BUFFALO – Given the Sabres’ slim odds for the No. 1 overall pick in tonight’s NHL Draft Lottery in Toronto – just 6 percent, thanks to their 23rd-place finish – they likely won’t win.
Heck, the Sabres owned the greatest odds to nab the No. 1 choice the last two years and lost both lotteries. Instead, they “settled” for the No. 2 selection, drafting young stars Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart.
So what might happen this year? First, let’s explain the new format. This lottery, which will take place before Game 2 of the second-round series between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals, is different than past years.
One draw will be held for each of the top three picks, meaning the league’s worst team is no longer guaranteed at least the No. 2 pick. The 30th-place Toronto Maple Leafs have a 20 percent chance at No. 1 but could fall all the way to No. 4.
The odds for the first draw (see below) will be the same as last season. The odds for the remaining teams then increase on a proportionate basis for the second and third draws. The 11 remaining teams will be assigned the fourth through 14th selections in inverse order of regular-season points.
That means the Sabres can pick either first, second or third or eighth through 11th. They have 19.2 percent chance of jumping into the top three. They have a 39.2 percent chance of staying at eighth, a 34.8 percent chance of dropping to ninth and a 6.6 percent chance of slipping to 10th. There’s also a .03 percent chance they could pick 11th.
Got all that? So, assuming the Sabres don’t move up, what kind of prospect could they end up picking June 24 when they host the NHL Draft?
“I guarantee you, wherever they’re picking, if they’re picking eighth, they’re probably going to get a guy that’s in their top five because a lot of these players are interchangeable,” said Dan Marr, the director of NHL Central Scouting. “So they’re going to feel like they won the lottery where they’re picking.”
Marr said a variety of “interchangeable” players (see list below) will be available around that spot.
“They’re going to have like a buffet there where they can just pick and pick and choose what they want with size, speed, skill, position,” he said. “There’s going to be a lot of options.”
Arizona-born Auston Matthews, 18, will likely be the No. 1 overall pick. Instead of playing NCAA or junior hockey in North America this season, the center played professionally against men in the Swiss-A League, compiling a stunning 24 goals and 46 points in 36 games for Zurich.
“No. 1, he is the real deal,” Marr said. “He’s the complete package, everything you’re looking for in a player. Once you get past his skating, his skills, it’s the intangibles, I think, in such a special player. He’s driven. His compete level and his work ethic, you talk to players that have played with him, he’s hard to play against in practice. Like, his switch is always on.
“It’s that type of an intangible, when you play the game that way, then you’re always in the right place at the right time. The puck always seems to come to you. You’re always ready for the opportunities and the chances. So it’s the intangibles that go along with the package that make him such an appealing prospect.”
But could another youngster sneak into the No. 1 spot? If anyone does, it will likely be Patrick Laine, a right-handed winger fresh off a 17-goal season in Liiga, a men’s league in his native Finland.
“You talk about power forwards and you talk about skilled players,” Marr said. “He combines both of those. It’s not often where you see such a skilled power forward.”
Marr added: “He makes a very compelling discussion now as to who should be No. 1. I still think Auston Matthews is No. 1.”
Since all seven Canadian teams missed the playoffs, Matthews could very likely end up playing north of the border. Canadian teams have a combined 68.5 percent chance at the top pick.
The top 10 prospects from the International Scouting Service:
- Auston Matthews, center, 6-foot-1, 210-pounds
- Jesse Puljujarvi, winger, 6-foot-3, 203 pounds
- Patrik Laine, winger, 6-foot-4, 209-pounds
- Alexander Nylander, winger 6-foot, 179 pounds
- Pierre-Luc Dubois, winger, 6-foot-2, 202 pounds
- Matthew Tkachuk, winger, 6-foot-1, 195 pounds
- Jakob Chychrun, defenseman, 6-foot-2, 215 pounds
- Mikhail Sergachev, defenseman, 6-foot-2, 206 pounds
- Michael McLeod, center, 6-foot-2, 188 pounds
- Olli Juolevi, defenseman, 6-foot-2, 179 pounds
Lottery odds for the No. 1 pick:
- Toronto Maple Leafs 20.0%
- Edmonton Oilers 13.5%
- Vancouver Canucks 11.5%
- Columbus Blue Jackets 9.5%
- Calgary Flames 8.5%
- Winnipeg Jets 7.5%
- Arizona Coyotes 6.5%
- Buffalo Sabres 6.0%
- Montreal Canadiens 5.0%
- Colorado Avalanche 3.5%
- New Jersey Devils 3.0%
- Ottawa Senators 2.5%
- Carolina Hurricanes 2.0%
- Boston Bruins 1.0%