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NHL Draft: The risk of attending and not getting selected

·5-min read

After sitting through 12-plus rounds of the NHL draft over the span of two consecutive summers, Andrew Mangiapane had all but given up on hearing his name called.

The low point came during the 2015 draft in Florida, where midway through the sixth round, Mangiapane’s father apologized for persuading his 19-year-old son to relive the frustration of not getting selected a year earlier in Philadelphia.

“My dad looked over at me and he literally said, ‘I’m sorry for bringing you here. ... You’re not getting picked,’" Mangiapane recalled.

With his father’s words still hanging in the air, and Mangiapane lost in thought over the likelihood of never getting drafted, he nearly missed the announcement of the Calgary Flames selecting him at No. 166.

“Yeah, that was a pretty kind of low when I heard my dad say that,” Mangiapane said. “But thankfully, the Calgary Flames selected me, and I’ve been trying to work hard and give it my all every time I step on the ice.”

Mangiapane has gone on to become a fixture in the Flames’ lineup over the past three years and is coming off a season in which he had 35 goals and 55 points — both career bests.

Though his experience has a happy ending, it represents a cautionary tale in reopening the discussion of whether it's beneficial for lower-ranked prospects to attend this week's draft in Montreal, the first to be held in person since 2019 after the past two were conducted remotely because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I get this question a lot, and a lot of times it comes from agents because they go through the same dilemma with the parents and the player,” NHL Central Scouting director Dan Marr said.

“I think the question is do you want to be there if your name isn’t called?” he added. “Some players are going to go no matter what. But this is the problem in this business. The draft is a brand, we have rankings, we publicize them. But our rankings are just a service to the clubs.”

While Central Scouting bases its rankings mostly on common measurables, such as production, size and skating ability, it doesn’t take into account teams’ individual preferences or needs or other intangibles.

Most players projected to go in the first three rounds get selected, while it’s more of a roll of the dice for the rest over the final four rounds. This year's draft could feature more uncertainty, with teams potentially targeting more 19-year-olds who went unselected last year and have had another year to develop after their 2020-21 seasons were disrupted by COVID-19.

Though Mangiapane was coming off a 104-point season in the Ontario Hockey League, he was ranked 85th by Central Scouting entering the 2015 draft because he was considered undersized at 5-foot-10. He was also a late bloomer after earning a spot on the the Barrie Colts’ roster as an undrafted player.

“I generally recommend guys that are not almost a slam dunk to go in the first round not to attend because it’s a horrific waste of time,” said Mangiapane’s agent, Ritchie Winter. “But these kids, they’ve worked 13 or 14 years in pursuit of getting drafted. So many of them come anyway. We’re always warning them.”

He refers to the draft as “an inexact process” and based more on what a prospect is worth on that particular day and less on a projection of how that player can develop over time. Winter has represented several overachievers, such as two-time NHL MVP goalie Dominik Hasek (a 10th-round pick in 1983) and 2019 Norris Trophy-winning defenseman Mark Giordano (undrafted), who have gone on to enjoy outstanding careers.

Mangiapane is already somewhat of an exception based on the 260 games he’s played through four-plus seasons.

Of the 307 players selected in the drafts from 2009 to 2017 who appeared in at least 260 games, only 54 were chosen 100th or lower. From Mangiapane’s draft class alone, Columbus defenseman Markus Nutivaara is the only player drafted lower (189th) to have played more games (275).

“There is nothing more heartbreaking than a player sitting at the draft who doesn’t get drafted,” Flames general manager Brad Treliving said, noting the jolt of excitement he experiences when hearing a cheer go up in the stands when a player’s name is announced in the final rounds.

Such was the case in 2019, when the Flames selected Dustin Wolf with the fourth-last selection. And Treliving recalled the joy on Mangiapane’s face upon introducing himself at the Flames’ draft table in 2015.

“We’re certainly glad we made his day,” Treliving said. “But we’re happy he’s part of our organization, because he’s a really good player and he’s a tremendous young man.”

While the Flames targeted Mangiapane in part because of the competitive traits he displayed, Treliving said the credit goes to the player for achieving his potential.

“Ultimately, the player has got to have the intestinal push to work at his game and do all the things you need to do to become a pro player, and Andrew's got that in spades,” Treliving said. “He’s just proven doubters wrong from junior hockey all the way through his journey to where he is today. And that’s a testament to the type of kid he is.”

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