- Greg Wyshynski is ESPN’s senior NHL writer.
The Buffalo Sabres won the 2021 NHL draft lottery on Wednesday, with the expansion Seattle Kraken getting the second overall pick.
The Sabres, who finished with an NHL-worst 15-34-7 record, had the best lottery odds at 16.6%. It is the first time the team with the best lottery odds won the first overall pick since 2018, when the Sabres retained the top spot to select defenseman Rasmus Dahlin.
“It’s a great moment for our franchise. It’s obviously been a tough year, for a number of different reasons,” Buffalo general manager Kevyn Adams said during the broadcast of the event on NBCSN. “It’s a step in the right direction. We need to get better in every area in every way.”
The Kraken had the third-best lottery odds (10.3%), the same odds the Vegas Golden Knights had as an expansion team in the 2017 draft. Vegas selected sixth overall that year.
The Anaheim Ducks, who had the second-best lottery odds (12.1%), will pick third overall.
The rest of the top 10: New Jersey Devils (10.3%), Columbus Blue Jackets (8.5%), Detroit Red Wings (7.6%), San Jose Sharks (6.7%), Los Angeles Kings (5.8%), Vancouver Canucks (5.4) and Ottawa Senators (4.5%).
The Arizona Coyotes took part in the lottery but were ineligible to win it. The Coyotes forfeited their first-round pick because of violations of the NHL Combine Testing Policy during the 2019-20 season. They previously forfeited a second-round pick in the 2020 NHL draft.
The 2021 NHL draft, which will be held virtually July 23 and 24, doesn’t have a franchise-level prospect like recent first overall picks Alexis Lafreniere and Jack Hughes. Among the top prospects this year are University of Michigan center Matthew Beniers and defenseman Owen Power; U.S. national development program defenseman Luke Hughes; and Swedish Hockey League center William Eklund, defenseman Simon Edvinsson and goalie Jesper Wallstedt.
The 2021 draft is expected to be a challenging one for scouting departments. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there were interruptions in the schedules for junior, college and international hockey leagues, making traditional player evaluation difficult.
The NHL changed its draft lottery rules for 2021. Instead of having three individual drawings for the top three picks, they had two drawings for the top two picks — ensuring that the team with the worst record picked no lower than third. This change was influenced by the 2020 lottery, in which the Red Wings — who had the worst record in the league (17-49-5) and the best odds for the first overall pick (18.5%) — ended up picking fourth overall as the New York Rangers, Kings and Senators won the lotteries for the first three picks.
The NHL is implementing two other draft lottery rule changes starting in 2022. A team will be restricted from moving up more than 10 spots if it wins one of the lottery draws. Hence, only 11 of the 16 teams that miss the playoffs will be eligible for the first overall pick.
Teams also will be restricted from winning the lottery more than twice in a five-year span. That isn’t exclusive to the first overall pick: It means a team can’t advance by reason of lottery win more than twice in a five-year span. Any lottery wins before 2022 are not counted toward that running tally.
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