NHL entry draft
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The NHL Entry Draft: All You Need To Know

The NHL entry draft is a moment NHL fans are passionate about as it allows NHL franchises to bring in players who could just be the next big thing. Every ice hockey fan have high expectations whenever a young draft is introduced to the team. This was evident in the case of Sidney Crosby who is currently making a name for himself in ice hockey. 

In this article, we will be explaining the entire process of the NHL entry draft.

What Is An Entry Draft In The NHL?

what is the NHL draft entry

The NHL Entry Draft is an annual convention of every franchise in the National Hockey League for a systematic right to the selection of known ice hockey players who meet the draft eligibility requirement. This means it is a gathering where NHL teams pick young players they want to bring into their team from a junior league or collegiate league. 

The draft is a means whereby young ice hockey players from junior leagues, collegiate leagues and even professional leagues in Europe can join the NHL.

The event was the NHL Amateur Draft during its inception in 1963. Since its inception, it has allowed young ice hockey players to be affiliated with an NHL franchise and the opportunity for an NHL contract.

Players Who Qualify For NHL Drafts

For players to qualify for the NHL entry draft they must have to meet a few eligibility requirements. The requirement is based on the age of the player and experience. 

The minimum age to be eligible for an entry draft is 18 years of age. However, this rule extends only to players who will be 18 years on or before the 15th of September of the draft year. In addition, the age limit for an entry draft is 20 years of age for North American players and 21 years for European and international players

  • North American Players (18 – 20 years)
  • European/International Players (18 – 21 years)

Similarly, players who will be above 20 (North America) or 21 (European/International) by December 31 of the draft year will not qualify for the draft

In terms of experience, the players on the NHL draft are majorly from these three categories:

  • Major Junior Leagues in Canada and the United States such as the CHL (Canadien Hockey League), CJHL (Canadien Junior Hockey League), USHL (United States Hockey League), NAHL (North American Hockey League) and more.
  • European junior and senior men hockey league
  • National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCCA): An athletic body which governs colleges, universities and confederations

How The NHL Entry Draft Works

Entry Drafts compose of seven rounds of choice. In each round, each of the NHL franchises (32 of them) selects a single player from a list of players. In all the average number of junior league players that get drafted every draft season is 224 (7*32).

A round ends after each franchise has picked a player, and then the second round will proceed, up to the seventh round.

Teams often go for the most skilled and valuable players during the first round of the draft. The process of selection of who has the first pick on players is not random. It follows a systematic arrangement that is the same order yearly. 

How To Determine the NHL draft order 

How to determine the draft order

When it comes to the selection order (who has the first choice in the selection of entry drafts), the NHL favours weaker teams. This means that the franchise with the first pick is the team that has the lowest ranking in the previous season.

Here is the basic order which determines who ranks first to last in the selection order

  • Pick 1-16: Teams that didn’t qualify for the playoffs in the previous season. 
    The order is based on the reverse order of their standing in the previous season (least-ranked team to teams with better ranking)
  • Pick 17-24: Teams that made the playoffs but did not win either their division in the regular season
  • Pick 25-28: Teams that won their division but did not play in the Conference Finals in the previous season.
  • Pick 29 and 30: Teams that lost the Conference Finals
  • Pick 31: The team that was the runner-up to the Stanley Cup
  • Pick 32: The team that won the Stanley Cup 

Any team that wins the Stanley cup usually has the last pick among the 32 franchises in each round.

This order of arrangement changes during the first pick because of the NHL draft lottery. More on the draft lottery is explained in this article. 

How Many Rounds Are In the NHL draft?

As mentioned earlier there are seven rounds in the entry drafts

During round one, the selection order is not solely dependent on the reverse ranking of the teams in the previous season. Rather, the selection order is subject to the outcome of the lottery draft (coming to that in a minute). 

However, the second round to the seventh round follows the general selection rule. This gives the team with the least ranking the first pick and the winner of the Stanley cup the last pick.

When and Where  Does The NHL Draft Take Place?

