NHL Draft Lottery Primer: Best and worst possible outcomes


NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly announces draft positions during Phase 1 of the 2020 NHL Draft Lottery on June 26, 2020 at the NHL Network's studio in Secaucus, New Jersey. (Bruce Bennett/NHLI via Getty Images)

As the Stanley Cup Playoffs roll on, Wednesday night is an opportunity for those outside the playoffs to hope for a win.

The 2021 NHL Draft Lottery will go down at 7:00 p.m. ET/4 p.m. PT on Sportsnet where the top of the order will be determined.

There are two notable differences this time. One is the addition of the NHL’s 32nd team, the Seattle Kraken, to the order. They’ll slot in with the third-best odds.

The other is that only two teams will be drawn in this lottery. Whereas before three draws were held to determine who chose first, second and third overall, new lottery rules announced this season mean only the first- and second-overall picks will be chosen. The Buffalo Sabres, who finished last in the league, can pick no later than third overall.

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More lottery changes are on the way in 2022 when teams will be restricted from moving up more than 10 spots in the order, and no team can win the lottery more than twice in a five-year period. That’s for another day. What you need to know for Wednesday night is that whichever two teams “win” will pick first and second overall in the July draft.

Following Wednesday night’s lottery, Sam Cosentino will provide a mock draft of the top end of the order and we’ll start to get a taste of which prospects could end up on certain teams. There is no generational talent at the top of the order this year, but there are still plenty of players to get excited about.

With that in mind, we wanted to sift through some of the possible lottery outcomes and separate the “good” results from the “bad.” Some teams really need this win, while others would really be rubbing salt in the wound if they find more luck.

Here are the range of possibilities.


Seattle Kraken: What better way to be introduced to the NHL than to win the first-overall pick in the lottery? The Kraken, like the Golden Knights before them, start with the third-best odds (tied with third-last New Jersey). Vegas wasn’t selected in their first lottery and ended up getting bumped down to the sixth-overall pick after New Jersey, Philadelphia and Dallas jumped over them in the order. The Golden Knights took Cody Glass with the pick.

Seattle will get to pick its team two days before the entry draft, and if they’re able to make those picks and trades knowing they also have the first (or second) pick, it’ll be a great thing to hold in the back pocket. There may not be a generational talent atop this draft, but the higher they pick the better odds they’ll choose a difference-maker who can help define the franchise for years to come. It’d be one advantage that Vegas didn’t have.

Vancouver Canucks: No team has had worse luck at the draft lottery than Vancouver. Actually, it dates all the way back to their inaugural season, when the Canucks lost a spin of the wheel to Buffalo for the first pick in the Amateur Draft. The Sabres ended up taking Gilbert Perreault and the Canucks got Dale Tallon.

In recent years, the Canucks’ luck at the lottery didn’t get much better. In 2017, the Canucks finished second-last in the league to Colorado and so had the second-best odds to land the top pick. Instead, three other teams had their sequences chosen, they leaped the Canucks, and Vancouver had to pick fifth overall. The result wasn’t bad, though: Vancouver got Elias Pettersson out of it. In 2018 and 2019, the Canucks moved down the draft order by one spot to pick seventh and 10th, respectively. Again, though, while the lottery didn’t go according to plan, the result wasn’t terrible: they got Quinn Hughes and Vasily Podkolzin with those picks.

So isn’t it about time the Canucks had something go their way at the lottery? After the tough season they had and some uncertainty of where to go from here, wouldn’t it be nice to see them land a top-two pick and another elite young player to help push this thing forward sooner than later?

Buffalo Sabres: Though there was some improvement in the back end of the season after the coaching switch was made to Don Granato, the Sabres still finished with the worst record in the league and the best odds to win the first-overall pick. It’s not like this team hasn’t had a chance to build through the draft – after all, they’ve picked inside the top 10 in each of the past eight years and are three years removed from choosing Rasmus Dahlin first overall. Getting Jack Eichel second overall in 2015 was a great pick up, but they had the best odds at the lottery to end up with the Connor McDavid pick and that still has to sting a little.

