As has been the case each of the past four seasons, the New Jersey Devils will be a part of tomorrows NHL Draft lottery and Devils fans will be eagerly awaiting the results tomorrow evening. Per usual, it feels silly that something as trivial as a bunch of ping pong balls essentially rolling around in a bingo cage could substantially alter the direction of a number of NHL fanchises (including New Jersey), but such is the nature of a lottery. The NHL’s draft lottery will be televised this season as it was last year, and if you’re into such things, the picks will be revealed tomorrow (April 29th) just after 8 PM with coverage on NBC (presumably as part of the pregame ahead of Pens-Caps) in the US. For anyone in Canada, full coverage will be provided on Sportsnet, CBC, and TVA. I would let you know if anything was simulcast on NHL Network, but the NHL Network’s schedule on the NHL’s website was not functioning upon this writing (excellent stuff from the league, per usual).
The Devils ended their season in 27th place in the league, putting them in decent position for a top-5 pick. The mounted a furious charge to the bottom of the standings over the last 7 weeks of the season, losing an astonishing 24 of their last 27 games, collecting just one regulation victory in that time to land in a comfortable last place in the Eastern Conference. Tragically, though, they finished with just one point more than what would have got them 29th place (2nd highest odds and a guaranteed top-5 spot). It turned out Arizona’s cushion was too big to overcome and the Canucks, sensing danger to their draft position, finished strong with 8 straight losses. So with the inclusion of Las Vegas in this year’s draft at the 3rd spot, that pushes the Devils to the 5th best odds. With that in mind, the breakdown of odds for each spot in the draft is included in the tweet from Micah Black McCurdy below.
I'll be making a new article about this but here are your updated lottery probabilities for this year. pic.twitter.com/TGH5nwnGLm— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) November 22, 2016
With the Devils landing in that 27th spot, their breakdown of odds is as follows:
1st - 8.5%
2nd - 8.7%
3rd - 8.8%
4th - 0.0%
5th - 7.2%
6th - 33.0%
7th - 28.7%
8th - 5.2%
9th or below - 0.0%
So there are seven different places the Devils could end up by the end of tomorrow evening’s lottery drawing. Ironically, despite the Devils finishing 4th to last, the only pick in the top 8 they cannot get is #4.
The Good News
The good news for Devils fans is, as stated before, the team has the 5th best odds at landing the first overall pick, which gives them a pretty good shot, all things considered. The Devils have an 8.5% shot at 1st overall, roughly a 1 in 12 chance. For the top 3, the Devils will have roughly a 26% chance at landing in one of those spots, better than 1 in 4. Adding in their odds for 5th and the Devils have a 32.2% chance (almost 1 in 3) at picking in the top 5 at the draft in June. If the Devils can land somewhere in the top 3, that likely gives the organization an instant difference maker with their pick this year. Whether it’s one of the consensus top two forwards in Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier, another big time forward like Gabe Vilardi, or a potential stud defender like Miro Heiskanen, the top three would give the Devils a great shot at accelerating their rebuild.
The Bad News
The bad news is that the flip side of those (relatively) good odds to land in the top 3 is that the Devils have a much greater likelihood of picking outside of the top 5 after tomorrow’s drawing. The Devils’ most likely landing spot when the dust settles tomorrow is the 6th overall pick, with a 33% chance of landing there. They have a similarly good chance of picking 7th and even an outside shot at ending up in 8th. This is due to the nature of the three-spot lottery in the NHL. Given how many teams there are behind the Devils, there is a pretty good chance that one or even two of the teams behind them jump into the top 3, pushing the Devils pick further back. Add in the fact that Las Vegas is included this year and the Devils could plausibly be picking 7th or 8th (33.9% chance), despite finishing with the league’s 4th worst record (and one point from 2nd worst). That would be an exceptionally tough pill to swallow, given the season that Devils fans just endured, but it is roughly equally to the chances the Devils are in the top 5. I don’t say this to be a downer, I say it so everyone is mentally prepared for such an occurrence.
In anticipation that outcome, I will also attempt to preemptively spin it a little bit. Even if the Devils do pick 7th or 8th, they still have a very good shot at picking up a difference maker. Prospect rankings have been anything but static this season and pretty much everything above the #3 spot in the rankings has been in some level of flux over the past year. There is still a decent chance the Devils get “their guy” (or, alternatively, if “their guy” is destined to be a dud, maybe he’s already off the board) picking outside of the top 5, given how much scouts differ on some of these prospects. There isn’t a consensus rock solid second tier like we saw in the 2015 draft with Dylan Strome, Mitch Marner, and Noah Hanifin after Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel. If you like a certain player at #3 or 5, there’s at least a decent chance he’s still there outside the top 5 if you’re picking from 6th to 8th. That said, each spot further down, means that many more great prospects are off the board and will necessarily increase the odds that the team does miss.
So at this point, all we can do is hope for the best and prepare for the worst, come Saturday night. If the Devils do win the first spot in the lottery, that would be the first first-overall pick in the franchise’s history. The Devils also haven’t picked in the top 3 since 1991, when they picked a guy you may have heard of by the name of Scott Niedermayer. The Devils’ only lottery win (to my knowledge) was in 2011, when they moved up from 8th to 4th to select Adam Larsson, which is another sequence of events which worked out okay for New Jersey. So here’s hoping that the ping pong balls go our way and the Devils end up selecting someone who helps turn things around in the near future in New Jersey. The odds my not necessarily be in our favor, but if you’re looking for a good omen, here’s the result I got from my first time spinning the lottery simulator last night:
No, I will not be spinning again. Fingers crossed for tomorrow night, everyone.