Oilers win NHL draft lottery, chance to select touted Connor McDavid

ESPN logo
Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Edmonton Oilers won the NHL draft lottery and the right to select Connor McDavid with the top pick.

The Oilers bucked the odds Saturday night after finishing 28th in the NHL standings. They had an 11.5 percent chance to win the lottery.

The former World Hockey Association franchise, which introduced Wayne Gretzky to the NHL in 1979, is in position to draft the Erie Otters center described as a once-in-a-generation talent.

"I can't tell you how exciting it is for us to win this lottery," Oilers general manager Craig MacTavish said during a telephone conference call. "Any team would be just over the moon about winning the lottery. We're the same. It's a game-changer."

At 20 percent, the Buffalo Sabres had the best odds to win, followed by the Arizona Coyotes at 13.5 percent among the 14 non-playoff teams.

The Sabres will pick second and have the chance to land a highly touted consolation prize in Boston University freshman center Jack Eichel. Arizona will pick third.

McDavid was first and Eichel second in the final rankings of North American skaters issued by the NHL's Central Scouting bureau 10 days ago. And that is the order in which they are expected to be selected at the draft in Sunrise, Florida, on June 26.

This marked the second straight year Buffalo lost the lottery, which is held in Toronto, after Florida won last year.

While the Sabres keep losing in the lottery, the Oilers keep winning.

This marks the fourth time in six years the Oilers will be picking first. They drafted Taylor Hall in 2010, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins in 2011 and Nail Yakupov in 2012.

Despite all that top-end talent, the Oilers missed the playoffs for a ninth straight season, a drought that dates to 2006, when they lost in the Stanley Cup finals toCarolina.

"It's an amazing organization and a true honor to be going there," said McDavid, who noted he was nervous while NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly was revealing the draft order. "When they were pulling up the cards, I think that was as fast as my heart's ever beated."

Oilers assistant general manager Bill Scott declined several chances to guarantee Edmonton would select McDavid. Scott said he wants the player and his family to have the chance to enjoy the draft process and hear his name called.

MacTavish said there was "zero" chance he would entertain trading the No. 1 pick.

"It's been some pretty lean times over the last number of years," MacTavish said. "But this is going to go a long way of ending those."

The last-place team has gone on to win the first pick six times in the 20 years the lottery was held. Edmonton in 2010 was the last to do so, capping a three-year run of 30th-place teams landing the No. 1 pick.

The largest jump in the draft rankings happened twice. In 2000, theIslanderswent from fifth to first and selected goalie Rick DiPietro.Chicagomade the same jump in 2007 andchose Patrick Kane.

At 6-foot and 195 pounds, McDavid is regarded as a more talented and creative playmaker than Eichel, who brings a more physical element to his game with a 6-2, 200-pound frame.

Central Scouting director Dan Marr called McDavid "a craftsman with the puck."

"His hockey sense with his vision, his anticipation, his sense of timing and the ability to do those things at top-end speed -- you're looking at the best skilled player in the draft," Marr said.

McDavid had 44 goals and 120 points in 47 games with Erie this season. He finished third in the Ontario Hockey League scoring race despite missing a few weeks with a hand injury and another few weeks to help Canada win the world junior tournament in January. He added 11 goals and 23 points in nine playoff games -- including a five-goal outing April 10.

Erie has advanced to face Sault Ste. Marie in the OHL semifinals, which open Thursday.

The Oilers could use the goal-scoring help. They finished 26th in the league in goals this season and 24th in 2013-14.

Eichel showed no signs of youth playing against older players during his freshman season at Boston University. He led the nation with 71 points (26 goals, 45 assists) in becoming college hockey's second freshman to win the Hobey Baker Award on April 10.

The only other freshman to do it was former NHL star forward Paul Kariya in 1993 with Maine.

"He is proving to be such an amazing game-breaker," Marr said of Eichel. "He's relentless and driven on the play and has the smarts, speed and skills to deliver a needed scoring drive to tie up or win a game."

Eichel missed an opportunity to win an NCAA title last weekend, when Boston University lost 4-3 to Providence.

He intends to wait until after the draft to determine whether he will return to school or make the jump to the NHL.

"It's my dream to play in the NHL, but I don't think there's a rush to go anywhere," he said.

The Sabres finished last for a second consecutive season as part of a long-range process to rebuild from scratch. They have spent the past three seasons unloading high-priced veterans -- a group that included goalie Ryan Miller and star forward Thomas Vanek -- in exchange for draft picks.

Sabres fans spent much of the season rooting for their team to finish last to have a guaranteed shot at either McDavid or Eichel.

The Sabres also made every attempt to make McDavid and Eichel feel comfortable with Buffalo.

Eichel played in Buffalo in September as part of USA Hockey's All-American Prospects game. A month later, some 12,000 fans turned out at the Sabres' home arena for an Ontario Hockey League regular-season game between Erie and Niagara.

And they will both be back in Buffalo next month, when the city will host the NHL's annual pre-draft rookie combine.

As for the potential of playing in Buffalo, Eichel said, "Nothing's set in stone right now. But obviously, it would be really nice to play there. There's so much tradition there."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

Related Video