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How will our Atlantic enemies do in the draft lottery?

With so many bad teams in the Atlantic division, the Leafs have to watch who will be popping up on the rosters of our closest and dearest neighbours.

2017 NHL Draft - Rounds 2-7 Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Who might our enemies in the Atlantic Division pick in the draft this summer based on the lottery odds? To answer that question, I’m going to use the TSN draft rankings by Bob McKenzie. McKenzie will put out an updated list closer to the draft, and during the next week and a half, the game order might change, but for now, we’ll use the standings and the list we have.

The Odds

The lottery is three lotteries. Three teams are chosen, not at random, but from a weighted set of odds. Then the rest of the teams settle in at fourth to 15th pick based on the standings at the end of the season. Micah McCurdy of HockeyViz has produced a chart of how the odds work:

At the page linked in that Tweet, you will also find another chart that shows you the odds of picking in a particular spot or better for each standings position. It’s a good way to look at the most likely worst-case scenario. There’s also more detailed explanations of how to read the chart at his site, so check that out.

The vertical axis is the standings position. The first column is the actual lottery odds for that position. Those odds are used all three times. The team that wins first, and then the team that gets second overall are simply removed for the next draw. The second column is the overall chance of winning the second lottery, and the third column is the chance of picking third and so on across the chart.

The white squares mean the team cannot end up picking there, due to the structure of the lottery.

The Standings

The standings right now for the Atlantic teams are:

Buffalo: 31st
Ottawa: 30th
Detroit: 27th
Montréal: 26th
Florida: 19th

This means the draft position with the highest probability, and the worst draft position each team could pick at is:

Buffalo: fourth, fourth
Ottawa: fourth, fifth
Detroit: sixth, eighth
Montréal: seventh, ninth
Florida: 13th, 15th

Each of these teams has their own first rounder, and Detroit has Vegas’s as well, but it won’t factor in. Ottawa traded theirs, but it is top-ten protected, so they will give up the 2019 pick instead. They also have the Penguins’ first rounder, which won’t factor in.

Buffalo and Ottawa

Buffalo might be most likely to pick fourth, just like the Leafs were that one time, but they also have the best chance of any one team to win the first lottery and pick first overall. Interestingly, Ottawa also is most likely to pick fourth, but their chances of picking fifth are almost as high. But, they also have the second highest chance at the first two lotteries.

We know who the first overall is going to be now. He’s Rasmus Dahlin, a game breaker sometime in the future if not quite as top-pair NHL ready now as everyone would have you believe. His rate of development is dramatic, however.

The fourth on McKenzie’s list is Brady Tkachuk, and I don’t know about you, but I’d almost rather those teams have the willowy scoring defender than a Tkachuk. Although if they got Chucky the Second, it would give Nazem Kadri someone else to feud with. The names at two and three on McKenzie’s list are Andrei Svechnikov and Filip Zadina. So the choices in the top four are three wingers and a defender, and for Buffalo, a team with two very good centres, that’s a good draft no matter who they get.

Ottawa just needs players. It almost doesn’t matter what kind. McKenzie’s number five is Adam Boqvist, another defender, although the gap between him and Dahlin is substantial. Epic, perhaps, in the fullness of time.

Kevin Papetti wrote up his thoughts on the coming draft picks and he said this about Svechnikov:

Svechnikov “only” scored a point per game at the World Juniors this year, which somehow caused him to fall in some rankings. He carries a long track record of putting up monster numbers at every level, and he remains the best prospect in this class behind Dahlin. He’s younger than Filip Zadina, and carries a good chance of developing into a 30 goal scorer at the NHL level.

And about Zadina:

Zadina is an impressive triggerman, and his shot can be the focal point of an NHL power play. Like Svechnikov, he is a powerful force down low in the offensive zone, and there are no questions about his ability as a puck carrier. He’s a tick behind Svechnikov at this point, but this is still a potential top line winger who can walk into a NHL role immediately.

Tkachuk seems to be a little less well thought of, and Kevin ranked him down at seventh. I liked him at the WJC, and I thought he looked like his brother Matthew, only with more skill and no less irritation factor.

