The time has come for the NHL’s annual draft lottery, when some teams get lucky and the Detroit Red Wings do not.
The 2023 lottery is Monday (8 p.m., ESPN). The Wings, who finished ninth from the bottom, have 5% odds to win. Eleven teams are in the mix to pick first, and the Anaheim Ducks have the best odds, at 18.5%. Since their historic 25-season playoff streak ended in 2017, the Wings have been part of the yearly event that determines who gets to make the first pick in the draft. It’s never been them. They haven’t even had the good fortune to pick second or third.
This would be a fantastic year for that luck to change. Center Connor Bedard, 17, has been considered the top pick for years and has led NHL Central Scouting’s rankings all season. Bedard (5 feet 10, 185 pounds) led the Western Hockey League this season with 71 goals and 143 points in 57 games, and then posted 20 points in seven playoff games. He won a gold medal and was named World Junior Championships MVP after setting a Team Canada record with 23 points in seven games.
Adding Bedard to their roster would be the talk of Hockeytown. He has the skill set to be an elite top-line center, adding depth down the middle with Dylan Larkin and 2022 first-round pick Marco Kasper.
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Bedard would be a dream, but converting the 5.2% odds the Wings have of picking second would be a boost, too. Adam Fantilli is coming off a standout freshman year at Michigan (30 goals, 35 assists in 36 games) where he led (or tied for the lead with) all U.S. college skaters in goals, points and points per game (1.81) and became just the third NCAA freshman to win the 2023 Hobey Baker Award, college hockey’s version of the Heisman Trophy. (The others? Maine’s Paul Kariya, who went on to star for the Ducks in the NHL, and Boston University’s Jack Eichel, the No. 1 overall pick in 2015.)
Fantilli, like Bedard a member of Canada’s gold-medal team at the 2023 world juniors, is ranked second among North American skaters.
Adding either center would turbocharge the rebuild and ameliorate six years of dodgy drafts. Here is a look at how the Wings have fared in those lotteries.
2017: Streak ends
The Wings were eliminated from playoff contention on March 28, placing them in the lottery for the first time. The New Jersey Devils won the lottery on 8.5% odds and selected Nico Hischier. The Philadelphia Flyers and Dallas Stars won the second and third picks, respectively — back then there was a lottery for the first three picks, now it’s just two — which bumped the Wings from seventh to ninth. They selected forward Michael Rasmussen, who has developed into a solid player, adept as a third-line center or second-line wing.
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2018: There was no miracle
The Wings had 8.5% odds for No. 1, and Daniel Cleary, part of the team’s hockey operations, brought rosary beads that were blessed by Pope John Paul II to the event in hopes of engendering a blessed event for the Wings. There was no miracle. The Buffalo Sabres saw their NHL-best 18.5% odds pay off with the first pick, which they used on defenseman Rasmus Dahlin. The Carolina Hurricanes leapfrogged the Wings to pick second, dropping the Wings from fifth to sixth. They chose forward Filip Zadina, who five years later has yet to show he can play in the NHL, while the pick at No. 7, Michigan defenseman Quinn Hughes, already is an All-Star.
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2019: Yzerman gets it right
The Devils got lucky again, seeing their 11.5% odds land the top pick, which they used on forward Jack Hughes. The New York Rangers and Chicago Blackhawks won the second and third picks, respectively, which bumped the Wings from fourth to sixth. This was Steve Yzerman’s first draft as general manager of the Wings, and he made a superb choice in defenseman Moritz Seider, a teen who was playing in the top men’s league in his native Germany. Four years later, Seider’s 92 career NHL points leads all defensemen in his draft class.
2020: Auf wiedersehen
Oh 2020, what a year you were. When the global pandemic shut down the NHL on March 12, the Wings were 17-49-5, and had 23 fewer points than the 30th-place Ottawa Senators. The Wings had 18.5% odds to pick first, but were bumped back by three teams, one of which was “Placeholder E.” (The NHL adjusted the lottery format because of the pandemic, allowing the eight teams that lost in the play-in round of the playoffs to partake in the lottery along with the seven teams left out of the postseason bubble.) That led the New York Rangers to get the first pick, Alexis Lafreniere, while the Wings were bumped back to fourth. That abomination prompted the league to change the format so that a team cannot move up more than 10 spots, meaning that the worst team can be pushed back no further than third. That would have made a difference in 2020, because the player the Wings coveted, German center Tim Stützle, was still available at that spot. He was gone by the fourth selection, which the Wings used on forward Lucas Raymond. Raymond had an excellent rookie season, but went through some growing pains in 2022-23.
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Go Blue Go blue & yellow
The Sabres, those lucky devils, saw their 16.6% odds win the lottery, again, and got their hands on Michigan defenseman Owen Power. It was the year nearly half the players projected to go in the top 10 were Wolverines, but by the time the Wings chose at No. 6 (they stayed in place), centers Matty Beniers and Kent Johnson (No. 5 to Columbus) were off the board. Beniers went No. 2 to the Seattle Kraken, who as an expansion team got a spot in the lottery ahead of their first season. Yzerman drafted Swedish defenseman Simon Edvinsson, who appeared in nine games this past season. He projects to battle for a spot on next season’s team, though he may be delayed by offseason shoulder surgery that could sideline him into November.
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2022: The sound of music
Again the Wings stayed in place, at No. 8, while the Montreal Canadiens’ 25.5% odds landed the first pick (Juraj Slafkovsky). The Devils, who along with the Sabres seem to have all the luck, moved up from fifth to second. Yzerman finally was able to use his first pick on a center he liked, in Kasper. The native of Austria was playing in Sweden, where he stayed for the 2022-23 season until Rögle BK’s run ended. Kasper came to Detroit at the end of March but only made it into one game before being sidelined by a lower-body injury. He’s only 19, but he’s spent the past two years playing in Sweden’s top men’s league, and that will help him contend for a spot as soon as next season. If only the competition would include either Bedard or Fantilli, what a camp it would be for the Wings.
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Contact Helene St. James at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames.
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Her latest book, “On the Clock: Behind the Scenes with the Detroit Red Wings at the NHL Draft,” is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail.