Everybody is up in arms about the recent North American Hockey League Draft. OK, I’ll say it; I’ve never liked these drafts because it’s more about limiting options than creating developmental opportunities.
We all understand how difficult it must be to recruit a player to the Dakotas or West Texas; that is the complaint some team owners continue to come up with when this issue is raised. That’s a baloney excuse. If geography played that much of a role, how did the Cornhuskers get so many kids to Lincoln? Have you been to College Station or Lubbock?
If the junior level of play is really about helping players reach the next level, than why are leagues holding on so tightly to the relic that is the draft.
There are ten leagues across Canada that manage to recruit, and retain, players in the same manner as NCAA Division I programs. They simply present their program in a favorable light and allow their reputation to help drive talent to the programs.
What’s wrong with letting United States junior hockey players do the same thing? Where’s the harm in forcing owners to live up to their end of tier standards and actually providing the developmental opportunity that’s expected?
Let’s talk about a better system. Allow USA Hockey Tier I & II teams to protect up to 40 players. Leagues should install a 50/50 player and prospect list that limits active rosters to twenty with the other twenty players assigned to lower level teams.
Prospects should be able to appear in ten games off the active roster and a minimum of ten games to be eligible for the playoffs. The exception to that rule should be goalies and that’s only in the event of an injury or suspension.
Is the draft really that important? If so, follow the lead of major junior hockey instead. Limit draft to players that are going into their first year of junior birth-year eligibility.
Make the draft even more valuable by allowing teams to only draft the number of player spots remaining on the roster. For example, let’s say a team declared 30 protected players upon the conclusion of the season after age-outs, early moves to college, or even an outright releases. That team can go ten rounds into the draft.
What to do with the other twenty protected players? Some protected players from USHL will end up in the NAHL, while others will return to their AAA and high school teams. Some may be assigned to the NA3HL.
Not unlike their free-2-play counterparts, pay2play clubs have to present themselves as the best developmental opportunity for each specific player. Providing fair value in exchange for the player fee is by far the best approach to player recruitment and retention.
What about free agents? Teams should be able to host open camps AFTER the draft to identify and select prospects for training camp. Allow up to 50 players to come to the first two days of training camp and begin cut-downs and reassignments from there.
The USHL would benefit from a clear utilization of the developmental ladder without having to worry about compensating lower level teams for the call-ups of protected prospects
From the NAHL prospective, getting more utilization from the NA3HL and NAPHL will only drive up the values for each of the programs. NAHL teams that also offer NA3HL opportunities will have to convince their drafted players that the affiliated NA3HL or NAPHL program IS the best developmental step on the ladder to the NAHL team. It’s funny how that is going to work out and I love the idea of having a team’s coaching staff take a keen interest in what’s going on with the lower-level programs.
Maybe the drafts were a great idea twenty years ago when options were limited. That’s no longer the case. Players don’t have to report to the team that drafted them; aside from the ever present Canadian options, players have the Eastern Hockey League, non-sanctioned leagues, and now even European teams vying North American talent.
Let’s get to the bottom line…the draft literally chases players away from the league when they are selected by unfavorable teams. It is time to take another look at this process.