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Thornton at stake in NHL draft lottery

May 8, 1997 GMT

NEW YORK (AP) _ On Sunday afternoon, a representative from an accounting firm will draw four numbered balls out of a lottery machine that may decide the future of some NHL clubs.

The annual draft lottery at the league’s New York headquarters is weighted in favor of the Boston Bruins, who finished last overall in the 26-team NHL, but chances are still more than 50 percent that another team will win.

At stake is the first overall pick in the June 21 entry draft in Pittsburgh _ almost certainly to be used on 6-foot-4, 200-pound center Joe Thornton.

``This isn’t the tough part,″ Bruins assistant general manger Mike O’Connell said. ``The tough part was the season we just had.″

Only the 10 teams that didn’t make the playoffs take part in the lottery, but since Hartford traded its first-rounder to Boston and Toronto dealt its pick to the New York Islanders, only eight will take part.

Fourteen balls numbered 1 to 14 are dropped in the machine and four are drawn. There are 1,001 possible combinations of numbers.

Each team is assigned numbers according to where they finished in the regular season. Last-place Boston has 300 combinations, or 30 percent. Next is San Jose with 21 percent followed by Los Angeles with 15.1 percent.

The Islanders have the next two places, with 10.9 and 8.0 percent, followed by Calgary with 5.9 percent, Tampa Bay with 4.2, Boston again with 2.8, Washington with 1.6 and Vancouver with .05 percent.

Only one combination wins and the winner can move up no more than four draft postions, so only Boston, San Jose, Los Angeles and the Islanders have a shot at the No. 1 pick.

If No. 2 San Jose gets it, Boston drops to second and the rest hold their positions. If Vancouver, placed 10th, lucks out, it would move up to pick sixth, but the top five positions wouldn’t change.

If the Bruins’ No. 8 pick wins, they would draft first and fourth. Overall, Boston’s chances to pick first overall are about 45 percent.

Most scouts agree there are three outstanding prospects available this year _ Thornton, center Patrick Marleau and Finnish center Olli Jokinen.

After that, it’s a lottery of a different sort, with scouts guessing which 18-year-olds will thrive at the NHL level in two or three years.

This year’s crop is considered slightly stronger than last year. One scout said that while there were a dozen sure-bet prospects in last year’s draft, there are about 15 this time.

Other top prospects include goaltender Robert Luongo, centers Daniel Tkaczyk and Jason Ward and left winger Sergei Samsonov.

The top-rated defenseman is Eric Brewer, although a team that needs muscle may opt for defenseman Brad Ference.