The draft is one of the most important events of the year for an NHL franchise and the stakes are obvious: the opportunity to land potential game-breakers and elite talents that, if all works out, will one day lead your team to a championship. The Tampa Bay Lightning just demonstrated this fact with their Stanley Cup-winning roster, which boasted everyone from first-rounders Victor Hedman and Andrei Vasilevskiy to late-round gems such as Ondrej Palat and steals like Nikita Kucherov (second round) and Brayden Point (third round).
But some franchises need the draft more than others, depending on the state of their team. This year is no exception. Tampa Bay and current contenders such as Boston, Colorado and Vegas are all in great shape right now, while up-and-coming teams like Vancouver already have a swell of youth changing the face of their roster.
On the other side of the spectrum, teams such as Los Angeles, Ottawa and Anaheim are already in the midst of rebuilds and have accumulated some tremendous young assets that they will add to next week - but we know they're on the right path. Meanwhile, the New York Rangers can head into the draft with the confidence of knowing the consensus No. 1 in the class, Alexis Lafreniere, is theirs to snap up.
There's also the worst-case scenario: teams that, barring some trades, don't have enough picks to make their organizations significantly better - Pittsburgh and Arizona. So who can change their fate with a good showing? Here are five teams that needed to do their homework extra-careful this year, using The Hockey News' Future Watch team rankings as a guide.
San Jose Sharks
The nightmare scenario came true for the Sharks, as they traded away their first-rounder to Ottawa in the Erik Karlsson deal, then sunk to the bottom of the ocean - giving the Sens the third pick overall. San Jose is supposed to be rebuilding, but their first selection won't come until pick No. 31 (acquired from Tampa Bay). They do have two second-rounders and those will be crucial - because after that San Jose isn't slated to pick until Round 5. The Sharks ranked dead-last in Future Watch this season, with no players in the top 100 overall rankings. Their best prospect is offensive defenseman Ryan Merkley.
The Flames are in much better shape than the Sharks and are coming off a volatile campaign that nonetheless saw them win their qualifying round series against Winnipeg before falling to the eventual Western champs from Dallas. No doubt there will be movement within the organization as GM Brad Treliving attempts to find a mix of players that can achieve more next season, but the draft will be big for Calgary. The Flames ranked 29th in Future Watch, with two players in the top 75: defenseman Juuso Valimaki (25th) and left winger Jakob Pelletier (74th), who was the team's first-rounder in 2019.
Getting knocked out of the qualifying round by Arizona was pretty disappointing and the Preds need to use that as motivation to improve their squad. Nashville seems to be leaving its championship window and ranked just 25th in Future Watch - so it's time to make some noise at the draft. While the Preds have the standard seven picks in the seven-round draft, those selections are mostly front-loaded, with a first-rounder, two seconds and two thirds. That gives the scouting staff a nice grouping to work with. Nashville's top Future Watch prospects are center Phil Tomasino (31st), left winger Eeli Tolvanen (53rd) and center Yakov Trenin (99th).
Of all the teams here, Washington is in the best shape, in that the Capitals won a title two years ago and will still be dangerous next season, if not longer. But there is a cliff coming if Washington doesn't restock, since many of their best players are heading towards their twilight years. And much like their rivals from Pittsburgh, years of going for broke has left the Caps system shredded. Washington ranked 27th in Future Watch, though on the bright side, four players cracked the top 100: center Connor McMichael (18th), defensemen Alexander Alexeyev (55th) and Martin Fehervary (97th) and big pivot Aliaksei Protas (100th). Washington's biggest issue is that the scouting staff rarely gets a full dance card: the Caps made just four selections last year, making it the third time in five drafts they only had four picks. This year is slightly better - five picks - but there is no second-rounder in that grouping.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Sure, the Leafs have some pretty great young players right now, but the Auston Matthews-Mitch Marner-William Nylander triumvirate still hasn't won a playoff round, either. GM Kyle Dubas is trying to get the most out of his limited cap space and kids on entry-level contracts are a great way to do so - if they can hack it in the NHL. Rasmus Sandin looks like a good one on defense and Nick Robertson can help the forwards soon, but Toronto ranked 23rd in Future Watch, with just two players in the top 100: Robertson (34th) and defenseman Timothy Liljegren (64th). Sandin was not ranked, as he was considered an NHLer at the time. Dubas has set his scouts up nicely in this draft with 11 picks right now, giving the organization maximum flexibility. Six of those picks are in the final two rounds, however, so it's either find some gems or package some selections to make other moves.