An important event took place this past weekend and yet it went virtually unnoticed around town. The NHL conducted its annual lottery for the team selection order in the 2015 Draft, scheduled for June 26, 2015. Going into the lottery, the Arizona Coyotes had the second highest percentage of attaining the first pick in this year’s draft. Importantly, they had over a 33% chance of having a top two pick, a critical opportunity given this year’s eligible players.
As the lottery determination approached, I had thoughts about the 1969 NBA draft, when the Suns had a 50% chance of landing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (then known as Lew Alcindor). We all remember how well that one went, right? In case you forgot, Milwaukee got Jabbar and the Suns drafted Neal Walk? Who? Exactly!
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman was presiding over the event on April 18 from which the order for this coming draft would be determined. Having put us all through a season in which they managed to attain the second worst record in the NHL, the Coyotes had only the Buffalo Sabres, who had a 20% chance of securing the top overall pick, ahead of them for top drafting rights. Even if the Coyotes did not prevail and everything went according to odds, the Sabres would have secured the top pick and the Coyotes would have secured the second pick in this year’s draft. Unlike 1969, where there was an enormous drop off in talent from the number one versus number two prospect, there are two superstars waiting to be selected in this year’s NHL Draft.
All of the top scouts agree that Connor McDavid, a 6’2” center and scoring machine will be selected number one overall. He just completed an incomparable season for the Erie Otters of the Ontario Hockey League and almost everyone says that they have not seen the kind of vision that McDavid has on the ice since Wayne Gretzky donned his skates. They also agree that Jack Eichel, a 6’2” forward from Massachusetts, will be picked second overall. Eichel just completed a great year for Boston University where he scored 26 goals and had 45 assists in just 40 games. All scouts appear to concur that both McDavid and Eichel are “can’t miss, once in a generation prospects.”
So, what could go wrong? Well, it’s a lottery and this is Phoenix and that makes the answer “everything.” The Edmonton Oilers ended up with the first overall pick, pushing the Coyotes back to number three, where the prospects available do not vary significantly between number three and number ten overall in what is a fairly deep draft class. The NHL wasn’t any happier with the lottery results, seeing that their next Sidney Crosby is being sent to the perennial under-achieving Edmonton Oilers and the desolation of a small town hockey market. Just when hockey needed the buzz of a new star, that star is likely going to be sent to the hockey equivalent of Siberia. The next can’t miss guy (Eichel) will then be drafted by the Buffalo Sabres, not quite like being relegated to Edmonton but not a big market. The Arizona desert will remain dry and won’t see its roster upgraded by a potential superstar, something so desperately needed for a franchise whose continued existence in this community has and continues to be so much in jeopardy.
It has been a lottery saying that “you can’t win if you don’t play.” Well, in Arizona, it seems not to matter whether we play or not, the result is known. If you doubt me, just wait until May 19, when the Suns find out where they will be drafting in the 2015 lottery.