Whoever either team picks could play in the NHL next year. If Buffalo win it all and get good Rasmus, they will be a vastly improved team at their weakest position. The idea that there is no incentive to tank is absurd. To pick no worse than fourth overall is the best spot to be in for the Sabres, and while I certainly understand why they want to get Casey Mittlestadt in games and why they brought Jack Eichel back from injury, winning right now is not a good plan. This puts the Sabres in a tough spot. Their real worst case scenario is that they lose the last place spot to Ottawa. But even then, they’d still have a good chance at an excellent player and would pick no worse than fifth.

Ottawa, who were three spots higher in the standings yesterday, really needs to lose out the season and keep that second worse spot. They seem less inclined to mess it up with accidental wins than the other teams contesting. Considering they’ve given away their first-round pick for next year, and seem likely to make the trade they didn’t make at the deadline, if they get even the fifth overall, we’ll laugh for sure, but they’ll be a brand new team with a hell of a lot of cap space. They’ll still have that one big problem though, and a trade can’t solve that. They’ll likely be bad too.

Detroit and Montréal

The two middle children in the Atlantic are picking similar players from the area of the draft where most lists start to break away from each other just a little. Either team could pick sixth or seventh, and the seventh ranked name on McKenzie’s list is the big defender Evan Bouchard from the London Knights, while sixth is Quinn Hughes a defender of a different sort.

Either of those teams would be immediately improved with this pick no matter who they choose. The other options in their range include defender Noah Dobson, and at ninth, where the Habs might be picking, is Oliver Wahlstrom, a winger/centre. If you need defenders, this is a good year to be bad. Adam Boqvist might still be on the board when these teams pick.

Kevin had Bouchard eighth and had this to say:

Bouchard is having an incredible season. He’s generating well over four shots per game in the OHL this year, and currently leads all CHL defencemen in primary points per game. A 6’2” defenceman that can do this is typically a near lock to go in the top 10, especially when this player is responsible in his own end. Bouchard is a tricky player to rank, as his style of play is not flashy enough to “wow” you, but he’s remarkably effective.

Kevin also had Dobson very low at 13th, and he’s the tall defender of the other two ranked in this area on McKenzie’s list. Hughes is small and fast. The Habs, judging by what they do and not what they say, would love Dobson.

Both teams have a chance to win one of the lotteries, and it’s not such a small chance as to be overlooked. Seven point five to nine per cent chances for each team means the chance of one of them winning one lottery is substantial.

The Leafs could be facing all three top picks in the Atlantic next year.

However, these two are most likely to draft at their standings position and get players with a high probability of becoming NHLers. Those players are much less likely to be superstars, but it’s not impossible. Players taken sixth or seventh are also much less likely to play in the NHL next year, but two or three years from now is highly probable.

Check out Kevin’s post for more detail on all of these players, four of whom will be in the Atlantic soon.

Florida

Florida might well make the playoffs, and this might all mean nothing for them, but if they don’t make it, they will be picking a little better than where the Leafs did last year. Let’s face it: If they do make the playoffs, they likely will pick in a very similar spot after a first-round exit.

On McKenzie’s list at 13th is Rasmus Kupari, the other Rasmus. To make up for him not being a star in the making, he is a centre with some size.

Kevin had him at 15th:

Kupari is an above average skater who adds value in the transition game. He’s quite effective at “driving a line” thanks to his ability to push defenders back, and this allows him to gain the zone and set up shop for his teammates. It’s tough to tell if he’ll be a centre or a winger at this point, but he’s a good enough puck carrier to warrant a mid-first round selection.

Other players in this area on McKenzie’s list are Bode Wilde at 14 and Joe Veleno at 15, a defender and a centre respectively.

For the lower ranked players on Kevin’s list see this post:

Florida, playoffs or not, will likely get a good player, but not one likely to be great, and their chances of a surprise upset win of a lottery are so low — less then 2.5 per cent — that there is no incentive to miss out on a playoff round.

Conclusion

Every one of the bottom four Atlantic teams should be trying very hard to lose right now. Few of them are. It’s understandable that teams have pride and want to play to their best, but none of these teams are bad by accident. Every one of them has deep holes in their lineup and questionable prospect depth.

However, even if they all draft at their worst case scenario based on their standings right now, they will be better next year. The Atlantic will get harder to win in. We’ll have to count on some of those GMs to mess up their trades and offset that.

Playing in a division full of bad teams really is a lot of fun. Until draft day.