NHL Draft lottery power rankings: Who needs it, who deserves it, who is it rigged for? (2024)

The Athletic has live coverage of the 2024 NHL Draft Lottery

We’re just a few hours from the moment when a barrel full of ping-pong balls will determine the future of the NHL. Yes, there are better ways to determine a draft order, and even more entertaining options. But there’s something to be said for the simplicity of a lottery, and the dramatic tension of watching those cards flip over in real time.


It’s fair to say that hockey fans have learned to love lottery day… right up until they don’t.

That’s the gamble we’re all taking tonight. Whether your team is involved or not, you have your own ideas about who you’re rooting for or against, and the results may or may not match those hopes. By the end of the night, some fan base will be shopping for Macklin Celebrini jerseys, while others will be screaming about how unfair the whole thing is.

For now, let’s get calibrated with our annual draft lottery power rankings, in which we look at things from a few different angles.

The “What’s Best For Macklin Celebrini?” Ranking

Two years ago I said the Seattle Kraken would be perfect for Shane Wright, and last year I called the Vancouver Canucks “a mess from top to bottom.” What will I be completely wrong about this year? The mind boggles.

Not ranked: Columbus Blue Jackets – I kind of hate to do this to them, but… you get it, right, Blue Jackets fans? At least until we know who the coach and GM will be, this feels like a situation you’d rather avoid if you were a teenager just starting out.

5. Anaheim Ducks – They always show up in this section; last year I wrote that they’ve got “Some fun pieces already in place and a low-pressure market that still remembers what a Stanley Cup tastes like.” That hasn’t really changed, although there’s just enough uncertainty around the current young core these days that I’ve nudged them down a few spots.

4. Montreal Canadiens – The rebuild hasn’t been flashy, but it’s working, and he’d be one more piece of the puzzle. Montreal is always tricky for prospects because the pressure is high, meaning the floor for the whole experience is lower. But especially with Martin St. Louis there, it feels like a fit for a dynamic young forward.

3. San Jose Sharks – I wasn’t sure where to put the Sharks, or even whether they should be here at all. They’re a mess today but are cleaning house, and low expectations for the first few years aren’t the worst thing for a young prospect. Also, his dad once worked for the Golden State Warriors, which doesn’t really help but I’m grasping here.


2. Utah Whatever – And yes, it’s the “Whatever” instead of the “Whatevers” because singular team names are the coolest, man. I like this landing spot a lot for Celebrini, who’d probably get all of the hype of a franchise savior without any of the pressure from a fan base just happy to have the NHL.

1. Chicago Blackhawks – You’d hate it, but Celebrini has already played in Chicago, in the USHL, so there’s presumably a comfort level. More importantly, he’d be going to a marquee team where he wouldn’t have to carry the pressure of saving the franchise because that’s already Connor Bedard’s job. Instead, Celebrini could settle in as the Mark Messier or Evgeni Malkin or Leon Draisaitl of the Hawks’ next dynasty.

The “Who Actually Deserves It?” Rankings

As always, the right answer is: Nobody! But some teams deserve it more than others, as our writers argued earlier this week.

Not ranked: Pittsburgh Penguins – No, thank you.

5. Chicago Blackhawks – Look, I get it, we’d all hate this very much, but they did win the top pick in an alternate Gold Plan universe. You know what, that’s a bad plan after all, people should stop talking about it.

4. Anaheim Ducks – Finishing second in both the Sidney Crosby and Connor Bedard lotteries has to earn a team some solid karma.

3. Philadelphia Flyers – They didn’t tank. They seemed like maybe they wanted to, and you could absolutely argue that they should have. But instead, they spent the season hanging around the playoff bubble. They could still move up to second overall, which is the pick they had back in 2017, when injuries spelled a quick end to any Nolan Patrick excitement. Oh, and their last top prospect basically walked out on them this year.

2. Utah Whatchamacallit – Not the fans, so to speak; it would actually be kind of annoying to see the new guys immediately get to enjoy a first-overall pick. But imagine being in the front office, and having spent the last few years working for a cheapskate owner and never knowing where the team would be in a year. I feel like those guys have earned a break, and this would be a big one.

1. San Jose Sharks – Sure, why not. Eric laid out the case yesterday, and he sold me.

The “Maximum Chaos” Ranking

Everyone’s second favorite team has a strong track record of doing well in the lottery.

Not ranked: San Jose Sharks – The odds-on favorites? Boring.

5. Buffalo Sabres – It’s Buffalo, they jump through flaming tables to celebrate a solid special teams play in preseason football. You can only imagine how they’d react to a third number-one pick in six years. (With an impenetrable sense of mounting dread that it still won’t matter, that’s how.)


4. St. Louis Blues – Some year, a team with the 16th best odds will win this thing. Why not now, after a season in which the Blues actually finished ahead of a playoff team in the standings?

3. Pittsburgh Penguins – Wait, did they lottery-protect the pick from the Erik Karlsson trade? Yes, of course they did, who’d be dumb enough to trade for Karlsson without protecting the pick?

2. Minnesota Wild – What’s more chaotic than a team winning the lottery that you’d completely forgotten they were even in?

1. Chicago Blackhawks – Here’s how it would go. There’d be initial outrage, as everyone realized that the big-market team that’s been openly tanking for years had just been gifted a second consecutive franchise player. Then there’d be a moment of hope, as everyone remembered that there was some new rule about teams not being able to win multiple lotteries. Then there’d be confusion. And finally, anger and devastation when someone points out that the new rules say you can’t win more than twice, meaning the Hawks’ win would stand. And then, complaining. So much complaining.

The “Who Needs it Most?” Rankings

This list feels like it’s more competitive than usual this year.

