August 10, 2020

Watson: Examining the case for each Lottery Draft entry

Eight teams had their hopes dashed in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Before that run resumes for the remaining 16 teams, those other eight have some unfinished business that needs to be attended to.

In June, an initial draft lottery was held in which we found out the first pick in the NHL Draft would go to one of the eight losing teams of the qualifying round.

At 6 p.m. ET on Monday, a second lottery will be held to determine who will receive the pick.

The Edmonton Oilers, Florida Panthers, Minnesota Wild, Nashville Predators, New York Rangers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Toronto Maple Leafs and Winnipeg Jets each hold a 12.5 percent chance of winning the second lottery.

The remaining seven teams will select No. 9 through No. 15 based on the inverse order of their points percentages at the time the regular season was brought to a halt.

Alexis Lafreniere is the consensus candidate to be selected first overall and finished atop FC Hockey’s Final ranking for the 2020 draft. After dominating the junior hockey scene in the last two years, the Canadian winger is poised to make an instant impact in the NHL.

That’s a scary prospect considering the calibre of some of the teams that could pick him. Beyond Lafreniere, there is also 6-foot-4, 215-pound center Quinton Byfield, German wunderkind Tim Stüzle and the nifty Swedish winger, Lucas Raymond.

With the amount of talent available at the top of this year’s draft and the unique assortment of teams participating in the second lottery, we decided to examine which team deserves the first overall pick the most – or more accurately, which scenario would best preserve the integrity of the sport.

New York Rangers
Chaos Meter: 2/10

Two-and-a-half years after the ownership group publicly announced its plans for a rebuild, the Rangers are a few pieces away from becoming contenders. Despite the acquisition of Hart Trophy nominee Artemi Panarin, New York still wasn’t able to compete in the ever-challenging Metropolitan Division and would have been hard pressed to reach the Stanley Cup Playoffs if not for the reformatting required to pull off the Qualifiers exercise. However, with only Panarin, Mika Zibenejad and Jacob Trouba signed long-term and the amount of young talent they’ll have on entry-level deals, the Rangers will have an embarrassment of riches on their hands if they get the first-overall pick.

Name us one center in the NHL that wouldn’t love to look to his left and see Lafreniere, and look to his right and see Kaapo Kakko, selected with the No. 2 pick behind Jack Hughes – who landed across the way in New Jersey.

Pittsburgh Penguins
Chaos Meter: 8/10

Since they acquired Marc-Andre Fleury, Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang in consecutive drafts from 2003-2006, the Penguins have been one of the most dominant teams in the NHL. They haven’t missed the playoffs since 2006 and have won three Stanley Cups in that span. But they won’t advance to the ‘Sweet 16’ round after being dumped by the Montreal Canadiens in the play-in. Pittsburgh was fifth in East in the regular season, but were dashed by Montreal – the lowest-ever seed, at 24, to advance. Crosby himself wondered if the window was closing on the Penguins, and a little luck with the lottery balls will prop that pane up for a few more years yet.

Although there are far more ‘deserving’ recipients, winning the right to pick first would present the chance for a storybook ending to the Crosby era. Lafreniere is the only other player than him to ever win two Canadian Hockey League Player of the Year awards, and they both developed with Rimouski of the QMJHL. Who else better to carry the torch?

Minnesota Wild
Chaos Meter: 3/10

The Wild have been pretty average since signing Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to matching 13-year, $98 million contracts in the summer of 2012. Despite making the playoffs for six straight seasons from 2013-18, they did not make it past the second round in that duration, and haven’t advanced to the playoffs in the last two campaigns after falling to the Vancouver Canucks in the qualifier. With their entire core over the age of 34, winning the first overall pick would offer the Wild the chance to start over fresh. As the self-proclaimed State of Hockey, it would be beneficial for the growth of the sport for Minnesota to have a good team.

For some, Kirill Kaprisov is the best player not playing in the NHL. For everyone, Lafreniere is the best player eligible for the draft. Put them together and what do you get? Fun, we assume. Fun.

