March 10, 2021

BELL: Analyzing 2021 NHL Draft Options

It looks as though we’ll be getting a clearer picture of the 2021 NHL Draft, according to TSN’s Darren Dreger.

After an uncertain lead-up, similar to last year’s NHL Draft, it was looking like we were headed towards months of questions and delays. However, it looks like the clouds are starting to part and there are blue skies ahead.

It looks like the draft will remain in its scheduled July 23-24 slot but there have been a number of options kicked around in the past couple of months.

Is keeping the draft in July the best option? Let’s take a look at all the options that have been pitched so far to see if the NHL is making the best decision.

Option 1: Leave the 2021 NHL Draft where it is

The option that looks like it will become a reality soon enough, this one is pretty straightforward. When the NHL announced that it would push forward with a 2020-21 NHL season, they set the dates for July 23-24. Sticking with that seems like the easiest option.

Pros: All NHL teams are in the same boat right now. They’ve all had the ability to watch the draft-1 (DY-1) seasons of these players and they’ve been able to watch all of the same prospects this season. No team has been handed an advantage in this situation, as long as they do their due diligence on prospects and started their book on the 2021-eligibles last season or even prior. Video work is available to all NHL teams, and those that have taken advantage of that should have a good read on these prospects.

Cons: While many players have hit the ice, including most of the top prospects, there are many that haven’t had game action yet. Look at a player like Seth Jarvis last season, who shot up draft boards as the season went on. There’s no question that some OHL and WHL players would follow Jarvis’ suit in this draft. Losing their draft-year, or at least most of it has prevented them from rising their draft stock from where it was in their DY-1 campaign.

In addition, the stress and mental health issues that stem from not being able to truly showcase yourself after working your entire life for this moment cannot be ignored. The players, unfortunately, are the lone sufferers from this option.

Option 2: Push the 2021 NHL Draft to December

The 2020 NHL Draft ended up getting pushed from June 2020 all the way to October due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A strong contender of an option, pushing the 2021 NHL Draft to December seems like a similar choice to what happened last year.

Pros: As we start looking at options that move the draft, the same pros come up. This gives players who haven’t had a full season, especially those in the OHL and WHL, a chance to hit the ice and make their case to bump up their draft stock. With limited international competitions, fewer (if any) live views, and the overall limitations of seasons across the globe, allowing all players to hit the ice is a big win for those eligible to be drafted.

Cons: Delaying the draft isn’t as easy as it sounds. The options that include moving the draft have issues regarding the CBA. As Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman pointed out, the two biggest, “most challenging” issues here are:

  • Would players drafted in December 2021 who make the NHL receive credit for a full-service year towards arbitration and/or unrestricted free agency?
  • A player taken from the CHL — and not signed within two years — goes back in the draft (as long as he is not older than 20). Will 2021–22 count as one season, even if the player is not selected until December 2021 or June 2022? This is even more challenging with 19-year-olds since they cannot be re-drafted under this scenario.

This would be a process between the NHL and NHLPA to solve these issues. It complicates the start of these young player’s careers. On top of this, if you push the draft to December, who’s to say that the OHL has even hit the ice by then? In the unpredictable world that we now live in, there’s no guarantee when you’re looking five to 11 months down the line.

Option 3: Two drafts in June 2022

Rather than putting a draft potentially in the middle of a season (Option 2), the option of pushing the draft all the way to June 2022, having both the 2021-eligibles and 2022-eligibles selected within one week, back-to-back. This would be an extremely interesting and historic week for the NHL.

Pros: Similar to Option 2, the biggest pro here is that the NHL gives nearly a full year for players to hit the ice. This could even include a full OHL and WHL season. On top of players getting to show their growth and talents off, this gives teams another year of evaluation and a chance to see the development of the eligible prospects. Plus, how exciting for fans would it be to have four days of drafting, including nearly 500 players seeing their dream come true of being drafted into the NHL.

Cons: Again, the Option 2 cons are all still evident here. Plus, a new addition in here is that NHL teams would need to scout double the prospects – those eligible for both drafts. Scouts will be the first ones to say this would not be ideal, as doubling the work for them would not be ideal. Scouts tend to work extended hours as it is with one draft, adding a second wave of prospects to that would not be ideal.

Option 4: 2021 first-round as scheduled, delay rounds two-seven

An intriguing alternative that has been discussed less than the above options, rather than having the entire draft in July, December, or June 2022, why not split it up? Keep the first round of the draft in July, and push rounds two to seven to December or even 2022.

Pros: In this option, those top prospects drafted in the first round are still able to jump into the NHL in the 2021-22 season, where those drafted 32nd or later would be drafted at a later date. This could bypass one of those CBA challenges as listed above, as the players who would be able to reach the NHL right away wouldn’t need to be worried about losing a year of unrestricted free agency.

Cons: However, the second CBA challenge still exists, about the 2021-22 season counting as a year towards re-entering the draft. And still, the fact that the next year of the hockey calendar is extremely unpredictable is an issue that is unavoidable. The above cons are still very much a factor here, no matter how fun a split draft could be.

What’s the NHL to do?

There’s no perfect situation here. The NHL finds itself in a situation where no matter what the decision is, there are going to be parties disappointed with the outcome. For the least amount of headaches though, the first option is the way to go. It’s fair to all NHL teams, without giving any an advantage in this draft.

While the players who haven’t hit the ice may draw the short straw on this one, there are still options for the NHL to help. The idea has been kicked around for a prospect tournament or showcase. Those players that haven’t played could participate and show off their growth that way. There’s also the upcoming IIHF World Under-18 Hockey Championship in Texas, where some of these players may be on display.

What do you think the NHL should do? Is there another option you like? Tweet your ideas at us, @FCHockey.

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