While eight teams were still fighting it out for NFL supremacy as of Saturday, the also-rans got some ink with the NHL draft lottery.
It’s usually an overlong dog-and-pony show that is supposed to restore hope for cities where NHL arenas were and are dark far too early. Last year, the Toronto Maple Leafs — aka Tank Nation — “won” the lottery and got to draft generational player Auston Matthews. We all know how well that turned out for the Buds.
This year, there are no Matthews’, McDavids or Crosbys topping the prospects list. As we look at it, we see the current class being less like the watershed year of 2003 and more of the so-so 2011 (Ryan Nugent-Hopkins no. 1) and 2012 (Nail Yakupov no. 1) drafts.
But, the lottery did have some drama, with New Jersey moving up five spots to grab the no.1 overall selection in this year’s draft. Will it be Nolan Patrick, consensus no. 1 overall prospect, or Nico Hischier, the no. 2?
With all the movement, at least according to draft lottery odds, there are a few “winners” and even more losers from Saturday’s grip-and-grin ceremony.
Here they are, starting with the losers.
10. Winnipeg Jets – Loser
Yes, the Jets had a feeble 2.7 percent chance of winning the first overall pick, however, not even those lousy odds could save them from tumbling one spot from 12th to lucky 13. We can’t feel too sorry for the current incarnation of the Fast Planes, as they won the right to move up to no. 2 last year and select Patrik Laine. As it is, Winnipeg can still get a player of their choice in the middle of the pack and looking at their current roster, some scoring depth down the right side wouldn’t be unwelcome. Depending on whose rankings are followed (we like ISS), there are two right wingers who may be available at 13. One is ISS 10th-ranked Czech sensation Martin Necas, who scored 15 points playing with men in the Extraliga with Kometa Brno. The other is smallish (5’9″) Kailer Yamamoto of the Spokane Chiefs. The ISS currently has him pegged at 22nd best prospect. He scored 99 points (42 goals) in 65 games for the Chiefs this season.
9. Detroit Red Wings – Loser
For the first time in a quarter century, the Red Wings missed the playoffs and entered the lottery with a 6.7 percent chance at top pick. As luck — or lack thereof — would have it, they fell two spots from provisional seventh to ninth in the draft. With the season they had, the Wings are in need of a full rebuild. The last five drafts for the Wings, however, have yielded just two players who have made any kind of impact — Dylan Larkin in 2014 and Andreas Athanasiou in 2012. Had they stayed at their pre-draft lottery standing of seventh, any one of three centermen could have been available, including fifth-ranked Casey Mittelstadt of the USHL Green Bay Gamblers, seventh-ranked Cody Glass of the Portland Winterhawks or eighth-ranked and huge (6’6″) Michael Rasmussen of Tri-City (WHL). The provisional ninth spot in the ISS rankings is currently occupied by Kelowna Rockets star defenceman Callan Foote, son of former NHLer Adam.
8. Vegas Golden Knights – Loser
Having to build a franchise from the ground up is a monumental task. It may have been made just a little easier, had the expansion Golden Knights been able to stay in the third/fourth position with Arizona, or even move up considering they were given 10.3 percent odds (same as the ‘Yotes) to pick first. The newbies dropped, however, three spots to no. 6, which still isn’t bad — but not great. With needs in all places, Vegas is free to pick pretty much anybody who falls into their lap at sixth and that spot, according to ISS, is occupied by Swedish defenceman Timoty Liljegren. He just turned 18 on Sunday, playing a half season with Rogle BK of the Swedish Elite League as a 17-year-old. He’s a right shot puck-moving defenceman who’s stock has dropped a bit, however, playing in a top league at the tender age of 17 can only be a good portent for his future.
7. Buffalo Sabres – Loser
What a hot mess the Sabres season was. Not only did they not make the playoffs, as they expected, but the team’s re-build is behind the curve and it cost the GM and coach their jobs. Therefore, Buffalo not only has to make personnel decisions in the executive, but careful picks in the draft to re-stock the cupboard. That task wasn’t made any easier as the Sabres fell to eighth from sixth at the lottery, where they had a 7.6 percent chance of picking first. The pickings aren’t slim at no. 8 by any means, but not game-changing. The Sabres could use help in a lot of areas and we think defence is where they should concentrate first. The eighth rated prospect is big Michael Rasmussen, a 6’6″ center for the Tri-City Americans. Otherwise, they could end up taking defenceman Callan Foote (son of Adam), ranked ninth. Any way it’s sliced, the Sabres have to draft wisely.
