Photo by Brandon Titus / Inside Hockey

Draft Lotto Prize Still Unclaimed

Why? Because, of course. That’s why.

Because in the absurdly-twisted and wildly-strange year that is 2020, it was just too perfect for the NHL Draft lottery not to be impacted. Because when Bill Daly entered Friday’s lottery with eight–not seven cards, it was indicative that one, identity TBD, was the recipient of a lottery pick–first, second or third. But of course, you knew which one it would be.

Though the teams that missed out on the league’s 24-team playoffs, which are set to begin later this summer, entered the evening with more than three-quarters of a chance at winning first overall and the right to select Rimouski star winger, Alexis Lafreniere, it was instead the league’s logo which appeared as the winner of the lottery–not the red and white spoked wheel from Detroit (18.5 per cent following a league-worse 17 wins and 39 points) or the red and gold Senator (owning one quarter of a per cent chance as the holder’s of their own pick and the Sharks via Erik Karlsson–the latter won them third overall).

And so, for the first time since the lottery’s inception, the 35-goal, 112-point phenom from the Quebec Major Junior league, will continue waiting. The identity of who will surely select him first overall remains as unknown to the viewing public as it does to the the 18-year-old prospect, who looks to be a lock for the NHL on even the deepest of teams–some of which still have a shot at him including the Penguins and Maple Leafs. And could you imagine him on the left side of Connor McDavid?

The Kings, who owned the fourth-best odds, moved up two spots to select second overall. Though Quinton Byfield has been considered the second-best prospect for most of the scouting year, the much-anticipated TSN final rankings, collected by Bob McKenzie, saw German product, Tim Stuetzle listed as the draft’s second-best prospect.

“It’s a little strange when they flip it over and you have to process that there’s another lottery,” Kings GM, Rob Blake said. “Everything has kind of taken a different path since the pause.”

Blake noted moving up two spots was first and foremost the most exciting part and knows there’s an opportunity to accelerate Los Angeles’ rebuilding plan.

“The situation we were in, we knew we’d be in this type of situation,” he said. “Where we’d be in that lottery, so that factored into the plan. Hopefully this does speed it up because of the caliber and adjustment of that player in the NHL.”

Can he, and does the second overall player have to be NHL-ready? Both Byfield and Stuetzle look close.

“I wouldn’t say it’s a must, and that will be determined through camps and projections going forward,” he said. “When the draft takes place, there’s a lot of different circumstances that could come into play. I would say that the higher picks, or the higher rated players in the draft, obviously have the capability of doing that, and we’ll have to determine that at the right time.”

Senators General Manager, Pierre Dorion told Sportsnet that holding the third and fifth overall picks in the draft is “a great day for the organization.” But it’s still a considerable step back as they entered the night with a 13.5 per cent shot at winning the lottery with their own pick and 11.5 per cent with the pick they acquired from San Jose for Erik Karlsson in 2018–the only pick of the eight to stay in their original spot.

“We’re going to draft two players that we know are going to be impactful players for the Senators for many years to come,” Dorion said.

Steve Yzerman, whose return to Detroit, where he starred as a player and broke into the front office before becoming a successful GM with Tampa Bay, oversaw a struggling year–one where the only positive might be the opportunity to select a high-end, elite hockey player. But in his post-lottery availability, Hockey Town’s GM says he wasn’t all that surprised.

“We had an 18.5 chance at winning the first pick,” he said. “Realistically, I’m prepared to be sitting here today not talking about the first pick. I’m not really surprised. The eight playoff teams had a 24.5 combined chance of getting the pick, so the odds were better that the first pick went to the bottom eight than it did to us.”

Including first overall, there are eight spots that are still to be claimed for the 2020 Entry Draft, though the order is as follows.

  1. Qualifying Round Club (Team E, so a jump from 12th to 1st.)
  2. Los Angeles (4th to 2nd)
  3. Ottawa via SJ (no change)
  4. Detroit (1st to 4th)
  5. Ottawa (2nd to 5th)
  6. Anaheim (5th to 6th)
  7. New Jersey (6th to 7th)
  8. Buffalo (7th to 8th)