Looking Down the Funnel
As our coverage of the top draft prospects begins, it's worth taking a look at how far these kids have traveled -- and how far they have to go.
Today, Mike kicks of The Cannon's review of the top prospects for the upcoming 2015 NHL Entry Draft, and that coverage will continue daily until the draft kicks off on June 26 - 27 in Sunrise, Florida. (No crowd jokes, please. O.K., maybe just a few). While the stories of McDavid and Eichel are compelling and provide great hope for the fans in Edmonton and Buffalo, there will be approximately 209 other kids chosen over those two days, each one of them lusting after a long and prosperous NHL career.
However, for every one of those guys taken, consider the thousands of kids hoping to be drafted -- whether those aspirations are realistic or not. The lucky ones and those who will be overlooked all share a common heritage. They donned their skates at young age, played pick-up games on local or backyard rinks or ponds, and slowly began to navigate their way through the maze of 189 Canadian junior teams, 174 American junior clubs or 134 NCAA college programs. That's 497 teams, representing approximately 25,000 aspiring youngsters who play in those programs every year. Factor in the lower level teams, club teams and similar structures in Europe and Russia, and the numbers become staggering.
However, let's just focus on those 25,000 for a moment. Out of that number, only 210 or so are going to make it to The Show -- the NHL. That's less than 1%, and by "make it", I'm only referring to getting your name put on a piece of paper that says an NHL franchise has your professional rights in North America. But what does that mean, really? After all, there are only 690 roster spots available on NHL teams -- figuring 23 per squad, and only a handful of those spots are up for grabs each year. Yet, the draft keeps churning out the 210 or 211 candidates every year. If you figure that no more than three slots per club open up -- on average -- each year, that's 210 guys vying for 90 slots. Except that there are all of the guys from the year before, and the year before that . . . and the year before that, still vying for those same spots. They've honed their craft in the AHL, IHL, KHL, SEL or one of the other crucibles of professional hockey, and are likely significantly ahead of the vast majority of draftees.
Consider some numbers (all courtesy of Hockey-Reference.com) In the last 10 NHL Entry Drafts, dating back to the Crosby draft of 2005, NHL clubs have selected 2,128 players (230 were picked in 2005). Of those, only 749 have seen any NHL ice time during that 10 year interval, and only 589 have played in a total of 10 or more NHL games over that decade. That's one NHL game a year -- not exactly a high bar to clear. Of the 230 lads chosen in the talent-filled 2005 draft, only 42 have played in 100 or more NHL games over the course of the ensuing decade. Not once in that period did all 30 1st Round selections see NHL ice. The peak there came in 2009, when 29 of the 30 selected eventually saw some NHL ice, with one playing fewer than 10 games.
That ten year span more than covers the perceived development time for draft picks, and encompasses entire careers for many, if not most, players. That 2009 draft represents the "plateau" year, when the numbers of players seeing NHL ice stop increasing. Precisely half of the players chosen in that draft eventually saw some NHL ice time -- no matter how little. As you might imagine, if you want to start talking higher percentages of games played -- the numbers drop precipitously.
As we cover the Top 60 prospects over the next six weeks or so, consider that these are the elite of the elite, that they have worked their way from the mouth of the funnel all the way down into the neck. They can see the destination, but now the progress slows. The truly elite will travel to Florida for the draft, waiting for their moment on stage. Most of the others will wait by the phone for the call. All of them will feel in many ways that this is the end of the journey -- that they have made it. In truth, the journey continues -- now at a slower pace, as the bottleneck of the funnel constricts the flow. It's yet another challenge in the long series of challenges they have had to overcome to get to this point in the process.
Depressing? Maybe. I think of it differently. No matter whether these players ultimately hoist the Stanley Cup, the Calder Cup or a coffee cup, the entire process of learning a skill to the point of being among the best on the planet , to learn to accept victory and defeat with equal grace, to learn to be a leader, while still being a member of a team and always willing to learn -- these are the things that everyone ultimately takes away from the sport. Some will come away with unimaginable dollars thanks to the game. Others, will move on to other ventures, all the while leveraging the things that hockey taught them. It's one of the reasons hockey is the great game it is. It's also something to keep in mind as we give you a small peek of their background between now and the draft. Stay tuned.