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The end of the qualifying round marks Phase 2 of the NHL’s altered draft lottery set for 6 PM EST, Monday evening, where eight teams will be thrown into an even chance at the No. 1 pick in 2020.
Phase 2 comes after the first phase saw a placeholder team win the No. 1 pick in 2020, which was set to be one of the eight losing teams in the qualifying round of the 24-team expanded playoffs.
The end of the qualifying round means the New York Rangers, Edmonton Oilers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Minnesota Wild, Winnipeg Jets, Nashville Predators, Florida Panthers, and Toronto Maple Leafs will each earn an even 12.5 percent chance at the No. 1 pick, or consensus top player, Alexis Lafrenière.
But the aforementioned altered draft lottery procedure — due to COVID-19 and the lack of a full 82-game regular season — is rewarding mediocre teams while neglecting the worst teams of 2019-20.
That means the eight teams involved each had realistic expectations at the 2020 NHL postseason, prior to the season cancellation. Moreover, those teams hold different levels of worthiness when it comes to their 12.5 percent chance at the coveted No. 1 pick.
1. Minnesota Wild
Last No. 1 Pick: Never (since 2000)
The Wild have had fluctuating success in 20 NHL seasons and while they’ve viewed themselves as Stanley Cup contenders in past seasons, they’ve always been an underdog with better (and arguably more-deserving teams) around them.
A surprise run in 2019-20 kept them relevant in the playoff fight before being exposed by Vancouver for a lack of real contention. Now, with no game-breaking talent, the Wild are at a crossroads for the future: stuck between riding out the twilight years of the core versus rebuilding it for the future.
2. Nashville Predators
Last No. 1 Pick: Never (since 1998)
GM David Poile has done everything right: making trades, taking risks, fair contracts, etc., but has yet to be fully rewarded. It’s not easy to say the 2017 runners-up deserve the No. 1 pick just three years later, but there are less-deserving teams.
Since that final loss in 2017, the Predators have taken a step back in the playoffs each season and clearly lack a true game-changing talent on the offense, despite good forwards. Having never had the No. 1 pick in 22 seasons, Lafrenière is a justifiable answer for Poile and the Preds.
3. New York Rangers
Last No. 1 Pick: Andre Veilleux, 1965
Sure, the Rangers haven’t had the first overall pick since 1965, but they still have some of the best young talent in the NHL and are looking extremely dangerous in the near future.
A Hart Trophy nominee in Artemi Panarin is surrounded by younger, blossoming stars that would be capped off with Lafrenière. Management has done the rebuild right and made smart moves and given the lottery teams around them, are among the most deserving of Lafrenière.
4. Florida Panthers
Last No. 1 Pick: Aaron Ekblad, 2014
The Panthers are loaded with good young players and have tried hard to build a winning program. Still, there is something seemingly holding them back form regular playoff success.
Lafrenière might not be the real answer; attempting to outscore weaknesses has never been a proven recipe for winning. Still, landing the winger would help alleviate cap problems with an entry-level deal for a surefire roster player. But this team needs more than added offense.
5. Winnipeg Jets
Last No. 1 Pick: Ilya Kovalchuk, 2001 (as Atlanta Thrashers)
The Jets faced a plethora of injuries in the qualifying round, including top-line center Mark Scheifele just five minutes into the series and top-line winger Patrik Laine at the end of Game 1.
While injuries held them back, they remain a dangerous offensive team that had to patchwork a defense due to various reasons shortly before 2019-20. Defense is the concern, and similarly to Florida, landing Lafrenière could create too much reliance on attempting to outscore deficiencies.
6. Toronto Maple Leafs
Last No. 1 Pick: Auston Matthews, 2016
Since landing Matthews in 2016, the Leafs have been a perennial playoff contender, despite a lack of postseason success. Alongside Matthews are top picks Mitch Marner, William Nylander, Morgan Reilly, and former No. 1 pick John Tavares, signed via free agency.
Lafrenière would be too easy of an answer for a team facing defensive problems and a salary cap nightmare. Further, giving GM Kyle Dubas the chance at Lafrenière would make a money-based trade too easy and reward him for mediocrity with elite talent.
7. Edmonton Oilers
Last No. 1 Pick: Connor McDavid, 2015
Similar to the Leafs, the Oilers have been handed far too many opportunities to return to regular Stanley Cup hopes after receiving the No. 1 pick in 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2015 (Taylor Hall, Nail Yakupov, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and McDavid).
Ignoring the choice to move on form Hall and Yakupov, and adding in reigning NHL leading-scorer Leon Draisaitl, the Oilers don’t deserve another top tier player without developing him first. Giving two of the top NHL players a young prodigy is sure to spark outrage from the fans.
8. Pittsburgh Penguins
Last No. 1 Pick: Sidney Crosby, 2005
Since drafting Crosby in 2005, the Penguins have claimed three Stanley Cups (2009, 2016, and 2017) and cemented the franchise as one of the best in the salary cap era. This amount of success does not warrant a No. 1 pick after a mere season of missing the playoffs.
Even with Crosby and teammate Evgeni Malkin at the ages of 33 and 34, respectively, the duo has continued to produce at a prime level offensively and rewarding the team with Lafrenière would certainly draw criticism and anger from hockey fans that watched the Penguins succeed annually.
Have a question or a comment for Jacob Messing? You can find him on Twitter @Jacob_Messing.