2020 NHL Draft

Phase II Lottery Preview

Steve Kournianos  |  8/10/2020 |  Nashville  |  

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THE DRAFT ANALYST (Nashville) — The NHL’s revised draft lottery system will yield its most important result on Monday when one of eight teams will win the right to select first in the 2020 NHL Draft. The drawing, which will be administered by league officials and representatives from the accounting firm Ernst & Young, will be broadcast on the NHL Network at 6 p.m. EST.

Unlike draft lottery drawings under standard conditions, the current format would provide each participating team the same 12.5 percent odds to claim the top selection, which in this year’s draft is expected to be left wing Alexis Lafreniere from Rimouski in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Those teams — Minnesota, the Rangers, Winnipeg, Florida, Nashville, Edmonton, Toronto, and Pittsburgh — were eliminated during the qualification round. Thus, for the first time in the history of the NHL draft lottery, not a single team involved in the drawing actually finished in the bottom 10 of the overall standings. Part of this was due to the two lowest seeds in the play-in round — Chicago and Montreal — beating the two highest seeds — Edmonton and Pittsburgh, respectively. Had the league opted to cancel the 2019-20 season following the COVID-19 shutdown and use the final regular season standings to determine the lottery teams and subsequent draft order, five of the teams participating on Monday would have been excluded.

Nonetheless, the circumstances surrounding tonight’s drawing, and the 2019-20 NHL season as a whole — are far from the norm. Thus, the league’s decision to include winning teams — some considered to be Stanley Cup contenders before the pause in play — alongside the mediocre types, presents eight organizations at varying stages of success and player development with the chance to draft a franchise talent. Knowing that, let’s dig into each lottery team and wargame the potential outcomes.

Minnesota Wild 

League Rank (Pts. %): 21st
Lowest Possible Pick: 9th Overall
Highest Overall Picks: Marian Gaborik, 3rd (2000); Benoit Pouliot, 4th (2005); Mikko Koivu, 6th (2001)

Win: A hard-fought series loss to Vancouver revealed promising signs from some of the Wild neophytes, but the fact remains that this is an old team. The farm system, however, is being rebuilt brick by brick, and by finally landing 2015 draftee Kirill Kaprizov, Minnesota can provide its fans with something to look forward to for next season. Drafting Alexis Lafreniere, however, will be a massive game changer for the Wild, which has only one division title in their 19 years of existence and could use an injection of world-class talent.

Lose: The Wild weren’t supposed to be picking in the top 10 to begin with, so they’re playing with house money when it comes to this year’s first round. As crazy as it may sound, Minnesota’s farm system is starting to get a little crowded at every position. Every position, that is, except on defense and in goal. If the Wild are looking to make up for only drafting one defender last season and the controversial selection of Swedish blueliner Filip Johansson in 2018, then the top-10 of this specific draft is where to get it done. Granted, they acquired a power-play specialist in Calen Addison from the Jason Zucker trade, But the drop-off in upside among 2020-eligible defensemen after righty Jamie Drysdale and lefty Jake Sanderson could make the Wild think defense with that ninth pick. If they go for a forward, Finnish center Anton Lundell would be the perfect candidate to help bridge the gap left by Mikko Koivu’s anticipated departure.

Winnipeg Jets

League Rank (Pts. %): 20th
Lowest Possible Pick: 10th Overall
Highest Overall Picks: Patrik Laine, 2nd (2016); Mark Scheifele, 7th (2011)

Win: Even with the injury issues plaguing the Jets’ forward ranks during these playoffs, they still boast one of the league’s most formidable attacks. As badly as the Jets need help on defense, however, the rugged, energetic style Alexis Lafreniere plays would fit their current system like a glove. Not only would Lafreniere be playing in a smaller market with a supportive fan base, but he would have the luxury of star teammates who can shoulder any blame but also mentor him in the process. Lafreniere’s presence may also light a fire under Patrik Laine from a competition standpoint.

