Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Previewing the NHL's Draft Lottery

Tonight at 8 PM EST, live on TSN, the final draft order for the NHL's non-playoff clubs will be determined.  Previously, I've covered the rules of the Draft Lottery, as well as gone over the Canadiens' odds, but today we'll look at a couple of scenarios.

To begin, here is a table created by James Mirtle of the Globe and Mail showing where each team could draft, and the odds of each spot:

If we combine this with a look at the final Central Scouting Service prospect rankings released yesterday, we get an idea of the kind of players expected to be available to each team.

 Nail Yakupov is far and away the consensus top player in this year's draft, and thus the reason why many clubs have major fingers crossed to win tonight's lottery.  While there are many other prospects with a lot of potential, Yakupov - at least at forward - looks like the only "sure bet."  Mikhail Grigorenko is often accused of being a lazy player, Alex Galchenyuk has questions around him due to his lost season with a knee injury, and Filip Forsberg's offensive upside is also unclear.

So what of our beloved Habs?  If the 14.2% chance of the team moving up comes to pass - and the third-to-last place team has won the lottery three times since 2000 - then the team should consider no options other than drafting Yakupov.  No, he doesn't bring the size the Canadiens are ideally looking for at 5'11", 190 lbs.  Grigorenko and Galchenyuk offer more size down the middle, a weakness in the Canadiens organization, and Forsberg is a bigger presence at wing.  But Yakupov offers what the Habs truly need most - gamebreaking superstar talent.  Playing on, for example, a line with Tomas Plekanec and Brian Gionta, he could alleviate the team's lack of 2nd line scoring, and allow the club to play Rene Bourque (assuming he's back) outside of a top 6 role.  Yakupov is in fact perhaps the only forward from this year's draft who should be a sure-thing to make the jump straight to the NHL next season.  All others will be a wait-and-see process going into training camp.

But let's say Montreal doesn't win the draft lottery.  Let's say the Blue Jackets win it, the most likely of scenarios.  If we assume that the Canadiens really want to draft a forward, then arguably Mikhail Grigorenko should be their man.  This shouldn't be a problem, as with the 2nd pick, the Edmonton Oilers are very likely to take a defenseman.  However, it doesn't mean the Habs are out of the woods.  There are a number of top-notch d-men the Oilers can choose from including Ryan Murray, Morgan Rielly, Cody Ceci, Olli Maatta, Jacob Trouba, Griffin Reinhart, and Matt Dumba.  Given this, if the Oilers don't see one of these players as far and away superior to the others, it is possible they trade with a team in the 4-6 range that wants Girgorenko in order to pick up some additional assets.  Montreal, at third overall, would thus be left in the dust, having to choose from one of the other remaining players.  Thus, even if the team remains at number three, there is reason to hold your breath until Trevor Timmins descends from the podium with the pick announced.

As for the lottery itself, what should Habs fans want and not want to see?  The top 5 picks will be unveiled on TSN beggining from #5, currently held by the Toronto Maple Leafs.  When the fifth pick is revealed, Habs fans should hope to still see a Leafs logo in that spot, as the last thing the team wants is for 8.1% chance of Toronto winning the lottery to come to pass.  If the logo revealed is Winnipeg's, it would mean that they won the draft lottery, dropping Toronto to 6 and the other top 4 remaining the same.  If the logo revealed is the New York Islanders, that means someone in the 4 slots below New York won the lottery and jumped up (possibly - but not necessarily - being Toronto).

If pick #5 remains Toronto, the only way the Canadiens could draft 4th is if the New York Islanders won the lottery, so that's what Montreal in the four slot would reveal.  If pick #5 has become the Islanders, then Montreal would be locked in the #4 slot unless it is Carolina who won the lottery, so that would be the logo Habs fans should hope to see in the envelope.

If picks 5 and 4 remain Toronto and the Islanders, the third pick would become the moment of truth for the Canadiens.  At this point, the winner of the draft lottery would have to be either Columbus, Edmonton, Montreal, or a team with the 10th to 14th best odds (who could not move into the top 5).  If the Oilers logo is in the envelope, fans can celebrate - Montreal will have won the lottery.  Otherwise, the Canadiens logo will be in there.  Of course, if the Habs weren't revealed as the fourth pick, regardless of what else happened in envelopes 5 and 4, they have to be in this one or the first pick one, as those are the only spots the system enables them to pick.  Thus, the latest that Habs fans could find out their fate is with the opening of this one.

So perform your rituals and ready your lucky charms, Habs fans.  Tonight is a big night in setting the stage for the evening of June 22nd when teams will announce their first round selections in Pittsburgh.  For one last time - for now - GO HABS GO!

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