June 25, 2011
Life as a drafted hockey player in the minor leagues is a little different from that of the undrafted guy.
Once a scouting staff has staked their claims on a player (as they did on Friday night), they rightfully do everything within their power to make that kid the best he can be. And, they could probably do without some undrafted schlub outplaying the kid in the next season and making them look bad at their jobs.
Because of this, a few more opportunities are extended to their guy. Let's take a look at how things differ from one situation to the next.
(If this reads like a kid who's bitter he didn't get drafted, I assure you, I was so far from ever being remotely considered that it isn't the case. My goal was initially college at best — just sharing what I saw in the minors and junior below.)
Comfort Level (intros)
The drafted player will get to know a lot of names in the organization that first summer after becoming team property. He's involved in rookie camps, meetings and phone calls, never goes too long without hearing from the team. By the time he attends training camp, it looks like the guy is returning from Afghanistan when he walks into the rink — handshakes, hugs and laughter abound while the kid walks in wearing team gear. The dude knows everyone.
On the other hand … the undrafted player spent his summer in uncertainty while his agent hunted for the best opportunity for him. He wasn't sure where he'd be going until July or August, he trained at home, and knows one thing about the team he's going to play for — the date to show up for camp. You end up feeling like a kid whose parents sent him to his first day at a new elementary school with a knock-off lunchbox.
It ain't fun.
To have a chance to excel in any sport, it helps to play with good players. If all things are equal between the drafted and undrafted player, they logically give the drafted player the better lineys.
As an undrafted guy, you tend to start seasons in the minors playing alongside, let's say, "less than stars." You can earn your way up the depth chart of course, but it always helps to get the better opportunity first.
(The one advantage the undrafted player has here is low expectations. Starting decently from a low spot can make you a coach's fave.)
Drafted players should get the most time on the power play to prove themselves, and also to get the experience and develop. With that said, you would be boggled at the amount of time some guys get here despite their failings. In sum, their …
… is 10 times higher. Everyone has a learning curve, so I understand giving "your guys" time to iron things out. But it can cause a pretty substantial rift in the locker room when a guy is burying your team and the coach won't make a change (not that it's the player's fault). You always want to win, and sometimes you forget that the main goal of the minor leagues is development.
The undrafted player's eff-up leeway is right where it should be. You get rewarded for playing well, and punished for playing bad. But, it can be supremely frustrating when you get ripped off the powerplay for something you've seen Pretty-Boy Draft Pick do a thousand times without mention, but hey — shoulda gotten drafted, bud.
Call Up Factor
When there's an opportunity at the higher level, there's no surprise about who'll get the first crack at it. And probably the second, and third, and so on.
But if an undrafted player can make that constant, annoying case to make management think "you know what boys, we may have to admit that Undrafted Player B might be better than Drafted Player A," he'll get his shot. No team is foolish enough to keep an improving player down, and they don't want him to go to a different organization. If you're good enough, they'll embrace you regardless.
When players hear their names called tomorrow, it is a guarantee of nothing other than the best possible chance to become an NHLer. By the time you get to that top level, the advantages are over for most (save for top picks who still have a little more wiggle room). For the most part, a screw-up on the power play will get any player in hot water once you make it to The Show.
But, on the way there, the road is paved a little smoother for those who hear their name called on draft day. And more than that, it's just a heck of an accomplishment for an 18-year-old to be singled out by an NHL team.
The draft is always a big day for these kids, and Friday night was no different.