It was one of the best stories on draft day earlier this summer: the New Jersey Devils traded a 7th round pick in 2015 to the Los Angeles Kings for theirs this year – the fourth last pick in the draft – so New Jersey could select Martin Brodeur’s son Anthony.
The internet (and humans with lives everywhere), collectively did this:
Anthony had a decent year playing for Shattuck St. Mary’s last season, posting a .923 save percentage, so it wasn’t that ridiculous that his name would be called. Buuut if we’re being honest, and we are, he almost certainly wouldn’t have been selected if his Dad’s name wasn’t Marty. Even he wouldn’t deny that. But still, neat story, no harm no foul, there was a cool moment with the father/son hug…you can read all about it here. In sum, neato spadeato.
Only…I’m not so sure his Dad and the Devils did him any favors. They may have actually done the opposite.
I could very well be wrong, but from what I’ve seen getting drafted in the late rounds seems to handcuff a player trying to skate his way to the NHL more than it does propel him. It’s limiting.
Obviously, there are some perks to getting drafted. First, let’s look at the pros of getting selected versus not for your average non-superstar NHL hopeful.
During my senior season of NCAA puck I had people asking me if I hoped to get drafted someday.
I was 23.
Maybe if I improved enough I could make the WHL??!?
People are oblivious. Telling them you’re drafted, well, they can process that.
* Brief exposure to NHL eyeballs and real top-end talent
You get invited to the team’s prospect camp which you attend with all the other prospects. That means some summer practicing, some training, and some scrimmages with some very good players and some NHL higher-ups watching. That can only be a good thing.
But it’s barely a week long, and frankly, they don’t really give a s**t about your performance there. You’re larvae at that point. They’d like to see you do well and all, but they’re going to follow you throughout the next season (as they are everyone else), and the week is mostly used to get to know everyone necessary, be given some swag, and have a quality week of training.
They do have people come in and talk to you about finances and the media and all that. It’s a cool week, but again, it’s a week. Rarely is a player farther ahead (or further behind) after those days than they were before them.
* You have a few years to get your act together
If you make your foray into pro hockey as a drafted player and it doesn’t immediately pan out, you don’t just plummet down the depth chart and find yourself at the bottom of the pro hockey well. The organization wants to make sure you get your fair shot (because they don’t want to look like idiots for drafting you), so you generally get to play at a decent level and occasionally be awarded minutes you may not deserve until they get tired of you and cut you loose. (Though given Anthony Brodeur was a courtesy pick, I doubt they’ll feel as responsible for getting him opportunities.)
So yeah. There are some general pros.
All told, that is not a list of insignificant benefits. For those players selected in the middle of the draft, it might be just what you need to develop, find yourself as a player and crack the big time.
But for the kids stepping up on the draft’s bottom rung, sometimes they run into adverse effects. Like for example, when you’re a “good” player in a stacked organization who climbs the ladder as best you can, but never get the chance to climb higher because of the sheer talent on the top rung. You can’t switch ladders. A free agent can.
I’ve got a couple friends in mind who were drafted nearly as late as possible, and man, the celebration from friends and family was awesome and well deserved. Insert fireworks GIF number two. But as time went on, the wheels got stuck in the organization’s mud with no winch in sight.
One guy I’ve got in mind signed a deal with a very good NHL team, because a very good NHL team drafted him, and he was good, and hey, match made in heaven. Had it been, say, the New York Islanders who picked him up at this time, he would’ve been propelled up the ladder to the NHL in no time. They were bad during those years, and had a ton of injuries, and players who would’ve otherwise toiled in the minors were given opportunities. Some excelled, and some needed that opportunity to become “regular” NHLers (PA Parenteau comes to mind, among others), and have since started earning real cash by hanging on in the NHL from year to year. This guy, with this prestigious NHL logo on his summer hockey jersey, did not.
Once you’ve spent two, three, four years in the American league, you make the (perceived) transition from prospect to project. You’re older, more and more kids have been drafted, and suddenly they’re the ones who are going to get that shot when it arises, not you. And other teams see you’ve spent enough years in the minors, so there must be a reason you haven’t cracked the Show, so they might as well take their chance on someone younger.
This happens all the way down the organization – a player in the ECHL can’t crack the AHL because he’s limited to trying to take one of the three or four left defenseman spots on the team above, versus being able to take any of the 90-120 left defenseman spots around the higher league.
The point is, free agents have the ability to pick an organization that has a need at their position. They often say to players in the minors “if you’re good enough, they’ll find you,” but some players do get buried.
And for Anthony Brodeur the reality is that it’s even harder to break in for goaltenders, especially if there’s true talent in the organizational crease. You no longer have the opportunity to assess a team’s depth chart and choose to go play for the one with the least hope in net. You’re stuck with who you get, which may mean you won’t even get the chance you need, when all some players need is that shot.
I understand why Martin Brodeur and the Devils did what they did for Anthony. Marty, in particular, hasn’t seen the minors since 1992, and never really had to struggle with the climb, so being drafted would obviously seem like the way to go to him. But there’s a chance that he just made the road to the NHL harder for his son. And there’s a lot more than a chance that he slapped the label “pity pick” on him, which will make it even harder to earn respect in minor league dressing rooms.