Friday night is the NHL Draft Lottery, and it could be one of the biggest nights in Minnesota Wild history.
We just might not know for another couple months.
The NHL will select the winners for the top three selections in the 2020 Draft, as in previous years. But coronavirus complicates matters. Normally, all 15 teams that miss the playoffs are eligible to grab one of the first three selections. But since the league expanded the playoff field to 24, only seven teams have truly missed the postseason.
Rather than draw from the pool of the seven eliminated teams, the NHL is keeping the lottery field at 15. If the NHL draws the seven eliminated teams to fill the top three spots, the Draft Lottery is over. Any picks awarded to a team in the 24-team playoff triggers a second phase. The losers of the qualifying round of the playoffs will then be given an equal chance to win this pick in a second lottery that takes place between the qualifying round and the Conference Quarterfinals.
So, to recap, here’s how the Wild could win a top-three pick in this draft:
1) A team not in the playoffs has to win a pick in Friday’s lottery.
2) Minnesota has to drop their series against Vancouver.
3) The Wild need to win a second lottery.
The odds are pretty low. The odds of a team not yet eliminated getting one of the top-three picks is about 60%. That sounds pretty good, but divide that by eight teams in the next lottery, and those chances go down to 7.5%. And since a five-game series is basically a coin flip, every team in the qualifying round has about a 3.25% chance of winning a top-three selection.
Yes, I’m saying there is a chance. But how might the Wild’s ultimate draft placement affect their future?
To try to find an answer, let’s look at the 2007-16 Drafts to see what kind of value the Wild might draft at a given pick. We’ll look at the first through third slots (the ones up for grabs in the lottery), then the 11th pick (where the Wild would be slotted based on their points percentage), and the 17th pick (a possible spot where Minnesota could pick should they advance).
We’ll look at the best-case, worst-case and most “average” pick in each slot over that decade. This will be determined by how many Standings Points Above Replacement players have been worth in their career per 82 games. For the purposes of this article, any player to play fewer than 100 NHL games gets a zero. Let’s go!
Obviously, the dream is always to land the No. 1 overall pick. Any reasonable answer to “Who’s the best player in the NHL?” was drafted first overall. A big part of Minnesota’s historical lack of star power stems from never picking here.
Best Case: Connor McDavid (9.1 SPAR per 82)
Checks out. McDavid is almost certainly the best player in the world. He’s Exhibit A of how winning a draft lottery can change your franchise. Edmonton with McDavid on the ice vs. Edmonton without McDavid are two different teams, and without him, the Oilers would probably have even more first overall picks on their roster.
Worst Case: Nail Yakupov (0.7 per 82)
Yakupov’s speed and shooting ability vaulted him to the top of the 2012 Draft. He was in the KHL by age 25. Yakupov’s skill never translated to the NHL, and his 17-goal rookie season was his career high. Fortunately for whoever picks first overall, Yakupov is by far and away an outlier here. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who finished ninth among this group, has been worth three standings points per 82 games.
Most Representative: Patrick Kane (4.6 per 82)
For someone with Kane’s production to be the “average” outcome for first overall shows the power of this draft position. Whoever wins this draft position can pencil in two extra wins for the foreseeable future, at least until proven otherwise. To get a Kane or John Tavares (4.1 per 82) or Taylor Hall (4.9 per 82) type talent would change any franchise.
The hype is strong for Alexis Lafreniere, the 2020 Draft’s presumptive first overall pick. He’s got incredible skill, two 100+ point seasons in the QMJHL and a World Junior Championship MVP to his name. If the Wild land this pick, their choice is easy.
Best Case: Victor Hedman (5.2 per 82)
Hedman is arguably the best defenseman of his generation. He’s a major reason for both Tampa Bay’s success in the last decade and their bright future. In the right year, you can snag a Hall of Fame-caliber player in this spot.
Worst Case: James van Riemsdyk (2.2 per 82)
While not every pick can be a Hedman or Sasha Barkov, this shows the low bust potential of second overall. Van Riemsdyk has had an up-and-down career, with poor defense chipping away at his offensive value. Even so, he’s a consistent 20-goal scorer and has cracked 30 goals twice. For a worst-case scenario, that’s still a soft landing.
Most Representative: Sam Reinhart (3.8 per 82)
Reinhart may sound underwhelming for a baseline expectation at second overall, but he’s an underrated player. Reinhart has three straight 50-point seasons and drives play for a Buffalo team that is generally bad. Granted, he regularly plays with Jack Eichel, but rating as a borderline top-line winger involves doing something right.
It’s exceedingly rare to see teams come away from the second overall pick empty-handed. This is good news for Quinton Byfield, the consensus second-overall pick. Byfield is a powerful, skilled center, the kind of prospect Minnesota has never, ever developed. Throw a party if Minnesota ends up in a position to take him.
Best Case: Leon Draisaitl (4.9 per 82)
The Oilers struck… well, oil… again, drafting Hall, McDavid and Draisaitl in a six-year span. Draisaitl isn’t quite the player McDavid is, but he’s generating MVP buzz with his second-straight 100-point season. Can’t hate picking up that kind of production.
