Ranking the 5 NHL Teams That Desperately Need to Win the Draft Lottery This Year

Lyle Richardson@@SpectorsHockeyFeatured ColumnistJanuary 15, 2022

Ranking the 5 NHL Teams That Desperately Need to Win the Draft Lottery This Year

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    Mary Schwalm/Associated Press

    The 2022 NHL draft will be held at the Bell Centre in Montreal on July 7-8. Prior to that, a lottery consisting of two draws following the completion of the 2021-22 regular season will determine the order of the draft for the 16 teams that failed to qualify for the playoffs.

    Two notable changes have been made beginning in this year's: Teams will be restricted from moving up more than 10 spots in the draft order if it wins one of the draws and cannot win the lottery more than twice in five years. However, wins in the lottery prior to this year won't count against this total.

    NHL Central Scouting Bureau listed Shane Wright of the Ontario Hockey League's Kingston Frontenacs as the top prospect in their mid-season rankings. In his January rankings of the top prospects, TSN's Craig Button compared the 17-year-old Wright to Boston Bruins captain Patrice Bergeron.

    Any NHL club would love to land a player with the potential to blossom into one of the game's great two-way centers. Wright could prove to be a fine long-term consolation prize for those who fail to reach this year's postseason.

    While this season is approaching the halfway point, there are already a handful of teams near the bottom of the NHL's overall standings facing long odds of reaching the playoffs. Some of them, like the Montreal Canadiens, could use the first-overall pick to commence a long-overdue roster overhaul. Others, like the Arizona Coyotes, could use that selection to continue their ongoing rebuild.

    Here's our ranking of the five clubs that desperately need to win this year's draft lottery. This list is limited to teams that have not won the draft lottery within the past five years. Therefore, we've excluded the Buffalo Sabres (2021, 2018), New York Rangers (2020) and New Jersey Devils (2019, 2017).

    Do you agree with our ranking? Feel free to express your thoughts on this topic in the comments section. 

5. Chicago Blackhawks

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    This season isn't one the Chicago Blackhawks will remember with any fondness. 

    General manager Stan Bowman stepped down in October following sexual assault allegations by former player Kyle Beach against former video coach Brad Aldrich. 

    On the ice, they're near the bottom of the Western Conference and in danger of missing the playoffs for the fourth time in five years.

    A decade ago, the Blackhawks were two years removed from winning the 2010 Stanley Cup, with more championships to come in 2013 and 2015. They were the class of the league, built on a foundation of players they'd chosen through the draft: Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and the 2007 first-overall pick, Patrick Kane.

    The high cost of keeping that core intact, along with the desire to maintain a championship roster, saw the Blackhawks sacrifice their future by trading away young talent such as Artemi Panarin, Brandon Saad, and Teuvo Teravainen. With aging stars and eroded roster depth, they're no longer considered a playoff contender.

    Buoyed by the Blackhawks' promising performance during the COVID-shortened 2020-21 season, Bowman made a series of moves last summer with the hope of getting his club back into contention. However, the additions of Marc-Andre Fleury, defensemen Seth and Caleb Jones and Tyler Johnson failed to bring about the desired improvement.

    That was no fault of Fleury, Johnson and the Jones brothers. They were joining a once-powerful team that still lacks sufficient depth to surpass the clubs ahead of them in the Western Conference standings. With Toews and Kane both 33 and approaching the final year of their contracts, it's time for the Blackhawks to reject quick fixes and begin a serious rebuild.

    Whether Kane and Toews will be part of that process remains to be seen. In the meantime, the Blackhawks could use the first-overall pick in this year's draft as the centerpiece of their rebuilding plans. That prospect could form part of the foundation of a future contender involving younger players such as Alex DeBrincat, Kirby Dach and Brandon Hagel, as well as prospect winger Lukas Reichel.

    The Blackhawks have an additional incentive to win this year's draft lottery. They sent their 2022 first-round pick to the Columbus Blue Jackets as part of last summer's Seth Jones trade. However, if that pick is among the top two, the Blackhawks retain that pick and instead send their 2023 first-rounder to the Blue Jackets. 

4. Ottawa Senators

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    This was supposed to be the Ottawa Senators' breakthrough season following four years outside the playoff picture. Flush from signing a contract extension last September, general manager Pierre Dorion proclaimed, "The rebuild is done. Now we're stepping into another zone."

    Dorion had to walk that statement back by December as his Senators sat near the bottom of the overall standings. Injuries to several key players, a COVID-19 outbreak in November, a porous defense and shaky goaltending left the club with the NHL's third-worst record with just 10 wins and 22 points in 30 games. 

    The Senators' solid performance over the second half of last season provided Dorion and Senators fans with the expectation that this club was poised for playoff contention. While their difficulties through the first half of this season have likely scuttled those hopes, there remains plenty of promise on the roster and within their system.

    Youngsters such as Brady Tkachuk, Tim Stutzle, Drake Batherson, Josh Norris and Alex Formenton have either joined the Senators directly following their draft year or came up through their system. Jake Sanderson, Shane Pinto, Jacob Bernard-Docker, Lassi Thomson and Erik Brannstrom are in their pipeline with some of them already making brief appearances in the Senators lineup.