Lose: The knee-jerk reaction is to think the Jets will draft a defenseman if they miss out on Lafreniere, but it’s also reasonable to think that if there is one general manager is willing to overlook an elite scoring forward in favor of a physical and mobile defenseman like Jake Sanderson or potentially Braden Schneider, it would have to be Kevin Cheveldayoff. If they Jets do draft a forward, don’t be surprised if it’s Swedish sniper Alexander Holtz, who can shoot it as well as Laine but without the baggage and a stronger compete level.

New York Rangers

League Rank (Pts. %): 18th
Lowest Possible Pick: 11th Overall
Highest Overall Picks: Andre Veilleux, 1st (1965); Brad Park, 2nd (1966); Kaapo Kakko, 2nd (2019)

Win: Landing Kaapo Kakko in last year’s draft lottery was viewed as a potential watershed moment in the Rangers’ long, calamitous history. But with all due respect to the young Finn, it would be the drafting Alexis Lafreniere that would not only have a profound impact of the franchise’s near and distant future on the ice, but give their impatient fans the potential of a Lafreniere-Kakko punch that they can call their own. He automatically would slot into their top six and become an instant fan favorite.

Lose: The Rangers probably weren’t expecting to be selecting near the top 10 when the regular season ended. But the aforementioned upsets vaulted them a good three spots closer, and they can draft as high at 10th overall if either Minnesota or Winnipeg win the lottery. Whether they pick 10th or 11th overall in this specific draft class shouldn’t mean than much, as the Blueshirts are loaded down on the farm at every position and also own Carolina’s first-round pick. That means they can take a home-run swing on either a notable winger who drops (Lucas Raymond, Alexander Holtz, Cole Perfetti); add another center prospect who’s expected to be there (Anton Lundell, Connor Zary, Seth Jarvis), or roll the dice and go for another Russian (Rodion Amirov, Marat Khusnutdinov). Another thing to consider — the Rangers were pushed around by the Hurricanes in their three-game sweep, so tougher players who can skate such as Dylan Holloway or Braden Schneider might be justifiable to them…even in the top 10.

Nashville Predators

League Rank (Pts. %): 16th
Lowest Possible Pick: 12th Overall
Highest Overall Picks: David Legwand, 2nd (1998); Seth Jones, 4th (2013)

Win: Nashville has been a destination of choice for notable NHL’ers, and the Predators’ 2017 Stanley Cup run helped an already rabid fan base multiply significantly. As competitive as the Preds have been, however, the franchise has yet to claim one of the NHL’s top forwards as one of their own. With all due respect to the likes of Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen, and now Matt Duchene, the truth is that Southern hockey fans are incredibly loyal to their homegrown talent and will immediately latch onto Alexis Lafreniere’s outgoing demeanor, and his rough-and-tumble style will make him an instant favorite in Music City.

Lose: Unlike the teams ahead of them in the lottery, this can be considered a make-or-break draft for a Predators franchise that’s trending towards mediocrity. Barring a trade down, this will be the highest the Preds have picked in the first round since 2014, when they selected Kevin Fiala. Regardless of whether Nashville gets the 11th or 12th pick, this organization needs a shot in the arm following back-to-back seasons with an early playoff exit. Additionally, a scouting staff that used to have the Midas touch hasn’t drafted a forward to appear in more than 21 NHL games since the aforementioned Fiala and Viktor Arvidsson from the 2014 crop, and Fiala’s now playing for Minnesota. Sniper Eeli Tolvanen was once considered a steal at 30th overall in 2017 but the Preds have been cautious with his development. If available, do they go for a similar scoring winger in Lucas Raymond, Alexander Holtz, or Cole Perfetti? Does their strong blue line get bolstered with the addition of a physical defenseman like Jake Sanderson, Braden Schneider, or Kaiden Guhle? Or do the Preds break from drafting a goalie in the later rounds in favor of a franchise type like Yaroslav Askarov? Tough questions to answer indeed, but keep in mind that Nashville may fee inclined to gamble a little since they own two high second-round picks, with the first acquired from New Jersey in the P.K. Subban deal

Florida Panthers

League Rank (Pts. %): 15th
Lowest Possible Pick: 13th
Highest Overall Picks: Ed Jovanovski, 1st (1994); Aaron Ekblad, 1st (2014); Aleksandr Barkov, 2nd (2013)

