It wasn’t just that the lowly Detroit Red Wings and Ottawa Senators lost out on the No. 1 pick. Everyone must cope with the fact that “Team E” — a squad that plays in the NHL’s 24-team postseason — gets the chance to draft No. 1 prospect Alexis Lafreniere. The eight losers in the qualifying round each get a 12.5% chance at the winger. (If you want to know why Lafreniere is widely projected as the top pick, just consider this: Only two players in Canadian Hockey League history have won the Player of the Year Award twice. One is Sidney Crosby. The other is Lafreniere.)
Since this is a most unconventional year, we broke down the first-pick landscape, assessing potential landing spots for Lafreniere by the best fit for him, which team needs it the most, and of course, which selection would elicit the biggest collective eye roll around the league. We graded each category for all 16 teams on a scale of 1-10.
Fit: 7. Rick Tocchet is known as a terrific players’ coach. He knows how to reach guys and put them in the best position to succeed. For Lafreniere, that might mean playing on a line with Nick Schmaltz and Phil Kessel as a rookie. That’s not a bad spot at all, either, as Schmaltz is one of the league’s most underrated playmakers.
Necessity: 8. Kessel hasn’t produced offensively as we expected him to in Arizona (yet), and we don’t even know if Taylor Hall will stay past this season. This is a team with serious scoring issues. The Coyotes have tried to address it via trade the past few seasons, but perhaps the only true fix is a shot at drafting a generational talent.
Eye roll: 6. The only reason this is getting an eye roll at all is that Hall is on the roster. If the Coyotes win the No. 1 pick, we actually might need to investigate what hex Hall has over the draft lottery. It’s truly a historic run.
They talk about Gretzky’s 92 goals or Sittler’s 10 pts in one game as records that may never be broken. But winning 5 draft lotteries in your first 9 years in the league? In 2 different draft lottery eras, no less. That is a record that will stand forever.
— Taylor Hall (@hallsy09) April 10, 2019
The Coyotes have never picked No. 1, and this would be the best way to drum up interest for a new owner and president looking to sell tickets and find a long-term arena solution.
Fit: 6. The Flames are a good team that underperformed (especially based off the standards they set one season prior). Since Calgary has Johnny Gaudreau, there is not immediate pressure for Lafreniere to be the top-line scoring savior, so he’d be walking into a good situation.
Necessity: 5. Maybe landing Lafreniere would empower the Flames to trade Gaudreau? There’s a faction of the fan base that wouldn’t mind that after Gaudreau’s off year, but it doesn’t feel necessary. This team has been seeking forward help lately, and Calgary wouldn’t mind if it just fell into its lap.
Eye roll: 4. It’s hard to feel too strongly either way about the Flames landing Lafreniere. It would be a fine fit, but there are absolutely others more deserving.
Fit: 8. The Canes are a deep and balanced team. Their top trio (Sebastian Aho, Andrei Svechnikov and Teuvo Teravainen) is young and exciting. Lafreniere could play with any combination of those players eventually, but probably cut his teeth in the middle six to start.
Necessity: 5. This is a team that’s on the upswing. It has an identity under coach Rod Brind’Amour, and when they are health and clicking, the Hurricanes are really tough to beat. Like many teams on this list, they could use some scoring help. But like the well-constructed ones, selecting Lafreniere won’t make or break Carolina’s long-term trajectory.
Eye roll: 3. When the Hurricanes selected Svechnikov at No. 2 in 2018, it was their first lottery pick since Jack Johnson in 2005. So there’s no lottery fatigue here. Plus, if the Canes lose to the Rangers in the qualifying round, it’s because they got a tough draw (the Rangers have a great track record against Carolina). So they would get some pity points.
Fit: 8. The Blackhawks already set the model for what they’d do with a highly touted prospect in a largely veteran lineup with Kirby Dach. The 2019 No. 3 overall pick largely played on the third line as he adjusted to the NHL this season. You could expect the same for Lafreniere, who wouldn’t have to shoulder as much spotlight with stars like Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews still in the lineup for years to come.
Necessity: 5. Chicago has been trying to retool on the fly to squeeze another run out of its aging core. General manager Stan Bowman has already collected some decent 23-and-under talent, including Dylan Strome, Alex DeBrincat, Dach, Alex Nylander, Adam Boqvist and Ian Mitchell. But this cap-strapped team can use all of the entry-level contracts it can get.
Eye roll: 9. There’s always a perception that the NHL favors the Blackhawks (the only evidence of this is how many outdoor games Chicago gets), so this wouldn’t play well with the other 30 fan bases. Plus, the Blackhawks lucked into the No. 3 spot last year to select Dach, meaning it’d be back-to-back good draft fortunes.
Fit: 7. Lafreniere as a Blue Jacket would make a lot of sense. Columbus, Ohio, is a smaller media market so there’s not as much attention. Perhaps he is the long-term solution at winger alongside Pierre-Luc Dubois, who is still only 22 and has shown great strides the past two seasons.
Necessity: 9. Even before Artemi Panarin left, this team’s biggest need was secondary scoring help and more skilled forwards. The Blue Jackets scored the fewest goals this season of any of the 16 teams eligible for Lafreniere. The teenager could help the franchise forget about the Breadman — aka the one who got away. He would instantly get a shot in the top six.