The NHL entry draft is a yearly event and it begins two to three months after the conclusion of a regular season. It begins in the latter days of July and typically lasts for 2 days. 

As for where, records show that from 1963 to 1984, the NHL draft was held in Montreal, Quebec. At this time, the draft only took place in hotels, league offices and forums in  Montreal. 

Eventually, in 1987, the NHL began rotating the location of the draft each year. The location of the first NHL draft held outside of Canada was Jose Louis Arena, Detroit. The location of the 2022 NHL draft that took place on July 8-9, 2022 held at the Bell Center Montreal Quebec.

However, the 2023 NHL draft is to hold in Bridgestone Arena, Nashville Tennessee. Check out the list of all the arenas in the NHL ranked based on seating capacity

YearNHL Draft LocationCountry
2019Rogers ArenaVancouver, British Columbia
2020NHL Network StudioSecaucus, New Jersey
2021NHL Network StudioSecaucus, New Jersey
2022Bell CenterMontreal, Quebec
2023Bridgestone ArenaNashville, Tennessee

Can You Play In The NHL Without Being Drafted?

Yes. A player who has surpassed the age gap for being drafted automatically becomes a free agent and is free to sign an NHL contract with any team of his choice

Unfortunately, the path to the NHL is not as straightforward when you are an undrafted player at the initial stage. An undrafted player who becomes a free agent will most likely play in the NCAA and other European and American university hockey leagues.

Later on, if they show exceptional talent, they might be invited for a tryout in a minor league by scouts. If they are successful, they might have their first signing into a minor league. 

Once playing in a minor league, they have a chance of getting into the NHL to play. Although the process requires determination and persistence, it occurs in the NHL. Below are some of the renowned ice hockey players who were never drafted but worked their way up the ladder.

Some Famous undrafted players 

PlayersNHL Teams
Wayne GretzkyEdmonton Oilers
Dan BoyleTampa Bay Lightning
Adam OatesBoston Bruins
Joe MullenSt. Louis Blues
Mark GiordanoToronto Maple Leafs
Brian RafalskiNew Jersey Devils
Chris KunitzPittsburgh Penguin
Daniel GirardiNew York Rangers
Rich Peverly Boston Bruins

What Is The NHL Draft Lottery?

The NHL draft lottery is a random draw that determines the selection order of the teams that have the no.1 to no.16 pick. The draw gives the lowest of the low-ranking teams the chance of having the first pick during the entry draft. 

Teams That Qualify For NHL Draft Lottery 

The only NHL franchises that partake in the NHL draft lottery are the teams that did not qualify for the playoffs in the previous season. This means the first 16 players in the reverse ranking of the last NHL season

How Does The NHL Draft Lottery Work 

NHL draft lottery

Each of the 16 teams that didn’t qualify for the playoffs will enter into a weighted lottery. The odds of winning this lottery are given to each team in descending order, meaning that the team that came last in the ranking of the previous season has a higher percentage chance of winning than and for teams with a better ranking

Let’s say the Anaheim Ducks came last in the previous season and the Edmonton Oilers have the best ranking of the 16 teams. If the winning percentage should be given, the Anaheim Ducks will have a higher percentage and this will reduce until it gets to the Edmonton Oilers. 

The winning percentage determines how likely it is for a team to win the draw. Below is the distribution of the draft odds for the 2022 NHL draft lottery. 

Ranking (lowest ranking to highest ranking)PointOdd Percentage
Columbus Blue Jackets 3318.5%
Chicago Blackhawks 3413.5%
Anaheim Ducks 3711.5%
Arizona Coyotes 389.5%
San Jose Sharks 418.5%
Vancouver Canucks 437.5%
Montreal Canadiens 446.5%
St. Louis Blues496%
Ottawa Senators 495%
Detroit Redwings503.5%
Philadelphia Flyers 513%
Florida Panthers542.5%
Nashville Predators 542%
New York Islanders 551.5%
Buffalo Sabres 560.5%
Calgary Flames 570.5%

Changes To The NHL Draft Lottery Over The Years 

Changes to the draft lottery


The draft lottery has changed over the years in the NHL. In 2013-2015, only a team could win the draft lottery. At that time, there was no limit to how much the winners of the lottery could move up the draft order. Consequently, it meant that once a team won the lottery, it automatically had the first pick during the first draft round


During 2015-2020, the lottery allowed for three winners who will be given the first, second and third pick. This was followed by the team on top of the draft moving no more than three spots down the draft order. This means the other teams will be arranged below them in the basic order.


