January 4, 2009

How to get drafted

It’s always amazed me how fans can blindly accept that, just because a guy was drafted, that he must be a good player. Particularly since it’s so well known that so many others don’t ever get drafted. The undrafted free agent signee is almost held in awe, and regarded with a lot of skepticism. And it doesn’t matter what sport you’re talking about, since it’s really all about the same.

When I played hockey, my team practiced before the local major junior hockey team, so I knew some of those guys. I also knew a couple of guys on the rival team up the road as well. (This was years and years ago, so I was around the age as a lot of them at the time.) So I got to see how that whole scouting/drafting thing worked from a player perspective.

Natural talent plays only a small part in these things. It really comes down to who you know – but even more importantly, who knows you. Playing for national teams, getting drafted, getting to play up on the major league squad – all those things come down to the individual’s reputation. Assuming he has one. If he doesn’t, then the guy doesn’t usually get very far.

That’s why there are generations families who end up playing the sport at a high level. If the older brother has a good reputation, then that reputation automatically transfers itself to his younger brothers. And if the father played pro had a good reputation, then that reputation transfers itself to his sons. That’s why you see families like the Sutters, the Staals, the Bourques, and the Stastnys playing in the NHL.

I’ve seen guys who were talented enough to play in the NHL only to never make it out of juniors because the right people didn’t know who they were. And I’ve seen mediocre players in junior make it to the NHL. It’s really not about talent at all. It helps, of course, but that’s ultimately not the deciding factor. A guy’s reputation decides his fate, and not everyone has control of their reputation.

When I went to college years later, I was friends with the starting quarterback. Half of the NFL teams were very interested in him, despite being a Division II player. He’d been invited to camps, went to the NFL Combine, and did the whole spiel – but never was picked up by anybody. And he really should’ve been. It was all because the right people didn’t know who he was.

A friend of his, who was a wide receiver at the same university, had the exact same problem. He wasn’t as heavily scouted as the quarterback, but he was just as talented and also did some tryouts and went to the NFL Combine. He never went any further than playing college ball. Again, it was because the right people didn’t know who he was.

So this notion that just because a guy gets drafted it automatically makes him a great player isn’t right. Depending on the athlete, it can be completely wrong, in fact. It’s all about who you know. But mostly, it’s really about who knows you.

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