What to watch for in the NHL Draft

Staff file photo / Brian Yauger Phantoms forward Adam Ingram is expected to be selected this weekend in the NHL Entry Draft. He is projected as high as the late first round.

With the NHL season in the books, the hockey world turns its head toward the offseason.

That first milestone of the offseason is the NHL Entry Draft.

This is typically my favorite time of year. I say typically because as someone who covers junior hockey, it’s fun to see the guys I’ve written about in the past get their names called. This year, however, things are a little different.

The Colorado Avalanche won the Stanley Cup, so I haven’t exactly been worried about the draft as I may have been in years past. I laughed, I cried, it was the most fun I’ve had as a hockey fan since watching the SteelHounds as a kid.

But enough about me, the season is over, and now it’s onto the draft, where 225 kids from all across the world will take the first step toward their dream of making the big time.

The NHL Draft isn’t as heavily followed as some of the others. In fact, a lot of people just tune it out. Given that there’s a junior league team that’s produced NHL players right down the road, I thought it would be helpful to include a little guide to how the draft operates for those who are interested, but have no idea where to start.


The NHL Draft is held every year, typically in June, and consists of players who will be 18 years old on or before Sept. 15 and not older than 19 years old before Dec. 31 of the draft year. European players are eligible up to age 21.

Players can be selected from numerous leagues worldwide, but players are chosen primarily from North American junior leagues, with some players getting selected out of American colleges and European mens’ leagues.

For example, in the 2015 draft, the top selection Connor McDavid (Edmonton Oilers) played for the Erie Otters of the Ontario Hockey League, while the second pick, Jack Eichel (drafted by the Sabres), played for Boston University. Down the board to 10th overall, Mikko Rantanen (Colorado Avalanche) was drafted out of Liiga, the Finnish men’s league.

It’s different from the NBA and NFL Drafts where a lot of players are expected to contribute that following season. Only a handful of players in the NHL Draft make the team out of the gate, let alone be a major contributor. The ones that do are considered exceptional talents like McDavid or Auston Matthews (Toronto Maple Leafs).

These guys are usually at least a year away, sometimes more. That’s why teams don’t draft for need. If your team desperately needs a left-shot defenseman, drafting one who won’t be ready for a few years isn’t going to help.

Most players will stay in the junior league for the following season. Some get a brief tryout at the NHL level at the beginning of the year if they’re on the cusp of making it. The limit is nine games before it counts as a year on the player’s three-year entry level deal, so if a player reaches 10 games, he’s there for the season.

If that player is college-bound, this is not an option due to NCAA rules. They can participate in the summer rookie camps, but once again, due to NCAA rules, have to cover all expenses minus the first 48 hours of their first time at camp. The camps are optional, but highly recommended.

Montreal hosts this year’s draft and holds the first overall pick after winning this year’s draft lottery. Most outlets rank Shane Wright out of the OHL’s Kingston Frontenacs as the top-overall prospect with Juraj Slafkovsky out of Finnish club TPS being a near-consensus second overall.


The Youngstown Phantoms are no strangers to the NHL Draft. Since their first USHL season in 2009-2010, the Phantoms have had several players hear their name called including Winnipeg Jets forward Kyle Connor (Round 1, Pick 17, 2015) and New York Islanders defenseman Scott Mayfield (Round 2, Pick 34, 2011).

The highest-ranked Youngstown Phantom on the board this season is Adam Ingram, a forward expected to be a second- or third-round selection.

Ingram is ranked as high as the 27th-ranked North American skater by NHL Central Scouting and 36th by Puck Authority. His lowest ranking is 83rd by Craig Button.

Equipped with a solid skillset, once Ingram puts on more muscle at the college level, he could develop into a solid middle-six option for a team after a few seasons in college.

The West St. Paul, Manitoba, native interviewed with 27 of the league’s 32 teams. Wherever he goes, that team is going to get a winger with a big shot. Ingram put up 55 points (26 goals, 29 assists) with the Phantoms this past season.

Ingram tries to model his game after another former Phantom, that being the all-star and Lady Byng Memorial Trophy-winning Connor.

Phantoms co-GM Jason Deskins says Ingram is a unique talent, but sees a bit of a different player in him. One who also played with the Jets for a few years.

