The history of the NHL draft has been, to use a polite term, inconsistent. In the 1970s, when the whole concept was still relatively new, nothing made the slightest bit of sense. Things had stabilized a bit by the 1980s, although there were still wide disparities in approaches and every now and then a team would just decide not to show up. The 1990s were filled with draft floor intrigue and costly busts, and even at the turn of the century, it was still fairly common to see the no. 1 pick traded away.
But by the time this current decade arrived, we were well into the cap era and most teams were approaching things in pretty much the same way. “Build through the draft” is every team’s mantra, top picks are almost never traded, the days of the overseas sleeper are long past, and everyone seems to be working from essentially the same information. The bad news is that all of this makes the draft a lot less fun. The good news is that, in theory at least, it should make things a little bit easier to predict.
This year’s draft is in Sunrise, Florida, with Round 1 happening tonight in prime time and everything else squished into a few hours tomorrow. In an attempt to figure out what might happen, let’s take a look at some pieces of conventional wisdom that have emerged over the years, and how they could apply to some of the top prospects who’ll be hearing their names called.
Conventional wisdom no. 1: Sure-thing franchise players are gold
In the cap era, there’s been at least some vague sense of uncertainty over the top pick in every year with the exception of 2005 (Sidney Crosby) and maybe 2008 (Steven Stamkos). Other than that, we’ve always had some degree of suspense over whose name would be called first.
That ends this year. Breaking: The Oilers are going to take Connor McDavid with the no. 1 overall pick. And after that, inside sources indicate that the Sabres are leaning toward Jack Eichel.
And that makes perfect sense, because McDavid and Eichel are two of the most highly regarded draft prospects the league has ever seen. McDavid has been hyped as the next Crosby for years, and he’s considered such a sure thing that there was plenty of speculation certain teams were tanking the 2014-15 season to increase their odds of landing him. (But don’t worry, the NHL assured us this never happens.)
Ironically, after all of that intentional losing, the draft lottery was won by the one terrible team in the league that really was trying its very best. While the Oilers’ lottery win wasn’t the ideal outcome for the league, it certainly shook up a franchise that’s been mired in misery for almost a decade. McDavid has the talent to single-handedly make the Oilers an instant playoff possibility, and he probably makes them Stanley Cup contenders sooner or later. He’s that good.
Eichel is good, too, and in any other year he would be a lock to go no. 1. This isn’t any other year, though, so when the Sabres lost the lottery and GM Tim Murray didn’t try especially hard to mask his disappointment, it was natural to view Eichel as a consolation prize. True as that may be, he’s one hell of a Plan B, and the few Sabres fans who haven’t already moved into the “We never wanted McDavid anyway” denial stage will get there pretty quickly once they get to watch him up close.
So McDavid will go first and Eichel will go second. That much we know. After that, things get interesting.