Eye roll: 2. This is one of the few play-in teams that it’s hard to argue a case against. The Blue Jackets deserve some good juju after seeing two of the best players in franchise history — Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky — walk in free agency last summer. They need star power. They also gave up a ton of draft picks in their “all-in” playoffs last spring; adding a No. 1 pick is the quickest remedy for a depleted prospect pool.
Fit: 9. There are few better situations Lafreniere could walk into than what the Oilers present: the chance to ride shotgun to Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl for years to come. Lafreniere will also get the chance to learn from McDavid, who knows a thing or two about handling hype.
Necessity: 7. We’ve been lamenting for years that McDavid and Draisaitl don’t have enough help around them. While management has tried to address this problem — most recently taking a flier on Andreas Athanasiou — the bigger issue with this team is the blue line.
Eye roll: 10. Another No. 1 pick for the Oilers? You have to be kidding. This would be Edmonton’s fourth shot at selecting No. 1 in the draft since 2010. Only two of those players (McDavid and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins) are still with the franchise. Perhaps that’s the case for why Edmonton is even less deserving of another shot.
Fit: 6. Florida would be a cozy landing spot for Lafreniere, and talented forwards Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau would be happy to see another skilled winger join their group. The only snag here is that coach Joel Quenneville has a reputation for not trusting rookies, so it might take Lafreniere a bit longer to get his feet wet.
Necessity: 6. Sneakily, the Panthers finished sixth in scoring in the season shortened by the coronavirus pandemic. But you can never have enough scoring help, and Lafreniere would plug in nicely to the middle six, perhaps even getting a shot on Barkov’s wing.
Eye roll: 5. The team has reportedly been trying to shed some payroll after overspending last summer, so it would feel convenient to get a stud talent inked to an entry-level deal for three years. That said, everyone in the NHL knows the Panthers could use some help selling tickets, and this would do it.
Fit: 6. One thing Lafreniere might enjoy is coming into the league with the Wild’s top prospect, Kirill Kaprizov, who is expected to join the team next season from Russia. Since there would be outsized expectations for both players, they could shoulder the burden together and grow together as Minnesota’s new go-to tandem.
Necessity: 8. What a coup this would be for GM Bill Guerin, who inherited an aging roster with a ton of bloated contracts. The easiest way to turn things around and stay relevant without a full tear-down is capitalizing on star rookies making entry-level money. Enter Lafreniere (and Kaprizov).
Eye roll: 3. It’s hard to argue with Minnesota’s worthiness here. The Wild haven’t made it past the second round of the playoffs since 2013 but also haven’t drafted inside the top 10 since 2012, when they selected Matt Dumba No. 7 overall.
Fit: 6. The Habs have one of the largest media contingents in the NHL, with dozens of dual-language reporters. Drafting a local kid No. 1 is going to be a big deal. That spotlight isn’t ideal for a teenager but could be fun. Though the Habs have slumped the past five years, Lafreniere would be one of 14 draft picks in 2020, so there should be reinforcements on the way.
Necessity: 7. Like a lot of teams on this list, the Canadiens’ biggest need is defense. But to be sure, they could use some scoring help, too. The Habs are developing their next wave of core forwards, and Lafreniere would join Nick Suzuki and Jesperi Kotkaniemi as players to build around.
Eye roll: 5. Considering the Canadiens really had no business being in the postseason to begin with, it’s not so bad. After all, they were sellers at the deadline, hoping to leverage some future success. Montreal GM Marc Bergevin has long coveted a French Canadian superstar (remember the Jonathan Drouin trade?), so to finally have one fall in his lap … c’est trop parfait.
Fit: 7. Honestly, Lafreniere could plug right in on Nashville’s top line, alongside Ryan Johansen, and give this team an immediate upgrade on offense. Of course, it will likely take him some time to adjust to the NHL, but if Lafreniere wants to feel needed somewhere, it’s in this forward group.
Necessity: 8. Here’s the biggest reason the Predators need Lafreniere: They’re squeezed against the salary cap and likely don’t have any relief coming, with the pandemic-affected cap expected to stay flat for at least two seasons. Nashville is also the only team in NHL history to not have a 40-goal scorer. The Preds’ top scoring forward this season had just 48 points (Filip Forsberg). Not great.
Eye roll: 3. It’s been a while since the Predators received a high draft pick. Their most recent picks in the top 15 were Kevin Fiala (2014) and Seth Jones (2013), and both players were traded away. This team feels due for some lottery luck.
Fit: 6. Get ready to work on your defensive game, kid. Lafreniere would certainly round out as a two-way player under the tutelage of coach Barry Trotz. But he could be set up for immediate and long-term success if he gets the chance to play shotgun on Mathew Barzal‘s wing.
Necessity: 7. The Islanders are one of the oldest teams in the league, and it would behoove them to start skewing younger (though unclear if that’s in GM Lou Lamoriello’s plans). New York also could use skilled forwards and scoring help — it has few outside Barzal. Once again, the Isles finished bottom 10 in the league in goals per game.
