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Lucas at Large: Eaves sees more cons than pros in roster-depleting NHL draft


Kyle Turris, above, is one of 11 players that have left early for the NHL draft during Mike Eaves' coaching tenure at UW.

Based on how the current system has been working from a positive and negative standpoint, how would a college hockey coach get his "arms around'' the NHL draft?

Cautiously? Or not at all?

If you've had multiple players with college eligibility remaining sign pro contracts, it's not likely you would embrace the results. That applies to many coaches, including the UW's Mike Eaves.

On Eaves' watch (since 2002), the Badgers have had 11 players leave school early to turn pro. For the sake of fair debate and balance, though, he was requested to list all the positives of the draft.

"The draft is an interesting beast from the fact you're dealing with 18-year-olds,'' Eaves began.

"We, as part of a college institution, part of our issue has been if you get kids who have been drafted really high, they're going to leave early.

"Later drafts tend to stay around. Your mid-drafts depend on how they develop. From a positive standpoint ... that's what you want in this question ... I was buying time by giving you that answer.''

He chuckled. OK, let's start over again. Is there anything positive about the present NHL draft?

"They take the top kids to the combine,'' Eaves said, "and they do a great job, a classy job of educating the kids - of finding out what they're like in terms of their personalities.

"They do extensive psychological testing to find out what kind of person they are. Much like us, in college, you want good people and good players. They do a good job of filtering through the masses.''

The evaluation process drew Eaves' praise. That's about it.

"It's a little bit of a roll of the dice with 18-year-olds,'' he said. "When it used to be a 20-year-old draft, you'd have a couple of more years to see how the kids grow and mature, much like us (colleges).

"Now, we're looking at 15-year-olds, what the heck? Like I said earlier, it's really a roll of the dice. You can see a young man who has good size and ability, but you'd better find more.''

Eaves grinned and confided, "It's much easier to talk about the negatives of the draft.''

Such as?

"I don't like the fact there are only seven rounds now,'' he said. "By going from 10 rounds to seven, they've increased the pressure on your free agents; kids who don't get drafted and go to college.

"So we lose kids too early if they're talented and now we're losing kids too early because they're free agents and they (NHL teams) are pulling them out of college before someone else gets them.''

Eaves has been among a handful of college head coaches who have been granted audiences in front of NHL general managers. It has happened in each of the past two years.

Most recently it took place on June 6 in Boston, the site of game 4 between the Bruins and Canucks. The catalyst for these meetings has been Paul Kelly, the head of College Hockey, Inc.

Kelly is a former executive director of the NHL Players Association. "He's done a tremendous job of representing us with all facets of hockey especially with the pro GMs,'' Eaves said.

Why should the college coaches have a voice? Eaves noted that one-third of the players in the NHL are from colleges, one-third from major junior leagues and one-third from Europe.

"We went to them (the GMs) with some things we thought would help,'' Eaves said. "One of them was adding a couple of rounds to draft to see if we can cut back on the frenzy over free agents.''

Another topic has revolved around changing the draft age from 18 to 19.

"Those things have to be negotiated with the Players Association,'' Eaves said. "And their No. 1 concern is keeping jobs for players, not losing jobs. That's going to be a tough sell.''

The present collective bargaining agreement will expire on Sept. 15, 2012.

In the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, the Badgers had four players taken, including two in the fourth round: Joseph LaBate (Vancouver) and sophomore Michael Mersch (Los Angeles).

Patrick Daly (New Jersey) and Brad Navin (Buffalo) each went in the seventh round.

"There's a pretty good chance these young men are going to be here three or four years,'' Eaves said of the group as a whole. "For us, that's a positive.''

What about the elite players who stick around for only one season? What happens when you lose a Kyle Turris after his freshman year?

"That's a huge hole in your program,'' Eaves said.

But there's no question that Eaves will continue to recruit special players like Turris.

"If it's the right young man out there who's talented and the right kid, you need that talent if you're going to win,'' he said. "You just can't have a basketful of them.''