Recent reports are suggesting that the NHL is considering playing into August as a way to hand out the Stanley Cup this season. That would likely mean a shortened offseason that would last from September and October, and it would push the NHL Draft back a few months from it’s originally scheduled date.
With the NHL’s schedule being completely flipped around right now, it might be the perfect time to make some big changes to the way things around the league work, specifically, the age at which players are drafted. I’ve been saying for a while now that the NHL should consider moving its draft age from 18 to 19. There are a handful of reasons why.
First, it would allow more first-round picks to crack their team’s rosters the year after being drafted. That would add more excitement to the draft and really change how teams make their selections. If your team needs a scoring winger, you might be more willing to take one in the first round of a 19-year-old draft compared to the current system where, for the most part, drafting based on position or current organizational need isn’t considered a smart move.
I think that having a system where 10-12 first rounders crack their teams opening night roster instead of just a handful would greatly increase the hype surrounding the NHL Draft.
Also, I think this would result in teams being more certain of their first-round picks and could result in fewer busts early in the draft. That extra year of development could help scouts identify which players are actually worthy of being selected early.
This could also end the process of sending players back to junior, which again, will only help teams control the development of their investments. Take Evan Bouchard for example. The Oilers needed to make a choice on him in his rookie season. If they wanted him to play pro hockey, he had to spend the entire season in the NHL. If they wanted him to develop at a lesser level, he had to spend the entire season in junior. There was no option for the Oilers to keep their first-round pick in their system for a season, which isn’t right in my opinion.
If the draft age was moved to 19, then most players drafted out of the CHL could go right from the draft into the American Hockey League. That way the team could give him a few tastes of NHL hockey throughout the season while still giving him time to develop and get used to playing the professional game.
How would the NHL go about changing the draft age without upsetting too many organizations? Well, there is no perfect way to do it, but this year might be a perfect time to start the process. Here is my idea, step by step.
For the 2020 Draft, you can only draft an 18-year-old in the first two rounds. In rounds 3-7, you take the current draft age and push it back 4 months.
This way, the teams who had their eye on a marquee 18-year-old early in the draft will still be able to select them. By pushing the draft age for the rest of the rounds back four months, you start the process of moving the draft age back a full year while still ensuring that there are enough prospects to fill seven rounds of the draft.
For the 2021 Draft, you move the draft age back six months from what it currently is (this bumps rounds 3-7 back another two months).
This would still keep a decent amount of players in the 2021 Draft class. Yes, it would take a lot of the talent out, but there would be a handful of leftover players from the fact that the late rounds of the 2020 Draft picks would have been pushed back.
By establishing this before the 2020/21 season starts, you really wouldn’t give teams a reason to complain and you would give them a full season of knowing exactly what players they should be scouting and be able to pick.
The top of the draft would be affected, but there would still be some talented players for teams to choose from and they would have a full season to know that this is not the year they should be ‘tanking’ for a high-pick. It actually might result in more draft picks being traded and a very busy trade deadline, which is an added perk.
For the 2022 Draft, you would push the draft age back the final six months, making it so that only 19-year-olds are selected in every round.
It would be the final leap in a three-year process to get the draft age to its correct number. This draft class might be weakened a little bit, but not substantially as there would be some high-end players who got pushed out of the 2021 class.
My idea isn’t perfect, and there may be a few flaws in my thinking, but I do believe that if the NHL could find a way to push the draft age back a year, it would only improve the league and their draft process. It’s some short term pain for long-term gain. By doing it over a three-year span as I proposed above, you would really only be impacting a few drafts and even then, the first two rounds in 2020 aren’t affected and even the 2022 Draft wouldn’t be impacted too drastically when it comes to the talent available.
While I’m on the topic, I will also say that the WHL should follow suit and change its draft age from 15-years-old to 16. In my opinion, drafting a player who isn’t eligible to play for your club for a full season hurts the hype around the prospect. 12 months can really change a player at that young of an age and the league should view this as a chance to fix their system.
There will never be a perfect time or way to change the draft age in any league, and just pushing it back all at once would create a very weak draft class for one season, but in my opinion, this is something the NHL should be looking at and right now might be the best time to do it.