The NHL Draft is scheduled for July 23-24 this year, which is one month later than a normal, non-pandemic year. The first round is set for Friday the 23rd with rounds 2-7 to take place on Saturday. Below are the basics for how the NHL Draft operates. For context, it is more like the MLB draft than the NFL or NBA with teams drafting more on potential than being NHL-ready immediately.
Who is eligible?
- Any North American player who is 18 years old on or before September 15, and not older than 19 years old before December 31 of the draft year are draft eligible for that year's draft.
- If your birthday falls after September 15, you are conisdered a "late birthday" and you won't be eligible to be drafted until the following year. An example would be Seattle Thunderbirds defenseman Luke Bateman, who turned 18 September 19th, 2020. He was not eligible for the draft until this year, 2021.
- European players have a slightly different set of rules-they can be drafted at any age as long as they turn 18 by September 15th.
- Once drafted, the NHL team retains that player's rights for two years. They can sign them at any time to an entry level contract. If the team elects not to sign the player, he becomes a free agent and can sign with any team as a "20 year old."
- An example of the above is the first player signed by the Seattle Kraken. Luke Henman was drafted by Carolina in the 2018 NHL Draft. Carolina elected not to sign him so he was a free agent, playing as a 20 year old in the QMJHL. He was eligible to be signed at any time by any team.
- A couple of examples of players who went undrafted but signed as 20 year olds and have played in the NHL are former Thunderbirds Austin Strand and Brenden Dillon. Strand was signed as a 20 year old in 2017 and made his NHL debut with the LA Kings this season. Dillon was signed in 2011 by Dallas and has now played 10 years and 654 NHL games.
Finally, when comparing drafts, just four players from the 2020 NHL Draft played in the NHL this season. The first three picks and the sixth overall. The 2019 draft has seen 22 players play in the NHL, including 16 from the first round. What that means is players from the NHL draft do play in the NHL after being drafted faster than a player drafted in MLB, but not as immediate as the NFL or NBA. More often than not, players drafted from a CHL team (junior players from the WHL, OHL and QMJHL) or an American college team go back to those teams for a year or two more-but that is a deeper conversation for another day!