As jackpots go in Las Vegas, George McPhee wouldn’t mind little lady luck being on the side of his Golden Knights expansion franchise when the NHL holds its draft lottery on Saturday.
“That would be so like Vegas in its first lottery, winning it,” the Golden Knights general manager told The Associated Press by phone. “That would be something.”
The odds, aren’t that bad for a franchise preparing to open its first season in October.
The Golden Knights and desert rival Arizona Coyotes have each been awarded a 10.3 percent chance of winning the lottery, giving them the third-best shot at landing the No. 1 pick in the draft in June. The Colorado Avalanche, with an 18 percent chance, have the best odds after finishing with the league’s worst record this season, followed by the Vancouver Canucks (12.1 percent chance).
At worst, the Golden Knights will select no lower than No. 6.
“We’ll go in there having our fingers crossed,” said McPhee, who will attend the lottery drawing in Toronto. “This will be another first for us.”
McPhee can also attest to knowing how teams with the best odds don’t always win.
He was the Capitals general manager in 2004, when Washington won the lottery by vaulting from third to first to claim the right to draft Alex Ovechkin. The Edmonton Oilers bucked the odds in 2015, when they also moved up from third to first and selected once-in-a-generation talent in Connor McDavid.
Though there have been various formats since the NHL introduced the lottery in 1995, teams with the best odds have won it just seven of 21 times. That included last year, when the Toronto Maple Leafs retained the top pick to end a five-year run of last-place teams losing the lottery. They drafted rookie-of-the-year finalist Auston Matthews.
McPhee understands how a No. 1 pick has the best potential to spur a franchise’s growth — particularly a newcomer such as Vegas.
“Ovechkin’s done that for Washington, and McDavid and Matthews and Eichel,” he said, in reference to Sabres forward Jack Eichel, the No. 2 pick in the 2015 draft. “And they can really turn a town that isn’t already a hockey town into a hockey town.”
This year’s class of draft prospects lacks the buzz McDavid, Eichel, Matthews and Winnipeg’s Patrik Laine generated the previous two years.
NHL Central Scouting ranks Nolan Patrick as its top prospect even though the forward for the Western Hockey League’s Brandon Wheat Kings missed 35 regular-season and four playoff games due to injuries this year. At 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds, Patrick finished with 20 goals and 46 points in 33 games. Swiss-born forward Nico Hischier is ranked second after earning Quebec Major Junior Hockey League rookie-of-the-year honors playing for Halifax.
TV analyst and former Flames general manager Craig Button assessed Nolan by saying: “I don’t see a player going into this draft that is better than Nolan Patrick.” Button disputed the notion of this year’s class as being weak by saying the comparisons are skewed by the exceptional talent featured in the two previous years.
“If you’re going to compare it to the last top-two picks, well, good luck. You’ve got no chance,” Button said. “But I see lots of good players in this draft.”
McPhee declined to share his impressions of Nolan by saying it would be unfair to do so at the expense of other prospects. And he hedged his bets when assessing this year’s crop of prospects.
“There are good players in every draft and you have to find them,” McPhee said. “If it’s a good draft, everybody seems to find a player. If it’s not, it’s the best drafting teams that come up with players and create separation between organizations.”