The Pittsburgh Penguins have a bit of a reputation league-wide as benefiting from the NHL Draft Lottery, or utilizing it to launch their team as the NHL’s best since the lockout. In truth, that’s not really the case — aside from a very big caveat in 2005.
The NHL announced a draft lottery in 1995, with many different incarnations and morphing odds for how teams could jump to the top spot. The basic function or theory of a draft lottery is to discourage out and out “tanking” or trying not to form a competitive team, since finishing in last place in the league doesn’t automatically guarantee the first overall pick.
The NHL draft lottery is tomorrow at 6:00 PM.
The Pens haven’t really been in that many of the lotteries in the 25 years of the system. This will only be the seventh time Pittsburgh has been in the draft lottery. Here’s how the previous six went.
2002: Pittsburgh’s long playoff streak (1991-2001) ended with the 2001-02 season and they entered their first draft lottery. The Pens had the 5th worst record in the league, and ended up with the 5th overall pick, where they selected a tall defenseman out of Boston University named Ryan Whitney. The Atlanta Thrashers (RIP) had the best odds to get the top pick, but Columbus won the lottery and jumped up to the top spot, where they picked franchise player Rick Nash.
2003: The Pens had the second worst record in 2002-03, but ended up drawing the No. 3 overall pick when Florida (4th worst record) won the lottery and moved to the top. Pittsburgh and Florida ended up trading picks plus a little more, so the Pens could get the top pick, where they selected a franchise goalie in Marc-Andre Fleury. (Florida ended up with Nathan Horton, the player they liked most at the time anyways).
2004: Pittsburgh had the worst record in the NHL in the dark days of 2003-04 and had the best odds to win the lottery and the prized pick of Alex Ovechkin. Instead the Washington Capitals (third worst record) jumped above them to get Ovechkin. The Pens ended up with the best consolation prize of all time in Evgeni Malkin, so no real complaints there.
2005: The grand daddy of ‘em all was the 2005 draft lottery. Since the 2004-05 season was cancelled, all 30 NHL teams had a small chance to win the biggest prize in a long time in Sidney Crosby. Wouldn’t ya know it, the Pens did it! Pittsburgh had three lottery balls and there were 48 total, giving them just a 6.3% chance of success. But what a success it was.
2006: The 2005-06 season wasn’t kind to the Pens, who ended up under-performing and finishing second to last in the league. In what has been a rarity over the years, the team with the best lottery draft odds (St. Louis) ended up winning the draft lottery, selecting defenseman Erik Johnson first overall. Pittsburgh held firm with the second overall pick, taking center Jordan Staal in their last trip to the draft lottery.
2020: In the most unique draft lottery since 2005, the first pick will be determined by a second lottery draft, after an early lottery draft determined one of the longshot teams had indeed won. The prize, like 2005, the best junior player who happens to play for Rimouski. (Hey, this story sounds fun!). For a Pens team who only had a 6.3% chance of getting Crosby, their chance for Alexis Lafreniere is practically double that at 12.5% this year, along with a 1-in-8 chance for all the teams that lost in the play-in round of the playoffs (NYR, Winnipeg, Minnesota, Nashville, Edmonton, Florida and one of TOR/CBJ depending on who loses tonight).
It’s a very interesting position for Lafreniere, and a unique one for a top prospect. Usually that player ends up on a bottom-end team that has a lot of rebuilding to do (like a Detroit, Ottawa or Buffalo from this season). Instead, there’s a very good chance Lafreniere ends up in an excellent situation on a team that already has a well-built core to help ease his transition into the NHL.
And while Pittsburgh carries a draft lottery champion reputation, the true kings of this event have undoubtedly been the Edmonton Oilers. The Oil won the lottery three straight years in 2010, 2011 and 2012 and then moved up from the third best odds to win a massive draft lottery in 2015 in order to have the right to select Connor McDavid.
Pens’ fans haven’t had to track a lottery draft with interest in 14 years, but tomorrow will be very interesting, so grab your lucky charms and we’ll see how it sorts out.