Who least-deserves to win the NHL Draft Lottery?

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By WGR 550 SportsRadio

We all knew this could happen.

The moment the National Hockey League released the details of their Return To Play plan, along with the hieroglyphics that was their NHL Draft Lottery format, the chances of a team like the Toronto Maple Leafs or the Pittsburgh Penguins getting the first overall pick was born.

A terrible thought for most hockey fans is a team that has a chance to win a Stanley Cup every season getting the benefit of a top pick, normally reserved for teams that need the boost of an elite, talented young player.

Phase 2 of the NHL Draft Lottery will take place Monday night somewhere between 6 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Every team involved in the lottery all lost in the Stanley Cup Qualification Round and have the same odds at winning the first overall pick at 12.5%. Those teams are the Penguins, Maple Leafs, Edmonton Oilers, New York Rangers, Nashville Predators, Winnipeg Jets, Florida Panthers, and Minnesota Wild.
Whoever gets the top pick will most likely select forward Alexis Lafrenière of the Rimouski Océanic of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Lafrenière put up an incredible 297 points (114+183) in 173 career QMJHL games and was named both the QMJHL Most Valuable Player and the Canadian Hockey League MVP in both 2019 and 2020.

So, which team is the least-deserving of being awarded the services of Lafrenière?

 

1.) Toronto Maple Leafs

What separates Toronto from Pittsburgh and Edmonton is their combination of recent draft capital, free agent acquisitions, and market. The Leafs have had every tool to build a Stanley Cup champion in the last five years.

They've had top draft picks that landed them Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner, they've been able to sign the top free agent to hit the market in a very long time in John Tavares, and they're Toronto. They're on nobody's no-trade list, and they always get a meeting with the top free agents.

To see one of the league's biggest underachievers, who've put themselves in cap jail and get bailed out with a great young player on an entry-level contract, would be just cruel by the hockey gods.

 

2.) Pittsburgh Penguins

Imagine having two of the best players in the NHL for over a decade, and as they enter the final holes of their career, you get the first overall pick in Lafrenière. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin have led the Penguins to three Stanley Cups and 14 straight playoff seasons. They've been one of the most consistently good franchises in all of sports.

Crosby and Malkin are entering the final years of their NHL primes. Crosby is 33-years-old, and Malkin is 34. With just two years remaining on his contract, Malkin may not be a member of the Penguins for much longer. Lafrenière would give Sidney Crosby another potential superstar teammate to sub in for Malkin to keep the Penguins in Stanley Cup contention into his late 30s.

Also, the Penguins probably shouldn't even be eligible to pick first. They traded a conditional first round pick to the Wild for Jason Zucker. If the Penguins missed the playoffs, which the NHL is technically saying they didn't, Minnesota would get the pick. I'd be furious if I were a Minnesota fan.

 

3.) Edmonton Oilers

The most Oilers thing ever would be to make the playoffs, and still win the NHL Draft Lottery. Edmonton has had better lottery luck than any team in sports history. Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Nail Yakupov, and the best hockey player I've ever seen Connor McDavid haven't been enough for Edmonton to build a contender. Will one more?

The reason I'd stick Edmonton behind Pittsburgh and Toronto is McDavid. The most exciting player to watch in hockey has played very few important games in his career, and NBC's refusal to put the Oilers on national television hides him from American hockey fans.

The only way to get McDavid on NBC is for them to make the playoffs and compete for Stanley Cups. In that regard, Lafrenière would certainly help.

 

4.) New York Rangers

New York city teams should honestly just never be allowed to draft first. The Rangers are maybe the only team in the NHL capable of building a good team through free agency. Only New York City can consistently draw big-name talents like Artemi Panarin, Rick Nash, Brad Richards, Chris Drury, etc.

The last advantage a free agent hot bed needs is a first overall pick. Plus, the Rangers already got a top pick last year, winning the second overall pick in the 2019 NHL Draft to select Kaapo Kakko, who had a rough rookie season but still has a very high ceiling. 

5.) Nashville Predators

The Predators just reached the Stanley Cup Finals three years ago. I really don't feel sorry for a fan base that has seen their team make the postseason in 13 of the last 16 years.

In addition, the Predators are still built to win. They have one of the best defensive groups in the league, led by Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, and Mattias Ekholm. The forward group did not have a strong 2019-20 season, but there's plenty of talent there.

On the bright side, a top-six forward group in Nashville that includes Ryan Johansen, Filip Forsberg, Matt Duchene, Viktor Arvidsson, and Alex Lafrenière could be lots of fun to watch.

 

6.) Florida Panthers

I've been picking the Panthers to have a breakout season for, what feels like, my whole life. Aleksander Barkov is phenomenal. Jonathan Huberdeau is awesome. The defensive corps has lots of talent.

The one missing piece this year was goaltending. In one offseason, the Panthers gave Sergei Bobrovsky a monster contract and became just the fifth team this decade to use a first round pick on a goalie. Bobrovsky was bad in his first season with Florida and the team suffered for it.

The Panthers are good, young, and have not had much winning as of late. They're in the Sabres' division, so Buffalo fans should root against them winning the lottery. But for most hockey fans, this is a good landing spot for Lafrenière.

 

7.) Winnipeg Jets

For Sabres fans that have been begging for a Rasmus Ristolainen to Winnipeg trade for over a year, the Jets getting Lafrenière could help the chances of that happening. It makes sense on paper that Winnipeg would be more willing to trade Nikolaj Ehlers if Lafrenière was in the picture.

The Jets have a rabid fan base and a very good young team. Other than making the Western Conference Final two years ago, they haven't had success in the playoffs. Putting Lafrenière on a good young team with a great fan base is a favorable outcome.

 

8.) Minnesota Wild

The Wild are the most deserving team of the first overall pick. They've been a consistent playoff team since signing Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, but have won just two of nine playoff series since their arrival.

Minnesota is one of the oldest teams in the league, in part because they haven't had a lot of top picks. The highest they've picked in the last eight years is 12th overall. Of the Wild's top-five scorers from the 2019-20 season, only one was in his 20s and it was Kevin Fiala, who they acquired from the Predators.

Putting Lafrenière in a hockey hot bed, where he'd be the face of the franchise, is a great way to market him as a star in the league.