Ranking the 5 Teams That Need to Win 2021 NHL Draft Lottery

Lyle Richardson@@SpectorsHockeyFeatured ColumnistMay 1, 2021

Ranking the 5 Teams That Need to Win 2021 NHL Draft Lottery

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    Elise Amendola/Associated Press

    The 2021 NHL draft is scheduled for July 23-24 and will be held virtually for the second straight year. The order of the draft for teams that fail to qualify for the playoffs will be determined via lottery on June 2.

    Starting this year, the drawings for the lottery were changed from three to two to reduce the possibility of the team with the worst record dropping too far in the order. Other changes, such as restricting teams from moving up more than 10 spots if it wins one of the drawings and restrictions on clubs winning the lottery more than twice within five years, go into effect next year.

    The reduction in the lottery drawings could prove beneficial to this year's worst clubs. The Buffalo Sabres, for example, are enduring one of the worst seasons in franchise history. Other teams, like the Anaheim Ducks, could use the lottery to kickstart an overdue roster rebuild.

    Several promising youngsters stand out as potential stars in this year's draft.

    The University of Michigan's Owen Power, Luke Hughes of USA Hockey Under-18 National Team Development Program and Simon Edvinsson of Frolunda of the Swedish Hockey League are the top defensemen. Notable forwards include Dylan Guenther of the Western Hockey League's Edmonton Oil Kings, Kent Johnson of the University of Michigan and William Eklund of Djurgardens in the SHL.

    All of this season's bottom-feeding teams in each division could make good use of this year's first overall pick. Some, however, need more help than others. Here's our ranking of the clubs that need to hit the jackpot in this year's lottery.

5. Seattle Kraken

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    Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

    As an expansion team, the Seattle Kraken will have the third-best odds at winning the draft lottery. Doing so would provide a big boost for this new club heading into its first NHL season.

    Two days before the draft, the Kraken will build their roster through an expansion draft. They will follow the same rules as the Vegas Golden Knights expansion draft in 2017, selecting one player from each club, excluding the Knights. The 30 teams can protect seven forwards, three defensemen and a goaltender or eight skaters and a goalie.

    Most of the players Vegas selected went on to form the roster that stunned the hockey world by marching to the Stanley Cup Final in its first season. While the Kraken should end up with a good selection of players, it's probably asking too much to expect them to repeat the Golden Knights' inaugural success.

    Seattle has a long history as a hockey town. The 1916-17 Seattle Metropolitans were the first American team to win the Stanley Cup. The city is also the longtime home of the Western Hockey League's Seattle Thunderbirds, whose alumni include such notable current NHL players as the New York Islanders' Mathew Barzal, the Vegas Golden Knights' Shea Theodore and the San Jose Sharks' Patrick Marleau. 

    Still, winning the draft lottery could help the Kraken generate additional buzz entering their first season. It would also give them a future star, perhaps even a franchise player, to build around going forward. 

    The Kraken don't have any prospects in their system yet. Unlike the other clubs on this list, they don't have to worry about filling a specific need but can instead simply take the best available player. It's also possible general manager Ron Francis springs a surprise by selecting a player with the first overall pick who isn't among the top three prospects.

4. Detroit Red Wings

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    The Detroit Red Wings can make a good case as the most deserving to win this year's draft lottery. They had the league's worst record last season. However, they slid to fourth overall in the draft because of the unique way the 2020 lottery was conducted because of the derailment of the regular season by the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Despite that disappointment, the Wings used their pick to select promising left wing Lucas Raymond from the Swedish Hockey League. They could make good use of the first overall pick in this year's draft to continue their rebuild.

    Signs of improvement are visible from the Wings this season. While sitting second-to-last in the Central Division with 43 points in 52 games, they're 24th in the overall standings. 

    Scoring remains an issue for the Red Wings, sitting 30th with 2.21 goals per game. They could also use more skilled depth on their blue line.

    If the Wings win the draft lottery, they could target Michigan defenseman Owen Power. At 6'6" and 213 pounds, the 18-year-old is a gifted all-around defenseman with the potential to become a first-pairing NHL blueliner.

