Last-place Sabres win draft lottery; Kraken get No. 2 pick
Buffalo, N.Y. — The Buffalo Sabres won the NHL draft lottery and the expansion Seattle Kraken jumped up the order to take the No. 2 pick Wednesday night.
The Sabres have the No. 1 pick for the fourth time in franchise history and second in three years. It marks a turnaround for a team that finished last in the overall standings for the fourth time since 2013-14, and lost the draft lottery in both 2014 and '15.
Seattle, meantime, can get, ahem, Kraken in preparation for its first season after jumping ahead of Anaheim. The Ducks finished 30th in the overall standings, but will be selecting third overall.
The Kraken were provided the third-best odds at 10.3% — tied with New Jersey — to win the lottery.
The Vegas Golden Knights were placed in the exact same position entering the 2017 draft lottery in advance of their opening season. Vegas wound up selecting sixth after failing to win three lottery drawings.
The only change this year involved the NHL reducing the number of drawings to determine the top two slots.
The Sabres had a 16.6% chance of landing the top pick, which was 1.9 points lower than the previous three lotteries, including 2018 when Buffalo maintained its spot to select defenseman Rasmus Dahlin at No. 1.
“It’s a great moment for our franchise. It’s obviously been a tough year,” Sabres general manager Kevyn Adams said. “We’re very excited, we’re proud to have this selection. It’s a step in the right direction.”
The Sabres are coming off a calamitous season in which they fired coach Ralph Krueger in mid-March while in the midst of an 18-game winless streak, which matched the NHL’s 14th-worst drought. Buffalo also missed the playoffs for a 10th consecutive season to match the NHL record.
Overall, Buffalo became the 10th last-place team to retain the top pick in the draft since the lottery was first introduced in 1995.
The Arizona Coyotes, who finished 22nd, were barred from winning the lottery after the NHL stripped the team of its first-round selection for violating league rules by physically testing draft-eligible players before the 2020 pre-draft combine. Though Arizona was included in the lottery process to maintain the odds, the NHL would had a redraw if the Coyotes' number came up.
The Coyotes were also stripped of their second-round pick in last year’s draft.
The remaining 12 teams retained their order in the draft by virtue of where they finished in the standings, with the New Jersey selecting fourth and the New York Rangers 15th.
The two-day draft will be held virtually for a second consecutive year, with the first round being held on July 23 — two days after the expansion draft, during which the Kraken will select one player from each of the 31 teams.
The coronavirus pandemic has added more uncertainty to this year’s class of prospects, due to shortened or even canceled seasons, and because of travel limits placed on scouting staffs.
The NHL Central Scouting Bureau has three Michigan players listed among its top six North American prospects, and led by 6-foot-6 defenseman Owen Power, the top-ranked player, who is current representing Canada at the World Hockey championships in Latvia. From Mississauga, Ontario, Power had three goals and 16 points in 26 games in being named to the Big Ten’s All-Rookie team last season.
Central scouting director Dan Marr referred to Power as “a fluid and agile skater, who can transition quickly on plays and separate himself from checking.”
The Wolverines are rounded out by centers Kent Johnson, ranked third, and Matthew Beniers, ranked sixth.
The second-ranked North American skater is Canadian junior center Mason McTavish, who played in Switzerland last season.
Central scouting ranks Swedish-born left wing William Eklund as its top international skater.
In Buffalo, the sabres woes carried over into the offseason with captain Jack Eichel questioning his future in Buffalo, by citing differences with the team over how to treat a herniated disk, which forced him to miss the final two months of the season.
The two sides are expected to meet this week to determine whether to go ahead with servical disk replacement surgery, which Eichel prefers. The Sabres’ medical staff has advised against it because the procedure has never before performed on an NHL player.
Forward Sam Reinhart, who led the team in scoring, and veteran defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen also expressed doubts about wanting to remain in Buffalo.
In the meantime, Adams has spent the past five weeks conducting a coaching search, whose candidates include Don Granato, who completed the season in an interim role.