Win: As you can see, picking at or near the top of the draft is something South Floridian hockey fans are all too familiar with. As much as I’d like to say drafting Alexis Lafreniere will be a defining moment in the Panthers’ 27-year history, the fact remains that he would join Aaron Ekblad, Sasha Barkov, and Jonathan Huberdeau as the fourth top-3 pick on the current roster. Will Lafreniere be that critical piece that finally tips the scales in their favor? That question has more to do with the construct of the entire roster rather than individual production, with the latter being something neither Barkov nor Huberdeau, and to a lesser extent Ekblad, have had issues with. But Lafreniere is a such a gamer in addition to owning world-class finishing and playmaking skills that it’s tough to see the Cats not benefit immensely in multiple areas and do so in a short period of time.

Lose: It will be interesting to see how the Panthers approach this draft one year after making Spencer Knight the highest goalie taken in almost a decade (deservedly so). They already have a solid farm system filled with two premier finishers in Owen Tippett (10th overall in 2017) and Grigory Denisenko (15th overall in 2018); plus some physical defensemen and grind-it-out energy forwards. If Florida taps into their lessons learned from their loss to the Islanders in the play-in round as part of their draft strategy, then it’s reasonable to think they want to draft a 200-foot forward who can help limit the amount of rubber thrown his goalie’s way. In that case, Finnish center Anton Lundell would be the ideal pick for a variety of reasons. Not only have the Cats drafted out of Finland in three of the last four drafts, they also used high picks on Henrik Borgstrom (2016) and Aleksi Heponiemi (2017). If need or reactionary drafting gives way to flash or high-impact players with three-zone abilities, then Seth Jarvis, Jack Quinn, or Dawson Mercer could be high-value targets for Florida’s scouting staff.

Toronto Maple Leafs

League Rank (Pts. %): 13th
Lowest Possible Pick: Out of First Round*
Highest Overall Picks: Wendel Clark, 1st (1985); Auston Matthews, 1st (2016)

*Toronto forfeits its 2020 first-round pick to Carolina if the Maple Leafs do not win the Phase II lottery. This was a condition from the Patrick Marleau trade. If Toronto wins the first pick, they keep it and a 2021 first rounder transfers to the Hurricanes.

Win: Much to the rest of the league’s chagrin, the addition of Alexis Lafreniere would be the perfect elixir for both the fanbase and the Leafs organization, especially after the tough series loss to Columbus. He would become a cheap yet immediate impact player on the top six; potentially making one of Mitch Marner or William Nylander somewhat expendable. Although Lafreniere’s introduction into the NHL would include the added pressure of playing in a demanding market for a team fresh off another playoff letdown, the youngster seems wired to handle the off-ice distractions. His ridiculous motor and physicality would not only leave a good impression on the paying customer, but his tireless efforts on or off the ice may also light a fire under some of the notable Leafs to match his intensity.

Lose: It’s doubtful Leafs fans can take on more heartache after seeing their team lose another early playoff round in excruciation fashion. But that’s exactly what they’ll be faced with if Toronto’s lottery luck sends Lafreniere elsewhere, and they themselves land the 13th or 14th draft slot. Not only would that scenario prevent the Leafs from selecting another franchise-carrying forward, but it also triggers the condition from the Patrick Marleau trade with Carolina that would ship that 13th or 14th overall selection to the Canes. Thus, Toronto would lose an opening-round series for a fourth straight season AND a top-15 pick in less than 24 hours. Ouch! Nonetheless, the Maple Leafs do own their 2020 second-round selection that will be in the early 40’s, which should be enough for the scouting staff to unearth a prospect with legitimate NHL upside. If they stick to front office’s edict of skill and finesse, then forwards like Hendrix Lapierre, Theo Niederbach, Zion Nybeck, and Ozzy Wiesblatt highlight the cluster of forwards that should be available to Toronto in Round 2. In the chance they opt for toughness on defense or physicality up front, then selecting prospects like forwards Daniel Torgersson, Ty Smilanic, or Ty Tullio, or one of defensemen Ryan O’Rourke, Justin Barron, and Tyler Kleven, would represent a shift in draft strategy.