    The Senators have had the first-overall selection three times in their history, choosing Alexandre Daigle in 1993, Bryan Berard in 1995 and Chris Phillips in 1996. Only Phillips went on to become a consequential player for the Senators, spending his entire 17 NHL seasons in Ottawa as a shutdown defenseman.

    While the Senators are already well-stocked with young players, winning this year's lottery would bring in a talented future star who could become the final piece of the puzzle. Dorion could also use that pick perhaps as trade bait to bring in more immediate help, such as an established shutdown defenseman or a reliable starting goaltender.

3. Montreal Canadiens

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    After staging a surprising run to the 2021 Stanley Cup Final, the Montreal Canadiens have sunk to the bottom of the overall standings. A combination of injuries to superstars Carey Price and Shea Weber, the departure of key veterans like Phillip Danault and Corey Perry via free agency, and a COVID-depleted roster contributed to their struggles this season.

    Despite reaching the playoffs in each of the last two seasons, the Canadiens have needed a rebuild for some time. The last time they made the postseason in an 82-game schedule was in 2016-17. They qualified in the last two years because of an expanded playoff format in 2020 and skating in an all-Canadian division last season. 

    The Canadiens already have some good, young talent on their roster in Nick Suzuki, Cole Caufield and Alexander Romanov. They also possess a promising young defensive prospect in Kaiden Guhle. However, they need to land a future superstar to build around as they did with Price in 2005. They'd have the best odds of winning this year's lottery if they remain dead last in the standings. 

    It's been 42 years since the Canadiens had the first-overall pick. The case could be made that their long decline began in the 1980 draft when they chose Doug Wickenheiser over Quebec native and future Hall-of-Famer Denis Savard. Winning this year's lottery could give them an opportunity to belatedly atone for that mistake.

    With one of the NHL's largest and devoted fan bases, the Canadiens aren't in any danger of tumbling into irrelevance. Nevertheless, they must rebuild if they're to become a legitimate Stanley Cup contender in the next few years. Pinning their hopes on an aging Price to carry them on another underdog run to the Final is no longer an option.

2. Seattle Kraken

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    Joe Puetz/Associated Press

    The Seattle Kraken entered their inaugural season with the success of the Vegas Golden Knights hovering over them. In 2017-18, the Golden Knights stunned the NHL in their debut campaign by marching to the Stanley Cup Final. They remain a Cup contender to this day.

    Any Seattle fans hoping their new NHL club would replicate Vegas' success have had those aspirations dashed. With the Kraken parked near the bottom of the overall standings, it's obvious the management of this young franchise has a lot of work to do before this club can be considered a legitimate playoff contender.

    General manager Ron Francis did his best to build a competitive roster during last summer's expansion draft. Cap Friendly shows goaltender Philipp Grubauer, defenseman Adam Larsson, and forwards Yanni Gourde and Jaden Schwartz are under long-term contracts. They should continue to provide experience and leadership as younger players join the roster.

    Francis will do what he can in the coming years to bolster the roster through trades and free agency. However, building up the prospect pipeline will be necessary to ensure a steady flow of properly developed young NHL talent. The Athletic's Scott Wheeler has them sitting 32nd in his annual NHL prospect pool rankings, with Matty Berniers as their top notable prospect.

    The Kraken was fortunate enough to land the second-overall pick in last year's draft lottery and took the promising Berniers with that selection. Winning this year's lottery would provide a significant boost to their prospect depth, bringing them a potential future franchise player while maintaining the aspirations of their fans who dream of their young club becoming a contender in the near future.

1. Arizona Coyotes

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    Now in their 25th NHL season, the Arizona Coyotes haven't had much success since they relocated from Winnipeg in 1996. They've reached the playoffs just nine times and only once since 2012-13. The only reason they qualified in 2020 was due to the league expanding that year's playoff format in order to complete its COVID-shortened season.

    Sitting second last in this season's overall standings as of Jan. 13, the Coyotes would have the second-best odds of winning the draft lottery if they finish in that position at season's end. It would mark the first time in franchise history they would have the first-overall pick. The highest they've finished in the order was third overall in 2007, choosing Kyle Turris, and in 2015, selecting Dylan Strome.

    The Coyotes are facing what could be a crucial point in their history in Arizona. Frequent ownership changes, mismanagement and constant losing have driven down attendance. Faced with the termination of their lease with the Gila River Arena at the end of this season, they'll be seeking a temporary home while attempting to build a new arena in Tempe.

    This franchise needs to give its long-suffering fans some indication that better days are ahead. Winning this year's draft lottery could be the positive turning point they've been waiting for that helps ensure this team has a long-term future in Arizona.

    Since taking over as general manager in September 2020, Bill Armstrong has been busy rebuilding the roster, shipping out veterans for draft picks and prospects. With three first-round picks and five second-rounders in this year's draft, the Coyotes should have a stockpile of promising youngsters. Those players could form the core of young talent that lifts this long-moribund franchise into a future Stanley Cup contender.

             

    Reference info via Hockey-Reference.com, HockeyDB.com and Puck Pedia.

              

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