Lafreniere Sweepstakes: Eastern Conference Impact of the No. 1 Overall Pick

With the Qualifying Round now complete, there is nothing but ping pong balls separating these Eastern Conference teams from claiming the first overall pick in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft and likely selecting potential superstar Alexis Lafreniere.

Alexis Lafrenière Rimouski Oceanic
Consensus number one overall pick Alexis Lafrenière of the Rimouski Oceanic (Photo by Vincent Ethier/CHL)

Each of the four teams eliminated from the playoff Qualifying Round will have an equal 12.5% chance to claim the top pick. What would it mean for these Eastern Conference teams to be able to add a top-end talent like Lafreniere to their roster?

Related: Lafreniere Sweepstakes: Western Conference Impact of the No. 1 Overall Pick

He is a player who should be able to make an immediate impact in the winning lottery team’s lineup as early as the start of the 2020-21 season.

New York Rangers

Last 1st Overall Pick: Andre Veilleux – 1965

The last time the Rangers storied franchise has been able to pick at the top of the draft was decades ago in 1965. Unfortunately for them, this was the first year of eligibility changes in the draft which only saw 11 players selected in a below-average draft class.

In the modern NHL day, the team has recently added to their prospect pool selecting three times in the first round in 2018 and as high as second overall in the most recent draft in 2019, selecting Finnish winger Kaapo Kakko.

Potential Top Six Forward Group 2020-21 Season

The Rangers were undergoing a rebuild but it looks like it won’t take them as long as they had originally expected. Landing free agent and Hart Trophy finalist Artemi Panarin and the emergence of Mika Zibanejad as a legitimate top-line center has sped up that process.

New York Rangers forwards Panarin and Zibanejad (THW Archives)

With Panarin occupying the top-line left wing spot and newly extended Chris Kreider locked up until 2027, adding Lafreniere would be great for the team to get another top-end talent to go along with Kakko. However, it would cause a log jam at the left-wing position and force the team to either bump Kreider further down the depth chart or move to the right-wing.

Left WingCenterRight Wing
Artemi PanarinMika ZibanejadPavel Buchnevich
Alexis LafreniereRyan StromeKaapo Kakko
Potential top six forward lines if the New York Rangers win the Draft Lottery.

Effect on the Franchise

Adding Lafreniere into the mix would likely cause the Rangers to regret the seven-year $45.5 million extension they handed to Kreider, especially if he’s demoted into a third-line role. It would likely mean Kreider would become expendable, once Kakko and Lafreniere’s entry-level deals come to an end, to free up space to fit them under the salary cap.

Chris Kreider New York Rangers
Kreider is signed through 2026-27. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Rangers would have great building blocks on the wing for the foreseeable future in Kakko and Lafreniere and could transition the team from a bubble playoff team to Cup contender sooner than the organization had originally anticipated.

Florida Panthers

Last 1st Overall Pick: Aaron Ekblad – 2014

The Panthers have done fairly well in cashing in with their high-end draft picks selecting franchise players such as Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov. Ekblad is also a homegrown prospect who was the team’s only other first overall pick after Ed Jovanovski back in 1995.

Potential Top Six Forward Group 2020-21 Season

The offensive power the Panthers have was always not enough to outlast their problem in goal. With Sergei Bobrovsky now the team’s starting goaltender for the long haul, they are now faced with some unrestricted free agent forwards hitting the open market at season’s end leaving major holes to fill in their top-six forward groups.

Sergei Bobrovsky Florida Panthers
Sergei Bobrovsky, Florida Panthers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Mike Hoffman and Evgeni Dadonov, both in their thirties, are coming off the books and will likely take a pretty penny to re-sign. If Lafreniere were to take his talents to the Sunshine State he would surely slot in behind Huberdeau as the team’s second-line left winger, replacing Hoffman.

Left WingCenterRight Wing
Jonathan HuberdeauAleksander BarkovFrank Vatrano
Alexis LafreniereNoel AcciariBrett Connolly
Potential top six forward lines if the Florida Panthers win the Draft Lottery.

Effect on the Franchise

Lafreniere would give the Panthers some ease knowing they would not have to replace Hoffman and could focus on addressing the need for top-six right-wingers and a second-line center.

