The NHL is holding its annual draft lottery on Saturday. And the Edmonton Oilers are planning on melting down the internet.
“We’re going to win it,” team CEO Bob Nicholson told the EdmontonSun earlier this week.
The Oilers have a 13.5% chance of claiming the top pick for the second year in a row by virtue of their 29th-place finish during the regular season. Last April they beat longer odds (11.5%) to win the first pick. Their prize: Connor McDavid.
This time around, all eyes are on Auston Matthews. He's not on the level of McDavid, but the American-born center has the size and high-end skill set to become a franchise player. He averaged 1.28 points per game in an injury-abbreviated season in the Swiss league, earning comparisons to a pair of elite centers for his mature two-way play.
"There's so much intensity in his game," a scout told SI.com. "He never leaves you wondering if there's more to give. It's all out there." Although he wouldn't draw a direct comparison, the scout said "there's a little bit of Jonathan Toews" and "some Anze Kopitar" in Matthews' game.
Matthews isn't the only prize, though. Nor is he a certainty to be selected with the first pick. A pair of Finnish forwards, Patrik Laine and Jesse Puljujarvi, have mounted an assault on the top spot since their sensational performances at the 2016 World Juniors and both are making up ground fast. Puljujarvi, who was named MVP and top forward, led the event with 12 assists and 17 points in just seven games. He has a hunger for scoring that's drawn comparisons to Teemu Selanne.
It's Laine though who is more likely to unseat Matthews. The 17-year-old winger was named Finnish League playoff MVP after scoring 10 goals and 15 points in 18 games to lead Tappara Tampere to the championship. A strong performance at next month's World Championships could tilt the scale in his favor.
"His upside is enormous," the scout said. "Matthews is so polished, you know exactly what you're getting. You don't want to get ahead of yourself, but Laine's game is so full of potential.
Those three names are worth remembering because, for the first time in history, the top three picks, not just the No. 1, are up for grabs. The odds of winning have changed as well, with an eye on de-incentivizing a late-season tank job. As a result, the 10 highest-finishing non-playoff teams will benefit from better odds than in the past while the four lowest-finishing teams—Toronto, Edmonton, Vancouver and Columbus—face longer odds.
Here are the actual chances of landing the first pick, based on reverse order of finish:
Toronto Maple Leafs: 20%
Edmonton Oilers: 13.5%
Vancouver Canucks: 11.5%
Columbus Blue Jackets: 9.5%
Calgary Flames: 8.5%
Winnipeg Jets: 7.5%
Arizona Coyotes: 6.5%
Buffalo Sabres: 6%
Montreal Canadiens: 5%
Colorado Avalanche: 3.5%
New Jersey Devils: 3%
Ottawa Senators: 2.5%
Carolina Hurricanes: 2%
Boston Bruins: 1%
The odds of winning the second and third picks will then depend on which teams claimed the previous picks. If you want to have hours of fun, you can conduct your own simulated lottery here.
Teams that slip out of the top three won't exactly walk away empty handed. This year's crop boasts a wealth high-end talent, including burgeoning power forward Matthew Tkachuk, explosive winger Alexander Nylander, undersized dynamo Clayton Keller, fast-rising winger Pierre-Luc Dubois and two-way defenders Olli Juolevi and Mikhail Sergachev.
"There are a lot of kids this year with the chance to become impact players down the road," the scout said.
Although the actual lottery draw will take place behind closed doors under the careful watch of accounting firm Ernst & Young, you can watch the winners unveiled live at 8:00 p.m. ET on NBC, CBC and TVAS.
Just a word of advice: If the Oilers win, you might want to stay off the internet.