NHL Draft: Best Available or Team Need?

Jonas (Photo: NHL)

If you were the General Manager of the Capitals, or any sports team for that matter, would you draft the best available player or draft players based on positions your team needs to fill?  Let’s talk about both and how they could possibly affect a franchise’s future.

Drafting for need:  I’ve really tried to think up a good reason for this being your draft philosophy.  The only time I think this could be a good way to go, is perhaps (depending on the draft class) when you have the top players available evenly ranked.  If a center and a defenseman project to debut in the NHL around the same time and your team needs (or is going to need) a defenseman, then of course you would draft to fill your team’s need.  This would probably be a more suitable strategy for the later rounds of the draft when player’s future projections aren’t quite as clear.  But you still enter the draft having put a ton of time and money into researching and scouting these players and most teams have a list of players ranked in order.  So should you stick to your list?

Brian Maclellan (Caps GM) thinks so.

“The philosophy is going to be to draft the best player that has the most upside available and we’ll continue with that, whether it’s a defenseman or center or a winger,” MacLellan said. “We’re not going to draft by position only. We’ll be looking for a guy, or guys in that range, that we think can play at a high level.”  (Alex Prewitt, Washington Post)

Ross Mahoney (Caps Asst. GM) seems to agree.

“We make our list and we just start striking names off as they’re being called out. Then when it gets to our pick, we’ll have a look. We always had a philosophy that we’ll take the best player available. We’ve never really drafted by need.”  (Alex Prewitt Washington Post)

For more on MacLellan and Mahoney’s draft philosophy, check out Alex Prewitt’s article here.

Drafting best player available:  This seems to be the strategy most teams utilize and for more reasons than one.  There’s nothing wrong with having two All-Star caliber goalies on a team or two centers capable of centering a top line in the NHL.  These are usually the players who will give you the most beneficial return.  With few players from each year’s draft making an opening day NHL roster, it would seem smart to consider what could happen to your squad in the time that it takes for your drafted players to develop.  Who knows what can happen in that time period?  With off-season trades, in-season trade deadlines, players departing and being signed in free agency, the salary cap or even injuries, I think teams could benefit most had they drafted the best player available two or three (or however many) years ago.  It gives you more options and more fire power.  Whether you’re inserting them in the lineup or trading them for a player of similar caliber or maybe trading one away for a veteran to make a cup run (carefully, still have Forsberg nightmares), I think I’d be happy to have stuck to the “best player available” draft strategy.

That’s exactly what Maclellan and Mahoney did at this year’s draft having selected a goalie and three defensemen with their four draft picks.

Caps Nation, What strategy would you utilize?

By:  Zach Hart


About Jon Sorensen

Jon has been a Caps fan since day one, attending his first game at the Capital Centre in 1974. His interest in the Caps has grown over the decades and included time as a season ticket holder. He has been a journalist covering the team for 10+ years, primarily focusing on analysis, analytics and prospect development.
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