Raising draft age good for everyone
By Cleve Dheensaw, Times Colonist
November 22, 2011
Unless watching an obvious prodigy, such as Ryan Nugent-Hopkins last season, Western Hockey League fans would be hard pressed to say definitively that one 18-year-old player is assured of going to the NHL while another has no chance.
It's why Hockey Canada is looking into asking the NHL to raise its draft age.
In many cases, it's simply too early to tell because 18 is too young to be making such assessments. One quarter of the way into Victoria's first WHL season in 17 years, this much has become obvious: The hockey draft age is too low.
It doesn't take into account late bloomers, of which there are many, and causes scouts to surmise about bodies still in the process of growing and developing and so often they over-reach or just plain guess wrong.
NFL teams can't draft football players until they have been out of high school a minimum of three years, and in practice, it's usually after four years of college. That means scouts are assessing the physical attributes of 21-and 22-year-olds - a far more reliable age.
The NBA can draft 19-year-olds but that still remains the exception with the bulk of draftees selected after three or four years of NCAA basketball - again about 21 or 22. (Baseball can draft high schoolers but is in a different category than the other big four North American pro sports because almost all baseball draft picks are assigned to minor pro leagues, where it usually takes several years to develop into a major leaguer.)
Raising the NHL draft age to 19 would have a huge positive impact on junior hockey. The ripple effect would mean fewer 16-year-olds needed to be pressed into service in the WHL. Most 16-year-olds, no matter their potential and future upside, are learning on the fly and that's an ordeal by fire in major junior. A 20-year-old future minor pro will school a 16-year-old future NHLer almost every time in the WHL.
The Royals game action this season has generally been fast and exciting. Can you imagine even how much better major-junior play would be if everything was bumped up a year and 17 became the main entry point? That would happen if the draft age was raised to 19.
DOESN'T SINK LIKE A STONE: Exhibit A in the 18-is-too-young thesis is Mark Stone, not taken until the lowly sixth round of the 2010 draft by the Ottawa Senators, but now twice named WHL player of the week and leading the league in scoring with 54 points in 23 games. Two years later and this guy is now looking like a first-or second-rounder.
Stone was cited Monday as the current WHL player of the week for his eight points in three games, adding to his award from the Sept. 26-Oct. 2 week. Stone was signed this season to an entry-level NHL contract.
TV TIMES: If you missed the recent WHL Central Division travelling tour of the Edmonton Oil Kings, Red Deer Rebels, Medicine Hat Tigers and Kootenay Ice through the Memorial Centre to play the Royals, you missed some deep and seriously talented teams. That is some division. You can still catch the Oil Kings and Tigers when they meet on Sportsnet's nationally televised major-junior game of the week Friday at 6 p.m. It'll be worth a peek.
TOP STOPPERS: Nathan Lieuwen of the Ice didn't get the start Saturday at the Memorial Centre against the Royals, so Victoria fans didn't get to see the Kootenay creaseman who is second in WHL goaltending with a 1.82 goals-against average behind the 1.76 of Tri City's Ty Rimmer.
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