Edmonton Oilers

League Rank (Pts. %): 12th
Lowest Possible Pick: 15th
Highest Overall Picks: Taylor Hall, 1st (2010); Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, 1st (2011); Nail Yakupov, 1st (2012); Connor McDavid, 1st (2015)

Win: The year 2020 has gone so haywire, we’ve reverted to creating scenarios where the Edmonton Freakin’ Oilers own the first overall pick in the draft. Of course, this was expected the second the league announced that any play-in loser would participate in the Phase II lottery regardless of where they finished in the regular-season standings. Like clockwork, the team that has selected first overall more times than any franchise since the 1979 NHL-WHL merger  — and did so in a five-year period between 2010 and 2015 — will once again be rewarded with the highest draft honor possible. The addition of Alexis Lafreniere to an attack that already features two of the league’s elite talents in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl would make the Oilers a bigger draw than they already are, plus add lethality to an attack that some consider to be too top heavy. Joining McDavid or Draisaitl, however, might force a pass-happy Lafreniere to leave the bulk of the playmaking duties to either center so they can maximize the youngster’s deadly shot and potentially turn him into one of the game’s premier goal scorers.

Lose: Selecting in the middle of the first round was an expectation most Oilers fans had, give or take a couple of spots lower for any playoff success. This particular draft isn’t all that deep with defensemen, and when you consider Edmonton selected a blueliner with each of their last two top-10 picks, it’s understandable to predict the Oilers focusing on the forward ranks. Additionally, you have to figure GM Ken Holland wants to accelerate the recovery process from a Jesse Puljujarvi situation than has not improved since the winger was drafted fourth overall in 2016. With no second rounder in this draft and unease following playoff disappointment, Holland and his staff have to make this one count regardless of the promise showed by 2017 first rounder Kailer Yamamoto. Holland is a Western Canadian guy who scouted the WHL for years, so don’t think for a second that he’s unaware of how rich this year’s Dub class is. Seth Jarvis, Connor Zary, Jake Neighbours, and Ridly Grieg each offer skills that address specific team needs, while either of bruising two-way defensemen Braden Schneider or Kaiden Guhle would be a nice compliment to consistent puck rushers like Evan Bouchard or Philip Broberg.

Pittsburgh Penguins

League Rank (Pts. %): 7th
Lowest Possible Pick: 15th
Highest Overall Picks: Mario Lemieux, 1st (1984); Marc-Andre Fleury, 1st (2003); Sidney Crosby, 1st (2005)

Win: The Penguins always have been a target of conspiracy theorists, especially since they won the much-anticipated 2005 lottery that saw the near-bankrupt franchise win the right to draft Sidney Crosby. Since then, the league has taken extra measures to try to convince fans that the lottery system is far from rigged, but good luck trying to convince 30 other fanbases if the magic numbers ship Alexis Lafreniere to the Steel City. As long in the tooth as the current Pens are becoming, they remain an elite team with elite stars. Adding a premier talent like Lafreniere wouldn’t necessarily stop the current window from closing, but he should be enough to bridge the gap between the final act of the Crosby-Malkin Era and future Cup-contending seasons. Crosby’s mentorship towards Lafreniere would be invaluable, and as much as most would like to see the youngster go to a team that desperately needs a boost, the potential for a Crosby-Lafreniere line combination is too enticing a scenario for any pure hockey fan to ignore.

Lose: Per Cap Friendly, the Pens have seven days after the lottery draw to determine whether they will keep the pick no matter where it lands in the lottery or ship it to Minnesota per the conditions of the Jason Zucker trade. Naturally, they keep the pick if they win, and it becomes 15th overall if they lose. The question for GM Jim Rutherford is how much faith he has in the current roster to make the playoffs in 2021 and avoid an even more embarrassing exit. Keep in mind that winger Samuel Poulin, who was picked 21st overall last year, is the only first-round pick the Penguins have had since 2014. If Rutherford decides to keep the pick, he better make it count since that 2021 selection heads to Minnesota completely unprotected. Common sense says that the Penguins absolutely should keep the No. 15 pick and go for a massive home-run swing in the form of a boom-or-bust winger like Noel Gunler, a franchise goalie like Askarov, or a slick 200-foot forward such as Dylan Holloway or Jack Quinn.

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