Primer: Understanding the NHL Draft


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Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko, the projected top two picks in the 2019 draft. -- AP PHOTO

We're officially a month away from the 2019 NHL Draft.

In this primer, we'll dive into the rules and intricacies surrounding things like the draft lottery, draft eligibility, player signing rights, draft rankings, and more.


The lottery drawing involves all non-playoff teams. There are three drawings to win the top three selections, with teams' odds being determined by their positions in the standings. The lower the team's position in the standings, the better chance they have of being one of the top three picks.

  • The first pick determines the No. 1 selection.
  • The odds for the remaining teams will be adjusted proportionally, then a second drawing will determine the No. 2 pick.
  • Odds are adjusted again, and the third drawing determines the No. 3 pick.

The remaining teams select in the reverse order of the regular season standings.

When the draft lottery results are announced live on television, they're announced in order from the lowest pick to the top pick. The order can be anticipated based on the regular season standings. If a team is skipped when announcing the order, you know that means they've moved into one of the top three spots.

These were the lottery results for the 2019 draft:

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The Devils, Rangers, and Blackhawks were the three teams chosen in the lottery, so they moved into the top three spots. The rest of the order doesn't deviate from the inverse regular season standings.


The Stanley Cup winner picks last, followed by the runner-up, followed by the other two conference finalists. Any regular season division leaders who are not among that group pick next. Picks 16-23 are the remaining teams, arranged in the inverse order of the regular season standings.

With no division leaders making the conference finals in the 2019 playoffs, this is how the order worked out:

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All players must be 18 years old as of Sept. 15 in the draft year. North American players must be under 20 years old on Dec. 31 in the draft year. There is no maximum age for European players, but older European players typically do not enter the draft, instead opting to choose their own team via free agency.

Eligible players must opt-in to the draft and submit the required paperwork to the NHL.


The time period in which a team retains exclusive signing rights of one of their drafted players depends on the age they were drafted, where they were playing before they were drafted, and whether an offer was actually made.

North American-drafted players (i.e. major junior) follow these rules:

College-drafted players (either in college at the time of the draft or enrolling in college following the draft) follow these rules:

Players drafted out of Sweden, Finland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, France, Denmark, Norway and Germany (countries that have a transfer agreement with the NHL) follow these rules:

Players drafted out of Russia, Switzerland, or any other country that does not have a transfer agreement with the NHL follow these rules:

The above rule is why the Penguins retain the rights to 28-year-old Alexander Pechursky, 38-year-old Vladimir Malenkikh, 34-year-old Yevgeni Isakov, and 35-year-old Sergei Anshakov indefinitely.


Yes. If a player from major junior goes unsigned for two years following his first draft, he can re-enter the draft as long as he still meet the age requirements.


TSN put together a study in 2015, looking at players drafted between 2000 and 2009, and calculated the percentage of players from each round who went on to become an NHL player. In this study, an NHL player is defined as a player who played 50 or more games at the NHL level.

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The data shows that first-round picks have an 80 percent chance of playing at least 50 games in the NHL. The players selected in later rounds all have nearly the same chance of making the NHL. Only 1.6 percent separates rounds 5-7.

A separate TSN study looked at players who were drafted in the top five spots between 1990 and 2009. It found that 95.2 percent of forwards drafted in the top 5 went on to play at least 100 games in the NHL. Defensemen and goaltenders drafted in the top five in those years went on to play at least 100 NHL games 100 percent of the time.


There are all sorts of websites that do their own rankings, but the NHL's official rankings come through Central Scouting, an organization formed in 1975 to provide information to NHL teams.

The NHL Central Scouting puts out four lists: North American skatersEuropean skaters, North American goalies, and European goalies. Players are categorized by where they play, not their nationality. If a Russian player is playing in the QMJHL, he's going to be on the North American rankings.

These lists also mean that the NHL does not attempt to rank Jack Hughes vs. Kaapo Kakko, for example. They're both No. 1 on their respective lists.

Preliminary rankings are released in November, midterm rankings in January (after the World Junior Championship), and the final rankings in April.

Lists are based on how well the players' skills will translate to the NHL, according to the opinions of eight full-time scouts and 15 part-time scouts in North America, and six European scouts.


Cities put in bids with the NHL years in advance. There are logistical requirements, like whether the surrounding area has the hotel capacity to accommodate all potential draft picks, their families, agents, media, and executives from the league and all 31 teams.

Flyers marketing director Joe Heller discussed the bid process after the Flyers landed the 2014 draft.

“There’s a formal process,” Heller said, “and that includes very specific information about the arena, our capabilities to host the draft, what we would do if we were to land the draft. Could we do a trolley tour with the prospects and take them to some of the signature locations in the city? Where could we have any VIP parties? What about the arena, the marketplace, and what would the market do to embrace the event? We listed preferred hotels, a list of attractions that prospects and families can visit while here, and made it look as attractive as possible for a host city to have this event. There’s some very specific questions, as far as venues you’d recommend, transportation companies and restaurants you’d recommended, how you’d fit out the building, signage throughout the building, and what you would do outside for the fans.”


The scouting combine is a week-long event where draft prospects participate in fitness testing and interviews with potential teams. The 2019 combine will begin May 27 in Buffalo.

Results from some of the fitness tests will be posted on the NHL Central Scouting website.

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