TORONTO – Finishing last in the Western Conference standings and out of the NHL playoffs paid huge dividends for the Colorado Avalanche on Monday.
Colorado won the NHL draft lottery and the right to make the first pick in this year’s entry draft. The Avalanche had an 18.8 per cent chance of winning the lottery after finishing the regular season with a dismal 16-25-7 record.
The Florida Panthers, who finished last overall with a 15-27-6 mark, had the best odds of winning at 25 per cent. But they had to settle for the No. 2 pick when the draft is held June 30 at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.
The Avs will have first shot at Portland Winterhawks defenceman Seth Jones, the No. 1 ranked North American skater according to the NHL Central Scouting Bureau. The six-foot-four, 206-pound Jones had 14 goals and 42 assists in 61 regular-season games and also helped the U.S. capture the world junior hockey title.
“There’s a lots to like (about Jones),” said Rick Pracey, Colorado’s amateur scouting director. “His size and skating are two things that jump off the page and are attention-grabbers.
“But his ability to rush the puck and make decisions coming out of the defensive zone and create offence from the back end has our attention. He’s an individual that brings two-way ability and size, the reach, the ability on the back end serve him well in the D-zone. He’s certainly a well-rounded, two-way defenceman that is getting plenty of attention and hype at the top of the board and rightly so.
Jones, 18, is the son of Popeye Jones, an assistant coach with the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets who spent time as a player with the Toronto Raptors (1996-’98).
If the Avalanche draft Jones, it’ll be a homecoming of sorts. He learned to skate and got his start in hockey in Denver when his father played for the Nuggets.
But Pracey said Halifax Mooseheads forwards Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin are both very much in the picture to be selected first overall in what is very deep talent pool.
“This is not a slam-dunk decision by any means,” he said. “Our philosophy has always been best player available.
“It may sound like a cliche or we’re dancing but that isn’t the case. We firmly believe in building our list the right way and we’ll make our decisions based on our core scouting beliefs that we think have served us well in the past.”
The lottery adopted a different format this year, with all of the 14 non-playoff teams having a shot at the first overall pick. In previous years, the lottery-winning team could move up no more than four spots in the draft order.
The remaining teams, in order of selection based upon the lottery, are Tampa Bay, Nashville, Carolina, Calgary, Edmonton, Buffalo, New Jersey, Dallas, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Winnipeg and Columbus.
The Oilers have made the first pick overall in the last three NHL drafts, becoming the first team to do so since Quebec (1989-1991). This year, all seven rounds will be held on the same day for the first time since 2006.
Pracey gave the NHL’s new lottery format the thumbs up, even if it was a little nerve-wracking.
“It’s truly exciting, that’s probably the best way to describe it,” he said. “There’s some anxious moments, it’s great it turned out our way.”
Panthers GM Dale Tallon said the No. 2 pick will secure his club a talented player but admitted not garnering the top selection stung.
“We were hopeful to get the pick to weather some of the storm we had over the year and lessen some of the pain,” he said. “It would’ve been nice to pick first but second is pretty good to.
“The top four, five, six or seven are pretty good players. They can make a difference to your franchise. They’re different, they bring different qualities to the game and that’s exciting. We’re looking forward to getting one of those players.”
And Tallon has a definite idea of the kind of player he’ll be looking for in New Jersey.
“I like offence,” he said. “I like puck-moving defencemen, I like to score goals.
“I like to play an exciting brand of hockey so some of those players will help us do that.”
Nashville GM David Poile liked the drama the intrigue created by the new lottery format. He said the prospect of landing a top-flight prospect will help lessen his disappointment of the Predators missing the post-season.
“It’s not fun being a non-playoff team and being in the bottom five of the league,” he said. “But having said that this is a terrific year.
“The top five or six players are outstanding so we’re going to be rewarded very nicely for not making the playoffs . . . so from that standpoint we’re very happy.”
So too was Carolina GM Jim Rutherford.
“The fact of the matter is right through the first round and even in the second round there’s going to be some impact players if you get the right ones,” he said. “We’re not excited about picking where we are because of the season but it is what it is.
“We’re going to get somebody that’s going to fit into our team and help us.”