2019 NHL Draft Lottery Primer: Will Vancouver’s luck change?

The Hockey Central panel look back at how the 2005 NHL Draft Lottery unfolded and then go over some of the notable names from the draft.

This year’s NHL Draft Lottery will go down a little earlier than usual – Tuesday night, on the eve of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. You can watch it on Sportsnet at 8:00 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT, and this year comes with some really intriguing possibilities in terms of how the top three could be re-formed.

The biggest storyline is the fact the team with the best odds to end up with the first-overall selection also happens to be in the playoffs. To close out the Matt Duchene trade, Ottawa will send its first-rounder to Colorado after the Senators chose to keep last year’s fourth-overall pick to select Brady Tkachuk. General manager Joe Sakic could be at the lottery Tuesday night, and then in Calgary Thursday to watch his team play in Game 1.

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Winning this lottery would vastly change the fortunes of any team. The Los Angeles Kings, with the second-best odds, scored the second-fewest goals in the NHL this season and are still playing catchup to the rest of the league in terms of getting quicker and more skilled – landing either of Jack Hughes or Kaapo Kakko would do wonders to put them on track.

With the third-best odds, the New Jersey Devils would find themselves with the first-overall pick twice in three seasons if they win after taking Nico Hischier following some lottery luck in 2017.

And how about the Buffalo Sabres? They lost the Connor McDavid lottery in 2015 and ended up with a great consolation prize in Jack Eichel, but still wound up picking first overall to get Rasmus Dahlin last season. And despite having the fifth-best odds this time, they were the worst team in the NHL from the end of their 10-game November winning streak through to the end of the season with a 16-33-8 record.

A lot is on the line for these teams, some of whom need the top pick in the draft more than others who were in a playoff race late into the season.

Here’s a rundown of how the lottery works and what’s on the line.

How does the draft lottery work?
You’ll see what the odds are for each team in a moment, but the lottery isn’t as simple as pulling out a ping pong ball that has a logo on it. Rather, each team is assigned a sequence of four numbers and those with better odds have more of these sequences. Fourteen numbered balls are put into the machine and four are pulled out. That sequence is then cross-referenced with a chart that shows all possible outcomes and which team is assigned to each series of numbers. At this moment, you know who won the right to choose first overall.

When the first series of numbers is determined, all the balls are re-entered into the machine and the process is repeated twice more to find out who picks second and third.

Every franchise that misses the playoffs or owns the first-round pick of a team that did has a shot to end up with any of the top three picks in the lottery. But while the Montreal Canadiens, who just missed the playoffs, could jump all the way to No. 1, no team can fall further than three spots. So the Avalanche have the best odds of winning, but they can fall only as far as fourth overall.

Once the lottery is over and the top three picks are determined, the rest of the first round will go in order. The lottery can only change the top of the first round – from the second round through to the end of the draft, teams pick in reverse order of season finish.

What are the odds to land the first overall pick?
Only one non-playoff team doesn’t hold its own first-round pick and, unfortunately for the Ottawa Senators, that’s the one with the best odds to win the right to choose first.

Here the percentage chances for each team heading into the first of the three draws:

Colorado Avalanche (via Ottawa): 18.5%
Los Angeles Kings: 13.5%
New Jersey Devils: 11.5%
Detroit Red Wings: 9.5%
Buffalo Sabres: 8.5%
New York Rangers: 7.5%
Edmonton Oilers: 6.5%
Anaheim Ducks: 6%
Vancouver Canucks: 5%
Philadelphia Flyers: 3.5%
Minnesota Wild: 3%
Chicago Blackhawks: 2.5%
Florida Panthers: 2%
Arizona Coyotes: 1.5%
Montreal Canadiens: 1%

Who are the top prospects for the 2019 NHL Draft?
For a long time now, the No. 1 player in this draft has been Jack Hughes, who played for the U.S. National Team Development Program this season. The five-foot-10, 168-pound centre dominated during his tenure with the program and will walk away as the all-time leader in assists and points, dethroning Jeremy Bracco and Clayton Keller, respectively.

