Inside the draft: how athletes launch their professional sports careers


Quillan Anderson

Sam Colangelo, drafted in 2020 by the Anaheim Ducks, on ice at the 2022 Beanpot Semifinals against Boston College.

Amelia Ballingall, news staff

Each year, the major sports leagues in North America get their choice of the best eligible young players of their sport. Both the National Hockey League, NHL, and Major League Baseball, MLB, carried out their drafts July 2022, with multiple teams picking up Northeastern athletes

Although the premise of the draft is consistent across professional sports, the process itself and what comes after is very different. 

The NHL draft takes place in person, most recently in Montreal, Quebec, bringing together coaches, athletes and press in a two-day event. Nerves are high, as players don’t know for sure when, where or even if they’ll get drafted. 

“It’s kind of just a waiting game to see where you get picked,” said Cam Lund, a freshman forward, drafted 34th overall in the second round by the San Jose Sharks, Northeastern’s earliest draft pick since 2011

The NHL draft lasts seven rounds. Day one only consists of the first round, the most anticipated by teams and analysts, while day two features the remaining six. One by one, staff members from each NHL team gather onstage to announce the athlete they’ve selected. 

“Hearing your name called and getting to walk up and go through that whole experience is definitely [unreal],” Lund said. 

The draft represents a milestone for the young hockey players selected, many of whom have spent their entire lives working toward that moment.

“Since I [have been] playing hockey since [I was] three years old, it means all this hard work has paid off in a way,” said Hunter McDonald, a freshman defenseman drafted 165th overall by the Philadelphia Flyers in the sixth round.

Five other Huskies also watched their childhood dreams come true this July, bringing Northeastern’s NHL draft total up to seven. These players included sophomore Jack Hughes (L.A. Kings), freshmen Jackson Dorrington (Vancouver Canucks) and James Fisher (Columbus Blue Jackets), and future players Michael Fisher (San Jose Sharks) and Cameron Whitehead (Vegas Golden Knights).

Getting chosen by a team doesn’t guarantee that a player will get signed to play professionally for them, however. The draft merely secures a player’s rights to a team so that they can’t be signed by another team.

“A lot of people might say that the hard work begins once you get drafted and I definitely have to agree with that,” said junior forward Sam Colangelo, drafted 36th overall in the second round of the 2020 draft by the Anaheim Ducks. “It doesn’t make you set in stone to play in the NHL or anything like that; you just gotta keep working.”

That work begins in development camps. From coast to coast each summer, drafted athletes gather with their potential future teammates and coaches to train and learn what goes into being a major or minor league player. 

For newly drafted players, development camp requires a fast turnaround. 

“I got drafted on a Friday, then I had to go home quick and then [the camp started] the next day, so everything was moving really fast,” McDonald said. 

Although the prospects come from different backgrounds and play different roles, the universal goal of team building keeps their schedules similar. 

“You work out and skate in the morning and then they have some activities lined up for you in the afternoon,” Colangelo said. 

For the Ducks, activities this summer included community outreach, most notably the KABOOM! playground building project. The team’s prospects met with local children to help them design a new playground for their community. 

While the Anaheim team incorporated community outreach into their development camps, these events are typically built around team building and skill advancement. 

“You get to meet all the other prospects and get to pick the coaches’ and the staff’s brain and see what it takes to get to the next level,” Colangelo said.

MLB training camps share the goals of team and skill development with the NHL, but the process to get there is very different. 

While the NHL draft looks at young players, ages 18 to 20 for North Americans and any age for those outside of the continent, over seven rounds, the Major League Baseball draft lasts 20 rounds and only drafts players who are citizens of the United States, Canada or a United States territory. 

The MLB draft also has age restrictions; as a high school graduate, one must have been out of school for at least a year with no plans to continue into higher education, and for college athletes, one must either be at least 21 years old or have completed at least three years of their four-year education. 

After being drafted, MLB prospects must be signed by a team that year or they are able to reenter the draft the following year. This is a stark difference from the NHL, where players can remain under a team for years without a contract enabling them to play professionally.

“The reason you’re out here is because you already impressed them,” said Thomas Balboni, a redshirt sophomore pitcher, drafted to the San Diego Padres in the 15th round of the 2022 MLB draft. 

This sentiment is true for both MLB and NHL players, but manifests itself a bit differently in the baseball world due to the nature of the process. 

“They give players programs [of] what they want and what they expect from you, so if you do what they ask and you are competing every day on the mound and getting outs and everything, you’re in a good spot for your future to move up in the organization and make it to the big leagues,” Balboni said. 

Balboni was one of three Huskies given this opportunity at this year’s MLB draft, accompanied by fellow redshirt sophomore pitchers Cam Schlittler and Sebastian Keane, who were both drafted by the New York Yankees.

Despite the high rate of contracts in the MLB draft, it’s a less ceremonial process than the NHL. Rather than sitting in an arena, waiting for their name to be called by a panel of team executives, MLB drafts are done primarily through the players’ agents.

Balboni said he had a strong idea ahead of time of when and where he was going to get drafted, with the San Diego Padres having shown the most interest in him in the time leading up to the draft. 

“I had a good feeling I was getting picked up on day three, but I was in Boston and I was driving to my grandparents’ house, and my agent [was] calling me throughout the morning, [saying] ‘They’re going to take you,’” Balboni said. 

After being drafted and celebrating with his family, Balboni had mere days until his training began, much like in the NHL draft. 

For Balboni, MLB training started with bridge leagues, a camp between the regular season and instructionals, the winter league allowing prospects to develop their skills, that takes place while the minor leagues are still finishing up. 

“Bridge league is where a lot of guys start throwing in games, getting innings,” he said. 

This time highlights the development of players both on the field and in the weight room. Pitchers like Balboni work on designing pitches; delivery, the pitcher’s ability to get the ball to the hitter; and command, the ability to make a pitch hit the exact target intended. However, it’s not until the instructionals that the athletes get the opportunity to meet and train with coaches and other team officials.

“Instructionals are a great time to show what you’ve been working on and hopefully impress the people in the organization,” Balboni said. 

With bridge league continuing into October and instructionals soon to follow, players’ work has just begun. 

“It’s about competing every day and doing what the organization wants you to do and following what they say,” Balboni said. 

That’s how it is in both the MLB and NHL: although athletes have already proved their potential to prospective coaches, the pressure doesn’t stop. They must continue making their mark on the field or ice in order to make it to the highest level. 

“If anything, maybe [getting drafted] gives you a little confidence, … [but] it shouldn’t really affect anything,” McDonald said. “[The way of playing] that got you there should be the way you play after too.”

Many young athletes dream of getting drafted. It’s discussed early in many players’ careers, setting a goal for them to strive for. When it finally does happen for the select few, it’s a time for them to celebrate their achievements with family, friends and coaches.

“It’s very rewarding to get drafted. It just shows how much work you’ve put in and people [recognize] it,” Balboni said. “It gives you an opportunity to pursue your dreams even further, so I’m very excited.”

Though getting drafted is a main focus for many high school and college athletes, when it’s time to return to their university teams, the draft falls towards the back of their minds.

“I worked hard for that my whole life and it felt awesome, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t really mean too much,” Colangelo said. 

Major league sports drafts keep competition between teams as skill level goes up and number of options to play goes down. However, it’s up to the individual athlete to determine what getting drafted means to them.

“It’s a cool accomplishment, but it doesn’t really change the way you are as a player, doesn’t make you better at [your sport],” Colangelo said. “It’s kind of just a start.”

Editor’s Note: This story was updated Oct. 12 at 9:41 p.m. to correct the number of rounds in the MLB draft and the linked source