With the Stanley Cup Playoffs officially here, 16 NHL teams have a lot to play for in the coming weeks and months. Which means the 14 other clubs have some scouting to do before the draft in June — and some finger-crossing to do before the lottery on April 30.
We now know who the lottery clubs will be, we just don’t know the exact order they’ll be drafting just yet. But we have a pretty good idea, based on how they finished out their 82-game schedules.
Here’s a look at how the top 10 could play out this summer.
1. Edmonton (13.5 percent chance at landing top pick… but really it’s 100 percent because, well, Edmonton) – Auston Matthews, C
That’s right, even in the hypothetical world, the Oilers are leaping over teams in the draft lottery. This time it finally lands them the potentially elite center that they sorely need and deserve — oh wait, they get to add a new potentially elite center every year while half the league has to scramble just to fill the position with decent players? Never mind then.
The one potentially interesting twist this time around is how Edmonton would react to landing Matthews. The Oilers can’t continue down the current path — you know, the one where they don’t play defense or possess the puck — because it has proven time and time again that it’s not a winning formula. Not only are they not having success in the standings, they’re not even putting up the offensive numbers that you’d expect from a lineup brimming with so many talented young forwards. A year after finishing 26th in the NHL in scoring, they added Connor McDavid and finished… um… 26th again.
That said, Edmonton isn’t dealing away Matthews unless some sort of incredible offer that they simply can’t refuse lands on their table. But his addition could mean moving someone like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins for a quality D-man becomes much more plausible.
2. Toronto (20 percent) – Patrik Laine, W
The Maple Leafs get to join the long list of NHL teams to fall victim to the Oilers’ unparalleled run of lottery success. Like most of those teams before them, they still get to scoop up a pretty good consolation prize.
It’s been a toss-up between Laine and countryman Jesse Puljujarvi in this No. 2 spot for a while now, but Laine gets the nod here — mainly because he’s the less polished of the two, but with potentially more upside. And it’s not like Toronto is making a playoff push in 2017 anyway, so why not go after the guy with the higher ceiling? It also doesn’t hurt that he’s had a fantastic year with his pro team in Finland and as a member of the national team at the world junior championships.
3. Vancouver (11.5 percent) – Jesse Puljujarvi, W
Few clubs need an explosive, potentially dynamic young weapon up front more than the Canucks. And they’ll get one here, selecting the MVP of this year’s world juniors. Standing 6-foot-3 and weighing in at a little more than 200 pounds, Puljujarvi uses a nice blend of size and speed to impact the game on both ends of the ice. Which means he fills five of Vancouver’s needs at once.
4. Columbus (9.5 percent) – Matthew Tkachuk, W
Hey look — an American team! The Blue Jackets could go with the top defenseman on the board in this spot, but they already made that deal for Seth Jones earlier this season. When they did that, the hope was that they had found a young anchor along their blue line for years to come. And Jones certainly has the potential to be that exact player. Plus, he’s not the only gifted young defender in the Columbus system (see: Ryan Murray and Zach Werenski).
In the process of acquiring Jones, the Jackets had to part ways with No. 1 center Ryan Johansen. And while Tkachuk isn’t a center, he is a rugged power forward with real nice upside. At this point, Columbus needs to add some offense, and it’s hard to argue with a guy who just point up 107 points — good for the No. 5 spot (No. 1 among undrafted players) in the OHL.
5. Calgary (8.5 percent) – Alexander Nylander, W
This is where things get interesting. Do the Flames really need another rearguard, with Dougie Hamilton, Mark Giordano and T.J. Brodie all locked up into the next decade? Not to mention, up-and-comer Jyrki Jokipakka and youngsters in the system like Oliver Kylington and Rasmus Andersson? They really don’t — at least not compared to how much 20-25 other clubs could use a young defender.
That said, they could easily just go with the best-player-available mantra and snag Jakob Chychrun here. But let’s assume they address more of a need up front and go with Nylander, who broke out in a big way with 75 points at Mississauga to lead all OHL rookies this year. He has the ability to make a highlight-worthy play every time he touches the puck — a quality that could fit in nicely alongside someone like Johnny Gaudreau or Sean Monahan down the line.
6. Winnipeg (7.5 percent) – Jakob Chychrun, D
Much like the Carolina Hurricanes did at pick No. 5 a year ago, the Jets could benefit greatly from a potentially elite blueliner slipping to them in the draft this time around. Chances are, someone scoops him up well before No. 6, but it’s not inconceivable that this exact scenario could play out if this ends up being the draft order.
If so, Winnipeg probably can’t pass on him. With Toby Enstrom, Dustin Byfuglien and Tyler Myers in tow at the NHL level, the Jets are in pretty good shape along the blue line. And that only gets better if Jacob Trouba gets signed this summer as well. But Chychrun is likely too good to let slide any further, and it’s not like Winnipeg is overflowing at the position in the system. If nothing else, maybe he becomes a valuable asset as a potential trade chip.
7. Arizona (6.5 percent) – Olli Juolevi, D
Unlike the two teams in front of them, the Coyotes do need to restock their blue line. And seeing as how they’re absolutely loaded with young forwards in the system, they can afford to go after the man widely considered the No. 2 defenseman in this year’s draft.
With the number of picks the Desert Dogs have at their disposal near the top of this draft, however, they could choose to address the blue line toward the end of the first round — or even in the second round. At that point, they might like center Pierre-Luc Dubois. Or Mikey McLeod, a strong pivot who just happens to be good friends with Arizona’s top prospect, Dylan Strome.
8. Buffalo (6 percent) – Pierre-Luc Dubois, C/W
Dubois can play center or the wing, wherever his future NHL team needs him. In most cases, that would be up the middle, but the Sabres are actually doing pretty well for themselves in that spot right now.
Either way, he’s a strong two-way forward who can make an impact in all zones. And that’s the sort of player a young organization like Buffalo can always use.
9. Montreal (5 percent) – Mikhail Sergachev, D
At the NHL level, it’s pretty clear that the Canadiens need a healthy Carey Price more than anything else. Beyond that, they could use some scoring, but a) they’re likely not getting a forward who’s ready to make an instant impact at this spot anyway and b) they don’t have much in the way of defenders in the system, other than Noah Juulsen. Sergachev could be a nice addition.
10. Colorado (3.5 percent) – Mike McLeod, C
The Avalanche are fairly set along the back end when it comes to prospects, but are suddenly thin up the middle — especially now that former first-rounder Connor Bleackley was dealt to Arizona for Mikkel Boedker. If Boedker isn’t re-signed, maybe they feel like a scoring winger is more of a priority here and they grab Julien Gauthier instead. Assuming they focus on reinforcing the middle of the ice though, McLeod should be a good fit.