Winnipeg Jets
Chaos Meter: 3/10

The Jets have regressed a bit in the past two seasons after reaching the Western Conference Final in 2018. They lost three of their top-four defensemen at the start of the season and thus relied too heavily on its stars, especially goaltender Connor Hellebuyck – who admittedly emerged as hockey’s best goaltender in 2019-20. On the plus side, they have an incredible young core. Kyle Connor had a career year and Patrik Laine bounced back a bit following a subpar 2018-19 campaign. Those two, as well as stalwarts Hellebuyck, Mark Scheifele and Nikolaj Ehlers, are all entering or in their prime years. Just like the Rangers, Winnipeg would jump immediately into the Stanley Cup conversation should their name be called on Tuesday.

If you park the Oilers (Connor McDavid, 2015; Nail Yakupov, 2012; Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, 2011; Taylor Hall, 2010), only one other Canadian team has popped off the first overall pick in the last 25 years, and that’s Auston Matthews to the Maple Leafs. Lafreniere remaining in Canada, after lifting the country to gold at the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship, would be a significant storyline.

Nashville Predators
Chaos Meter: 6/10

If the Wild have been stuck in the mud, the Predators have simply been spinning their tires. After back-to-back seasons of regular-season dominance, Nashville struggled this season and lost the play-in round to the Arizona Coyotes. Sure, a trip to the Stanley Cup Final in 2017 is not forgotten, but after winning three rounds to get there, the regular-season juggernaut has been sluggish to say the least.

There’d certainly be something interesting about seeing Lafreniere in Nashville, though. An 18-year-old face-of-the-franchise type in Music City is a cornerstone to build around, both on the ice and off.

Edmonton Oilers
Chaos Meter: 10/10

Hall. Nugent-Hopkins. Yakupov. McDavid. Lafreniere? The 2010s started with the Oilers nabbing Hall with the first overall pick. The 2020s starting with Edmonton nabbing Lafreniere would be something else. Something else for so many reasons. The shock value of a fifth first overall pick is one. An all-No. 1 overtime rollout would be another. A line of McDavid and Lafreniere a third. A line of Leon Draisaitl, himself a No. 3 from 2014, and Lafreniere a fourth. It goes on and on.

The Oilers have only been able to cash in one playoff series win in the past decade despite the top draft talent funneling through their system. Surely the addition of Lafreniere makes them a can’t-miss contender. Right?

Florida Panthers
Chaos Meter: 3/10

The Panthers are, seemingly, in transition again. Little cap room and plenty of pending free agents plague Florida, but they still have one of the best young cores in the league with Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau and Aaron Ekblad. It’s a trio that has coach Joel Quenneville at the helm, too.

A landing spot with the Panthers, from a developmental standpoint, would be a soft one for a teenager set to anchor what could emerge as a perennial playoff contender. From a marketing standpoint, there are better options for hockey’s brightest prospect.

Toronto Maple Leafs
Chaos Meter: 10/10

They don’t have the history to match Edmonton’s recent lottery run, but landing Lafreniere would certainly have a similar feel for hockey fans in 31 other markets. They do have their No. 1 in Matthews, and, technically, a No. 1 in John Tavares. In that pair, along with Mitchell Marner (a top-10 pick in his own right), Toronto boasts three of the seven highest-paid players in the NHL.

There’s no place Lafreniere would be more visible than Toronto, for better or for worse. Look no further for evidence than after the Maple Leafs were ousted by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the qualifier, tossing them into the lottery madness, to start with.

So, understandably, there’s an intrigue seeing Lafreniere in Toronto.

And the unprecedented times we’re living in have presented the opportunity for many unprecedented scenarios.

The No. 1 pick could win a Stanley Cup in his first season.

The Maple Leafs or Oilers could end up with three first-overall picks on their roster.

The list goes on.

No matter which team’s name is called on Tuesday, the real winner of the lottery is Team Chaos.

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