Draft luck didn’t quite tumble on the Kraken’s side this year, as the team fell one spot to a No. 4 overall selection once the Ping-Pong balls fell Tuesday in the NHL’s annual lottery.
The Kraken entered Tuesday with the third-highest draft odds in the lottery at 11.5%. A year ago they also had the third-highest odds — bestowed as a benefit of their record $650 million expansion fee — and moved up a spot to the No. 2 overall pick, using it on University of Michigan center Matty Beniers, who broke in for 10 games with the team last month.
Kraken general manager Ron Francis said there are about “seven or eight” players on his team’s draft board that could be picked fourth, and he’s confident of landing somebody who can debut in a season or two.
“We feel pretty comfortable that we can get guys probably in the top five or six (spots) that could that could step in in the next couple of years,” Francis said. “We feel there are a couple of players that could step into this year’s lineup, maybe, in the NHL. Whether they get to us at No. 4 and we’re able to pick them or not remains to be seen. But there are talented players in this draft.”
Montreal entered the day with the highest draft odds at 18.5% by virtue of its league-worst record. The Canadiens became the first team since the 1985 Toronto Maple Leafs to play host to a draft in which they hold the No. 1 overall pick. The Leafs used that on Wendel Clark, who went on to play parts of 14 seasons for that team.
The draft takes place July 7-8 at the Bell Centre in Montreal.
The Canadiens last had the No. 1 overall pick in 1980 when they infamously chose center Doug Wickenheiser as opposed to local favorite Denis Savard, who went on to a Hall of Fame career with the Chicago Blackhawks.
New Jersey will have the No. 2 overall selection after Montreal, followed by Arizona at No. 3. Philadelphia rounded out the top five, dropping one spot as the Kraken did after finishing with the NHL’s fourth-lowest point total.
The Kraken stayed behind the Flyers by a point in the standings by blowing a 3-1 third-period lead at Winnipeg and losing the season finale 4-3. The Buffalo Sabres, who drafted Michigan defenseman Owen Power at No. 1 overall a year ago, will again have a pair of top-end picks at Nos. 9 and 16.
The Kraken have 12 selections in the draft: the first-round pick, four seconds, one third, three fourths and one pick in each of the fifth, sixth and seventh rounds.
The first overall pick is expected to be Shane Wright, 18, a center for the Kingston Frontenacs of the Ontario Hockey League and widely viewed as NHL-ready. Wright had 32 goals and 62 assists in 63 games after missing last season due to the league’s COVID-19 shutdown. He had 39 goals and 27 assists in 58 games as a 16-year-old rookie in 2019-20.
After that, many scouting boards have center Logan Cooley from the U.S. National Team Development Program and Slovakian winger and Winter Olympics MVP Juraj Slafkovsky from TPS of the Finnish pro Liiga at some combination of Nos. 2 and 3. It seems highly likely the Kraken would pick one of them if either were to tumble to fourth overall.
After that it becomes more of a toss-up. Simon Nemec, a right-handed defenseman playing for Nitra in his native Slovakia, certainly provides a player of need for a lefty-heavy Kraken defensive corps. Nemec is viewed as the type of puck-mover the Kraken have lacked at times, playing a strong transition game in addition to solid defense.
Czech defenseman David Jiricek is also a right-handed shot with a strong two-way game that had been considered a top-five possibility before tearing a knee ligament in December at the World Junior Championships. It remains to be seen whether Jiricek, who underwent surgery and missed months of action, will tumble out of the top five.
Finnish winger Joakim Kemell is another player the Kraken could select if they opt not to go the defenseman route.
Francis said his draft board is far from complete, with the team planning to attend the IIHF World Hockey Championship in Finland that starts Friday. The Kraken will also continue scouting the major junior hockey playoffs through the Memorial Cup in Saint John, New Brunswick, on June 20-29.
“There is still a lot to cover,” Francis said. “We’ll have those (draft) meetings the first part of June and sort of finalize our list. And then my guess is we’ll continue to tweak a little bit up until draft day and then after round one.”