Top 5 Draft Lottery wins in NHL history

The NHL Draft Lottery is April 30 so we look at how the first pick will be decided, who is eligible and what it means if your favourite team doesn't will the chance to select top prospect Auston Matthews.

We’re now less than a week away from the NHL Draft Lottery which means it’s time for fans of non-playoff teams to start dreaming about what would happen if their team won.

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This will be the first time the league will draw the top three picks of the draft, which gives even more opportunities for teams that aren’t far from contention to get lucky and find themselves vaulted up in the draft order, and for teams that really struggled to have their season’s worth of disappointment be all for naught.

The NHL first instituted a lottery in 1995 in order to discourage teams from tanking. The Edmonton Oilers and Florida Panthers have each won the lottery three times, more than any other club.

Here are the best five draft lottery wins in NHL history.

Honourable mention: New Jersey Devils win 2011 Draft Lottery
The Devils finished the 2010-11 season closer to a playoff berth (12 points out) than they were to the last place Oilers, and yet New Jersey won the 2011 Draft lottery despite having just a 3.6 per cent chance of being picked first.

The luck of the draw moved them from the eighth pick to the fourth where they took Swedish defenceman Adam Larsson, who some considered the best skater in the draft.

Larsson and Andy Greene have since formed one of the most quietly effective defensive parings in hockey.

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The 1999 Chicago Blackhawks are the only other team to win the lottery as an eighth seed, and no team ranked lower has ever won.

5. Atlanta Thrashers win 2001 Draft Lottery.
The Thrashers had just completed their second season of existence, finishing third-last in the league with 60 points. That gave them just a 14.2 per cent chance of winning the top pick in the upcoming draft, with the Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Islanders having better odds at 18.8 and 25 per cent respectively.

The Thrashers won the lottery to move up two spots in what turned out to be a most unfortunate draw for the Lightning, who were moved down one spot to third.

Thrashers GM Don Wadell took Ilya Kovalchuk with the first pick, and the Islanders infamously gave the second overall pick (Jason Spezza) to the Ottawa Senators as part of a package that acquired Alexei Yashin.

With the third pick the Lightning took Alexander Svitov, who had been compared to Paul Kariya ahead of the draft. Svitov would go on to play just 179 NHL games, totalling 37 points.

Atlanta Thrashers 1st pick Ilya Kovalchuk (centre) is flanked by 2nd overall Ottawa Senators Jason Spezza (left) and Alexander Svitov after the first round at the NHL Entry Draft in Sunrise, Fla., Saturday June 23, 2001.(CP PHOTO/Ryan Remiorz) Atlanta Thrashers 1st pick Ilya Kovalchuk (centre) is flanked by 2nd overall Ottawa Senators Jason Spezza (left) and Alexander Svitov after the first round at the NHL Entry Draft in Sunrise, Fla., Saturday June 23, 2001.(CP PHOTO/Ryan Remiorz)

4. Washington Capitals win 2004 Draft Lottery
Just like the Thrashers in ’01, the Capitals finished third-last (59 points) only to leapfrog their way into the top spot in the draft order.

And once again, it was the second-last place team that got the worst of it – in this case, it was the Chicago Blackhawks.

The Capitals took consensus No. 1 prospect Alex Ovechkin, while the Pittsburgh Penguins had to “settle” for Evgeni Malkin.

And the Blackhawks? They used their pick on Cam Barker, who spent the past three seasons playing in the KHL.

Chicago did manage to flip Barker for a useful piece in Nick Leddy, but it’s safe to say the Blackhawks were the biggest victims of the 2004 lottery. Fortunately for their fans, their luck would turn a few years later.

3. Blackhawks win 2007 Draft Lottery
Up until the 2015 lottery, teams could at most move up only four spots, which is why when the Devils won in 2011, they only moved up to the fourth overall pick.

Therefore, the fifth-worst team had the lowest possible odds (8.1 per cent) of winning the No. 1 overall pick and that’s only happened twice in history.

The first was the Islanders in 2000, who took Rick DiPietro, and the second was the Blackhawks in 2007.

Chicago jumped to the top spot and took undersized American forward Patrick Kane. The Philadelphia Flyers, who were truly awful that season, took James van Riemsdyk No. 2, leaving the then-Phoenix Coyotes to take Kyle Turris third overall.

Turris had to be traded to the Senators before he started to reach his potential for what’s become an underwhelming package (David Rundblad and a second-round pick). Van Riemsdyk showed promise in Philadelphia, but was eventually moved for Luke Schenn.

Kane has won three Stanley Cups with the Blackhawks and just finished a season in which he won the Art Ross Trophy and is a favourite for the Hart Trophy.

2. Oilers win 2015 Draft Lottery
The Oilers are well known for their ability to pick first overall but they never really needed to be that lucky in the draft lottery, until 2015.

In 2010 and 2011 they had a 48.2 per cent chance of picking first overall (25 per cent chance of winning the lottery plus the combined odds of a team outside the bottom five winning), and then in 2012 they moved up one spot to take Nail Yakupov.

But in 2015, the NHL changed its rules to allow all non-playoff teams a chance at the top pick. Furthermore, the odds were worsened for the bottom teams, so the third-worst team (which Edmonton was) would only have an 11.5 per cent chance of winning the lottery, down from 14.2.

Well, you know the rest.

Bill Daly announced the Oilers as the winners of the 2015 Draft lottery, giving them the chance to select phenom Connor McDavid in what was assumed to be one final gift from the Gods before the team competed for a playoff spot.

1. Penguins win 2005 Draft Lottery
In 2005, Pittsburgh rode a 6.25 per cent chance to win the Sidney Crosby Sweepstakes and land the most highly coveted prospect since Mario Lemieux went first overall in 1984.

A lockout wiped out the entire 2004-05 season, giving the league no standings to use for their usual lottery format.

Instead, they assigned each team into one of three groups, based on their playoff appearances and first overall picks from the past three years. The entire draft order was drawn by lottery.

The Penguins were one of four teams to get three lottery balls, while 10 teams had two balls and 16 were given just one ball. For context, the luckiest team from the group with just one ball was the Montreal Canadiens, who ended up with the fifth overall pick, which they used to select Carey Price.

The unluckiest team from the group with three lottery balls was the Buffalo Sabres, who fell to 13th and took Marek Zagapran who has yet to play an NHL game.

Pittsburgh in 2005 was undoubtedly the best draft lottery win the NHL has ever seen.

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