3. Columbus Blue Jackets

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    Joel Auerbach/Associated Press

    After reaching the playoffs in the past four seasons, the Columbus Blue Jackets have tumbled toward the bottom of the Central Division. Management could decide to retool its roster in hope of a bounce-back performance next season or go into rebuild mode. Either way, it could make good use of the first overall pick.

    A weak offense contributed to the Jackets' woes this season. Their 2.33 goals per game is the league's third-worst, while their power-play percentage (14.7) ranks 28th.

    The lack of a first-line center is a big issue for the Jackets. On March 7, The Athletic's Aaron Portzline reported general manager Jarmo Kekalainen acknowledged that need but noted one is not easy to find. He said his club will seek a center through the draft or via trade or free agency.

    Kekalainen pointed out teams usually draft and develop first-line centers. Winning the draft lottery could put the Jackets in line for a prospect such as Matthew Beniers or Kent Johnson, both from the University of Michigan, or Chaz Lucius of USA Hockey's National Team Development Program.

    If the Jackets GM prefers a more immediate option, he could use the No. 1 overall pick as trade bait to add a top-line center. However, it would have to take a significant offer to convince him to part with that selection.

2. Anaheim Ducks

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    Ashley Landis/Associated Press

    Mired at the bottom of the West Division, the Anaheim Ducks are poised to miss the playoffs for the third straight season. With their glory days as a Western Conference powerhouse a distant memory, the Ducks must begin a much-needed rebuild.

    A lack of production has been an ongoing issue for the Ducks. Since 2017-18, their 2.52 goals per game is the league's second-lowest. This season, it's a league-worst 2.16.

    An aging core has contributed to the Ducks' offensive decline. Team captain Ryan Getzlaf is in the twilight of his career at age 35. Meanwhile, the production of forwards Adam Henrique, Jakob Silfverberg and Rickard Rakell has dropped sharply this season.

    The Ducks have transitioned some younger forwards into the lineup with mixed results over the past three seasons. Max Comtois, Troy Terry, Sam Steel, Max Jones and Isac Lundestrom are among their homegrown 23-and-younger roster regulars. Top prospect Trevor Zegras, 20, has shown some promise in his 18-game audition this season.

    Winning the draft lottery would give the Ducks several options to bolster their anemic offense. They could use the pick to select a promising forward, select a top defense prospect and peddle one of their established blueliners for an established scorer or use it as trade bait to bring in an offensive forward.

1. Buffalo Sabres

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    Derik Hamilton/Associated Press

    The Buffalo Sabres began this season with hopes of playoff contention. They shocked the hockey world in October by signing left winger Taylor Hall to a one-year contract after acquiring center Eric Staal from the Minnesota Wild in September.

    Those hopes, however, turned to dust.

    A shaky start followed by an outbreak of COVID-19 sent the Sabres into an 18-game winless skid upon their return to action and to the bottom of the overall standings. Team captain Jack Eichel suffered a season-ending neck injury on March 7, while Hall and Staal failed to pan out and were shipped out before the April 12 trade deadline.

    After a 10th consecutive season without a playoff berth, the Sabres could attempt another rebuild. Whether Eichel is part of it remains to be seen. While under contract until the end of 2025-26, he surfaced in trade speculation during this season. Assuming Eichel stays, management must finally find the right pieces to build around its franchise player.

    The Sabres need help at both ends of the rink. Their 2.37 goals per game is the league's fourth-worst, while their 3.45 goals against per game is the third-worst. With $50.7 million invested in 14 players for 2021-22, they have room to bring in immediate veteran help. Nevertheless, adding the top prospect in this year's draft could also provide some invaluable long-term skills.

    The presence of a superstar such as Eichel gives the Sabres a bit of a leg up over other clubs that could use that first overall pick. Still, their decade of futility justifies their position on this list.

                   

    Stats through April 29, and prospects listing via NHL.com. Salary info via CapFriendly

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