In December, Sportsnet’s Gare Joyce explored why Hughes could be the best USNTDP product ever. He’s shifty, quick and has terrific vision. What’s interesting here is that Hughes missed three games at the world juniors and the entirety of the Five Nations Tournament, which are both big events on the international calendar for a prospect of his calibre. But he’s been on the radar as the top prospect for the 2019 draft for so long now, scouts would already have a good enough idea of how Hughes projects as an NHLer even without these events.

There is someone making a late charge for No. 1, though, and in that sense there’s a chance this draft unfolds like in 2017. Nolan Patrick held the distinction of the top prospect in that draft at least two years out but, starting at the world juniors, Switzerland’s Nico Hischier made a charge that ended with him going first overall.

Kaapo Kakko is this year’s late-bloomer. He hasn’t surprised anyone as a top-three prospect, but he jumped in as a potential usurper to Hughes’s hold atop the draft with an excellent performance at the world juniors. There, Kakko posted five points in seven games, including the gold medal-winning goal for Finland against Hughes’s Team USA.

Kakko set a record himself this season, too. Playing for TPS in Finland’s Liiga, the top professional league in that country, Kakko set a goal-scoring record for a under-18 (or first-time draft eligible) player with 22 goals in 45 games, surpassing the mark set by Aleksander Barkov.

In Sportsnet’s monthly draft rankings compiled by Sam Cosentino, Kakko appeared in the No. 1 spot for the first time just last month.

Remember when the Maple Leafs nearly ended up with Connor McDavid?
Toronto’s rebuild got on track in 2016 when they finished a terrible season at the bottom of the standings, won the lottery and chose Auston Matthews first overall. But we’re left wondering how different things would have been in both Toronto and Edmonton had the 2015 lottery unfolded just a little differently.

The Buffalo Sabres had the best odds that season, but came upon some bad luck. After the first three numbers of the four-number series were pulled out to determine the first-overall pick, it was revealed that the Maple Leafs actually had the best odds of the fourth ball completing one of their sequences. Had that happened, McDavid would have gone to Toronto and who knows where Auston Matthews would be today. But rather, as we know, the Edmonton Oilers struck gold, Buffalo ended up with Eichel No. 2 and the Leafs ended up staying put at No. 4, where they took Mitch Marner.

Will hosting the draft change the luck of the lottery’s most cursed team?
Though the lottery is being conducted in Toronto, the draft itself will take place in Vancouver this season. The team and its fans are no doubt hoping that changes their luck at the lottery this time.

In the past three seasons Vancouver missed the playoffs, they finished with the second, third, and sixth-best odds to win the lottery, but fell back each time. Despite those odds, the Canucks have picked fifth, fifth and seventh overall since 2016.

But although the luck at the lottery hasn’t been great, they’ve certainly come out on top with the players they did pick. Olli Juolevi (fifth overall in 2016) still hasn’t played in the NHL and missed the majority of this season with injury, so the jury is still out on him. But Vancouver took Elias Pettersson fifth overall in 2017 and he’s started his NHL career with a near point-per-game season. Last year, the Canucks nabbed Quinn Hughes seventh overall and the second defenceman off the board in his draft just recently started his NHL career with great fanfare.

And maybe Quinn can help a little with this luck. After all, the newest Canucks defenceman is the brother of this year’s top draft prospect and the thought of the two brothers coming to town so soon after the Sedin twins retired is just so perfect.

What would happen if the Edmonton Oilers won the draft lottery again?
Between 2010 and 2015, the Oilers picked first in the draft four out of six seasons, selecting seventh and third in the other two.

They haven’t had the same lottery luck since and even moved from second to fourth after the 2016 lottery, but if they found their way back to the top of the draft this time, there would assuredly be new calls for an overhaul of the draft lottery rules to limit the number of times a team could pick first.

Can I simulate this year’s draft lottery?
You sure can. Try this one out, but Ottawa Senators fans are warned to look away.

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