How the NHL Draft Works

Rules and regulations of the NHL Entry Draft.

Bri Weldon/flickr/CC BY 2.0

The NHL Entry Draft consists of seven rounds, with each team assigned one pick in each round. Draft picks can be traded at any time.

Draft Order

  • The 14 teams that missed the playoffs during the previous NHL season are awarded the first 14 picks. They draft in order of fewest points to most points, subject to the results of the draft lottery.
  • The current Stanley Cup champion picks last (30th).
  • The Stanley Cup runner-up picks 29th.
  • The other two Conference Finalists pick 28th and 27th.
  • Regular-season division winners hold the other lowest positions.
  • Remaining teams draft in order of fewest points to most points from the previous regular season.

The Draft Lottery

The selection order in the first round is subject to a lottery, held among the teams that hold the first 14 picks. There is only one winning team in the lottery. That team is awarded the first overall selection.

More about the NHL Draft Lottery.

Eligible Players

Players who turn 18 by September 15 and are not older than 20 by December 31 are eligible for selection. In addition, non-North American players over the age of 20 are eligible.

A North American player who is not drafted by the age of 20 is an unrestricted free agent. All non-North Americans must be drafted before being signed, regardless of age.

Re-entering the Draft

A player not signed by his NHL team within two years of being drafted can re-enter the draft, as long as he is 20 years old or younger at the time of the subsequent draft.

Players over 20 become unrestricted free agents.

NCAA players are an exception: NHL teams retain the rights to a college player until 30 days after the player has left college.

A team that does not sign a first-round draft pick is awarded a compensatory pick in a future draft upon losing the rights to that player.

A player who has been drafted a second time cannot re-enter.

Recent Changes

  • European Players - Prior to 2005, NHL teams retained the rights to a European player until that player turned 31. Drafted Europeans must now be signed within two years, the same as North Americans, or the team loses the rights to the player.
  • NCAA Players - As of 2004, 18-year-old players from NCAA Division I schools can be drafted and retain their college eligibility as long as they don't play for a pro team or hire an agent. In previous years, an 18-year-old who opted into the draft lost his NCAA eligibility.
  • Compensatory Picks - As of 2005, a team that loses a veteran player as an unrestricted free agent is no longer awarded a compensatory pick in a future draft.
  • A Shorter Draft - The draft was reduced from nine to seven rounds as of 2005.