Help in understanding mystery of NHL draft comes via book

Help in understanding mystery of NHL draft comes via book

MacLean said the book so far has been well-received.

YORKTON – The fate of NHL teams often seems to hinge on what they do at the annual draft.

The top picks, the likes of Guy Lafleur, Gilbert Perrault, Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews and most recently Connor Bedard, are obvious selections which are almost guaranteed to add a star to a team – although there are the occasional Brian Lawton’s too.

But as the draft continues and teams are deciding between players at 25th overall, or the second or third round, how do they decide. What goes into picking one teenager over another hoping one day they will make NHL roster players?

At times it frankly seems a bit like merely a roll of the dice with fingers crossed.

But there is really an extreme amount of statistical data, and years of experience pouring over reports before making a pick.

It’s a process not easily understood, but one fans are keenly interested in as the success or failure of favourite teams can hinge on what happens draft day.

So Draft Day, a new book by Doug MacLean and Scott Morrison, will be of interest to many NHL fans.

MacLean certainly comes at the topic from the perspective of experience as a former NHL coach, general manager, team president, and TV commentator.

In the book he writes to reveal “how teams build for greatness—or fail to—on hockey’s most anticipated day,” notes the publisher website at

Certainly, MacLean knows first hand what a bad draft can mean.

“I will never forget the final few weeks of the 2003-04 season,” he wrote. “It might have been the time when I truly understood the mental tug-of-war a National Hockey League general manager, especially the GM of a struggling, still relatively new expansion franchise, goes through. It was the fourth of my ten seasons as president and GM of the Columbus Blue Jackets.

“With the eighth selection Columbus selected (Alexandre) Picard. I remember after we made the pick, Tim Murray, who was scouting with Anaheim at the time, walked by our table on his way to making the ninth overall pick and said, “Man, you got a player. What a selection. We wanted him.” We left Raleigh after the draft on a high. Were we ever wrong.”

So why the book?

Well MacLean was asked to write it.

“I never would have thought of it if Simon and Schuster hadn’t called,” explained MacLean in a recent Yorkton This Week interview.

The publisher was looking for a manuscript that was in the vein of the popular baseball book Moneyball.

“It was their idea and they pitched me on it,” said MacLean, who added he thought the idea was “kind of unique,” so he took it on.

MacLean said certainly it’s a topic fans seem intrigued by.

“The draft is something a lot of people have an interest in,” he said.

While a lot goes into the selections, MacLean said the draft is far from an exact science. He said if a general manager finds players who can carve out an NHL career 50 per cent of the time “he’s done well.”

In part the uncertainty of the process is drafting players so young.

“Things can change dramatically,” said MacLean.

That’s why sometimes late round selections grow into the game and play for years, while higher picks may have topped out and never make the final step to the NHL.

MacLean pointed to Columbus, a team that has still never had the first overall pick, despite years of mediocrity at best.

“It’s frustrating. It drives me crazy,” he said.

It also means the team has had to be right in its later picks, and as noted earlier that hasn’t always been the case.

In the book MacLean shares the process, letting readers into the backrooms where a team lays out who they covet in the draft.  After a read fans will at least better understand how picks are made – although why they become stars or footnotes is not something a book will ever capture.

“It was a disastrous draft overall for us. It got worse as both our second-round picks – right winger Adam Pieneault from Boston College at forty-six overall and defenseman Kyle Wharton from Ottawa at fifty-nine – played a total of three NHL games. We drafted a goalie, Dan LaCosta from Owen Sound, who played four NHL games. Then our next five picks never played in the NHL. Our final pick, in the ninth round, defenseman Grant Clitsome out of Nepean, played 205 games. Go figure. That’s the draft,” he wrote.

MacLean said the book so far has been well-received.

“It’s been really positive,” he said, adding he feels “there are some great things in there,” that fans will enjoy, like some behind-the-scenes inside into the draft day trade of Eric Lindros.

MacLean also talks analytics, something he said GM’s tend to shy away from talking about –only two talked for the book.

“To me it’s just another tool to use for information,” he said.



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