Shaping The American Hockey Landscape: A 2010 USHL Draft Primer

SB Nation will provide unrivaled coverage Tuesday morning of the 2010 USHL Expansion Draft, the 2010 USHL Entry Draft and the 2010 USHL Futures Draft. In the run up to these events, we'll provide you with a glimpse into the creature that is the United States Hockey League -- where it stands on the American hockey landscape, its past, its future, its competition, who plays for its 14 teams, where its prospects come from, and where these players go once they leave the USHL ranks.

To kick us off, we'll learn the basics of the USHL Draft process.

The NFL has the glamour of Radio City Music Hall. The NBA has the hype of Madison Square Garden. The NHL has a sold out arena packed with anticipation. The USHL has...

... a chat room and a refresh button. Yes, the event may not be as attractive as that of a professional league, but the reality is that what goes down in that Internet chat room on Monday, May 17, Tuesday, May 18 and Wednesday, May 19 will have a major impact on how the American hockey landscape looks for years to come.

After honing their skills in the only Tier 1 Junior league in the United States, USHL players routinely go on to careers in the NCAA college ranks and even the ECHL, AHL and NHL. In fact, according to the league, there are currently 143 USHL alumni currently under contract with an NHL club. Most players -- 230 this season, to be exact -- move on to Division 1 NCAA hockey before going pro.

The USHL is not the same as the wildly popular Canadian Major Junior ranks. Junior classifications work differently in each country, and the quality of play in the USHL is generally considered a rung lower than in Canadian Major Junior. But the USHL's real purpose is to provide an place for players who wish to play at a high level before moving on to American college hockey. Players who play in Major Junior lose NCAA eligibility, so most players with Division 1 dreams see the USHL as a very attractive option.

While the league may not have the mass appeal that the Canadian Major Junior leagues have, that doesn't mean they're unpopular. In fact, the USHL crams more than a million fans into its rinks each season, with most clubs averaging more than 3,000 fans per game. The numbers are lower than most of their Canadian counterparts, but for a league where games are played primarily in small Midwestern cities, it's impressive how devoted a following teams have created.

The USHL is obviously a business, and just like any other sports business, the players involved are assets. Navigating Junior Hockey, a blog covering all things junior hockey, has a well-explained breakdown of the business side of the league.

Developing players are signed, brought in, trained OR sold, traded, sent home as teams decide which players are going to sign with a college and which are contributing the most to the success of the team. It's a trade off. Players get an opportunity to develop. Owners get an opportunity to brings in fans, sell concessions and merchandise and which all brings in more money. Tier I teams are responsible to pay for the room/board and all hockey fees for the players on their rosters. So in the business sense, it is bad business to bring in lots of younger players who are living away from home for the first time away from his parent’s supervision, in a new high school UNLESS the player can contribute.

This is the basis of the USHL Draft process. In fact, there are really two annual drafts -- the USHL Entry Draft and the USHL Futures Draft. This year, there's a third Expansion Draft as well, thanks to the league accepting two new teams into the league for the 2010-11 season.

The Expansion Draft

Held on Monday, May 17, the Expansion Draft will be held to accommodate the league's two new teams, the Muskegon Lumberjacks and the Dubuque Fighting Saints. Each current league team is able to protect eight of their players. Each of the expansion clubs will pick at most seven players.

Muskegon will pick first.

The Futures Draft

The Futures Draft, which will be held on Tuesday, May 18 at 11 AM Eastern and accompanied by live coverage here at SBNation.com, is open to players who are 16 years old -- those born in 1994. Players are automatically eligible to be drafted for the event -- no paperwork to be filled out, just an on-ice record that's been seen by team scouts.

These players are typically considered the cream of the incoming USHL crop. Despite their young age, they are considered ready for the top level of American junior hockey, and most of them are already being looked at by NCAA scouts. Drafted players aren't guaranteed spots on USHL rosters; instead, they are placed on an "affiliate list" by the clubs that select them. From these lists, they can be brought to the USHL roster at any point, but it is called the Futures Draft because typically, they won't play in the league during the upcoming season. Teams can have up to 10 players on their affiliate list at any given time.

The Futures Draft lasts six rounds at a maximum. Order is determined by random draw, giving each team a chance at the best young players available. Each USHL club selects five players. Any player who goes unselected is available to be drafted in the Entry Draft the following day.

The Entry Draft

The Entry Draft, a much longer event where players 20 and younger can be selected, will be held on Wednesday, May 19 at 2 PM Eastern. The Entry Draft is for 16 year olds who fell through the cracks of the Futures Draft, as well as 17, 18, 19 and 20 year olds who are late bloomers.

It's the same as the Futures Draft in that players don't have to fill out any paper work to "declare" for the Draft. They're scouted at the high school or their club team or where ever, and from there they are either drafted or not.

The order is determined by performance in the previous season, but there isn't a set number of rounds. Prior to the event, each team submits a protected list of veteran players (18 and older) from the previous season. The number of players can vary from team to team depending on how many players from a given squad move on to college or beyond.

In the first stage, teams go through the draft order and select players until they have reached a combined 23 players via the draft and their protected list. So, for example, if Lincoln protects 11 players, they will select 12 in the Entry Draft. Once a team gets to 23, they will stop and wait for the remaining teams to get to that benchmark.

When all teams have hit 23 players, the second stage of the draft begins. Using the same format, teams continue to select until they have reached 30 players.  Once this has happened, the Draft is over, and the next generation of American hockey is on the road to stardom.

Visit our USHL Draft page for full coverage of the 2010 USHL Drafts, which includes live coverage of Tuesday's Futures Draft on our radio program, Rink Side Radio, at 11 AM Eastern.

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