The NHL draft isn't as popular as the NFL draft or even the NBA draft. First and foremost, hockey isn't as popular as football or basketball. The NHL draft is also more similar to the MLB draft in that most of these draft eligible players are years away from potentially making an impact in the NHL. Only a handful of the players who hear their name called this weekend will make any sort of impact on the upcoming season.
However, the NHL draft does have something in common with the NFL and NBA drafts. The betting market correctly predicted who the first overall pick would be, despite most talking heads and analysts steering fans in a different direction. How did the NHL draft odds move, and what kind of impact will this have on draft betting in the future?
Shane Wright was a massive favorite
Diehard NHL fans have known the name Shane Wright for over two years now. He was just the fifth player in Canadian junior hockey history to be granted "exceptional status" which allowed him to enter the junior leagues at the age of 15. Others who have been granted this status include former first overall picks John Tavares, Aaron Ekblad and Connor McDavid, now all impact players in the NHL.
Wright has been tabbed as the best prospect in the 2022 draft for at least two years. When the betting markets first opened a few weeks ago, Wright was between a -5000 and -3000 favorite across the industry to be the first player off the board.
However, semi-retired legendary TSN analyst Bob McKenzie released his final draft rankings on June 28th and he had Slovakian forward Juraj Slafkovsky as his top-rated prospect, ahead of Wright. McKenzie is arguably the most respected insider in the hockey world, and the betting market reacted to his rankings. However, Wright was still a prohibitive favorite, as he was a -300 favorite to go first overall just a few days before the draft.
Juraj Slafkovsky was the bettors' pick
Juraj Slafkovsky entered this past hockey season as a consensus top-10 pick, but he was not really mentioned as a possibility to go first overall much. However, he had some impressive performances that really caused his stock to rise. He won the MVP at the Olympics and had a tremendous World Championships for Slovakia. He opened between +500 and +600 to be the first overall pick of the NHL draft.
When McKenzie released his rankings, Slafkovsky's odds dropped to the +175/+200 range. Early on draft day, Slafkovsky was down to just +120 to be the first pick of the NHL draft. As the draft neared, Slafkovsky actually ended up closing as the betting favorite to go first overall at -160. When the draft opened, the Montreal Canadiens selected Slafkovsky, surprising many including Slafkovsky and his family.
— NHL (@NHL) July 8, 2022
Bettors who backed Slafkovsky had a nice payday. Some got in at +500, while many got in at prices near +200. Shane Wright, who was a massive favorite to be the first overall pick, dropped all the way to Seattle at pick 4.
Bettors are dominating drafts
In early April, NFL draft analysts and insiders had Aidan Hutchinson as the consensus No. 1 overall pick of the draft. However, as the draft neared, the betting odds for Travon Walker continued to drop. Then, Walker became the betting favorite and eventually closed as a massive favorite. Jacksonville ended up selecting Walker with their pick.
A few weeks ago at the NBA draft, most had Jabari Smith Jr. going first overall to Orlando. The morning of the draft, Adrian Wojnarowski even reported that Smith was likely going first overall. However, the betting market fancied Paolo Banchero. Banchero was 16-to-1 to be the first pick a week before the draft. He closed as the betting favorite, and what do you know, Orlando selected Banchero.
Now, despite most penciling in Shane Wright as the first pick of the NHL draft for over two years, bettors sided with Juraj Slafkovsky and once again they ended up being right.
What does this mean for the future and our ability to bet on drafts in sports? Not every sportsbook offered odds for the NHL draft. It's unclear whether that's due to a lack of interest in the sport's draft and the sport's relative lack of popularity, or whether that was a calculated decision by sportsbooks to limit risk.
The draft is a rare event in sports betting where there are people that know what will happen with certainty. In handicapping a normal game, information is a large part of the equation, but it's not the whole equation. When betting the draft, information is all you need. And obviously, there are people out there who know things. Once could be lucky, twice could be a coincidence, but three times is a trend.