Kings general manager Rob Blake will be in a familiar place for the NHL's draft lottery on Friday night, sitting alongside other club executives in the team’s recently reopened El Segundo headquarters.
But little else about the event — which was rescheduled, reformatted and reimagined in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak — will feel normal.
“You just sit there,” Blake said, “and hope for the best.”
Because the NHL season isn’t yet complete, the league made sweeping changes to its lottery format: The top three picks will be drawn during the broadcast Friday, which begins at 5 p.m PDT. The NHL’s bottom seven teams (including the Kings, Ducks and the other five clubs not participating in the league’s 24-team restart plan) will be included, as will eight “placeholder” positions for the eventual losers of the newly created pre-playoff qualification round.
If any of the three top picks are awarded to one of the “placeholder” spots, then a second drawing will be held later this summer among the qualification-round losers to determine who gets which “placeholder” position. The rest of the lottery positions will be assigned in reverse-order of the final standings.
In other words, it’s complicated.
“There was a lot of speculation until the finalization of the play-in format,” Blake said. “There were a lot of different scenarios being floated around.”
But no matter what, the Kings and Ducks will know their draft position by the end of Friday. The best-case scenario for both Southland clubs: getting the top pick, where Quebec Major Junior Hockey League winger Alexis Lafreniere is a near-lock to be first off the board.
The Kings have a 9.5% chance of being No. 1 while the Ducks are at 8.5% — percentages unchanged from the original lottery format — and both could also move up to Nos. 2 or 3. If they aren’t awarded a top-three pick, odds calculated by Tankathon.com indicate the Kings’ most likely landing spot is either Nos. 5 or 6, though they could also pick fourth or seventh. The Ducks’ likeliest spots are Nos. 6 or 7, but they could end up fifth or eighth as well.
In addition to their own selection, the Ducks acquired the Boston Bruins’ first-round pick at the trade deadline. But that pick will be in the back half of the first round because of the Bruins’ top-four position in the Eastern Conference standings.
The Detroit Red Wings (who have the best odds of getting the No. 1 pick at 18.5%), Ottawa Senators (who also own the first-round selection of the San Jose Sharks, another non-playoff team), New Jersey Devils and Buffalo Sabres are the other teams who will know their lottery fates by the end of Friday.
Kings director of amateur scouting Mark Yannetti believes the hierarchy at the top of this year’s draft — which was originally supposed to begin Friday and has yet to be rescheduled — could be more defined than last summer, when the Kings snagged highly-rated centerman Alex Turcotte despite falling to No. 5 in the lottery.
“I think [the talent level] funnels off a little more and little quicker than it did last year,” Yannetti said, adding: “I would say there is a drop-off after three, and then it’s fairly even from No. 4 to 8, and then it drops off again.”
After Lafreniere, a left-handed shot who racked up 112 points in 52 games this season, Ontario Hockey League center Quinton Byfield and defenseman Jamie Drysdale are the second- and third-highest rated North America prospects, respectively, according to NHL’s Central Scouting service. German forward Tim Stutzle is considered the top European skater and predicted in many mock drafts as a top-three pick as well.
One edge the 2020 class has over 2019, Yannetti said, is its depth. Already, he believes the second and third rounds could be rich with unexpected gems — a reminder that the results of lottery night are only part of a successful draft equation.
“I’d love the No. 1 pick, I’d love the No. 2 pick, I’d love the No. 3 pick,” Yannetti said. “If we’re not picking in the top three, there’s a drop. But if the worst-case scenario happens, I don’t see a huge difference between four and eight.”