Raising the NHL draft age has been in discussion for a long time, but a new statement from the league and its players’ association might make it happen in the next few years.
The NHL’s new initiative, Declaration of Principles, was announced on Sept. 6.
“While not everyone who plays the game will have an NHL career, every player at every level — and the family and friends of every player — can enjoy rewarding experiences and share a common commitment to respect, inclusiveness and sportsmanship,” said NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman in a statement to the public.
One of the aspects of the Declaration of Principles may involve a draft age increase.
Many arguments have been made for and against both sides over the years, but some of them make more sense than others.
Some argue that the draft increase will give team administration a better chance at drafting the right players if they are a year older. There are a few things that don’t really add up with this argument.
Firstly, what’s the difference between one year? If this becomes the main argument, could the draft age potentially increase to 20?
Second, the best coaches know how to draft well. If you draft incorrectly just because a player is 18 years old, that’s their own problem. It doesn’t make sense that the league should cater to poor draft decisions.
There has also been discussion of tweaking the draft age increase rule. Potentially, the draft age would still be 18 for first round picks and go up to 19 for the other rounds. This would ensure that stars such as BU’s Jack Eichel would be able to start playing in the NHL at 18, rather than waiting the extra year.
That being said, that’s a very low percentage of NHL players. It begs the question, will it really matter that much? Maybe it does.
The NHL already has problems with viewership. The Stanley Cup Finals, the most exciting event in the season, gets fewer viewers than the Super Bowl. If teams are restricted from drafting those unique players because they are not yet 19, the league’s limited viewership may be less inclined to watch because it’s no longer as exciting without those young superstars.
If there is no exception to the rule, the look of the league would drastically change. Every draft, there are players that immediately begin playing with their respective team in the NHL. In recent years, first all-around draft picks Auston Matthews, Connor McDavid and Aaron Ekblad, began playing in Toronto, Edmonton and Florida, respectively.
One big problem this change would pose, is the effect on the draft class if the rule becomes in effect. When you’re 18 and planning on being drafted into the NHL, that’s your plan. You don’t necessarily have an idea of what to do for a whole extra year.
The connection to this potential change with the Declaration of Principles is a bit foggy, but maybe the NHL thinks that 19-year-old draft picks are better suited to represent the league than 18 year olds.
Perhaps the best example of immature athletes entering the league at 18 is Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks. He’s had his fair share of off the ice issues from an incident at a college sorority party to a fight in a cab in Buffalo, New York. Perhaps Kane could’ve benefited from an extra year to mature before entering the league.
Or should I say, the league would’ve benefited from the PR scandal had Kane stayed out of the league that first and second year. It wasn’t an ideal situation for Chicago or the NHL, but Kane has been a key player in three Stanley Cup championships. The first one came just three years after being drafted.
It seems as though this draft age increase is inevitable at this point, but there are certainly some things to work out. But right now, the negative aspects are slightly outweighing the positive.