Vancouver Canucks Draft Lottery History

VANCOUVER, BC - FEBRUARY 22: Bo HorvatĀ #53 of the Vancouver Canucks celebrates with Quinn Hughes #43 and Elias Pettersson #40 after scoring a goal against the Boston Bruins during NHL action at Rogers Arena on February 22, 2020 in Vancouver, Canada. (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images)

Vancouver Canucks fans are a hardened lot. Even relatively new ones who came aboard for their latest Stanley Cup run have learned the hazards of optimism. But even fans of traditionally bad teams have a consolation prize in the NHL draft. The last month of the regular season – or longer – talk gradually switches to who is available where. Can they jump straight in? Get an older, “more NHL-ready” guy, or wait for a slightly younger prospect? Could the team… you know… “drop” a little more in the standings? Which brings us to the draft lottery – specifically the Canucks draft lottery history.

Vancouver Canucks Draft Lottery History

Briefly, the Vancouver Canucks are losers. Going back a few years reveals one of the NHL’s best teams of the 21st century, sure. But even their single trip to the Stanley Cup Final ended in a painful loss. And if you go back to last century? Oof. But we’re going to put all that aside for now.

That the Canucks reached .500 all of twice in their first two decades? Irrelevant.
The only NHL team to reach the Stanley Cup Final three times and lose all of them? Forget it.
Missing a franchise-changing player in Jaromir Jagr for three-year Canuck Petr Nedved? Hey, other teams did, too! Though most of them eventually got Jagr anyway, however briefly.

We’re just going to focus on those years Vancouver has taken part in a draft lottery of one sort or another. So mostly bad teams, as fits those in the lottery. Though there is one exception where they were just good enough to be worse. You’ll see.

In The Beginning

There is a big change in expansion drafts lately. The league realized that not having players available to new teams can leave them… thin. But before the 2017 draft, teams could protect their top three lines, top five defencemen, and a goalie. Plus first- and second-year players were exempt. Expansion teams just weren’t going to get much from those dregs!

But no matter what the expansion rules, the real ticket for long-term success remains the Amateur Draft. That’s where the selections are no longer other teams’ cast-offs, but potential stars. New teams or established ones need those picks to pan out if they want to compete.

In 1970, there was one big name at the top of the prospect list, and either Vancouver or expansion cousin Buffalo Sabres would get him. Apparently a coin flip wasn’t good enough television, so the league used a carnival wheel with half the numbers representing Vancouver, half Buffalo. The wheel landed on one, and the Canucks celebrated… until it was pointed out that the wheel landed on number eleven. And Buffalo picked Gilbert Perreault.

Perrault is not only a Hall of Famer, but was a key part of building the Sabres’ in their early years. The French Connection was fantastically entertaining, as fun to watch as they were dangerous. Perrault, Rene Robert, and Rick Martin played together for seven seasons, collectively scoring over 1,600 points.

It’s entirely possible that Vancouver wouldn’t have chosen Perrault first overall. Their selection of defenceman Dale Tallon was solid, though he was traded away after three seasons. The remaining Canucks picks, with their expansion selections, showed a team looking for toughness rather than speed. So maybe the spin didn’t make any difference. Maybe.

The First Lottery

After plenty of embarrassing talk about both the Quebec Nordiques and Ottawa Senators tanking their seasons to get Eric Lindros and, er, Alexandre Daigle respectively, the league decided to act. So in 1995 the NHL instituted a lottery for the top pick in the draft. Every team that missed the playoffs was entered, but teams could only move up four spots. As it happened, the Los Angeles Kings won and moved from seventh to third. Calling it a “win” for them is a bit difficult, as they selected Aki-Petteri Berg. In seventh, the Winnipeg Jets selected Shane Doan.

How’d it Affect Vancouver?

It didn’t. The Canucks had already traded away their first pick for Alexander Mogilny, which worked out for them pretty well. In fact, none of the Canucks draft lottery positions moved at all until they started to improve. They slowly dug their way out of their mid-90s pit and had appeared in the playoffs four straight years by the 2004-05 lockout.

The 2004-05 Lockout Draft

With the entirety of the 2004-05 season gone to dust, teams had to figure out how to weigh the 2005 lottery. This was the year the Sidney Crosby was available, so the stakes were high. Clearly, worse teams should have a higher chance of landing Crosby, but who would those teams be? Going by the 2003-04 season’s finish didn’t take into account any team improving (or the opposite). It was eventually decided that teams who had not reached the playoffs for the past three years, but had not won the first overall pick in four, would get three lottery balls. Teams that had one playoff appearance OR a first-overall pick in those time frames would get two. Every other team got one.