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In a market that has had issues getting fans into their building and struggled to generate revenue, landing a first overall talent like Lafreniere should help boost ticket sales and turn a profit.

Pittsburgh Penguins

Last 1st Overall Pick: Sidney Crosby – 2005

The last time the Penguins cashed in on the Draft Lottery they were fortunate enough to select a franchise centerman and generational talent in Crosby.

Former Penguins’ first overall selection Sidney Crosby and Mario Lemieux (THW Archives)

Pittsburgh has had a great past history with its success rate on first-round picks, landing the likes of Mario Lemieux, Marc-Andre Fleury, and the aforementioned Crosby. Should they win the lottery again this year, they’ll likely follow suit by adding Lafreniere to that list.

Potential Top Six Forward Group 2020-21 Season

The addition of Lafreniere would mean uniting two Rimouski Oceanic Alumni together on the team’s top line. With Jake Guentzel currently flanking Crosby on the left-wing, Guentzel would have to flip to his opposite wing.

Related: Penguins Have Mastered the Art of Trading 1st-Round Pick

Conor Sheary, who currently occupies Crosby’s right-wing, is an unrestricted free agent at seasons end and unlikely to return to the team. Crosby would see a significant upgrade in speed and skill on his line if the 18-year-old forward lands in the Steel City.

Left WingCenterRight Wing
Alexis LafreniereSidney CrosbyJake Guentzel
Jason ZuckerEvgeni MalkinBryan Rust
Potential top six forward lines if the Pittsburgh Penguins win the Draft Lottery.

Effect on the Franchise

If the Penguins win the lottery, not only will it affect their franchise, but the Minnesota Wild will also feel the ripple down effect as they hold Pittsburgh’s first-round pick in 2020 that was lottery protected when they traded away Jason Zucker.

This means Pittsburgh would forfeit their 2021 first-round pick and delay the Wild from cashing in on the trade for another season. Lafreniere would likely be viewed as Crosby’s successor and be in his prime when Crosby is ready to hang up the skates. There is arguably is not a better option for veteran mentorship that Lafreniere could receive than Crosby, who would come full circle after receiving the same mentorship from former first-rounder Mario Lemieux.

Toronto Maple Leafs

Last 1st Overall Pick: Auston Matthews – 2016

Years of mediocrity and growing pains paid off when the Maple Leafs won the 2016 Draft Lottery and finally drafted their franchise centerman in Auston Matthews. He has helped resurrect the franchise and has brought them back to relevancy in the NHL.

Potential Top Six Forward Group 2020-21 Season

The Leafs already have a plethora of young skilled players specifically on the offensive side of the puck. Unfortunately, all the offensive firepower has not helped them in the postseason as they saw exits in the first round of playoff hockey in the last four seasons.

Winning the Draft Lottery for the second time in four years would allow the team to add to their already highly skilled talent. The team would also be able to explore potential trade options to address gaping needs on the team’s blueline, without sacrificing creativity and scoring in their forward group.

Left WingCenterRight Wing
Zach Hyman Auston MatthewsMitch Marner
Alexis LafreniereJohn TavaresWilliam Nylander
Potential top six forward lines if the Toronto Maple Leafs win the draft lottery.

Effect on the Franchise

A pick like this would mean a lot for a cap-strapped team like the Maple Leafs. With the team desperately needing to shore up their defense corps, winning the lottery would give them a massive trade chip. If they could find a trade partner, they could trade the pick away in order to get the stud number one defenseman they so highly covet.

William Nylander Toronto Maple Leafs
Nylander is part of a talented group of young forwards. (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The more likely scenario is for the Leafs to draft Lafreniere and slot him alongside veteran centerman John Tavares. This would open up the door for general manager Kyle Dubas to find cap relief in moving a player such as Nylander and his $6,962,366 million salary-cap hit, to make room for a number-one defenseman without sacrificing too much speed and skill.

Magic Lottery Ball

These four Eastern Conference teams and the four Western Conference teams will have the opportunity to land the 18-year-old sensation and the chance to change the future of their organization in the blink of an eye.

Related: 2020 NHL Draft Guide – Updated

Lafreniere has franchise player potential and could alter an organization’s trajectory significantly. The battle for lottery ball supremacy will take place on Monday night where one team will be able to cash in on their good fortunes.