Conference finalists in Stanley Cup Playoffs prove you don’t need to win the draft lottery

Smart drafting outside the top picks helped shape the top teams in the NHL.

Pass it to Bulis

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Over the last four seasons, the Canucks have been one of the worst teams in the NHL. Only two teams have fewer wins and points over those four seasons and one of them is the Vegas Golden Knights, who have only been in existence for two of those seasons.

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Despite the Canucks’ struggles, however, the highest they’ve picked in the NHL Entry Draft is fifth overall. In fact, the Canucks haven’t picked higher than fifth since 1999, when they drafted Daniel and Henrik Sedin.

The draft lottery hasn’t been kind to the Canucks. While they’ve never finished dead last in the league, which would give them the highest odds of picking first overall, they’ve still finished second and third last in the last four years. The draft lottery decides which teams will have the first three picks in the draft and the Canucks have never landed in one of those spots.

The NHL adjusted the odds of winning the draft lottery to deter tanking back in 2014, but it’s still surprising the Canucks haven’t had their number drawn at least once in the last four years. In fact, the odds of the Canucks not finishing with one of the top three spots is 26.1%: about one-in-four odds.

That means the Canucks have missed out on the likes of Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel, Auston Matthews, and Patrik Laine. None of those players, however, are currently in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. In fact, the four teams in the Conference Finals haven’t really benefited from winning the draft lottery at all.

Only one of those teams has picked in the top-three over the last eight years as a result of winning the draft lottery: the Carolina Hurricanes, who picked Andrei Svechnikov second overall in 2018. Svechnikov has been good for the Hurricanes, but he also just turned 19 and has missed half the playoffs with a concussion. At the very least, he’s not one of the primary drivers of their success.

Apart from Svechnikov, the Hurricanes haven’t won at the draft lottery. They were in a similar boat a few years ago to where the Canucks are now, picking fifth overall twice and seventh overall once from 2013 to 2015.

The Boston Bruins have picked in the top-10 twice in the last decade, taking Dougie Hamilton ninth overall in 2011 and Tyler Seguin second overall in 2010. Both Hamilton and Seguin have been traded since then and none of the players that came back in those trades are currently on the team.

The St. Louis Blues won the draft lottery back in 2006, taking Erik Johnson first overall, but he was traded to the Colorado Avalanche in 2011. They did draft Alex Pietrangelo fourth overall in 2008, but haven’t picked above 14th overall since then.

Then there’s the San Jose Sharks, who haven’t picked higher than ninth overall since 2005.

The key for all four teams has been drafting well despite never winning the lottery. The Sharks added core players with their two ninth overall picks, Logan Couture and Timo Meier, and found Kevin Labanc in the sixth round. The Blues got star Vladimir Tarasenko in the middle of the first round along with Jaden Schwartz, and got stud defenceman Colton Parayko in the third round.

The Bruins got arguably the best player in the 2014 draft, David Pastrnak, at 25th overall and nabbed Charlie McAvoy, their number one defenceman, in the middle of the first round. They also drafted key defencemen Brandon Carlo in the second round and Danton Heinen in the fourth round.

Finally, the Hurricanes found first-line centre Sebastian Aho in the second round in 2015, top-pairing defenceman Jaccob Slavin in the fourth round in 2012, and breakout rookie Warren Foegele in the third round in 2014.

After watching teams win the Stanley Cup after rebuilding with first overall picks like Sidney Crosby, Patrick Kane, and Alex Ovechkin, it’s refreshing to see four teams that constructed their teams without draft lottery luck on their side. It’s also a good sign for teams like the Canucks that have similarly struggled at the lottery: with some smart drafting and careful roster construction, the Canucks could follow in their footsteps.

Stick-taps and Glove-drops

A tap of the stick to the Canucks for hosting the media at Rogers Arena for a night to celebrate the life of Jason Botchford and an extra stick-tap to Jim Benning for attending and sharing condolences on behalf of the Canucks.

I’m dropping the gloves with Sportsnet for not broadcasting the WHL Final. The series between the Vancouver Giants and Prince Albert Raiders was thrilling, coming down to overtime in Game 7, but unless you were there in person, you couldn’t see it.

Big Numbers

14 - Logan Couture leads the playoffs in goals and points, with a whopping 14 goals in 17 games, which is a franchise record for the San Jose Sharks. He has to be considered one of the favourites for the Conn Smythe.

7 - There have been plenty of upsets in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but the Conference finalists aren’t too surprising to stat-heads. All four teams finished in the top-7 in expected goal percentage this season, one of the leading advanced statistics.
 

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