Eye roll: 5. When Lamoriello sent the Senators a first-round pick for Jean-Gabriel Pageau, it was lottery-protected for this exact, albeit unlikely, scenario. So kudos for the foresight. The only eye roll comes with the thought of Lafreniere’s skill being stifled by the Islanders’ stingy defensive structure.
Fit: 8. What a great time to arrive to this franchise. The Rangers went through the pain of rebuilding and parting with plenty of veterans, and they have now built things back up in record time. Like they did with Kaapo Kakko, the Rangers would give Lafreniere immediate opportunities but allow patience for him to grow. And Lafreniere’s agent probably wouldn’t mind the marketing potential of playing in New York City.
Necessity: 6. The Rangers’ new core has scary good potential: Mika Zibanejad, Artemi Panarin, Adam Fox, Kakko, Jacob Trouba and Igor Shesterkin. Lafreniere would be a great add, but he is not exactly essential to this team’s long-term fortunes. New York already locked in two fantastic wingers (Panarin and Chris Kreider) to long-term deals. Defense is the need, but getting another young talent on an entry-level contract could allow New York to spend in free agency instead; that’s so Rangers.
Eye roll: 8. One year after selecting No. 2 (Kakko), the Rangers get a No. 1? Yeah, that’s not going to play well with other fan bases, especially since New York always seems to have an advantage luring big-name free agents.
Fit: 9. Out of every team that could possibly draft Lafreniere, the Penguins might offer the best fit. Who doesn’t want to ride the coattails of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin chasing another Stanley Cup before their careers wind down? GM Jim Rutherford is going to go all-in as long as he has these two, meaning Lafreniere will be surrounded by talent right away. And once Crosby retires, Lafreniere can inherit the team, when he’ll be ready. It’s seamless.
Necessity: 5. This team was dangerous without Lafreniere (and proved it has depth, as it found success despite unrelenting injury luck this season). Since Rutherford is so keen on winning now, he has mortgaged quite a bit of draft capital. Landing Lafreniere could compensate for an otherwise sad prospect pool.
Eye roll: 8. Look, everyone would feel sorry for the Penguins if they lost in the qualification round to the they-don’t-belong-here Canadiens. But hasn’t Pittsburgh enjoyed enough franchise-saving No. 1 picks over the years? There are plenty of teams that have yet to be so lucky.
Fit: 6. Toronto is the media fishbowl of the NHL, and that usually doesn’t bode well for a rookie’s transition into the league. Luckily, there are even bigger names in this lineup to shoulder some attention. Because the Leafs are so stacked up front, Lafreniere could develop for his first two seasons in a third-line role as he gets acclimated.
Necessity: 4. Put it simply: Lafreniere would be a luxury. This is the only team in the league paying three forwards more than $10 million each. Could Lafreniere help this team become an even bigger offensive juggernaut than it is now? Probably. Will his entry-level contract help the salary-cap situation? In the short term. But he’s not a defenseman, and that’s what the Leafs really need.
Eye roll: 9. Lafreniere in a top six that features Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares, William Nylander and Kasperi Kapanen? Yeah, that’s not going to go over well around the league. The biggest eye roll would likely come from the Maple Leafs’ closest (geographical) rival: the Senators, a lowly team that had two shots to select at No. 1 and instead ended up with No. 3 and No. 5.
Fit: 8. Quinn Hughes said this week that it would be “crazy” if Lafreniere ended up on a contender, and he’s right. Lafreniere would have a good time indeed if he were on the Canucks, a team brimming with dynamic young talent. Lafreniere’s physicality and skill would be an incredible complement to Elias Pettersson; it would be great to see those two flourish together.
Necessity: 5. Lafreniere could be the fourth consecutive Canucks player to be nominated for the Calder Trophy, which is to suggest they’ve been quite fortunate with standout rookies lately. Having another in their arsenal just feels like a luxury. Defense, not forward, is the bigger need.
Eye roll: 5. It’s not that the Canucks don’t deserve Lafreniere (really, no team on this list does). They’ve just found some great value draft picks outside of the top three lately, so being able to get a slam dunk at No. 1 would be a slap in many scouting departments’ faces.
Fit: 8. The best thing about the Jets for Lafreniere is that he’d be surrounded by plenty of veteran talent in the top six, which would relieve some pressure early on. Captain Blake Wheeler has a good handle on this team. It would be neat to see Lafreniere develop chemistry with Patrik Laine (22 years old) and Kyle Connor (23) for seasons to come.
Necessity: 6. What the Jets really need right now are defensemen, not forwards. There’s plenty of offensive firepower in this lineup, but not so much on the dependable-blueliner front. But after focusing on defense in last year’s draft (the first- and second-round picks were both D-men), a top-end forward would complement well.
Eye roll: 4. It wasn’t too long ago that the Jets jumped from sixth to second overall in the draft lottery to select Laine (oh wait, that was four years ago already? We are living in a wacky timeline). Nonetheless, the belief around the league is that Winnipeg got some tough luck last season with the Dustin Byfuglien situation and an untimely exodus of defensemen, so this could restore some karma.