The date and time for the 2023 NHL Draft Lottery has been announced, with the live event taking place on May 8, 2023 at 7 PM Eastern time (4 PM Pacific Time). This is one of the biggest events on the NHL schedule each year, especially for the 16 teams who find themselves on the outside looking in when the NHL playoffs begin in May.
This year’s draft lottery might be the most valuable one since the 2015 draft lottery saw the Edmonton Oilers land the first overall pick and the right to select Connor McDavid. Whoever wins the lottery and earns the top selection in this year’s draft will get the chance to land Connor Bedard, while the runner up will have their pick of the remaining talent. How does the draft lottery work, which teams have the best odds, and who might they select at the top of the draft? Let’s take a closer look.
How Does the Draft Lottery Work?
The current draft lottery system encourages, and even rewards, losing in the NHL, but not as much as it used to. Before the lottery, the NHL’s last place team was guaranteed the first pick in the following draft, and that guarantee has been removed, de-incentivizing (only slightly) the tanking battle at the bottom of the NHL standings. Several rules were changed in 2022 when the NHL decided that only two winning lottery balls would be selected meaning there are only two winners compared to the three winners that we were used to.
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Each of the 16 teams that miss the playoffs will have a chance to win with the teams earning significantly better odds at winning a high pick if they are lower in the standings. It’s also worth mentioning that a lottery win doesn’t guarantee one of the top-two picks in this year’s draft as teams can only jump a maximum of 10 spots, meaning that only the 11 teams with the best odds even have a chance of landing at first overall. If the team with the 16th best odds end up winning the lottery (unlikely but definitely possible) they could only jump up to the sixth or seventh overall picks, so the last place team could land first overall without technically winning the lottery.
The last place team in the NHL has a 25.5% chance of winning the top spot which are the best odds by far, explaining the wild race to the bottom of the standings that we see after the Trade Deadline each season. The second-last place team only has a 13.5% chance, nearly half the odds of last place and the odds only worsen from there meaning that regular season standings are absolutely crucial for lottery odds.
Who is Available at the Top of the Draft?
So why were teams giving up on this season months ago and icing some of the worst NHL lineups in recent memory? It’s simple, the talent at the top of the 2023 NHL Draft is astounding and a few of the players could be legitimate game changers for the NHL’s worst teams, helping them usher in a new era of success.
Connor Bedard is the odds on favorite to go first overall, with the potential to be an elite goal scorer in the NHL who turns a team’s fortunes around completely. He is without a doubt the best player in the entire Canadian Hockey League (CHL), and leads the Western Hockey League (WHL) in goals and points as the captain of the Regina Pats. The 17-year-old Bedard cemented himself as the best prospect in the draft at the 2023 World Juniors where he was clearly the best player at the entire tournament despite being two years younger than many of his opponents. The last time there was this much hype around a prospect was back in 2015 when the arrival of Connor McDavid was highly anticipated, and this draft lottery could have a similar impact on whichever team wins the first overall pick.
Despite missing out on Bedard, the team that wins the second overall pick will likely be elated because this year’s draft has several more incredibly talented prospects available such as Adam Fantilli, Matvei Michov and Leo Carlsson. These players are not mere consolation prizes, as each of them are world-class NHL prospects in their own rights.
Fantilli is probably the favorite for second overall at the moment, with the size and skill combo as a centerman that NHL General Managers dream of. He has been absolutely dominant in the NCAA this season with the University of Michigan Wolverines, scoring an absurd 60 points in 32 games as a freshman with one final regular season game remaining. That type of scoring would be impressive from a senior, so an 18-year-old freshman putting up those numbers is bound to turn some heads. Fantilli will immediately become his team’s best NHL prospect, and will likely make an impact in the NHL soon.
Michkov is an odd case. He has the production, potential, and skill to go as high as second overall, but the uncertainty surrounding his contract, coupled with the “Russian Factor” could see him fall significantly on draft day. Michkov has signed a contract extension with his KHL club that will keep him playing in Russia until the beginning of the 2026-27 season where he’d be eligible to play in the NHL. I hope that doesn’t deter NHL teams too much because Michkov is one of the most intelligent offensive players we’ve seen come through the draft this century and I would consider him a steal if a team landed him at fifth overall.
Carlsson is the final player in the top tier of talent for this year’s draft class. He is a big center with a very strong all-around game and tons of skill. Carlsson has played his entire draft season in the SHL, Sweden’s top professional league, where he leads all U20 players in points despite having just turned 18 at the end of December. He plays a very mature and thoughtful game conducive to winning hockey and could be a solid two-way player in the NHL as soon as next Fall.
Which Teams Have the Best Chances?
Let’s take a quick look at the five teams with the best chances of winning the draft lottery and what has transpired this season to get them here.
The Columbus Blue Jackets currently have the best chance at landing the first overall pick despite their eyes having been set on making the playoffs at the start of this season. After landing Johnny Gaudreau in free agency, the Blue Jackets seemed to be ready to take a major step forward, but a constant stream of injuries to their most important players made that dream pretty unlikely in the early months of the season. After adding David Jiricek in the 2022 Draft, Columbus would benefit greatly from adding one more very high draft pick, and either of Bedard or Fantilli would likely become the team’s top-line center in just a few short years.
The San Jose Sharks currently have the second best lottery odds, just a few short weeks after trading away star winger Timo Meier to the New Jersey Devils. Since that trade, the Sharks have a 1-6-1 record which has torpedoed them to the bottom of the NHL standings and should give them a real chance to add a franchise defining player in this year’s draft.
The Chicago Blackhawks have the third best lottery odds and the only thing surprising about that is that they’re not currently in last place. Chicago was one of the only teams that were clearly planning on losing lots of games this year before the season began, trading away Alex DeBrincat and Kirby Dach at the 2022 Draft. It’s clear that the plan was to lose games and land a top-five pick which still seems very likely.
The Anaheim Ducks currently have the fourth best lottery odds which should help them land one more piece to add to their incredibly talented prospect pool. After a promising start to the 2021-22 season where it looked like the Ducks’ rebuild was nearing its end, they fell apart in the second-half, falling far out of playoff contention. This season has followed suit with the Ducks moving around a bit in the bottom five of the standings, but never rising too far. For their sakes, hopefully this is the last year they’re picking early for quite some time.
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The last team in the bottom five is the Philadelphia Flyers who recently fired their GM Chuck Fletcher and appear to have committed to a full-on rebuild. Since the start of the year 2022, the Flyers have the worst record and the lowest points percentage in the entire NHL. That’s a roughly 15 month period where they have been the league’s worst team, and that’s even before they decided to rebuild. There will be more rough days ahead for Flyers fans, but the draft lottery could be the start of something special if it breaks right for Philly.
This Draft Lottery Will Re-Shape the Future of the League
The Draft Lottery is always an important event for rebuilding teams, but this year’s lottery will grant a team the chance to land someone who could very well be one of the NHL’s very best players in just a couple of years, a possibility that teams are clearly very motivated by.
I can’t wait to see which teams win in this year’s lottery as it will give a glimpse into the future of the league and where some of its best players will be. Who will land the first overall pick and the chance to draft Connor Bedard, a franchise changing offensive talent? Who will win the second overall pick and get to choose between the sublime skill of Michkov, the power and talent of Fantilli, and the steady skill of Carlsson? We’ll know the answers to these questions and more in just under two months.