The NHL did not have the scouts in mind when it set this year’s date for the draft lottery, but the hardest-working unsung heroes in the hockey industry were the ones cheering the loudest when the league announced this year’s event will take place on the eve of the playoffs the night of April 9.
That’s three weeks prior to when it has been held the past three years and that may not seem like much of change to the casual fan, but for the people who beat the bushes looking for talent, it makes all the difference in the world. The last couple of years the league had held the lottery toward the end of April, which put it early in the second round of the playoffs. The problem with that for scouts is that by the time they knew exactly where their teams were picking, most of the players had already finished their seasons, with the World Under-18 Championship finished and many players finished their junior and college playoffs.
As rich as a lot of NHL teams are, there are a finite number of dollars and resources devoted to scouting. So being able to spend those dollars wisely and focus on the players you know will be available is a huge boon to the scouts. It wasn’t such an issue under the previous lottery format when a team could move down no more than one spot and move up no more than four, but it moved to the current weighted system in 2015 and moved the lottery to the end of April the next year.
“It helps tremendously,” one scout said. “The sooner you know where you’re picking, the sooner you can make your plan and decide which players you need to see and who you don’t need to see. If you know where you’re picking, especially if it’s high, you can focus on the guys you need to, which gives you a chance to concentrate more on your second-round pick.”
“It’s huge,” another scout said. “This way, the teams that are picking at the top know where they’re going to go. If you know you’re picking from No. 1 to 6 this year, you’re going to want to focus on the Under-18s, but after that, you might put your resources into watching guys in junior hockey.”
Actually, the results of the past two lotteries have lent an enormous amount of credence to the notion that holding the lottery earlier is better. Just last year, the Carolina Hurricanes went into the lottery seeded 11th, but won the second overall pick and shifted up nine spots. So most of their scouts went to the Under-18 World Championship in Russia thinking they’d likely be choosing somewhere in the 10-14 range. Had they known going into that tournament they’d be choosing second overall instead, they might not have placed such a heavy emphasis on the Uncder-18s and instead looked more closely at Andrei Svechnikov, the player they ended up selecting, in the Ontario League playoffs. The year previous, the Philadelphia Flyers were seeded 12th after the season, but vaulted up to second and immediately went into the Nico Hischier-Nolan Patrick territory. (Of course, with the benefit of hindsight, rookie-of-the-year frontrunner Elias Pettersson might have been the better pick.)
This might actually end up helping the NHL. Instead of holding the lottery on the night there are playoff games, it will be a one-hour show on a dead night in the schedule. Instead of fans focusing on the post-season, their only hockey fix for that night will be the draft lottery. In the end, the decision for this year’s date was made in conjunction with the availability of the GMs, any of whom will be at the Under-18s in Ornskoldsvik and Umea, Swe., from April 18-28, and really had nothing to do with scouting concerns. But those who do perhaps the most crucial and most anonymous jobs in hockey will appreciate the gesture.