6. Arizona Coyotes – Loser
Falling from fourth to seventh isn’t a precipitous fall, draft lottery wise, but the ‘Yotes third-last place finish in the Western Conference can’t be sitting well with management. And this team needs scoring, big time. Arizona scored the fourth fewest goals in the NHL this past season at 197, with Radim Vrbata leading the pack at 20. But, the seventh pick is likely to be a project and there might not be a bad one in centerman Cody Glass, who is occupies that ranking in the ISS structure. He’s big enough at 6’2″ and had a breakout year with the Portland Winterhawks. He scored 94 points (32 goals) in 69 games and was +31, which is a huge upgrade on his 2015-16 campaign, where he had just 27 points and was -1. He was good in the playoffs for Portland too, firing four goals and adding five assists in 11 games.
5. Vancouver Canucks – Loser
The second biggest loser of the NHL draft lottery was Vancouver. With the second best odds at 12.1, the NHL’s second worst club could have stayed there and enjoyed the fruits of it. But, just like in 2016, the Canucks fell out of the top three to fifth. The Canucks now have a new coach, Travis Green, who works very well with young players, so this year will be different in Van City, as he intends not to play the crap out of the aging Sedin twins. There are a few good players on the way up and in, like Brock Boeser and the dynamic Jonathan Dahlen, obtained in the Alexandre Burrows deal. What they could really use is a center and at fifth they are still positioned to pick a decent prospect. Right now the fifth highest rated player is Casey Mittelstadt of the USHL’s Green Bay Gamblers. The high schooler from Eden Prairie HS in Minnesota has good hands and speed and has a noted great work ethic.
4. Colorado Avalanche – Loser
Avs’ GM Joe Sakic was visibly pained when the lottery revealed that his team would no longer be the odds-on favorite to win it. With a 18 percent chance — the best odds — of winning, it looked like the Nolan Patrick sweepstakes might go in their favor. But, the last-place Avs fell all the way out of first to fourth and won’t be getting one of either Patrick or Nico Hischier. The Avalanche finished dead last in the standings with 48 points and they might as well have fallen all the way to 15th in the lottery, such is the state of their hockey team. No one played above their station last season and the deadline cleaned house on several veterans. The only consolation is that this isn’t a Connor McDavid/Jack Eichel or Auston Matthews/Patrik Laine deep draft. The guy sitting at four, Mississauga right winger Owen Tippett, would look good in a Colorado sweater. The 6’2″ Steelheads sniper had 44 goals and 75 points in 60 regular season games and has 15 points in 15 games entering the OHL finals against the Erie Otters.
3. Dallas Stars – Winner
The Stars were uncharacteristically abysmal this season and after winning the right to pick third (they were provisionally seventh) their greatest draft need, in our opinion, is at goalie. However, there aren’t any first round worthy netminders to consider, so Big D and new-old coach Ken Hitchcock may have to content themselves with picking, say Windsor pivot Gabe Vilardi at no. 3. Or, as has been rumored, they package that no. 3 pick up for help immediately. Whatever the case, the lucky Stars do have some holes, namely scoring depth down the wings. Vilardi is big enough at 6’2″ and is listed as a centerman, but he is a right shot and could easily be converted. He had a breakout year with Windsor and won’t be 18 until August. Vilardi scored 29 goals and 32 assists for the Spitfires, as well as six points in seven playoff games. He’ll get to showcase his skills at the Memorial Cup, too, as the Spits are hosts.
2. Philadelphia Flyers – Winner
The Flyers were the biggest movers of the draft lottery, going all the way from 13th with a 2.2 percent chance of moving up to first to second pick overall. Philly has a good stock of defencemen and goaltenders coming up, so they are now afforded the luxury of either selecting Swiss speedster Nico Hischier, or even Brandon Wheat Kings playmaker Nolan Patrick. Neither is a game-changing “generational” player but they are by no means marginal. Hischier will likely be the second pick in the draft and made a good case for inclusion at that spot by scoring 38 goals and 86 points in 57 games for the Halifax Mooseheads of the QMJHL. He didn’t get an extended run in the Quebec playoffs, but did contribute three goals and four assists in six games. Hischier was the star for his national team at the World Juniors, too, scoring seven points in five games at the 2017 event.
1. New Jersey Devils – Winner
We’ll call the Devils the biggest winner at the lottery, but with an asterisk beside it. Sure, they moved up from fifth all the way to first, but there is no next-level talent available at this draft. However, Nolan Patrick, should the Devils pick him, will be an impact NHLer and decent point producer. That is, if he can stay healthy. That is why we affix an asterisk to the Devils’ win. When healthy, Patrick has been better than a point-per-game producer for the Brandon Wheat Kings. He was superb in 2015-16, scoring 102 points (41 goals) in 72 WHL games and followed it up with 30 points in 21 playoff games. The son of former NHLer Steve Patrick and nephew of longtime NHLer James Patrick, though, sustained a hernia injury in the WHL playoffs last year and had to undergo surgery . He was healthy enough to start the 2016-17 campaign, but after six games sustained an upper-body injury. In all, he played just 33 games this season, but still had 20 goals and 26 assists. Devils win, despite the question marks.