While pretty much everything is still possible in the Western Conference playoff race, a thought occurred to me the other day: What if the Colorado Avalanche win the first two picks in the 2019 draft lottery?
This is a remote, but completely possible reality thanks to the three-way Matt Duchene trade in 2017 that sent an Ottawa first-rounder to Colorado in either 2018 or 2019. Since the Sens ended up picking fourth overall last summer, they kept the pick and very wisely took young power forward Brady Tkachuk. Which brings us to this season.
Ottawa currently sits dead-last in the NHL, with New Jersey three points up. The Devils have been playing without reigning Hart Trophy winner Taylor Hall since Christmas, but he will be back skating very soon. But let’s not get tangled up in draft lottery odds, because the crux of my story here is more about possibility, not probability.
For a pure example of this, we need only look back to the 2017 draft, when the Philadelphia Flyers finished 19th overall but ended up winning the rights to pick second, drafting center Nolan Patrick. The Devils themselves finished 27th, but jumped up to first overall to snag Hall’s new favorite playmate, Nico Hischier.
Which is a long way of saying that with Colorado currently 23rd overall, there is certainly the possibility that they could strike it rich this summer when the draft hits Vancouver, nabbing American center Jack Hughes with the first overall selection and Finnish right winger Kaapo Kakko with the second pick.
As my colleague Ken Campbell pointed out on the podcast this week, this actually wouldn’t be unprecedented: the Montreal Canadiens had the first two picks back in 1969, tabbing Rejean Houle and Marc Tardif back-to-back (the Habs were allowed to pick the top two French-Canadian players in the draft back then - I know, it seems unfair). But to get two players with the star potential of Hughes and Kaapo in this day and age? That would be something.
Because the Avs are not a desolate team by any stretch of the imagination. They have the fantastic top line of Mikko Rantanen, Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog and with Hughes and Kakko (both of whom I believe will go straight to the NHL next season, regardless of which franchise picks them), all of a sudden your depth gets a huge boost. Maybe Landeskog drops down to play with Hughes, for example.
The upshot of this injection of elite youth is that the rest of the lineup fits together even better. Carl Soderberg is a very capable middle-six center and can take on tough assignments for Hughes. Tyson Jost, who recently did a stint in the AHL with the Colorado Eagles, is clearly still finding his way in the NHL and that’s fine: his development curve could be a bit longer and his two-way instincts honed in a smaller role - in the short term.
And let’s not forget the other big development the Avs can bank on next season: the arrival of prospect defenseman Cale Makar. The fourth overall pick in 2017, Makar is currently leading NCAA Massachusetts through the Minutemen’s best season ever and he will definitely be ready for the NHL come autumn. Add him to the blueline corps and all of a sudden the Avs get a lot more mobile on the back end, which will help the transition game and aid those high-end forwards in flying towards the goal. Plus, Makar can rush the puck himself with great success.
Could it happen? Could the Avs jumpstart their roster with the luck of a couple lottery balls? Stranger things have happened in hockey, but the math on this says that it’s at least a possibility right now.