The NHL’s 2020 draft lottery explained: Everything you need to know

    Greg Wyshynski is ESPN’s senior NHL writer.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published on May 26. It has been updated.

The NHL will hold its annual draft lottery Friday. As in previous years, there’s a top-prospect prize for the team that wins the first overall pick: Alexis Lafrenière, the high-scoring left wing from the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

Actually, it’s the NHL’s second draft lottery this season. Allow us to explain.

When and where is this NHL draft lottery being held?

The NHL draft lottery drawing for the first overall pick will be held on Monday, Aug. 10, at 6 p.m. ET in the NHL Network studios in Secaucus, New Jersey. It will be broadcast live on NBCSN and NHL Network in the U.S. as well as Sportsnet and TVA Sports in Canada. The broadcast will include an interview with Lafrenière. Representatives from the lottery teams will join the broadcast remotely rather than in studio, as had been tradition.

Which teams are in this draft lottery?

There are eight teams with an equal percentage chance (12.5%) at the first overall pick. These are the eight teams that were eliminated in the just-completed qualification round in the Stanley Cup postseason, losing in five-game series: the Pittsburgh Penguins, Toronto Maple Leafs, Florida Panthers, New York Rangers, Edmonton Oilers, Nashville Predators, Winnipeg Jets and Minnesota Wild.

Why did the NHL hold two draft lotteries this season?

The NHL regular season was truncated due to the COVID-19 pandemic, meaning that the playoff races were cut short when the season was paused on March 12. To compensate for that, the NHL decided to restart its season with a 24-team Stanley Cup tournament. That meant teams that would have been in the draft lottery were now anointed as postseason teams. The NHL started working on a draft format to give those teams their shot at lottery picks.

Originally, the NHL wanted to hold the draft lottery before the season restart, noting the attention the NFL Draft received when it was held virtually in April. But some of the NHL’s general managers were adamant about not creating a format in which a team could win the lottery and win the Stanley Cup in the same season, as slim as those odds were. So the NHL came up with an ingenious fix.

There would be 15 teams taking part in three different lottery draws, for the top three picks in the draft. That included the seven teams that did not return for the 24-team postseason — the Detroit Red Wings, Ottawa Senators, San Jose Sharks (whose pick belongs to Ottawa), Los Angeles Kings, Anaheim Ducks, New Jersey Devils and Buffalo Sabres. The other eight teams eligible for the top picks were the ones that would lose in the upcoming qualification round of the postseason, i.e. half of the Nos. 5 through 12 seeds in each conference. They were represented by “placeholder” spots in the lottery, with odds to win the first overall pick ranging from 6% to 1%, the lowest odds possible.

If any of the “placeholder” spots won the lottery draw for one of the top three picks, there would be a second draft lottery held after the qualification round featuring the eight eliminated teams.

What happened in the first lottery?

A “placeholder” team won the first overall pick.

The Senators, who owned the Sharks’ first-round pick (11.5%), won the draw for the third overall pick. The Kings (9.5%) won the draw for the second overall pick. But the first overall pick went to “Team E,” a placeholder team that had just a 2.5% chance to winning the lottery. That triggered the necessity for Monday’s second lottery after the qualification round ended on Sunday.

How is the process different for the second draft lottery?

In the usual NHL draft lottery, there are 14 numbered balls in the lottery machine. Each lottery draw features four balls being selected, creating a unique number combination that had been previously and randomly assigned to an NHL team. As the balls are drawn, the numbers are recorded and verified by representatives of Ernst & Young.

But since all participants in the NHL’s second lottery will have the same odds (12.5%), the eight teams will be represented in the lottery machine by one ball with their team logo on it.

What about the rest of the draft order?

Here is the current draft order:

1. Winner of second draft lottery
2. Los Angeles Kings
3. Ottawa Senators (from San Jose)
4. Detroit Red Wings
5. Ottawa Senators
6. Anaheim Ducks
7. New Jersey Devils
8. Buffalo Sabres

The seven teams that didn’t win the second lottery will be assigned NHL draft positions 9 through 15, in inverse order of their points percentage in the standings as of March 12. The remaining 16 selections for the first round (Nos. 16-31) will be determined by the results of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

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