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When should a player attend the NHL draft?

More than 200 selections are made each summer, but inevitably a few teens go home unchosen and often crushed. To go or not to go is a very difficult question

The hockey world converges on Dallas this week, as the 2018 edition of the draft promises intrigue for players, fans and franchises. There will be stunning trades, leaked free agent destinations and a lot of teams saying “we didn’t expect him to be available when we picked.” But it’s also a special weekend for many families, who will watch their sons put on an NHL jersey for the first time. Assuming the kid gets picked, of course.

Not a year goes by without hearing a story about at least a few teens who went to the draft and sat in the rink all day Saturday, waiting for their name to be called and not hearing it. I hate it, but there’s not a lot you can do about it. If you had worked most of your life to get to this point, wouldn’t you want to be there in person for the experience? I certainly understand that.

If you’re a top-50 prospect, you’re going for sure. In that range, it’s practically a guarantee you are getting picked and even if a player slides on the Saturday, it’s still going to happen.

But where is the cut-off? I remember Spencer Watson getting taken by the Los Angeles Kings with the 209th pick in 2014 and being part of his interview scrum afterwards. That draft had 210 picks in it, so Watson was a cliffhanger.

One of my favorite draft memories came in 2011, when the Minnesota Wild hosted the gathering. Local high schooler Tony Cameranesi had decided not to attend and the Toronto Maple Leafs selected him in the fifth round. Cameranesi was in the middle of a jog when his phone blew up and he ended up driving over to the draft and putting the sweater on in person.

I spoke to a top-firm agent who wished to remain anonymous on the topic and this was his take:

“Usually it’s guys we expect to go in the first round,” he said. “But we have different circumstances.”

The sons of former NHLers, for example, tend to know how these things go a little better than the average player. This year, that would apply to kids such as Riley Sutter, Jack McBain and Jack Drury, to name a few who likely won’t go in the first round, but still hold a lot of promise.

It’s not easy being an agent in these situations. Everyone is excited and at the end of the day, all the agent can do is make a recommendation.

“We do want to protect our clients,” said the agent. “Something can always happen; nothing is 100 percent.”

Even a first-rounder can become a second-rounder in a snap. It’s not as dramatic as missing out altogether, but it makes Friday night a much less restful sleep. For the anonymous agent, only words from the GM of a team (as opposed to a scout) himself holds water on that first night.

For those who find themselves waiting in the stands on Day 2, the situation can be very confusing and anxious if the kid doesn’t go in with his eyes open. Many a player has sat there, hearing other names called and muttering I’m way better than that kid, not understanding that particularly in the latter rounds, things are different. First round? Yes, you’re usually looking at Best Player Available when it comes to selections. But team needs start to come into play on Saturday. If you’re a small, skilled winger and a team needs a big center or a puckmoving D-man, it doesn’t really matter how many points you scored in the OHL that year; you just didn’t fit into that franchise’s master plan.

Agent Joe Resnick represents Rick Nash, as well as 2018 first-round hopefuls Ryan McLeod and Akil Thomas. Resnick looks at several factors when assessing his clients’ chances: How many combine interviews did they have? Did an NHL team schedule multiple interviews with the player during the season? Was the player invited to the team combines that some franchises hold? And did a team’s scout call him for more information on the client?

Resnick, like the other agent, prefers to err on the side of caution. Some families have told him they want dozens of tickets to the draft for extended kin and friends, and in those cases, some perspective is needed if the player is slated to go on the second day.

“It’s always about setting expectations,” Resnick said. “It can be gut-wrenching to see the player just there all day. They’re in tears by the end.”

The draft should be a positive experience, even if that experience happens at home, at a party surrounded by family and friends.

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