Worst Case: Erik Gudbranson (-0.9 per 82)
Gudbranson represents the dark side of picking third overall. Let’s say you pick a bust at a spot like 15th overall. If that player succeeds, great. Should they not show promise, it’s unfortunate, but a team can cut bait easily. But the NHL doesn’t cut bait on third overall picks, even after it’s obvious they won’t live to their potential. Gudbranson has played nine seasons in the NHL and has been at or below replacement in six. Would he still be playing were he drafted in the third round instead of third overall?
Most Representative: Dylan Strome (2.5 per 82)
In a way, Strome is probably the least representative of this group. There are either tremendous successes (Draisaitl, Matt Duchene, Jonathan Huberdeau) or relative busts (Gudbranson, Zach Bogosian, Jonathan Drouin). In another way, Strome is a combination of both groups. He could not stick in Arizona’s lineup, and Arizona flipped him to Chicago. Once in Chicago, things started clicking. He’s scored 29 goals and 89 points in 116 games, which is a solid 62-point pace over 82 games. You don’t find many middle-of-the-road stories at third overall, but this is what that looks like.
Third overall has been a boom-or-bust draft position in recent history. Minnesota has picked third overall once in their existence, and Marian Gaborik falls into the “boom” category. Gaborik led Minnesota to a Western Conference Final and was a reliable 30-goals guy for an offensively starved team. Minnesota will hope to repeat that success should they land this pick. Speedy center Tim Stutzle, smart defenseman Jamie Drysdale and skilled Swedes Alex Holtz and Lucas Raymond are all options here.
Best Case: Ryan Ellis (6.3 per 82)
Nashville has had plenty of star defensemen play for them. Shea Weber, Ryan Suter, P.K. Subban and Roman Josi have all had their share of Norris Trophy buzz. Ellis may be the best of that bunch, despite having just one 40-point season under his belt. He is both a strong defender and an off-the-charts driver of offense. Ellis is proof that teams can find high-impact players at pick 11. If they’re lucky. Very lucky, as you’ll see.
Worst Case: Lawson Crouse (-1.0 per 82)
Crouse was a controversial pick at the time. Some said that his physical gifts and defensive ability alone were worth a high pick. Others believed his production in junior hockey was a red flag. Crouse isn't as bad as his career numbers indicate, as a bad rookie season at age-19 skews them down. Now he's more-or-less a replacement-level player at 22.
Most Representative: Kevin Fiala (1.4 per 82)
Smack dab between the home run Ellis and the underwhelming Crouse lies Fiala. Fiala enjoyed a breakout season at the age of 23, but his career thus far shows the ups and downs of this group. He’s had years where he helped his team immensely, and others where he’s struggled to make an impact. Will he break out further or regress? Time will tell.
Pick 11 has seen a lot of misses in our sample decade. Crouse was replacement-level, another four players failed to play 100 games, and 2016 draftee Logan Brown has yet to find his footing in Ottawa. Still, there’s plenty of upside to land a top-six forward or top-four defenseman in this area. Particularly in 2020, where the draft is said to be deep at the high end. Quality prospects like goal-scoring Jack Quinn or top goalie Yaroslav Askarov may be picked here.
Best Case: Tomas Hertl (4.3 per 82)
Hertl has been a strong player for a long time in San Jose. But he was always behind guys like Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture for top ice time. But Hertl flourished with a bigger role in 2018-19, scoring 35 goals and 79 points. Injuries and team struggles slowed him down this year, but Hertl is a quality player any team would be lucky to draft at 17.
Worst Case: David Rundblad (-0.9 per 82)
St. Louis drafted Rundblad, then traded him to Ottawa for the pick that would become Vladimir Tarasenko. Ottawa later sent him to the Coyotes in the Kyle Turris trade. Arizona then traded him to Chicago for a second-round pick. That's four NHL organizations, if you're keeping score - one for each goal he scored in his career. He does have a Stanley Cup, though, so who’s laughing at who?
Most Representative: Kyle Connor (1.6 per 82)
Like Fiala, Connor is a young player who has had some ups and downs, with big strengths tampered by flaws. Nobody is denying Connor’s offensive abilities. He’s scored 35 goals for every 82 games he’s played since entering the league. But only Kane had a bigger negative impact defensively than Connor this season. You’d rather have Connor’s talent than not, but this pick should be a much bigger home run than it is.
Now we’re in the range Minnesota is used to picking in. But take heart! Even if Minnesota wins a playoff round and drops out of the lottery range, there’s still hope. The Wild have a decent track record of picking in the 15-20 range. The jury is still out on Luke Kunin (15th overall in 2016), but both Alex Tuch (18th in 2014) and Joel Eriksson Ek (20th in 2015) have had very solid careers thus far.
The consensus top-10 prospects may be gone by this point in the draft. But if you noticed, the drop-off from 11th to 17th is much smaller than the decline in value from the third to 11th pick. To put it this way: If Minnesota wins a draft lottery spot, their fortunes are vastly impacted going forward. But if they don’t get lucky in the draft lottery, it’s not likely to matter all that much where they wind up picking.