Draft for Talent, Trade for Need

Scouting has a philosophy of its own. It has its own rules, language and processes. In scouting there are lots of personal interpretations as each scout sees things in their own unique way. There is no right or wrong when you pick a player on draft day because you simply cannot predict with 100% accuracy how good/bad this player will be in five years time. There are no clear guidelines on how to find the perfect talent. There are no “I know for sure this player will be a future superstar” guarantees. There are so many uncertainties in the world of scouting that there is no formula for 100% success.

However, among all this uncertainty, I do believe that there is one thing NHL organizations should keep in mind and this should be one of the golden rules for each NHL organization: DRAFT THE BEST PLAYER AVAILABLE whenever you can.

Draft for Talent, Not for Need

It is one of the big debates in scouting and a topic which can lead to heated discussions. Should you draft for the best available player or draft for need. Often when I read through draft previews, mock drafts or similar articles, I read sentences like: “The Flyers need defencemen, therefore I think they will select xyz.” Or I read in forums that the Jets should select a center, as they lack prospects at this position. Well those aren’t the type of questions you should ask yourself! In my opinion, NHL teams should simply draft the best players available when they are on the clock, no matter what the needs of their organization are. Your team needs a top-four defender but there is still this great young two-way center from Moose Jaw available? Go for the center, draft the best player available!


But why is this? Aren’t organizational needs more important than individual skills? Why select another center when your team actually needs defenders?

Life Changes, so Does the NHL

The world of sports in general is a fast-moving industry. The NHL and its organizations are no exception to this. If your team is lacking depths at a specific position, of course you should do everything possible to correct this. Therefore it would make sense to evaluate your depth chart to identify your needs and draft for those positions. But the fact is that your needs change yearly, monthly…. even daily! You never know what lucrative trade offer reaches you. You have no control over injuries, retirements or decision to move to another league.

Your organizational needs are always on the move. Being in need of a defender at the 2013 draft doesn’t mean that you still have space in your depth chart for him three years later – it might be that you traded for several defenders meanwhile to fill the gap.

You Can Always Make Trades If Needed

If you draft the best player available it adds the best possible skills to your system. Even if you have other needs to cover, you can always make a trade afterwards to address your needs. Drafting the best player available gives you the best bargaining position for potential future deals. It gives you the opportunity to go into trade negotiations with confidence – an excess of certain player positions allows you to convert them into your needs.

Don’t make the mistake of selecting a player based on his position when there are better players still available, you might regret it later on. Be brave and go after the player you think is the best available when you are on the clock. If you really want to draft for needs, you might want to do it in one of the lower rounds, but I am convinced that you should go for the best players available in the early rounds.



To summarize, let’s list the reasons why you shouldn’t draft for need:

  • You will pass up better players because of short-term needs.
  • Your current organizational needs might not be the same in the future.
  • You lose flexibility in trade negotiations.

How Organizations Should Draft

I believe that most of the NHL organizations are following the rule of drafting for talent instead of need. Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen stated in an article with the Columbus Dispatch that before this year’s draft he was looking to pick the best available player at position eight, although they were in need of a high-end defence prospect: “If there’s a difference and you think the forward is a better player, you take the forward,” Kekalainen said. “I don’t care how many forwards we have in the system, you take the forward if he’s the better player. If we drafted by need and we drafted a defenseman, by the time he’s ready — it could take three or five years — our needs could be completely different.”

This is exactly how all NHL organizations should think, and if you will ever work in scouting, be a general manager or any decision maker on draft day, remember: Draft for talent, trade for need!