Under The Bleachers: The Importance Of Drafting Well

Above: The Chicago Blackhawks beat the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 6 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Final series on Monday June 15

Monday night, the Chicago Blackhawks beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 2-0 to secure the team’s third Stanley Cup win in six years, establishing themselves as a modern day dynasty on the ice.

The next day, the Goldon State Warriors capped off their outstanding season by winning the club’s first NBA championship in 40 years, rebounding from a 2-1 deficit to win three straight and dispatch LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Though winning on the ice and the hardwood are two different tasks, these two championship squads have some similarities that extend beyond having won 16 games over the last couple months and doing some serious celebrating the last couple of days.

Both of these teams highlight the importance of drafting well.

Golden State’s three best players – Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green – are all homegrown talents, selected by this franchise, nurtured in this environment and given a chance to excel by Steve Kerr and his staff this season. Another of the team’s starters, Harrison Barnes, was also drafted by the Warriors.

It’s easy to look at that group and how successful they are now and suggest that they were can’t miss selections and building this core was cake, but that would be a mistake.

There are a bunch of players drafted around Curry in 2009 (Hello Jonny Flynn! What up, Terrance Williams?) that never panned out and others that are good, but not great NBA talents. Same goes with grabbing Thompson in 2011 and getting Green at No. 35 was an outright steal.

Listen – the Warriors missed on a Ekpe Udoh between drafting Curry and Thompson – but getting four of your five starters from an historically good team is outstanding and gives you a tremendous head start on having success.

Over in Chicago, five of the seven players that have been around for all three of the Blackhawks’ Stanley Cup wins in the last six years were drafted by the club. Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith were all first-round picks, while Niklas Hjalmarsson was a fourth-round selection. Goaltender Corey Crawford, who has backstopped the club during the last two championship runs, was also drafted by Chicago.

While hockey requires more lines and a larger roster, being able to build a successful core through the draft is a huge plus. It’s far from a guaranteed blueprint for success – ask Edmonton – drafting well makes everything else easier because it means more financial control to start and less of a need to roll the dice in free agency.

Drafting three of your top six defensemen and a goalie that has been between the pipes for two Stanley Cups is outstanding, then you add in Toews and Kane and you can see how GM Stan Bowman has been able to sustain this run of success despite losing half of the skaters from the initial championship team in 2010.

Seeing these two teams with homegrown cores reach the top of the mountain this week should make every other team in the NHL and NBA take notice, especially as the drafts in both leagues approach.

You can miss every once in a while – like taking Udoh ahead of Greg Monroe, Gordon Hayward and Paul George – but in both leagues, you need those first-round draft choices to develop into major contributors with regularity or else you’re going to be picking early in the draft year after year after year.

But it’s not just about drafting the right player out of a group – it’s about finding the right player for your situation. Green was a second-round pick for the Warriors and quickly became the heart and soul of the team. They could have taken any number of players in that spot, but they targeted the four-year player from Michigan State with the competitive spirit and toughness this team was lacking.

The NHL Draft is more of a crapshoot and you need more players to succeed in the NHL than you do the NBA, but hitting on first-round picks and developing players selected after that is critical. You need to have those guys like Hjalmarsson or Andrew Shaw, a fifth-round pick in 2011, to become guys you can count on.

Bottom line, the draft is what separates good teams from great teams and elevates great teams to being champions.

Tags: Hockey, NHL

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