Winning the lottery Wednesday won’t make up the McDavid difference of course, but it would give some good news after a season full of bad news. The Sabres can’t fall further than picking third overall so they’ll get a good player regardless, but don’t we all want to see something a little positive for this franchise?

Columbus Blue Jackets: It seems like big change is coming in Columbus and, perhaps, a rebuild. Seth Jones seems to be a goner and with Patrik Laine an RFA this off-season you wonder if there’s a long-term fit with the Blue Jackets or not. If they do blow it up, Cam Atkinson maybe hits the block. Joonas Korpisalo is certainly out there.

It’s too bad that this team’s window to have an impact may soon be closed. GM Jarmo Kekalainen stuck it out, didn’t trade impactful rentals a couple years ago in a bid to go on a playoff run, and then they did win one round. If they win the lottery and end up with the top pick, Columbus could potentially use it on Owen Power to replace the outgoing Jones (at least insofar that he’s a young defenceman with huge upside)… or would they consider moving it for other young assets as part of a rebuild? Now we’re getting crazy.

The bottom line is that this is a small market team that has taken some big risks in recent seasons in a bid to have an impact on the league and it just didn’t work out. It would be nice to see something fall in their favour now.


Philadelphia Flyers: One of the weirder trends recently is the Flyers’ pattern of making the playoffs one season and missing them the next. This has been going on for nearly a decade now and so, after missing in 2021, I suppose the Flyers are on track to get back to the playoffs in 2022.

And the fact is this team is better on paper than they showed this season. There is some possible change on the way here too, and they have plenty of assets to trade out if they want to shake up the core.

In 2006-07, the Flyers finished with the worst record in the league even though it sure felt like they were better than that on paper. Simon Gagne was still in his prime, Jeff Carter and Mike Richards were getting started, Claude Giroux was a year away from his rookie season. They didn’t win the lottery, so they moved to the second-overall pick and chose James van Riemsdyk after Chicago picked Patrick Kane. The very next season Philadelphia reached the conference final.

This year’s Flyers weren’t as bad as that team – they have the 14th-best lottery odds – but they sure feel closer to a breakthrough than a breakdown. They underperformed this season and that’s why the Flyers are here. Do they deserve a top-two pick now? Absolutely not.

Consider, too, that in 2017 the Flyers finished 19th of 30 NHL teams and then had lottery luck fall their way and move all the way to the second-overall pick. They chose Nolan Patrick over Miro Heiskanen, Cale Makar and Pettersson. Other teams are more deserving of this win.

New York Rangers: Give me a break. In last year’s two-phase lottery a “mystery team” won the first draw, meaning a second one between all the qualifying-round losers was necessary. The Rangers, already full of upside thanks to shrewd drafting and quality players just wanting to sign there, got both the benefit of “unofficial” playoff hockey experience, and then had the luck of the second lottery to draw the first-overall pick. They took consensus top prospect Alexis Lafreniere.

The season before, New York had the sixth-best odds at the lottery and were lucky enough to move up to pick two, where they grabbed Kaapo Kakko after Jack Hughes.

This is a team clearly on the upswing and primed to take a huge step at any moment – they absolutely do not deserve another top-two pick here.

Arizona Coyotes: So here’s the thing with the Coyotes. Because of illegal prospect testing under former GM John Chayka, the NHL has already fined them and taken away their first-round pick in 2021. But they’re still involved in the lottery and if the Coyotes are chosen for either of the top two picks, it’ll have to be redrawn. We might not find out that happened until afterwards.

This falls into our bad category because you’d have to feel for Coyotes fans if they “won” a lottery they weren’t even allowed to. The hypotheticals would drive you mad, especially for a team that is so clearly in need of picks and prospects as they position towards a rebuild. It’s hard to start doing that without your own first-round pick – and it’d be a tough pill to swallow if you know you could have had the top pick.

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