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SaltWire Selects: Weekend picks
What you need to know about COVID-19: August 14, 2020
So, five years after the Edmonton Oilers were gifted the No. 1 pick in the NHL draft by winning the lottery and got Connor McDavid, they have another shot at it this year, if they lose their Play-In series to the Chicago Blackhawks.
The losers of the eight-team playoff tournament qualification series, get their shot at Alexis Lafreniere, the winger from Rimouski who is the best junior available. So, that’s eight losers, each with a 12.5 per cent chance at winning the second phase of the draft lottery.
“You wait over three months for hockey to come back and you get this shocking news,” said Oilers general manager Ken Holland after the Play-In losers somehow leap-frogged over the seven teams not in the Return to Play tournament with the biggest loser, Detroit, dropping all the way to fourth in the draft with Los Angeles getting No. 2 pick and the Ottawa Senators No. 3.
The second phase lottery will come after the Play-in round, which Holland wants to win. Lafreniere is very good but he’s not McDavid, plus he’s a winger. Not a centre.
“Anytime you’re playing hockey, you’re playing to win … we want the Edmonton Oilers to be the last team standing, and if not, we want the playoff experience as far as we go,” said Holland, who wants to knock off the Hawks in the best-of-five qualification round, then get into the 16-team best-of-seven tournament.
“End of the day, only one Play-In loser gets the No. 1 pick, the others are picking later.
“I look at this tournament as being relatively wide-open. Regular-season ended about four months ago if we start in August. If a Play-In team wins the Stanley Cup, they will have to have won five series, even more difficult than usual but everybody’s dream is to have your name on the Stanley Cup.”
Holland says he’ll have more to say on the No. 1 pick after the Play-In series, if Oilers lose.
“I don’t think anybody’s thinking of the No. 1 selection now. The eight losers will re-adjust after that,” he said. “I want our team to make some noise, go on a play-off run.”
“We want to win, that’s why we traded the draft picks (at the deadline) to acquire (Andreas) Athanasiou, Mike Green, Tyler Ennis. We’re trying to grow the program.”
Holland gave up a second-rounder in 2020 for Athanasiou, a fourth for Green, a fifth for Ennis.
Lafreniere is a multi-faceted player. Scouts feel he’s a better Jonathan Huberdeau.
He’s not a generational player but he’s very talented. He’s not superstar material because teams value centres and defencemen more than wingers but Lafreniere, the CHL Player of the Year, makes it look easy. He’s a legitimate first-line left-winger in a couple of NHL years, a 70-80 point guy, unless the Oilers were to win the lottery and he played with McDavid.
There’s Lafreniere, then there’s the German forward Tim Stuetzle, who reminds scouts of Marian Gaborik, and big Sudbury centre Quinton Byfield in the second group, then a large number of players in a third wave for fourth pick on in round one.
“He has a chance to be a star in the National Hockey League. He can score, he has a quick release and he has good hockey sense,” said Holland. “He goes to the hard areas, he’s a very good player.”
Lafreniere thought he’d be talking about playing for Detroit or Ottawa or Buffalo but now he’ll have to wait weeks longer to see the Play-in tournament and Phase 2 of the draft lottery.
“On odds you were expecting one of the teams that aren’t in the tournament to get the chance at the first pick,” said Holland. “You’re maybe thinking you’ll have a chance at No. 2 or No. 3 pick in the draft after the lottery, but you’re never expecting No. 1.”
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020