In 2021, the NHL reduced the lottery to include just two winners who will be given the first and second picks. This means the arrangement of the remaining 14 teams will be below the two winners (they are arranged from lowest to highest in the previous season’s ranking).


The most recent change to the rule is for the 2022 lottery draft. The rules keep the fact that only two winners will be gotten from the draft, however, it does not allow them to automatically have the first pick. The change states that each lottery winner is not allowed to move no more than 10 spots. This means that only team’s within the first 11 spots can get the first pick. Teams with the 12-16 spot can move up a maximum of 10 spots and even though they are higher, they do not get the first pick. 

It is important to note that the standing due to the draft lottery only lasts for the first round. During the second to the seventh round, the order of assessing who gets the first pick is based on basic principles (solely based on the backward ranking of the previous season).

Who won the NHL draft lottery in 2021 and 2022

During the 2021 entry drafts, the Buffalo Sabres won the no. 1 pick after winning the draft lottery. The Seattle Krakens were behind the Sabres and then the Anaheim Ducks won the third pick. The Sabres’ first pick was for Owen Power, a defenseman who was from the University of Michigan

As for 2022, the Montreal Canadiens won the draft lottery moving them up to have the no. 1 pick. Later on, the Canadiens settled for Juraj Slafkovsky. Juraj was recognized for his performance during the 2022 winter Olympics where he won the award of MVP. 

Can A Team trade its NHL Draft pick? 

Draft Picks can be traded by teams with the condition of a better alternative. In some cases, high-ranking teams tend to be more willing to trade their draft pick compared to weaker teams. 

When draft picks are traded it is mostly because the franchise wants a certain professional player in another team. When it comes to trading draft picks, the first pick is often traded because they are often the most valuable players. 

Draft picks are also available to be traded on the same draft day. Some teams often wait until their draft pick is on the clock before offering up a trade. Other teams make their trade a few weeks before the start of the playoffs. 

In most cases,  a team with a better chance of making the playoffs trade their draft pick with a poor-performing team. This is an enticing offer to the team getting the trade as it gives the team a chance at getting a new set of talent (maybe the next Sidney Crosby) in exchange for a player on their roster

Percentage of drafts that make the nhl

Not every draft pick eventuallly gets to play in the NHL. Also, not every drafts eventually gets signed into the NHL. The chance of a draft playing in the NHL depends on the round he was choosen by a NHL franchise. Below is a statistical table of the showing the tendency of drafts picked in each round to play in the NHL.

*Player Score: This is the score of drafted players who played at least 100 games to total number of drafted players

RoundPlayer ScorePercentage
1120 out of 18066.7%
250 out of 18726.7%
331 out of 18017.2%
427 out of 18414.7%
516 out of 1878.6%
618 out of 1829.8%
713 out of 1867%
Research By Jamie Bisson

The table show a decress in the chance of drafted players thay do not make the first pick. Players chosen during the first round have a 66.6% chance of playing at least 100 games in the NHL.

Unfortunately, the same cant be said for the drafted players in the second round as they a 40% less chance of playing 100 nhl games. The trend keeps going down until it gets to the seventh round having a 7% chance of playing in the NHL.


The NHL draft has become an important part of ice hockey. Its growth is also getting to be more significant with NHL teams identifying the talents that lie in junior leagues. Teams and scouts in the NHL have also put more effort into getting the best possible player to draft into their team.

There you have it, a comprehensive explanation of the NHL entry draft. Hope you found this informative. 

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