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The Montreal Canadiens went from a Stanley Cup Final in 2021 to picking No. 1 overall in the 2022 NHL draft during a year in which the Habs are hosting the event at Bell Centre.
What a wild year it’s been for one of the NHL’s most historic franchises. Montreal is going to party like it’s 1993.
Shane Wright is the projected first overall pick. There has been some debate as to whether or not the OHL center is worthy of the honor after a slow start to the season, but 94 points in 63 games with the Kingston Frontenacs was good enough to land him on top of the NHL’s Central Scouting bureau’s latest prospect rankings.
The New Jersey Devils are picking second, marking the fourth time in six years the club has selected in the top five. The Arizona Coyotes, who had the second-best odds to land the first pick, will select third, the Seattle Kraken fourth and the Philadelphia Flyers will go fifth.
The Ottawa Senators and Detroit Red Wings won a few too many games and they’ll go seventh and eighth, respectively. The Columbus Blue Jackets got the Chicago Blackhawks’ sixth pick as part of the terms of the Seth Jones trade and they’ll make two selections in the first round.
Let’s take a look at some of the highs and lows from the night with draft lottery winners and losers.
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Winner: Montreal Canadiens
Wright should start brushing up on his French.
The OHL forward is one of eight players in CHL history to be granted exceptional status and he was clearly worthy, scoring 39 goals in 58 games as a 15-year-old. A speedy, skilled center like Wright is the perfect building block piece for a team like the Habs. Putting Wright behind Nick Suzuki will give them a 1-2 punch up the middle that can grow together as new general manager Kent Hughes and president of hockey operations Jeff Gorton build around those two and winger Cole Caufield.
Last year, the Canadiens were the talk of the draft for the wrong reason. Former general manager Marc Bergevin stood at the podium at Bell Centre and defiantly chose Logan Mailloux, a prospect who had asked teams not to choose him after he was convicted of a crime of sexual nature in Sweden. There was some concern that it would damage the brand and isolate women who support the team.
But Bergevin was fired less than two months into the 2021-22 season and he’s now working under Rob Blake in Los Angeles. It’s a new era in Montreal, and though it likely won’t be a successful one right away, the team has turned the page and the excitement is rapidly building.
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Loser: Philadelphia Flyers
This is a big offseason for general manager Chuck Fletcher. The Flyers don’t have a coach, a clear team identity or a clear direction in which the team is headed. The club has decided to stick with the GM it hired in the fall of 2018 as they attempt an “aggressive retool” after a season Fletcher described as “beyond unacceptable.”
It’s not that the fifth pick is bad. The general consensus is that this is a very good draft class, but one that still has some question marks after Wright.
Maybe they end up with another center like Matthew Savoie, a very skilled and disciplined playmaker. Maybe it’s a big defenseman like David Jiricek they can pair with Ivan Provorov in the future (should they keep Provorov).
The 2023 class is absolutely loaded, but this one has a lot of high-end talent, so the Flyers are going to get a quality player and a possible franchise cornerstone. It just might not be one that makes an impact right away. Fletcher said he’s not asking fans to wait 5-7 years for a winning product and a player like Wright, who could step into a lineup next season, would have helped expedite that retool.
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Winner: New Jersey Devils
The Devils have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to prospects these days, which is a change from some lottery seasons a few years ago. The cupboards were pretty bare when they took Swiss center Nico Hischier at No. 1 overall in 2017. They can add another talented young player to that stockpile with the second overall pick.
Things were looking up three years ago when they chose Jack Hughes with the first overall pick, but things quickly fell apart. And now the club is at a crossroads: This rebuild cannot last forever.
The fans have been angry for years since this was not a club that really underwent any significant rebuilds when longtime former general manager and president Lou Lamoriello was running the show. But they’ve made the playoffs just once since 2012 and this last season was marred by injuries to top players like Hughes and Dougie Hamilton and bad goaltending.
They won’t find that goaltender with the No. 2 pick, but it could help them obtain one.
Could general manager Tom Fitzgerald be swayed to give it up for a true No. 1 goalie? He seemed to be open to the possibility last week when he addressed the media in his end-of-season press conference, saying if he see a trade that would upgrade the NHL roster he would not hesitate to make it.
The Anaheim Ducks are rebuilding, and John Gibson is rumored to be on the market. Or maybe it’s an impact defenseman to play with Hamilton or a high-end winger for Hughes.
There are tons of possibilities and the Devils are in a good spot with that second pick.
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Loser: Arizona Coyotes
All that tanking and the desert dogs only got the third pick.
Look, it’s not that the No. 3 overall pick is a bad thing, but a player like Wright would bring some much-needed excitement and talent to a team in desperate need of both.
The Coyotes will play next season and possibly beyond at Arizona State’s new rink. No offense to the Sun Devils because that program is a great success story of the growth of hockey in an untraditional market, but an NHL team shouldn’t be playing in a 5000-seat college rink intended for intramural sports. The morale is low in the desert right now and for good reason.
Arizona can continue tanking next season to get Connor Bedard or Matvei Michkov. Maybe by the time Michkov, a KHL player who is under contract with SKA St. Petersburg through 2025, is able to play in North America the new arena in Tempe that has long been promised will finally be completed.
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Winner: Columbus Blue Jackets, Buffalo Sabres
The Blue Jackets and Sabres each have two first-round picks, which means they have options when it comes to using those picks.
Columbus didn’t move up or down, but it did get the Blackhawks first-round pick. Had Chicago won either of the top two picks, the Blue Jackets would have received the first-round pick next year. Chicago did Columbus a solid with such a dismal season but not too dismal, and as a result the team received the sixth pick and the Jones trade was finally completed.
Last season, the Blue Jackets used two of their 2021 draftees, Kent Johnson and Cole Sillinger, and saw good production and development from both. They’re hoping to replicate that success as they build toward becoming a playoff team in the near future.
This is a chance for the Sabres to grab a few more prospects and show that they have improved their player development program. So far, it appears as though strides have been made in this area, as is evidenced by center Tage Thompson and his breakout season, but these next few years be crucial for a franchise that tries to shed its losing reputation and prove that it can develop talent and build a winning team.
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Loser: Chicago Blackhawks
This was the result of bad management. The ‘Hawks went all in last summer and as a result, they gave up that pick in the Jones trade. Former general manager Stan Bowman made a short-sighted decision to try and load up in an attempt to give Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews one more chance at a Stanley Cup. But Bowman resigned amid following the investigation of the sexual assault allegations against Brad Aldrich and the team was bad right from the start. They fired coach Jeremy Colliton and Derek King still has the interim tag.
The Blackhawks took the interim tag off of general manager Kyle Davidson, and it sure sounds like he’s going to start rebuilding. A first-round pick sure would help jump-start a rebuild, but the ‘Hawks will have to wait until next year to select one.