Collecting the NHL Entry Draft

It’s too expensive. I don’t know where to start. What should my collecting focus be each season? Do I collect just one team, or just one specific player? These are all valid questions anyone should ask themselves if they are just getting into, or are already collecting hockey cards. I have one simple answer for all of those concerns:  collect the NHL Entry Draft.

Most of us don’t have an infinite budget. In fact, most of us have a fixed amount we can spends on cards. While it is great to pull a valuable card from a pack or box because you can keep it, trade it, or even sell it if it is not a player that you collect, I am always happier when I get a card I needed instead of a card I wanted. Accomplishing a collecting goal is one of the best reasons to be a part of the hobby and collecting the Draft is something that everyone can easily and affordably get excited about doing. In my case, I decided to collect a RC (Rookie Card) and a certified autograph of as many first-round draft picks as I could, going back as far as I can. 

I have been collecting for quite a while, and card releases have changed over the years, but collecting hockey cards has always been about the history of the game. I was an Ottawa Senators fan living on Long Island. When I started collecting, most of the players I was looking to add to my collection were simply not available at my local card shops or shows. I had no idea where to start, but I knew that I loved the game, including teams and players that I didn’t necessarily root for. Picking up a Beckett Hockey Magazine made it easy to figure out that collecting was broken down into different era’s, such as: Pre-War, 50’s & 60’s, 70’s & 80’s, and 90’s through to the modern era of today. Sets and even rookie cards themselves have changed so much over those years. From a time where players had their RC within a season or two following their NHL debut, to a time where RCs were coming out before a player was even drafted if they participated in the World Junior Championships. All this led up to the current rule that requires a player to play in at least one regular season NHL game before getting their RC. 

Knowing what my budget was made it easy to realize that many of the older cards were simply out of my price range, so I began purchasing O-Pee-Chee RC’s of prominent players from 1980 forward.  I was also amazed when the first sets that included certified autographs, like Be A Player, came out, and I thought that a RC and a certified autograph made a great pair. The more I collected and examined these cards, the more I realized that many of these players I liked such as Steve Yzerman, Paul Coffey, Dale Hawerchuk, Cam Neely, and Wendel Clark were all first round draft picks.  With that, I began wondering how many first rounders even had a rookie card.

To make it an attainable goal, I started with the 1990 NHL Entry Draft, which was the first year that I started collecting due to the Upper Deck sets that changed how we all collected hockey cards. As I started to complete the 1990’s part of my collection, I knew I would always move back in time when I was ready and could afford it while also keeping up with the current drafts each year.  The process of acquiring certified autographs of older players was made much easier than you would have thought by In The Game, who produced many retro-themed sets over the years. Thankfully, Upper Deck continues to do so as well.  In a similar fashion, the Classic Hockey sets of the early 1990s included the only certified autographed card that certain players ever had.

Collecting this way never ceases to amaze me. For example, Steve Bancroft was drafted 21st overall in the 1989 NHL Entry Draft.  Despite playing one game during the 1992-93 season, he didn’t get a RC until nearly ten years later during the 2001-02 season when Upper Deck included him in its Ice set while he played with the San Jose sharks.  This turned out to be his only RC and he has yet to have a certified auto. 

Another instance was with highly touted Russian forward Adrei Nazarov who was drafted 10th overall in 1992. Despite playing ten seasons in the NHL, Nazarov, who had several RC’s, never had a certified autograph until he was coaching in the KHL (where he has coached for nearly ten years) and was part of the 2015 KHL’s Signature insert set. While I am really excited to see players make their debuts in the NHL sometimes they simply don’t stay for the long run.  If several seasons go by after a player is drafted and it appears that they won’t make it to the NHL, I try and get their earliest minor or international league card so they are at least represented in my RC set. In a step to keep my ongoing costs down, I try to get a player’s inexpensive RC, especially since I am putting them in a binder anyway. This is also the case with a certified autograph, since it can definitely be cheaper to collect a player’s minor or international league issue instead of their autographed RC.    

Getting Started  

You can start your research on the Internet Hockey Database website which, if you didn’t know already, is the place to go to research players from practically every league on the planet. Not only do they have an alphabetical player search, they make draft collecting even easier by giving you the ability to search by draft year, draft team or even draft position. In addition, they also have an extensive hockey card checklist section where you can search NHL releases, minor, pro, junior and international sets. While this section is not fully up to date, it certainly is helpful. You can also go to a list of cards for a specific player directly from their player page. 

Displaying Your Collection

How to display your collection is a personal choice with so many different options. For my Draft collection, I actually use binders. It may seem to be an old school way of doing things, but I love laying out the new players each season and flipping through previous years when a player finally gets their RC.  I keep the majority of my autographs in top loaders but for more valuable players I put both the RC and the certified auto in a two-card screw-down holder. 

I wouldn’t be surprised to see someone go all Bizarro with this idea and collect the late rounds of the draft, since it is a unique situation for these players to ever find their way to the NHL. With more than 200 players selected every year it might surprise you to find that current players like Brian Elliott and Jonathan Ericsson were both selected at pick #291, one year apart, with Ericsson being the last player selected and Elliott being the second to last in his draft.  If you look back in time you will be amazed to find that players like Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, Luc Robitaille, and Doug Gilmour were all drafted very late in their respective drafts.  Even within this small group, we had Stanley Cup teammates Robitaille and Datsyuk who were both drafted with pick #171 despite being drafted 14 years apart. 

My greatest wish would be to display my draft collection at an actual NHL Entry Draft event. That way, everyone who attends could look through a history of the Draft told through RCs and autographs. If you are looking to build a collection that spans the last 30 years of hockey history, including the minor and international leagues, then consider collecting the Draft. Wherever you choose to start in your Draft collection, there are plenty of options and you will have a brand-new want list every single year. ■

Follow Larry Berman on Twitter @PaigesFall.

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