How’d it Affect the Canucks?

The Canucks draft lottery luck… was actually pretty good this time! Though they were punished for making the playoffs the previous three years, getting a single lottery ball, the team moved up considerably from their 2004 position. By rankings, they would have selected 24th; by lotto, they selected tenth. The Montreal Canadiens were luckiest, having a single ball in the lottery but getting Carey Price fifth overall.

Jump Ball!

Somehow, it took the league almost 20 years to notice that fans were following the lottery closely. To take advantage of that – even in bigger, more successful markets – they opened the top pick to every team that missed the playoffs. That’s right, instead of just moving up four spots, ANY team in the bottom half of the league could win first overall! The NHL was going CRAZY in 2013, baby! Woo! And even CRAZIER in 2015, when they made the odds just a smidge worse for bottom teams, better for the top ones! Well, the “top” of the teams that still failed to reach the playoffs, anyway.

How’d it Affect the Canucks?

Again, it didn’t. The exciting part of the next two drafts was that the worst team in the league didn’t win! The utterly unexciting part of the next two drafts was that the second worst one did. Since Vancouver was neither of those, nothing happened to them.

Bigger! = Better!

For 2016, the league changed it up again. Now the top three picks would all be available to any team that missed the playoffs. This made for better television, which was the real point. no longer a simple envelope-opening! Now it was a riveting spectacle of envelope-opening while more than a dozen team representatives sweated uncomfortably in their suits! On stools!

How’d it Affect the Canucks?

Here we go. After Vancouver’s brief Dead Cat Bounce that was 2014-15, their decent in the standings continued unabated. But now they would have three chances to move up! Instead, the Winnipeg Jets moved up to second, getting Patrik Laine, and the Columbus Blue Jackets leapfrogged to third, selecting Pierre-Luc Dubois. The Canucks draft lottery luck was reaffirmed as they were bumped down to fifth overall. Some of the wound was self-inflicted as they chose steady defenceman Olli Juolevi over the more exciting forwards available.

Losing to Win

In 2017, there were two clear choices: front-runner Nolan Patrick or the surprising Swiss Nico Hischier? Both were coveted centres, even if neither was billed as franchise-changing selections. After those consensus picks, there were a couple exciting defencemen available, and plenty of big, strong centres from the CHL and UHSL teams could select.

How’d it Affect the Canucks?

Third place was clearly not enough, with Vancouver dropping two spots to fifth overall last season. This year, they were slotted second overall… and dropped three spots to fifth overall. After watching two dynamic defencemen get picked along with the top two forwards, the Canucks had to make do with Elias Pettersson. Pettersson may well have been their selection anyways, having taken a defenceman the previous year, but it still looks like a pretty good choice.

A Cold Breeze

The Carolina Hurricanes blew past their competition this season, winning the second overall pick. They jumped nine spots to snag Andrei Svechnikov, and in the process pushed Vancouver from sixth overall to seventh.

How’d it Affect the Canucks?

You know it’s bad when you can cheer up fans with “We only lost one spot!” Still, two surprising picks – centres Barrett Hayton and Jesperi Kotkaniemi – left Vancouver with a plethora of options. There was plenty of talk about which of four good-looking defencemen would be available, and all were still on the table. The Canucks selected Quinn Hughes and haven’t looked back since.

From Russia With Time

The 2019 draft was the Year of the USHL. An absolutely loaded season for America’s development league had seven players go in the top-15 picks. Europe also flexed their development muscle, eventually taking five of the top-11 spots.

How’d it Affect the Canucks?

The Canucks draft lottery luck continued as the Chicago Blackhawks jumped to third overall. Vancouver’s incremental improvement meant they were at ninth, so the difference between the two spots was negligible. We suspect they got who they wanted in Vasili Podkolzin, bypassed by many teams since he wouldn’t be available for another two seasons.

Conclusion

The Canucks draft lottery history has been one of bad breaks. This year we don’t even know if they’ll qualify, but it’s fitting that they’d have to lose to do so. Ask around and I don’t think you’ll find too many objections to taking their playoff chances – and J.T. Miller – over a pick.

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