Not ranked: Anaheim Ducks – Every team could use a blue chip talent like Celebrini, but the Ducks are already loaded with prospects. A lottery loss that dropped them down to five would hurt, but wouldn’t feel as devastating as it might for some other teams.

5. Chicago Blackhawks – Yes, they’ve already got Bedard. But it’s worth remembering that they got him by blatantly tanking an entire season – and then somehow got even worse this year. They’re very bad, at least for now, and Celebrini would fit into what they’re trying to build.

4. Ottawa Senators – After yet another season of optimism-turned-faceplant, the Senators are facing some tough questions about whether their dynamic young core is really good enough. There aren’t any prospects on the way who are good enough to change the conversation, but Celebrini would shut it down real quick.


3. Seattle Kraken – Their odds are longer than the other teams on this list, but three years into their expansion journey, it’s fair to ask whether the Kraken have a single franchise player in the system. Matty Beniers seemed like the guy, and maybe he still is. But with Shane Wright stagnating, they need more help than picking eighth or ninth typically provides.

2. San Jose Sharks – No need to overthink things. The worst team in the league is only now starting to crawl its way into a true rebuild and is going to need all the top-end young talent it can get. They’ve got a little now, but they’re behind the curve given the job ahead.

1. Columbus Blue Jackets – Go back and re-read this. Then find a Blue Jackets fan and give them a hug.

The “Which Team Might Trade Down?” Rankings

We skipped this one last year, for obvious reasons. We should probably skip it every year, since the top pick hasn’t been traded since 2003. But I love a blockbuster deal, so I’m going to at least try to put this energy out into the world.

Not ranked: San Jose Sharks – Or any of the bottom five teams, really.

5. Calgary Flames – Craig Conroy seems like the sort of guy who’s willing to be patient and do things the right way. His owner, on the other hand, could nudge him out of that comfort zone if he was feeling antsy.

4. Ottawa Senators – After years of winning the summer only to miss the playoffs by a mile, there’s at least some pressure building in Ottawa to Do Something. New management trading the pick for immediate help would have a serious dose of this energy, but you never know.

3. Buffalo Sabres – Do you really have the stomach for yet another rebuild, or is it time to take a swing around the core you already have?

2. Detroit Red Wings – They just missed the playoffs by one point after sitting out the trade deadline, and even their near-untouchable GM is taking heat. If they moved ten spots up, they’d have to at least think about it, right? Please tell me I’m right. Please tell me this isn’t futile.

1. Nobody – This is futile.

The “Get Your Tinfoil Hat” Rankings

Why wouldn’t the league rig its draft lotteries to make sure elite players wound up in better markets? If you said “because the logistics would be impossible” or “it wouldn’t be worth risking their competitive integrity” or “but Connor McDavid is in Edmonton,”, then how about you shut up.

Not ranked: Calgary Flames – They just broke ground on their new arena, which means Gary Bettman can go back to forgetting that they exist.


5. Pittsburgh Penguins – The only reason they’re not ranked first is that they’re too far back to move up into one of the prime slots, with fourth being as high as they could go. Still, wouldn’t it be weird if a team that gets an elite prospect every time they start to wobble slightly had it happen again? Hmm…

4. Seattle Kraken – Oh look, the brand-new market that’s had limited success so far wins an unlikely lottery, cutting off any percolating negativity right as the league gets ready to open up the expansion coffers yet again. Hmm…

3. Chicago Blackhawks – It was bad enough when they won last year’s lottery to move up for Bedard, a moment that every other fan base spent a year complaining about. To go back-to-back would just make the whole thing too obvious. Of course, maybe that’s what Bettman is hoping we’ll think. Hmm…

2. Ottawa Senators – Remember, the Senators lost a future first-round pick over the weird Evgenii Dadonov trade, at which point their new owner blasted the league over how the situation was handled. Bettman stood his ground at the time, but what if he’s since decided that he was too hard on the guy who’d just paid more for an NHL team than anyone else in history? Wouldn’t a lottery win help mend some fences? Hmm…

1. Utah Thingamajig – They paid $1.2 billion for a franchise that was simultaneously sold for $1 billion, with the league skimming $200 million off the top. That money could sure buy a lot of ping pong balls, couldn’t it? Hmm…

The “Unintentional Comedy” Rankings

Finally, hey, we love to laugh, don’t we, hockey fans? Specifically, we love to laugh at each other, in a way that makes somebody else sad.

Not ranked: Pittsburgh Penguins – Nobody would be laughing, intentionally or otherwise.

(I wrote the exact same thing last year about the Hawks, in case you were feeling good about life for a minute there.)


5. New Jersey Devils – If they had a former first-overall pick centering each of their first three lines, at some point we’d have to assume that the hockey gods were making good on the 1984 tank-a-thon, right?

4. Detroit Red Wings – Two things that you can’t get 10 minutes into a conversation with a Red Wings fan without them mentioning: They haven’t drafted higher than fourth since 1990, and they have the worst luck in draft lotteries. Now imagine them finally winning the lottery… and only moving up to fifth.

3. Utah Thingamabob – Wait, Bill Daly doesn’t have a logo to flip over. Is the card just going to say “Utah” is a boring typeface, or do they let somebody in the graphic design department go rogue?

2. Chicago Blackhawks – Yes, you’d be furious, and that’s pretty funny on its own because you’re so cute when you’re mad. But the bigger piece here would be the return of the Taylor Hall lottery streak, one of the weirdest and most persistent stories of the cap era.

1. Some team the Blackhawks trade the rights to Taylor Hall to right before the lottery – I’m not even kidding, if I was the Blue Jackets or Sharks or someone I’d give up a third just to rent him for the day.

(Top photo of Gary Bettman: Mike Stobe / NHLI via Getty Images)

NHL Draft lottery power rankings: Who needs it, who deserves it, who is it rigged for? (2024)


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