“He’s a unique player. He’s a guy that can play center, he could play the wall, he’s great on the flank on the powerplay, when he’s coming downhill,” Deskins said. “He has the ability to really see the puck. I think when you look at some of the guys around the league, he’s got a little bit of Evander Kane in him where he’s able to really rip a puck and beat a goaltender clean.

“That’s the most popular name we’d like to use, but he does have the ability to rip the puck. … I think Adam is a unique player because he’s big, he’s still not even close to where he’s going to be from a developmental standpoint over the course of the next three or four years. I think his game is going to continue to translate from level to level, especially when he gets to St. Cloud State.”

There’s a good chance it’s not just Ingram that’s going to have his name called this weekend. A few players who were selected in the USHL Draft earlier this year are expected to have their name called again.

Forward Matthew Perkins, who Phantom fans will get to meet this fall, is one of five players ranked by NHL Central Scouting. All of these names should hit the ice at the Covelli Centre at least once this season.

Michael Fisher (No. 52), James Fisher (No. 99), Perkins (No. 106), Tyson Dyck (No. 110) and Reese Laubach (No. 192) are all ranked, and have the possibility of having their names called this weekend.

In addition to those names, Swedish defenseman Filip Nordberg is expected to make his way stateside this season with the Phantoms after being selected in the Phase II Draft. The 6-foot-4 left-handed defender is ranked in the early 100s worldwide, (52nd-ranked international via NHL Central Scouting) and could hear his name called in the fourth round.

“He’s a defenseman who plays in all three zones, can run a power play, but is big and physical in his own zone as well,” co-GM Ryan Kosecki said after the USHL Phase II Draft.

The Phantoms are focused on development before and after the draft. Deskins and Kosecki have said their goal is to make Youngstown a premier junior destination, and the NHL Draft is a great way to showcase that.

“We’re just super excited for Adam and the rest of our, either prospects or current players that will get drafted,” Kosecki said. “We want to make this the best organization that develops great kids into future NHL players.


Pittsburgh native Logan Cooley was part of the first-ever youth camp put on by Sidney Crosby back in 2008. Now, 14 years later, Cooley will be joining Crosby in the ranks of first-round draft selections.

He’s not going to have to wait long either. The experts assume he goes no lower than third, where Arizona is a likely landing spot for Cooley.

Despite the Coyotes having plenty of needs, Cooley will still be spending the winter at the University of Minnesota. Depending on his season and what he shows at the college level, Cooley could potentially be a “one-and-done.”

For those looking for a player comparison, Cooley models his game after Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane.

Assuming he goes higher than 15th, Cooley will be the highest-selected Pittsburgh native in NHL Draft history.


Columbus has two first round picks this season in the top 15 and can make a real splash. Cutter Gauthier of the United States National Team Development Program is a name frequently thrown around for the Blue Jackets at the sixth overall spot. The Blue Jackets also have the 12th overall pick.

They also pick 44th overall (second round), 96th overall (third round), 109th overall (fourth round) and 203rd overall (seventh round).

Pittsburgh, who often trades its first round picks, has a selection this year at pick No. 21. With an aging Crosby and rumors of Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang leaving in free agency, the Pittsburgh faithful might need to prepare for a rebuild. But who knows with the Penguins? As long as Crosby is around, Pittsburgh will always try to find a way to be a playoff team.

Don’t be surprised if Pittsburgh does something exciting on the draft floor once again.

Potential options for Pittsburgh at pick No. 21 are Pavel Mintyukov, a left-shot defenseman out of Saginaw (OHL), Denton Mateychuk, another left-shot defenseman out of Moose Jaw (Western Hockey League, and Jimmy Snuggerud, a forward out of the USNTDP.

Don’t take this as an actual prediction, just listing a few names who could potentially be around when the Penguins pick.

Pittsburgh has four more picks in the later rounds. They pick at 118 (fourth round), 150 (fifth round), 182 (sixth round) and 214 (seventh round).

Day 1 of the NHL Draft is set for Thursday, July 7 and Day 2 (rounds 2-7) will be on Friday.

The free agency period begins July 13 at noon.


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