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McPhee Details His Aggressive Entry Draft Philosophy

The Golden Knights' general manager recently discussed his 'swing for the fences' approach

by Dan Marrazza @GoldenKnights / VegasGoldenKnights.com

It's something that separates hockey from other sports.

The Draft.

Not the widely-publicized Expansion Draft, from which the Golden Knights will select one player from each of the NHL's 30 teams this June. Rather, the Entry Draft, which will be held at Chicago's United Center on June 23 and 24, will have a more significant impact on the Golden Knights' fortunes than any other event this year.

That is, if history is any indication.

History shows that championship success is more connected to Entry Draft success in hockey than in any other sport. That rather than titles being decided by which teams offer the most money to the most established veterans, NHL success comes from the ability to pluck teenagers out of junior leagues and colleges across the world and turn them into pros.

Although this may be a small sample size, the prevalence of this pattern is readily apparent when analyzing the rosters of the past three champions in every sport.

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NHL Champions 2014-2016

Championship Players Drafted: 37

Championship Players: 71

Percentage: 48%

 

NFL Champions 2014-2016

Championship Players Drafted: 81

Championship Players: 177

Percentage: 46%

 

MLB Champions 2014-2016

Championship Players Drafted: 23

Championship Players: 75

Percentage: 31%

 

NBA Champions 2014-2016

Championship Players Drafted: 14

Championship Players: 4

Percentage: 31%

 

The takeaway from this is that in the NHL, elite talent is seldom available via trades and free agency. So to build successful teams, NHL general managers have to heavily lean toward their ability to draft well.

 

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In a recent phone call with Golden Knights season ticket holders, George McPhee explained how the NHL's reliance on homegrown players will influence Vegas' drafting strategy.

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"I don't know if I've ever played it safe going to the draft," McPhee said. "I believe in swinging for the fences, and trying to find someone who can be a real difference maker. The difference makers are those core guys on your team, those 4-5 players that become elite players are the ones that can really take you a long way. They are hard to find. Those are the ones I'd like to swing for."

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The thinking behind this approach is that with game-breaking talent at such a premium, it's worth it for teams to take high risk, high reward gambles in the draft.

While the opposing point of view is for draft strategies to also including the selection and development of depth players, McPhee's aggressive approach suggests that there's less of a need to cultivate depth players, when players like that are readily available in free agency.

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That with elite players so much more necessary for success and so much more difficult to acquire, you have to take risks in the Entry Draft to give yourself a chance to acquire the amount of impact players you'll need to have team success.

"There are some drafts, every once in a while, where you're not sure that the guy is there, and you might make a safer pick on someone that's going to play for you for 15 years," McPhee said. "Historically, I've tried to find elite players and get real aggressive in trying to acquire them. Because if you look around the league, the elite players, whether it's (Patrick) Kane and Duncan Keith and Toews in Chicago, or Drew Doughty in LA. Or Crosby in Pittsburgh. You win championships with 'those' players.

"We're really aggressive and we try not to play it safe very often."

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