If there’s one thing Stephen Bartlett would like young hockey players to know it’s this – the NHL Entry Draft is a lot of pomp and circumstance.
Bartlett, an agent in Rochester working with pro hockey players since 1985, said being drafted is great, but it’s not the end game nor is it the only way into the National Hockey League.
“The reality of the draft, it’s hard to convince young players of this, but the draft is for the benefit of the teams not the players,” Bartlett said. “What they’re doing is taking you out of circulation. So being drafted isn’t always the best thing, economically, for a kid. At the same time, kids have that dream of being drafted and it’s hard to temper that.
“When I talk to these kids, I tell them the draft is a pat on the back along the way. There are high draft picks who never make it and guys who never were drafted who have great careers. It’s one step in the journey and you don’t stop working once you’re drafted.”
Once a player is drafted, NHL teams hold the exclusive rights for one to four years, depending upon a variety of circumstances, including whether the player is in major junior or playing NCAA hockey.
Bartlett loves the college hockey route, especially for guys who aren’t on the NHL fast track. It gives players more time to develop. When they leave school as undrafted free agents, they have more options.
“Major junior has a tighter time frame,” Bartlett said. “You age out at 20 years old and if you haven’t established yourself as a pro prospect, your chances of making it are really small.
“One of the things I like about college hockey, if you’re really good you leave after two years and if you need four years to develop, you have it. There’s a sliding scale that allows a player to give himself every chance.”
“We had a guy, Andy McDonald out of Colgate a few years back. He was underrated and no one talked about him until his junior year in college. He signed as an undrafted free agent after his senior year in college. In major juniors, he would have aged out two years earlier and be working at the Ford plant in Mississauga.”
Those extra two years of experience put McDonald on the radar. He signed with the Anaheim Ducks, winning a Stanley Cup in 2007.
The moral of his story? Getting drafted is great, but going undrafted is not the end of the world for a hockey player.
“There was a case one time where a kid didn’t get drafted and he said, ‘This is the worst day of my life,’” Bartlett said. “I assured him it wasn’t. He played hard and four years later he got a million-dollar signing bonus from an NHL team and there were four other teams willing to pay the same.
“I think there is so much hype around the draft that players think, ‘If I’m drafted, I’ll be successful.’ They may have a better chance initially to get a look, but if they don’t develop, don’t become a better player, it doesn’t mean anything.”