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How does the NHL draft lottery work? Everything you need to know

The 2023 NHL draft class includes a number of great players, led by Regina Pats center Connor Bedard. Many believe he will quickly alter the path of whichever team drafts him No. 1 overall this summer.

But the No. 1 pick doesn’t simply go to the team with the worst regular-season record. Instead, a lottery will determine the final order of the first 16 picks of the first round.

Tune in to watch the proceedings tonight (8 ET, ESPN), and read on for more intel on how this all works, along with which teams have the best shot at landing the No. 1 pick.

Why is there a draft lottery?

A lottery provides multiple non-playoff teams with the chance at getting the first overall pick — an important consideration given the premium value of early first-round picks. In theory, this also reduces any sense that certain teams are not doing their best to ice a competitive lineup (to put it charitably), since there is no guarantee of getting that No. 1 pick by losing the most games.

Plus, it adds some extra excitement for half of the league’s fan bases in the time between the end of the regular season and the draft lottery, particularly in years when a player of Bedard’s caliber is at the top of the rankings.

How does the actual lottery work?

A set of 14 pingpong balls are placed in a lottery machine, which allows for 1,001 combinations. Each team in the lottery is assigned a set of random four-number combinations. The worse a team’s record, the more combinations they are assigned; so the team with the worst record this past season, the Anaheim Ducks, gets 185, representing an 18.5% chance of winning the first lottery draw.

An accounting firm runs the process for the league, and it keeps tabs on which teams are lined up with each combination; there is also one combination that is deleted from the proceedings (to make it an even 1,000 instead of 1,001).

The first draw of pingpong balls determines the No. 1 pick, based on the assigned combinations. However, since a set of rule changes in 2021, a team can move up a maximum of 10 spots in the order; therefore, if a team in spot Nos. 12-16 wins the first draw, they move up accordingly, and the team lowest in the standings (in this year’s case, the Ducks) slots in at No. 1.

There is then a second draw, to determine the next possible spot, using similar rules as the first. Similarly, a team in spot Nos. 13-16 can still move up only 10 slots, so they would move up accordingly and the next lowest available team in the standings would get pick No. 2.

Regardless of which teams win the draft lottery draws, picks in Rounds 2-7 are in reverse order of the final standings following the playoffs.

Which teams have the best chance at winning the draws this year?

A native of Vancouver, British Columbia, it’s possible that Bedard will begin his NHL journey skating for the Canucks. Possible … but it’s not the most likely outcome. Here is the full list of each club’s draft lottery chances:

1. Anaheim Ducks: 18.5%
2. Columbus Blue Jackets: 13.5%
3. Chicago Blackhawks: 11.5%
4. San Jose Sharks: 9.5%
5. Montreal Canadiens: 8.5%
6. Arizona Coyotes: 7.5%
7. Philadelphia Flyers: 6.5%
8. Washington Capitals: 6%
9. Detroit Red Wings: 5%
10. St. Louis Blues: 3.5%
11. Vancouver Canucks: 3%
12. Ottawa Senators: 2.5%
13. Buffalo Sabres: 2%
14. Pittsburgh Penguins: 1.5%
15. Calgary Flames: 0.5%
16. Nashville Predators: 0.5%

Any other rules I need to know?

As part of the 2021 lottery rule changes, the NHL also decreed that a team cannot win the lottery more than twice in a five-year span (starting with the 2022 lottery).

The Canadiens won the lottery last year, so if they do it again this year, they will be ineligible to do so until 2027. Then again, if they land Bedard, they probably won’t be worrying too much about the draft lottery for a while.

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