It’s somewhat fitting that the Colorado Avalanche, coming off of a season where they were one of the worst NHL teams in recent memory, found another way to lose on Saturday night when they dropped all the way down to the No. 4 overall pick in the NHL Draft Lottery. For a team that needs a ton of help across the board, that is a huge loss.
But they still probably weren’t the biggest losers in the lottery.
That honor has to go to the team that hasn’t even played a game in the NHL yet, the expansion Vegas Golden Knights.
Entering the lottery with the same odds for the first pick as the third-worst team in the league (10.3 percent) Vegas ended up dropping down to the No. 6 overall pick thanks to the New Jersey Devils, Philadelphia Flyers (probably the biggest winners in the lottery, even without getting the No. 1 overall pick), and Dallas Stars all making huge moves into the top-three.
This could not have possibly played out worse for George McPhee and his new front office in Vegas.
These people are trying to start a team from scratch. From literally nothing. The only player they have right now is Reid Duke and while the expansion draft rules are supposedly going to give them more talent to pick from than previous expansion teams, they are still facing a long building process. Even if they do have a decent amount of talent to pick from, they are not going to find a franchise building block among those selections.
Their best chance of landing that player is always going to be in the draft. Their starting point is going to be the No. 6 overall pick.
That is a painfully tough draw for a number of reasons.
First, if you look at the NHL’s recent expansion teams going back to 1990 this is the lowest first pick any of the past 10 expansion teams have had when they entered the league.
- San Jose Sharks — No. 2 overall in 1991
- Tampa Bay Lightning — No. 1 overall in 1992
- Ottawa Senators — No. 2 overall in 1992
- Anaheim Ducks — No. 4 overall in 1993
- Florida Panthers — No. 5 overall in 1993
- Nashville Predators — No. 2 overall in 1998
- Atlanta Thrashers — No. 1 overall in 1999
- Minnesota Wild — No. 3 overall in 2000
- Columbus Blue Jackets — No. 4 overall in 2000
- Vegas Golden Knights — No. 6 overall in 2017
Only one of those teams picked outside of the top-four (Florida in 1993, and that was in a year with two expansion teams when the other one picked fourth).
When you look at the recent history of No. 6 overall picks it’s not hard to see why this would be a tough starting point for a franchise. Historically, there is a big difference between even the No. 1 and No. 2 picks in terms of value, and that gap only gets larger with each pick that follows.
Just for a point of reference, here is every No. 6 overall pick since 2000: Scott Hartnell, Mikko Koivu, Scottie Upshall, Milan Michalek, Al Montoya, Gilbert Brule, Derick Brassard, Sam Gagner, Nikita Filatov, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Brett Connolly, Mika Zibanejad, Hampus Lindholm, Sean Monahan, Jake Virtanen, Pavel Zacha, Matthew Tkachuk.
Overall, it’s a good list. The point isn’t that you can’t get a great player at No. 6 overall because there are a lot of really good players on there. But there are also some misses, and other than maybe Ekman-Larsson there really isn’t anyone that you look at say, “this is a player you can build a franchise around.”
Just because Vegas is an expansion doesn’t mean they should have been guaranteed the top pick (or even the No. 2 pick). It is a lottery system and it all just depends on how lucky your team is when it comes time to draw the ping pong balls.
But for a team that is starting from scratch, ending up with the No. 6 overall pick in a draft class that is not regarded as particularly a deep one (at least compared to some recent years) is a really tough draw when it comes to starting your team.
If they end up finishing the worst record in the league, as most expansion teams tend to do, they could easily end up picking fourth in 2018.
Just ask the Avalanche what that is like.