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NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL Drafts - What's the Difference?

A look at how the NHL Draft compares to other major sports

by Bill Meltzer @NHLFlyers / http://www.philadelphiaflyers.com

Back in the six-team era of the National Hockey League, NHL teams sponsored clubs in Canadian major junior leagues and owned the rights to their players. For example, the Boston Bruins held the rights to players from the Niagara Falls Flyers (Ontario Hockey Association) and Estevan Bruins (Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League) while the Montreal Canadiens had a virtual monopoly on junior players in Quebec. 

Starting in 1963, the NHL began to phase out the sponsorship system. First, NHL teams were allowed to draft unsponsored players. By the time the league expanded to 12 teams (including the Philadelphia Flyers) for the 1967-68 season, there were still numerous top prospects "grandfathered" to for their rights to automatically fall to a sponsoring NHL team but the selection process was more open than it had been in 1963. In 1969, the sponsorship system ended altogether and the first "universal" amateur draft was held, and has been a constant ever since. 

The following is a comparison between how the current-day NHL conducts its Draft and how the other three major North American team sport leagues - the National Football League (NFL), Major League Baseball (MLB) and National Basketball Association (NBA) - currently operate theirs.

I. THE DATES

NHL: The NHL Draft has always been conducted in the offseason, typically in late June. The first round of the 2017 NHL Draft will be conducted on the evening of Friday, June 23, 2017. The remainder of the selections will take place the following day.

NFL: Dating back to 1936, the NFL Draft is always conducted in the offseason. The very first NFL Draft was held in Philadelphia at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel on February 8, 1936. The most recent draft was held in Philadelphia (for the first time since 1961) at Eakins Oval in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art on April 27-29, 2017.

NBA: First held in 1947, the NBA Draft is held in the offseason. The next NBA Draft will be held on June 22, 2017 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY.

MLB: Dating back to 1965, the Major League Baseball Draft is the only one that takes place in-season. The 2017 Draft was set for June 12-14, 2017. The Draft's hub is in Secaucus, NJ at the MLB Network Studio.

II. THE COMBINE?

NHL: The National Hockey League annually holds a Combine several weeks ahead of the Draft, consisting of both a physical fitness testing portion one-on-one and an opportunity for NHL organizations to interview Draft prospects. The Combine was first held in 1994 but has grown exponentially in scope, public exposure and media attention in the 2000s. The 2017 NHL Scouting Combine was held in Buffalo, NY on May 28 - June 3. According to Flyers general manager Ron Hextall, the Flyers' contingent interviewed more than 70 Draft hopefuls during the interview portion. Combine participation by Draft hopefuls is by invitation only.

NFL: The first NFL Scouting Combine was held in 1977 but, as with the hockey version, did not become a high-profile event until much more recently. Participation is by invitation only. Draft hopefuls go through a series of at least 14 different physical tests, although some participate in fewer depending on their position and health status at the time of the Combine. There is also an interview portion in which NFL teams can talk to a maximum 60 attendees for a maximum of 15 minutes. 

NBA: The NBA Draft Combine is similar to the hockey and football versions in that it has grown greatly in its score and media attention over the course of the 2000s. The invitation-only NBA Combine also involves an interview portion as well as raw athletic and fitness testing, shooting and five-on-five drills and a medical testing component. The 2017 NBA Draft Combine took place on May 9-14 at the Quest Center in Chicago. 

MLB: Unlike the other sports, MLB does not have a single public, leaguewide Combine at which a host of top prospects gather for testing and interviews. However, there are periodic camps and showcase games in which prospects can show off their skills. Typically, MLB scouting camps occur on multiple dates beginning in mid-January and ending mid-July.

III. ROUNDS & SELECTIONS

NHL: Since 2005, the NHL Draft has consisted of seven rounds. There will be 217 selections made overall at the 2017 Draft. Past NHL Drafts had as many 289 picks over nine rounds or, previously, went on for as many as 12 or even 14 rounds.

NFL: The 2017 NFL Draft consisted of 253 total picks over seven rounds.

NBA: Once a 10-round (1974-1984) and then a seven-round (1985-1988) process, the NBA Drafts since 1989 have been limited to two rounds. 

