The NHL postseason has arrived.
But more than any of the dazzling overtime games (of which there were plenty) on the opening weekend of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, it was a delayed regular season game between eliminated teams in another division that the Columbus Blue Jackets brass had their eye on.
When the Vancouver Canucks took the Calgary Flames to overtime Sunday night, it gave the Canucks their 48th point of the season with just two games left on the schedule. With more regular season wins than the Blue Jackets, the point secured that Vancouver would finish ahead of Columbus in the standings, and in turn, that the Blue Jackets would have (slightly) better odds of the top pick in this summer's NHL Entry Draft.
Even without the top pick, Vancouver's four goal, third period comeback to send their game into the extra period (Calgary won the game, 6-5) assured the Blue Jackets would pick no lower than 7th in the draft (as opposed to 8th), and gave across-the-board bumps to all of their potential landing spots in the draft.
The Blue Jackets finished 28th in the NHL, but the expansion Seattle Kraken enter the league next season and were granted the third best odds at the top pick, so Columbus' 4th worst record will give them the 5th best odds. (Dammit, Kraken.)
With the worst record in the league, the Buffalo Sabres will have the best odds of the top pick (18.5%) and are guaranteed a top three pick. Anaheim, Seattle, and New Jersey are next on the list, and are guaranteed no lower than 4th, 5th, and 6th, respectively.
Under the rules of the NHL Draft Lottery, which will take place June 2nd, the Blue Jackets have secured one of five spots in July's draft:
- 1st Overall (Odds: 8.5%)
- 2nd Overall (Odds: 8.7%)
- 5th Overall (Odds: 24.0%)
- 6th Overall (Odds: 45.3%)
- 7th Overall (Odds: 13.5%)
Finishing just one spot lower would have taken the Blue Jackets odds of a top two pick from 17.2% to 15.3%; not a huge jump, but one that could make all the difference when the ping pong balls drop.
While there is no dominating, must-have player atop this season's prospect pool, there are several players that the Blue Jackets may have their eye on early in the draft, so every spot is important. University of Michigan's Owen Power is the top pick in most mocks, and he's not the only defenseman who will go in the top five. Should Columbus keep the pick (a trade is always possible) and decide to go with a forward first, picking in the top seven all but confirms they can get either Matthew Beniers, Dylan Guenther, or William Eklund, who have created separation from the rest of the pack as the three best offensive weapons of the draft.
The NHL Draft is set to begin July 23rd.