The Rangers were one of the eight teams eliminated from the Stanley Cup Qualifiers. Each of those teams had a 12.5 percent chance of winning the No. 1 pick, after it was assigned in the First Phase of the lottery on June 26.
That winning placeholder, designated Team E, had a 2.5 percent chance to be assigned the No. 1 pick, the 12th-best odds among the 15 entries in the first drawing.
“The teams that are participating tonight didn’t succeed in the qualifying round for the playoffs, which under a normal year would have been the equivalent of not making the Playoffs, they would have been eligible for the lottery,” Commissioner Gary Bettman told NHL Network. “Our competitive balance is so extraordinary the differences between and among our clubs isn’t all that great.
“So under these unusual circumstances, this made the most sense and was fair, despite who you root for and what result [it] ultimately obtains.”
The Rangers finished 18th in the NHL standings this season. They are the first team to finish that high and have the No. 1 pick since the 1994 NHL Draft, when the Florida Panthers finished 16th. New York is the first team to participate in the postseason and have the No. 1 pick since the 1983 NHL Draft (Minnesota North Stars).
New York was swept by the Carolina Hurricanes in their best-of-5 qualifier series.
“Anytime you can pick first, especially this year, it’s a special year, we all know that,” Rangers general manager Jeff Gorton said. “It was tough up in the bubble (in Toronto, the Eastern Conference hub city). Those three games, Carolina gave it to us pretty good, but surely excited to have this happen to us tonight.”
The 2020 NHL Draft is scheduled for Oct. 9-10. It was originally scheduled for June 26-27 in Montreal but was postponed due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus.
The No. 1 pick is likely to be forward Alexis Lafreniere, who was the top player in NHL Central Scouting’s final ranking of North American skaters.
“Really good news; the Rangers are an unreal team with really good players,” the 18-year-old left wing said. “Really nice city, so for sure, it’s really good news and I’m really happy.”
The Rangers have the No. 1 pick for the second time. They selected forward Andre Veilleux in the 1965 NHL Draft.
The Panthers, Edmonton Oilers, Minnesota Wild, Nashville Predators, Pittsburgh Penguins, Toronto Maple Leafs and Winnipeg Jets were the other teams that had a chance at the No. 1 pick in the Second Phase. They received picks No. 9-15, set by points percentage this season.
The First Phase included the seven teams that weren’t part of the 24-team NHL Return to Play Plan, plus eight placeholder positions for the eliminated qualifiers. A separate drawing was held for each of the top three picks.
Picks 2-8 were set in the First Phase. Picks 16-31 will be determined by the results of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Los Angeles Kings moved up to the No. 2 pick, and the Ottawa Senators received the No. 3 pick. The Kings entered the lottery with the fourth-best odds to win the No. 1 pick (9.5 percent).
The Detroit Red Wings, who had the best odds to win the No. 1 pick (18.5 percent), fell to No. 4.
Lafreniere won the Jean Beliveau Trophy as the leading scorer in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League with 112 points (35 goals, 77 assists) for Rimouski, the Paul Dumont Trophy as QMJHL personality of the year, the Michel Briere Trophy as the most valuable player in the QMJHL, the Canadian Hockey League Top Draft Prospect of the Year Award, and the CHL David Branch Player of the Year Award.
New York picked No. 2 in the 2019 NHL Draft and selected forward Kaapo Kakko. Forward Artemi Panarin is a finalist for the Hart Trophy, given to the player voted NHL MVP, and forward Mika Zibanejad scored 41 goals this season.
“It really is exciting,” Lafreniere said. “Like you said, Panarin is one of the best players in the League, and Zibanejad and guys like that, they’re a really good team, and I think they’re going to have a lot of success in the next couple of years. For sure, it’s pretty fun.”
Lafreniere is the second player to win CHL Player of the Year in consecutive seasons, joining Rimouski center and Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby in 2004 and 2005.
“Lafreniere has lived up to all the hype and well-deserved accolades that have been bestowed upon him leading up to his NHL draft selection,” said Dan Marr, director of NHL Central Scouting. “He will be an excellent player in the NHL and will impact and contribute to the success of whichever NHL club is lucky enough to be awarded the No. 1 overall pick.”
Lafreniere was named most valuable player at the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship after he scored 10 points (four goals, six assists) in five games to help Canada win the tournament. He could be the third QMJHL player to be picked No. 1 since 2013, when the Colorado Avalanche selected Halifax center Nathan MacKinnon. The New Jersey Devils selected center Nico Hischier, also of Halifax, at No. 1 in 2017.
The eight teams that could have won the No. 1 pick finished from seventh (Pittsburgh) to 21st (Minnesota) in the NHL standings this season. Since the 1995 NHL Draft, no team had held the No. 1 pick finishing better than 26th in the standings.
In 1983, the North Stars acquired the No. 1 pick in a trade from the Penguins and selected center Brian Lawton. The Panthers selected defenseman Ed Jovanovski with the No. 1 pick in 1994.
2020 NHL DRAFT ORDER
1. New York Rangers
2. Los Angeles Kings
3. Ottawa Senators (from San Jose Sharks)
4. Detroit Red Wings
5. Ottawa Senators
6. Anaheim Ducks
7. New Jersey Devils
8. Buffalo Sabres
9. Minnesota Wild
10. Winnipeg Jets
11. Nashville Predators
12. Florida Panthers
13. Carolina Hurricanes (from Toronto Maple Leafs)
14. Edmonton Oilers
15. Pittsburgh Penguins