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Column: It’s Time to Expand the NHL Draft

Jun 26, 2015; Sunrise, FL, USA; Colin White puts on a team jersey after being selected as the number twenty-one overall pick to the Ottawa Senators in the first round of the 2015 NHL Draft at BB&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports ORG

Since 2005, the NHL Entry Draft has consisted of seven rounds. Picks from the later rounds are, as a general consensus, viewed as longshots to ever play an NHL game. Yet each season, we see teams choosing to sign players who went undrafted — clear evidence that these teams feel there are still players of value left on the board.

Between these free-agent signings and indications that junior-level development is becoming more valuable, is it time to add back an 8th round?

GMs treat NHL draft picks like currency, whether through trading those picks for players who can help now or using them to secure fresh young talent. For individual teams, adding another draft pick to the pile each year is low-risk with a very real possibility of reward.

For the NHL, adding another round increases the prospect pool of a league that is considering expansion. Creating new draft picks doesn’t cost the league money. On the other hand, those picks have the potential — albeit potential that varies greatly by the round the pick is in and how it is used — to make money for the team.

There is virtually no drawback to be found.

With the Canadian dollar dropping, and the salary cap fluctuating in response, it’s getting more and more important for teams to to draft well and utilize talented young players as much as possible. Having more “cost controlled” assets — draft picks and players on entry-level contracts — will help GMs manage their cap situations better, and controlling a players’ rights for multiple years means more flexibility with regards to each team’s 50 contract limit.

However, there is a valid argument against adding another round: it’s already hard to even find second and third round picks who will see regular NHL ice time. That shouldn’t bee seen as a knock on the available talent pool, though. Let’s take a look at some recent undrafted CHL players who were signed as NHL free agents, including:

  • Sergey Tolchinsky, signed by Carolina in 2013.
  • Vladimir Tkachev, attempted signing by Edmonton in 2014. (Okay, it didn’t work out, but that was because Edmonton had a little CBA mishap. That wasn’t Tkachev’s fault.)
  • Joe Hicketts, signed by Detroit in 2014, who went on to play for Canada in two World Junior Championships and win a gold medal in one.

Dante Salituro also went undrafted in 2015, and though he has yet to be signed by an NHL team, he did attend the Columbus Blue Jackets’ camp last summer.

One thing that these four players have in common is that they’re all under 5’10” and weigh less than 180 pounds (according to EliteProspects). Though we are seeing a slight shift away from scouting staffs valuing size over skill, talented players who are smaller than their peers are still more likely to be left on the board. Adding another round to the draft gives teams an extra pick to play with, and could open the door for teams to take a chance on a smaller player they were interested in but may not have chosen otherwise.

A proposed 8th round isn’t going to be some magical land of diamonds in the rough, but expanding the amount of picks a GM has at his disposal changes his drafting strategy. It gives them another asset to deal, another opportunity to find talent, and at least a slightly better chance of maximizing their return each year in June.

It’s on scouting and player development staffs around the league to make the most of their team’s assets. Are they up to the challenge? Looking at drafting records, for many teams the answer right now is “probably not”. But with the influx of analytical thinkers into league staffs, it doesn’t have to stay that way. Perhaps giving them more chances is a way to push the envelope.

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