MLB: At one time, the MLB Draft commonly lasted 60 or more "rounds" until every team had exhausted its lists of players of interest, although many teams would pass on the opportunity to make additional selections in late rounds. For example, future superstar catcher Mike Piazza was a 62nd round pick (1,390th overall) by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 75-round, 1,433 total selection Draft of 1988. Under the current Collective Bargaining Agreement between MLB and its Players Association, the MLB Draft is now limited to 40 rounds. 

IV. WHO'S ELIGIBLE?

NHL: At minimum, a player must be 18 years old on or before September 15, 2017 and, at maximum, no older than 20 years old before December 31, 2017 in order to be eligible for the 2017 NHL Draft. The eligibility cutoff rules are somewhat different for non-North American league players over the age of 20. While NCAA-committed collegiate (or incoming) collegiate players are eligible to selected for the NHL Draft without losing their amateur athletics eligibility after the draft, that status is forfeited as soon as the player signs his first professional contract.

NFL: Virtually all of the players selected in the NFL Draft are selected from college football programs, whereas NHL prospects come from a variety of junior, collegiate and European leagues. Because NFL teams cannot hold onto a drafted player's rights if he is not signed to a contract for the next season, an underclassman draftee must announce that he is foregoing future NCAA eligibility before making himself eligible for the NFL Draft. A year spent as a "redshirt" collegiate player counts toward NFL Draft eligibility even though the player was not allowed to participate in games during his redshirt year; in other words, a player who has completed a redshirt sophomore year can enter the next NFL Draft.

NBA: A large majority of NBA draftees come from U.S. collegiate basketball programs. A smattering are drafted directly out of U.S. high schools. In more recent times, an ever-growing number of players each year are chosen from European programs. Before the mid-1980s, NBA teams typically drafted collegiate players after they completed their senior year. While collegiate underclassmen (and recent high school graduates) were sometimes selected beginning in 1971, they were first deemed eligible for the NBA Draft based on declaring demonstrable hardship (usually family economic concerns) that prevented them from remaining amateur athletes. Over the least 30-plus years, that process became extinct. In more modern times, few high-profile draftees complete four collegiate years before making themselves available for the NBA Draft.

MLB: To be eligible for the Major League Baseball Draft a player must fit the following criteria: 1) Be a resident or attend high school or college in the United States, Canada, or a U.S. territory such as Puerto Rico. Players from other countries are not subject to the draft, and are considered free agents, 2) While previously drafted but unsigned players are eligible to be redrafted, no player who has previously signed either a Major League Baseball or minor pro league contract is eligible, 3) Be either a) a high school graduate who will forego college baseball eligibility upon signing a contract, b) an active player at a four-year college or university who has either played three seasons of college baseball or turned 21 years old (whichever comes first), or c) an active junior college or community college player. 

V. DRAFT PROCEDURES

NHL: In the first round of the NHL Draft, team finalize their pick from their table on the Draft floor, first reporting the selection to the League before pre-designated team representatives (typically consisting at least of the club's general manager and the director of scouting) approach the stage to join commissioner Gary Bettman, then personally announces the selection from the podium. For example, in 2014, Flyers GM Ron Hextall thanked the fans in Philadelphia and then said, "With our first pick, the Philadelphia Flyers select, from Calgary Hitmen of the Western Hockey League, Travis Sanheim."  

If the draftee is present at the Draft (in modern times, most every player likely to taken in the early rounds of the NHL Draft and other sports' draft typically attend in person), he then approaches the podium himself to shake hands with the commissioner and their new team's representative, don the team's jersey and a team-logo cap before posing for photo opportunities. In rounds two through seven, the allotted time between picks drops to three minutes. All picks are announced from the team's table.

NFL: The 2017 Draft featured special guests as well as team representatives on stage. In the NFL, there is a 10-minute time limit for picks in the first round, with the time limit dropping to seven minutes in the second round and five minutes in each successive round. 

NBA: NBA Commissioner Adam Silver announces each pick from the podium after it is locked in and reported by the selecting team.

MLB: In the current Major League Baseball draft procedure, commissioner Rob Manfred publicly announces each team's first-round selection from the podium at MLB Network. 

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