What Is “The Best Player Available”?

By JD Lagrange – As the 2023 NHL Draft is finally over, there have been a few upsets in the pickings, as there are every year. But for a second year in a row, none have been more upset than some people in the Montreal Canadiens’ fan base, when Carey Price called the name of David…. “Reinbacher”, to add Kent Hughes coming to his rescue.

There was yet another surprise prior to this, when the Anaheim Ducks decided to draft Leo Carlsson instead of Adam Fantilli. And then at number six, the Arizona Coyotes selected the first player out of Russia… Dmitriy Simashev! That’s right, it wasn’t Matvei Michkov, who finally had his name called by the Philadelphia Flyers at number seven.

Best player available

It seems like every team drafted the player whom, in their mind, was the best player available to them at that position. Weird, isn’t it, that these NHL teams feel that way when so-called “experts” all seem to disagree?

So what exactly is considered to be “the best player available”? What are the criteria based on to make that determination and who decides which player he is? Oh, it’s the “consensus”, I was told on social media. I see. But… consensus by whom? Fans? Media members? Self-proclaimed draft “experts”? Youtube watchers?

Here’s are some facts for you all.

  • Most people who watch Youtube are only watching highlights. They’ll watch the odd full game, but it’s impossible to catch every game from every prospect, even if they try to convince you otherwise. And if they truly do, you should question their sanity… because it’s unhealthy.
  • On video, you only see what the camera is showing you: most times, it’s the puck. When present at the game, a trained, professional eye will be following the prospect, with and without the puck (so away from cameras).
  • NHL teams spend big money on scouting not only in Canada and the United States, but everywhere in Europe as well. They actually have NHL access passes and watch games live, in person. Full games, from a experienced eye.
  • These people are trained to try determining if these young men’s game is suitable to NHL play. What works in junior or College doesn’t always work at the pro level.
  • Scouts often have the opportunity to speak to prospects before or after games. Not in an official interview style, but on a casual basis, getting to know them a bit. Scouts also speak to teams about the player(s) in question.
  • Closer to the Draft, General Managers and scouts will be attending the NHL combines. Some teams even have their own combine. They also have official interviews with the prospects before the Draft.
  • Most teams now days have Sports Psychologists helping with interviews.
  • Then, all gather and share their information, debate long and hard at the pros and cons before making their final list. They bounce ideas and brainstorm.


So what is the “best player available”? Let’s try to break it down. There are some technical skills that scouts will be looking for in prospects, of course. Things like:

  • Skating
  • Stick handling
  • Vision
  • Anticipation
  • Defensive awareness
  • Shooting
  • Passing
  • Hockey IQ (making the smart play, understanding the game)

But there are other factors that NHL scouts and teams take into account. Some of those factors are:

  • Attitude
  • Leadership
  • Grit
  • Work ethics
  • Size
  • Character
  • Quality of opposition (junior or men’s European leagues?)

Last but not least, teams also understand that you can only have 50 players under contract. So GMs will balance their prospect pools in order to maximize their return and the time the team will have to sign these young men. So they take into consideration:

  • Team needs, organizational depth
  • Geo-political situation (see Russia this year)
  • Contractual situation (in European leagues)
  • Owning their rights (junior is a couple of years, College longer, Europe even longer)

NHL teams take all of the above into consideration in their meetings prior to the NHL Draft. So the “best player available” is certainly not as black and white as fans and even media members make it sound, does it?


Does that make NHL teams’ scouts 100% correct at all times? Absolutely not! Why? Not because they’re not qualified, but rather because there are many factors they don’t control.

Unlike amateurs, NHL scouts are not trying to compare which player is better than the other at 17 or 18 years old. That would be too easy to do. No, they have to try to estimate how much these teenagers will develop and progress, when they finally reach their peak as a hockey player at 25-26-27 years of age.

If you’ve listened to Kent Hughes since he was hired, how often have we heard him say that they are not drafting the best player today, but the player they feel will be better in a few years? He has said that in multiple occasions.

And that, folks, is not a natural science. In fact, it’s almost impossible to determine. Only years of research and a keen eye will be able to attempt to be as precise as humanly possible. But the odds of missing remain very high.

As a fan, while it’s okay to have your favourite going into to the draft, you must be able to acknowledge that you’re no expert (even the most pretentious ones out there who think that they are) and that there are countless factors that you have no idea about with these young prospects. So ease up on your temper-tantrums, take a deep breath and recognize that ultimately, these professional scouts and teams are wanting the same as you: get the best player available… all things considered.

3 thoughts on “What Is “The Best Player Available”?

  1. Thanks JD for all the great and very informative articles that you provide us on a regular basis. I am astounded that the young gentleman has received hate mail form those assholes (as you so well put it). The folks that are pros in drafting and developing players know what they are talking about. Yes it is not a perfect science but they have a lot more information to base their decision then the simple “armchair quarterback”

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