Open the door (cont.)
Posted: Tuesday September 4, 2007 1:51PM; Updated: Tuesday September 4, 2007 3:11PM
Would this open the door to teams snatching promising kids straight from the playground? Not likely. Scouts recognize better than most how the perception of a can't-miss player can change over time. It's tough enough to project what kind of player a 17- or 18-year-old will become. Bump that down even a year or two, and the chances of making a mistake rise dramatically. Because for every Sidney Crosby or Eric Lindros who was destined for stardom at 12, you'll have a dozen kids like Jason Bonsignore or Dan Cleary or Daniel Tkaczuk --players who looked like world-beaters at 15 and peaked too soon. Picks are too important to the future of a franchise to simply take a flyer. The potential of an underage prospect would have to be fairly compelling to pass on a chance for a more developed player.
But there's no denying that these talents do crop up occasionally. Crosby certainly would have been an underage selection. Alexander Ovechkin, who missed the draft cutoff date by two days, would have gone early. So would Lindros, a player who skated alongside the best in the world at the 1991 Canada Cup before he ever had a shift in the NHL.
So the reality is that not many underage players would be selected. But imagine the excitement it would create when a scout convinced his team to take a chance. Look at the worldwide publicity that was generated when Manchester United signed a 10-year-old prodigy from Australia a couple months back. Fans could focus on watching the youngster develop while supporters of the other teams would be questioning their scouts for not recognizing the unpolished gem. The fear of missing out on the next Bobby Orr -- who himself was scouted at 12 and signed at 14 -- would force teams to rethink and refine their approach to scouting. It would reward those who can evaluate talent, and cripple those that can't. And isn't that a better way to restock the pool than by virtue of a bad season?
It's worth noting that draft eligibility is part of the collective bargaining agreement between the NHL and the players' association. Any changes would have to be negotiated between the two. Given that the PA has larger issues on its plate, it's unlikely that the rules will be changed in time to accommodate Tavares. But as sure as there'll be another Brittney Exline worthy of an early spot in college, you can bet there'll be another John Tavares to challenge the way hockey goes about its business.
Maybe by that time, the NHL will be prepared to accept him.
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