For the eight teams that were knocked out of the qualifying round of the NHL playoffs, there is a consolation prize of sorts that will be awarded Monday (6 p.m. ET; NHL Network, NBCSN): the first overall pick in the 2020 draft and the chance to make Alexis Lafrenière their franchise forward.
The first phase of the June 26 draft lottery revealed that one of the eliminated teams from the qualifiers would nab the No. 1 position, a reality that had a 2.5% chance of happening. The seven other teams were those not included in the NHL’s expanded season restart, one that included 12 teams from each conference, instead of the typical eight in the playoffs. The top four teams from each conference battled for seeding, while the rest played to advance into the first round.
And as is the case in the wild world that is the NHL postseason, upsets abound: the No. 12 Chicago Blackhawks defeated the No. 5 Edmonton Oilers; the No. 12 Montreal Canadiens beat the No. 5 Pittsburgh Penguins; and the No. 11 Arizona Coyotes sent the No. 6 Nashville Predators home. Other teams now in running for the top pick include the No. 11 New York Rangers, No. 10 Minnesota Wild, No. 10 Florida Panthers, No. 9 Winnipeg Jets and No. 8 Toronto Maple Leafs.
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But instead of ranking the teams based on which are most deserving of landing the No. 1 pick, we have decided to reverse course and rank them based on which would be most unfair to the rest of the teams.
1. Pittsburgh Penguins: Pittsburgh finished with 86 points, good for fifth in the Eastern Conference. Adding Lafrenière to play alongside Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin … that would be hard to game plan against when considering there’s also Jake Guentzel, Jason Zucker and Bryan Rust to also worry about. It also would give the Pens a franchise player to build around as Crosby and Malkin enter the latter stages of their career, a time that was supposed to give other teams a chance at the East; the Penguins advanced to the playoffs for 13 consecutive years, including winning three Stanley Cups.
2. Toronto Maple Leafs: Four years after landing Auston Matthews at No. 1 and two years after signing John Taveras, it does not seem fair for the Maple Leafs to now add Lafrenière to that forward group, one that also includes wingers Mitch Marner and William Nylander. Even if hockey-crazed Toronto has come up short of expectations in recent years, it would now be set up for the next decade to torment the East.
3. Edmonton Oilers: Since the 2009 draft, the Oilers have picked 10 times in the top 10, including four times at No. 1 overall. There have been disaster picks (Nail Yakupov) and picks of hockey’s best player today (Connor McDavid) and this season’s likely MVP (Leon Draisaitl). Edmonton could use more scoring-line players as it has struggled to build around those two.
4. New York Rangers: Even though the Rangers have gone playoff-less for the last three seasons, they are a marquee franchise that generally spends to the salary cap in a big city that loves star power. They jumped from No. 6 in the draft to No. 2 last season, and took winger Kaapo Kakko, 19, who was inconsistent but showed signs of being a dominant player. Their rebuild has also gone quicker than expected thanks to the addition of Artemi Panarin, the continued emergence of Mika Zibanejad as first-line center and the play of rookie defenseman Adam Fox. Adding Lafrenière would give them a stellar collection of young players.
5. Nashville Predators: While the Predators still boast one of the best defensive groups in hockey and a general manager that is among the most aggressive, their offense has remained mediocre at best the past few years, even after trading away Seth Jones for Ryan Johansen and signing Matt Duchene. They had reached the playoffs for five consecutive seasons, losing in the Stanley Cup Final in 2017, but their resume seems incomplete without the ultimate prize. There’s a lot to like about a forward core that includes Lafrenière, Johnansen, Duchene, Viktor Arvidsson and Filip Forsberg.
6. Winnipeg Jets: Coach Paul Maurice has seemingly done well developing his younger, talented offensive players, and Lafrenière would only add more explosiveness to an exciting group. With Mark Scheifele, Kyle Connor, Blake Wheeler, Patrik Laine and Nik Ehlers, Lafrenière would have a supporting cast suited to helping his game develop, while not having to be the top point producer immediately. Outside of those players, however, the Jets are a bit top heavy and could use offensive depth. Maybe getting Lafrenière would be karma for the Jets losing Scheifele and Laine in Game 1 of the qualifying round.
7. Florida Panthers: Florida spent big last offseason on goaltending (Sergei Bobrovsky) only to finish third-worst in goals against. It is also a market that continues to struggle to draw fans, finishing 29th in average home attendance (14,401), according to ESPN. Perhaps a dynamic talent to call their own like Lafrenière could rejuvenate the franchise.
8. Minnesota Wild: Minnesota has never picked higher than third, which it did during its first season. Even though winger Kevin Fiala broke through, the roster is aging and many of the Wild’s other top players (Ryan Suter, Zach Parise, Eric Staal) are 35 or older. Lafrenière would infuse high-end talent, fresh legs and excitement to franchise that has slipped in recent years.