Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Draft Age

The NHL Entry Draft is often a bit of a crapshoot. You select players at age 18 and can only guess at what they will be like at age 23 when they should be established NHLers or age 28 when they might hit their primes. Its very hard to make intelligent selections when all but one or two players in a draft class are at least a year away from the NHL (last year, only Jordan Staal of Pittsburgh and Phil Kessel of Boston were NHL regulars from the 2006 draft class).

That said, once in a while, along comes an incredible talent who might be NHL ready before he is draft eligible. The latest such player is likely John Tavares. Tavaraes plays for the Oshawa Generals of the OHL and is coming off a season where he finished second in the league in scoring (behind 2007 first overall pick Patrick Kane). Tavares is 16 years old and will not be eligible for selection by the NHL until the 2009 entry draft. Tavares was born five days too late to make 2008 eligibility.

Brian MacDonald, the agent for John Tavares, wants this rule changed so that Tavares can be drafted in 2008. They feel Tavares will be too good for the OHL and will want a chance to play against better competition. If necessary, they may have to sue the NHL for this right.

Obviously, there must be some cutoff age for eligibility to an NHL entry draft. This age will be arbitrary, but it is necessary for teams to adequately scout for a draft. Having no eligibility age would lead to teams selecting younger and younger players who are even further from NHL readiness. That will make the draft even less valuable as players chosen will be less likely to mature and take even longer. It is a poor way to run things (though possibly interesting from a fantasy hockey point of view). When you set an arbitrary cutoff age, there will eventually be somebody who is as good as the players in the draft but just misses the cutoff age. This player might be exceptional and NHL ready. Tavares is probably such a player. However, it is in the best interests of the NHL (and hockey in general) not to draft younger and younger players.

Tavares needs an opportunity to grow his skills, and two more years of OHL play may not do it. He can sign in Europe or with an AHL team. This is the best way to handle exceptional cases like Tavares without making major changes to the NHL entry draft or making arbitrary rules designed to solve the Tavares case (with no other logical purpose).

Here is a Slam Sports story on Tavares.


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