Often, when we look at sportsmen and women, we get intrigued by how they got there in the first place. These silent questions typically focus on how their first club scouted them and how they grew into the eminent sports personality there are now.

However, as a hockey fan, these questions even become more interesting. Where did the scouts see the players play? How do they draft them in? How did they manage their way through the NHL draft?

Thankfully, this article focuses on the NHL draft process, thus addressing these concerns.

What is the NHL draft?

The NHL entry draft is the method by which teams can select players. The primary goal is to help young and developing players gain attention from teams and get picked. 

The selected players will be members of the NHL franchise, and these franchises will have the right to give them playing contracts in the league. 

The entry draft consists of 7 rounds, each with 31 choices, for a total of 217 players.

When does the draft take place?

First held in 1963, the NHL draft is an annual event that usually takes place in June, two or three months after the season ends. 

However, due to specific circumstances, time modifications may be necessary. The 2020 draft, for example, was held in October owing to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Who is Eligible for the draft?

Players must be 18 years old by September 15 and not more than 20 years old by December 31 of the draft year to be considered for selection in that year’s NHL Entry Draft. 

Players that are not of North American origin and are above 20 years are also eligible to participate.

Other players older than the stipulated age of 20 can sign as free agents with any team they like. 

What is the draft process?

The 31 NHL franchises are placed in a selection order based on several factors. These factors are structured to favor the weakest clubs from the previous season.

The points total from the previous regular season determines the exact order of teams within each group; the team with the lowest count picks first.

This is the selection order:

  • The teams who did not reach the playoffs.
  • Teams who qualified for the playoffs but were not their division’s winner or did could not reach the Conference Finals.
  • Division winning teams who did not make the Conference Finals.
  • The Conference Finals runner up
  • The Stanley Cup Finals runner-up.
  • The Stanley Cup-winning team.

The NHL Draft Lottery and its working methods

Aside from the standard selection process, a draft lottery affects the order of selection. During the Stanley Cup playoffs, this lottery event takes place.

Since the lottery’s introduction, there has only been one lottery winner, but starting with the 2016 selection, three teams have emerged as winners of the first three picks.

This is how it works

The lottery system distributes the first three draft picks to the 15 teams that did not make the previous season’s playoffs. 

Teams with the lowest prior season point totals have a better probability of winning the lottery. The worst performing team has an 18% winning chance, while the highest-ranking team has a 0.9% chance.

Teams that do not obtain one of the top three lottery picks will rank according to their regular-season records. If a team has the lowest regular-season record but does not receive one of the first three lottery picks, they will be fourth.

Because the lottery determines just the top three picks, no team can drop more than three slots down the list.

Can undrafted players play in the NHL?

Only North Americans have a chance of doing this. They can still play as a free agent, and teams can even sign them without a draft. Non-north Americans, on the other hand, must first be drafted.


Hockey is a thrilling sport to watch. Aside from being entertaining, hockey fans can also pursue a career in the sport.

Indigenous to North America, the NHL is a poster boy for hockey leagues worldwide. But anyone who wants to play NHL hockey must first be drafted into the league. 

This article covers everything interested parties need to know about the NHL drafting process.