By Lori Bennett
On Wednesday, April 20, the NHL announced that the draft lottery for the 2022 amateur draft will be held on Tuesday, May 10. The league also announced some changes to the lottery.
For this season, only the top two picks of the draft will be subject to the lottery, which means that the worst teams in the league can only drop two draft positions. The other change is that teams can move up a maximum of 10 spots, which means only the 11 worst teams are eligible for the first overall pick.
The Battle for the Basement is very real right now. It’s the Montreal Canadiens and the Arizona Coyotes who are neck-and-neck for last place in the league. The 32nd place team has an 18.5 per cent chance of winning the first overall pick, while the odds for the 31st place team drop to 13.5 per cent. The team finishing in 32nd can pick no later than third overall, and the team finishing 31st can pick no later than fourth.
The prize is projected to be Shane Wright. Wright, who turned 18 in January, is a 6’1” centre who is a strong all-around player. Wright is not a generational talent like Connor McDavid or Sidney Crosby, but he can score goals and is an effective playmaker while also playing a solid 200-foot game. He’s currently heading into the Ontario Hockey League playoffs with his Kingston Frontenacs.
It’s not fair to say that Wright is the undisputed first overall pick, but most pundits have his name being called when the draft lottery winner takes the stage. After Wright, some solid options remain for the teams that follow.
Logan Cooley is a smallish but skilled two-way centre; Juraj Slavkovsky is a potent scorer; and David Jiricek and Simon Nemek are potentially first pair defenders. All will be available in the top five picks.
One of the outstanding questions is whether there is any chance the NHL will ban Russian players from being drafted this year. This question comes on the heels of Russian tennis players being banned from participation in Wimbledon. The All England Club cited their responsibility to play their part “to limit Russia’s global influence through the strongest means possible.”
On Thursday night’s Habs-Flyers broadcast, Hockey Insider Pierre LeBrun reported the NHL is not contemplating any action against Russian prospects.
The draft will take place in Montreal on July 7 and 8, and there is no doubt the Canadiens will want to make a splash. I intend to be there and will bring a full report in July.
Meanwhile individual exploits continued this week.
Also on Wednesday night, the Washington Capitals’ Alex Ovechkin scored two goals, numbers 49 and 50, in a loss to the Vegas Golden Knights. The effort tied him with Wayne Gretzky and Mike Bossy for the most 50-goal seasons in NHL history. All three players have accomplished the 50-goal plateau nine times. At 36, Ovechkin also became the oldest player to score 50 in a season, passing Johnny Bucyk who was 35 when he scored 50 with the Bruins in the 1970-71 season.
Speaking of players that are a little long in the tooth, Marc-Andre Fleury announced this week that he would like to play at least one more season. Fleury is 37-years-old and will become an unrestricted free agent in July. He was traded to the Chicago Blackhawks last summer by the Vegas Golden Knights, and then moved again at the deadline to the Minnesota Wild.
Fleury has three Stanley Cups to his credit, and it is likely he will only sign with a team he believes gives him a chance to claim another. But first things first. Fleury and the Wild are among the 16 teams that will soon begin their quest for Lord Stanley’s Cup.
We are entering the last week of hockey for the 2021-22 regular season. Final placements will be determined, and by week’s end we’ll know post-season brackets.
The best hockey of the year is coming up.
Raptors Racket The NBA playoffs are well underway, and the Toronto Raptors are in tough against the Philadelphia 76ers.
The first round series kicked off last Saturday in Philly, and it was the 76ers that dominated. The Raptors didn’t look dangerous at any point of the game and lost the series opener 131-111. It helped that Joel Embiid was drawing fouls like it was his job, flopping about the court like a fish on a wharf.
On Monday the teams were back at it. The Raptors were shorthanded when Scottie Barnes couldn’t play due to injury and Gary Trent Jr. left the game in the first quarter due to a non-COVID illness. The Raptors lost 112-97. The series moved to Toronto for Game 3 on Wednesday night.
The Raptors looked like a different team for much of the game, led by OG Anunoby with 26 points, and Gary Trent Jr. who scored a career playoff high of 24 points. It looked as if the Raptors could get back in the series, leading at one point by 17 points. They had not trailed heading into the overtime.
The overtime featured a cruel turning of the tables.
Die hard fans will remember the Game 7 buzzer beater shot by Kawhi Leonard in 2019 against the 76ers, on their way to the championship. This time Philly was the victor, with Embiid scoring a three-pointer with just .8 seconds left on the clock in overtime. Philadelphia won the game 104-101.
With the loss, the Raptors were down 3-0 heading into Game 4 on Saturday night, and that’s where we were at press deadline. Hopefully Game 5 is necessary on Monday.
Either way, this young crew has progressed more swiftly than anyone expected, and there are great years to come.
Blue Jays Babble
After winning two of three games in the home series against the Oakland Athletics last weekend, the Toronto Blue Jays had Monday night off. Then on Tuesday they played the first of 20 games in 20 days.
The first stop for the Blue Jays was Boston, where they would face the rival Red Sox.
The Red Sox won a close series opener 2-1, but the Jays recovered on Wednesday with a 6-1 win. In the rubber match on Thursday, Pitcher Kevin Gausman dominated and took a shutout into the ninth inning. The final score was 3-2.
Leaving Boston, the Jays have four series in the record books for the 2022 season and a record of 8-5.
Their next stop was Houston to face the Astros for their weekend series before heading back to Toronto to greet the Red Sox.
Blue Jays fans should prepare themselves. If at the end of this 20- game stretch the Jays are around .500, that’s not something to fret about. The front end of this schedule is tough, and the opportunities to dominate and rack up wins is yet to come. Batter up!
Lori Bennett is a social worker, policy professional, recreational softball player and coach, and new ukulele-ist. Originally from NL and now based in Toronto, Lori loves a good hockey chat or debate, as long as it remains respectful. She posts game time thoughts on twitter as @lori10habs.