How Does the NHL Draft Work?

The NHL Entry Draft is a yearly event where NHL teams choose the rights to players who are now of legal age to play in the league. Each team will get a pick in each of the seven rounds, and the performance of the team and a lottery draw determine where they pick.

The draft is an exciting time for fans and teams alike, as the best young players on the planet join their professional teams. These players could change the trajectory of a team and give new life to teams that are struggling.

However, understanding the inner workings of the draft and the rules surrounding it can be confusing. With that in mind, this article is going to go over how the draft works. I’m going to go over what it is, how the draft order is determined, who can be drafted, and more.

Key Takeaways

  • The NHL Draft is an event where the best young players in the world who are finally legal to play in the NHL get selected by teams.
  • The draft order is determined by team performance, and a lottery draw. Every team that doesn’t make the playoffs is put in a draft lottery to determine the order, and teams in the playoffs are ordered by their playoff performance.
  • Any North American player between 18 and 20 can be drafted into the NHL, but non-North American players can be drafted older than the age of 20.

What is the NHL Draft?

As mentioned earlier, the NHL Entry Draft is an annual event where all of the teams meet to draft the next generation of NHL stars. Every team has one pick in each round, and takes turns choosing the rights to a young player that they want to join their team.

There are seven rounds in total, and the NHL Draft is a great way for teams to add more young talent and build their team for the future. The draft normally takes place in June, and the location changes on a year-to-year basis.

The first-ever NHL Draft took place in Montreal back on June 5th 1963, and it has been held each and every year since then.

How is the Draft Order Determined?

The first 16 picks are determined by a weighted lottery system and this lottery includes all teams that missed the playoffs. The teams with the worst record have the best chances of landing the first pick. This is designed to help the worst teams get better. 

The rules for the lottery have changed many times over the years, but as of 2022, there are two lottery draws, and the winners will get to move up a maximum of 10 picks. For example, if the team with the 9th worst record in the NHL wins the first lottery draw, they will pick first.

But if the 15th worst team wins the first draw, they can only move up to as high as the 5th pick. As a result, any team who is in the bottom 11 of NHL standings can pick first if they win the lottery, but the worse a team performed the previous season, the higher their chances.

The worst team has a 25.5% chance to get the first overall pick, and the chances dwindle until the 11th worst team has a 3% chance of landing the top pick.

For the teams that don’t win either lottery draw, the picks are ordered depending on their regular season standings, with the team with the worst remaining record getting the earlier pick, and so on.

As for picks 17-32 of the first round, they are ordered depending on the results of the regular season and playoffs, with the Stanley Cup winning team picking last.

For the 2nd round and every round going forward, the order is determined by season standings, with the worst team in the league getting the first pick, and so on. Also, keep in mind that teams can trade picks, so the draft order likely won’t stay the same.

Who Can be Drafted?

North American players who are between 18 and 20 years old can be drafted, and players from outside of North America can be older than 20. They must be over 18 by or on September 15th of the draft year to be eligible.

There are three pools where players are generally selected from. This includes the major junior hockey leagues throughout North America like the OHL, WHL, and QMJHL, leagues throughout Europe, and college hockey teams.

NHL teams have scouts on staff that evaluate talent and help teams make the right choice. They will visit different cities to watch games, speak to coaches, and generally do all they can to learn more about the different players that may be available.

What Happens After the Draft?

Once a draft is done, the players drafted by teams aren’t automatically members of that team. Each player must sign an entry-level contract to officially be a member of their team. This is a two-way contract, which means the player can be played at the professional or minor levels.

Some players join their NHL team the year that they are drafted, but it is often more common to see them play a year or two in the minor leagues to develop before being called up. Some drafted players may also decide to attend college and play for an NCAA team to develop.


Here are a few commonly asked questions about the NHL Draft, as well as their answers.

Which team has had the most first overall picks in NHL Draft history?

The Montreal Canadiens have had the most first overall selections at the draft, with six. They picked first in 1963, 1968, 1969, 1971, 1980, and 2022.

Who are some of the best undrafted players in NHL history?

While many of the best players of all time were drafted, there have been some great players that were looked over in their draft year. This includes Ed Belfour, Martin St. Lous, Curtis Joseph, Adam Oates, Dino Ciccarelli, Dan Boyle, and plenty of others.

Final Thoughts

I hope that this guide helped you learn a little more about the NHL Draft, and how it works. It is a great chance for young players to achieve their dreams, and for teams to bring on players that will help them succeed for years to come.

Who do you think is going to be the first overall pick in the upcoming NHL Draft? Let me know in a comment below!

About Kale
Being from Canada, hockey is essentially a way of life. I instantly fell in love with the game since I was being put on skates. From playing as a child (and the occasional street hockey game with friends today) to being a fan for over 20 years, I’m here to share my knowledge and passion for hockey. Email:

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