rounds have played more than 100 NHL games as of mid-June 2016?
Players selected in the 3rd round – 8 players (including Brad Marchand)
Players selected in the 4th round – 2 players (James Reimer & Matt Beleskey)
Players selected in the 5th round – 1 player (goaltender Chad Johnson)
Players selected in the 6th round – 4 players (including Viktor Stalberg)
Players selected in the 7th round – 2 players (Derek Dorsett & Eric Condra)
It’s one thing to be drafted by an NHL team. It’s another thing to make the team. And it’s quite the accomplishment to stick around long enough to play over 100 games in the best league in the world.
All those dreams begin again on the last Friday in June.