For the Vancouver Canucks, the 2016 NHL Entry Draft could be the most exciting day of the year — unless they make the playoffs, which is obviously still a possibility. Now, for this 100 percent optimistic take, let’s just assume the Canucks miss the playoffs and end up owning a lottery pick.
Thanks to the Edmonton Oilers, who have found a way to win just about every draft lottery in the past decade (that’s how it seems, anyway), the NHL decided to change the lottery format. Basically, all it does is lower Edmonton’s odds while giving every other team a better chance to win the first-overall selection which will likely be Zurich Lions forward Auston Matthews this year.
"The odds of winning the first overall selection in the NHL Draft for the 14 non-Playoff teams will be adjusted to more appropriately reflect the current state of competitive balance in the League. This will result in a more evenly-balanced allocation of odds, with the 10 highest-finishing non-Playoff qualifying teams receiving higher (better) Draft Lottery odds than they received previously and the four lowest-finishing teams receiving lower (worse) odds. The revised set of odds will remain in effect year-to-year in the future. — NHL.com"
That’s one way to put it. But, trust me, this is all about Edmonton.
As of today, the Canucks would have a six percent chance to win the lottery. However, since the Canucks are arguably the worst team in the NHL right now, those odds may improve by the end of the season. As opposed to previous seasons, the first three picks will be drawn, meaning that finishing 23rd in the league can still mean a pick anywhere in the top three for the Canucks.
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Thanks to the NHL Lottery Simulator, we can simulate what that will look like. Running the simulator 100 times — because I obviously have nothing better to do — Edmonton still got 15 first-overall picks and 50 top-three picks. But that is better than the 25 percent chance the Oilers used to have. In my test runs, the Canucks won the first-overall selection eight times while getting 24 top-three selections. Not great, but there is indeed a chance.
Now, since we are being optimistic, let’s assume the Canucks draft somewhere in the top three. That means they will either get centre Auston Matthews or one of the Finnish wingers Jesse Puljujarvi and Patrik Laine.
Matthews decided to embark on a totally unique adventure as he set off to Zurich, Switzerland, instead of going the junior or college route. In Switzerland’s National Liga A, he has scored 23 goals and added 15 assists for 38 points in 32 games so far. He is ready to join the North American pros and make a difference — something similar to what Nathan MacKinnon and Jack Eichel have been doing in recent years.
Jesse Puljujarvi plays for Karpat Oulu in the Finnish Liiga. There, he is getting top-six and power-play minutes in one of Europe’s top leagues. He has eight goals and 20 points through 44 games this season, but can convince scouts with his other assets as well. At 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds, Puljujarvi is huge for a 17-year-old. He is a very good skater and can play physically. He, too, may be ready to join the NHL in 2016.
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Last but not least, there is Patrik Laine, a winger for Tappara of the Finnish Liiga. He is the only player who was able to dethrone Matthews — at least on McKeen’s prospect rankings. Laine, a 6-foot-4, 207-pound forward has an equally crazy frame. His production is a tad better than Puljujarvi’s, as he sits at 13 goals and 27 points in 36 games played. He will be ready to join the NHL this year.
So, what does this mean for the Canucks? If they end up drafting one of the top-three forwards, they might have an extremely talented player to jump right in and help the NHL team.
Obviously, Vancouver could decide to give Laine or Puljujarvi — whoever they end up drafting — some time in the American Hockey League like the Toronto Maple Leafs are doing it with William Nylander and the Colorado Avalanche with Mikko Rantanen. However, Nylander and Rantanen are currently the league’s best players and both Laine and Puljujarvi could be better than Nylander and Rantanen.
Not trying to raise expectations here, but if the Canucks own a top-three draft pick in June, things will get fun.
Next: Free Agency