Last-place Leafs win NHL draft lottery; Jets jump to 2nd
Brendan Shanahan went online to try the NHL draft lottery simulator just once, and was excited to see the Toronto Maple Leafs win the first pick.
Winning the real thing Saturday night felt a whole lot better, the team president acknowledged.
“Better than the simulator, I’ll tell you that,” Shanahan said after his last-place Leafs retained their spot in the draft order, putting them in a position to take U.S. center Auston Matthews with the first pick.
“I don’t know if it changes the timetable, but it certainly helps,” Shanahan said, referring to his plans to overhaul a franchise that has made the playoffs just once in the past 11 years. “We were confident we were going to get a player that would have an impact. And obviously, getting No. 1 certainly helps.”
With a 20-percent chance of landing the No. 1 pick, the Maple Leafs became the first last-place team to win the lottery and retain the top position in the draft order since the Edmonton Oilers in 2010.
The Winnipeg Jets made the largest jump, moving from the sixth to the second selection. The Columbus Blue Jackets moved up one spot to third.
What was also significant is the Oilers didn’t win. Edmonton dropped two spots, and will be picking fourth. The Oilers had the first pick in four of the previous six drafts and won the lottery three times, including last year when they jumped two spots and selected highly touted center Connor McDavid.
The Vancouver Canucks slipped from third to fifth. The Calgary Flames dropped one spot and will be picking sixth.
The order of the final eight teams stayed the same. The remaining positions will be determined based on the playoffs.
The draft will be held in Buffalo on June 24-25.
“We earned this the hard way. It wasn’t a whole lot of fun this year,” said Shanahan. “When you have an opportunity to pick first overall, it’s an important moment for the Toronto Maple Leafs.”
The Hall of Famer has made a big impact on rebuilding the Maple Leafs in just two years on the job. Last year, he lured coach Mike Babcock away from the Detroit Red Wings, and hired former New Jersey Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello.
Toronto also spent last year purging high-priced salaries, including trading Phil Kessel to Pittsburgh, in rebuilding through youth. William Nylander, a first-round pick in 2014, made a promising debut this past season. And the Maple Leafs have high hopes for center Mitch Marner, who was drafted fourth overall last year.
The Maple Leafs have had the first pick just once, in 1985 when they selected Wendel Clark.
Shanahan wouldn’t provide any hints as to which player the Leafs might select in June.
Listed at 6-foot-2 and 194 pounds, Matthews is an Arizona-born forward and rated by NHL Central Scouting as the draft’s top prospect. After spending three seasons playing for various USA Hockey developmental teams, Matthews elected to play for Zurich in Switzerland’s professional league. He had 24 goals and 22 assists for 46 points in 36 regular-season games, but managed just three assists in four playoff games before Zurich was eliminated.
Matthews hasn’t played since March, but will have an opportunity to showcase his talents by representing the United States at the world hockey championships in Russia next month.
Matthews called it both “nerve-racking” and “exciting” to watch the lottery unfold from Helsinki, where he is practicing with Team USA.
“It’s nice to have a bit of clarity,” said Matthews, who grew up rooting for the Coyotes. “Nothing’s set in stone. It’s still a ways from the draft. I’m just trying to stay in the moment right now.”
Next in the rankings are Finnish-born forwards Patrik Laine and Jesse Puljujarvi, who helped their nation win the world junior championship tournament in January. Laine might be gaining momentum after he was named the Finnish League’s playoff MVP after scoring 10 goals and five assists in helping Tappara win the championship.
The NHL’s last-place team has won the lottery just six times in the 21 times it has been held. The Oilers in 2010 were the last last-place team to win the lottery, which led to them selecting Taylor Hall.
The NHL revised the lottery this year by watering down the chances of the last-place team landing the top pick, and for the first time allowing all non-playoff teams a chance to land one of the top-three selections.
In previous years, only the No. 1 pick was subject to the lottery, meaning the team finishing last could fall no further than landing the second pick.