At one point, Chicago Blackhawks general manager Kyle Davidson downplayed the importance of the NHL draft lottery on his team’s offseason plans.
Moments later, Davidson allowed himself a wide grin as he pondered the possibilities.
“The top of the draft’s good,” he said with a smile. “Yeah, it’s a special top of the draft. There’s no doubt about it.”
It’s so good that a single ping-pong ball could have a ripple effect beyond the Blackhawks, Anaheim Ducks and Columbus Blue Jackets – or another lucky NHL team looking to turn a dismal season into a blue-chip player.
High-scoring forward Connor Bedard is the top prize as the consensus No. 1 overall prospect, but University of Michigan star Adam Fantilli would be quite a return for whichever team gets the No. 2 pick. Matvei Michkov and Leo Carlsson also are expected to go in the top five.
Land one of the those top spots in the May 8 lottery, and a rebuilding team could decide to accelerate its timeline through free agency. The franchise that takes a chance on Michkov, who has a more uncertain future because of his contract with his Russian team, could position itself for another top pick in 2024.
The tantalizing talent of Bedard and Fantilli was an undercurrent throughout a season when the bottom of the standings was almost as interesting as what was going on at the top.
Anaheim (23-47-12) secured the league’s worst record by dropping its last 13 games. The reward is a 25.5 per cent chance of its first No. 1 pick in the draft, and the Ducks are assured of a top-three selection when the lottery is held.
If Columbus (25-47-9) loses Friday night’s home game against Buffalo in regulation, it will have the second-best odds for No. 1 at 13.5 per cent. If the Blue Jackets earn at least one point against the Sabres in their season finale, Chicago (26-49-7) will finish with the league’s second-worst record.
San Jose (22-44-16) dropped its last six games of the season. It would move into the No. 3 slot with a Columbus victory against Buffalo.
Before falling on hard times, Chicago had a run of three Stanley Cup titles in six seasons that was fuelled in part by a pair of top picks. The Blackhawks took Jonathan Toews at No. 3 in 2006, and then drafted Patrick Kane with the top overall selection in 2007.
But Kane was traded to the New York Rangers in February, and Davidson announced Thursday that the team would not re-sign Toews this summer. The upcoming lottery could send a marquee attraction to an Original Six franchise in need of some star power.
“As we sit right now, we’ve got a full board. We’re not taking anyone off,” Davidson said. “We’re looking for the best players. We can’t pass up on talent. That’s the main endeavour is we need to find high-end talent.”