Lottery luck could have ripple effect on Coyotes

GLENDALE, Ariz. — The Coyotes are doing their best to prepare for the statistical probability that they will not select first or second in this year’s NHL Draft.

"It would be silly of me to deny the exceptional top two talents that are available," Coyotes president and CEO Anthony LeBlanc said. "So are we on pins and needles as we get to Saturday? Of course we are. 

In the lottery, 14 balls numbered 1-14 are placed in a machine that randomly churns out four. The winner is determined when the four-number sequence is matched against a chart that shows all potential combinations (1,001 total) and the teams to which each is assigned. The results will be announced at 5 p.m. Arizona time on NBC before Game 2 of the Rangers-Penguins series.

If the Coyotes hit on their 13.5 percent chance of drafting No. 1, they’ll take center Connor McDavid, a generational talent who will transform this organization at every level while bringing the franchise center the Coyotes arguably have needed since moving to the Valley in 1996 — and at least since Jeremy Roenick roamed America West Arena.

LeBlanc weighs in on trying season

"Everybody knows Connor McDavid is the real deal," GM Don Maloney said. "He is so terribly talented." 

Choice 1A is Boston University center Jack Eichel, whom the Coyotes have a 20 percent chance of drafting at No. 2 — a pick that is entirely contingent upon Buffalo winning the lottery. 

"Center ice is so hard to find," Maloney said. "When you get potential franchise centers staring you in the face it’s pretty attractive."

If neither the Sabres nor the Coyotes wins the lottery, the Coyotes would fall to third and pick from what Maloney termed "a half-dozen candidates" that likely includes defensemen Noah Hanifin, Ivan Provorov and Zach Werenski, centers Dylan Strome and Pavel Zacha, and wings Mitch Marner and Lawson Crouse.

"If we don’t (win) there’s still terrific players available," Maloney said. "I don’t see a player that’s going to come in next year and help us per se, but we’re still going to have another top young player to add to our group.

"Once you get through the two there’s a line — the line being there’s development needed. That doesn’t mean there’s not a player in that next group that might turn out to be better or at least on par with those (top two) players."

LeBlanc would not say what he is bringing for good luck when he attends the lottery with a couple partners, George Gosbee and Gary Drummond, and vice president of communications Rich Nairn. 

"It’s fair to say, at minimum, I’ll be crossing my fingers," he said. "I’ll be looking for anything that will help our cause."

Maloney also cautioned that even players such as Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin needed time to establish themselves as pros and leaders in the NHL — a debatable claim since Crosby had 102 points his rookie season and Malkin had 85 — but if the Coyotes can get a little bit of luck for a change, the future will look much brighter and the timeline for that rebuild will be accelerated.

"We need a front-line player," Maloney said. "There are rewards for being bad."   

The Coyotes reached a three-year affiliation agreement on Friday with Springfield (Massachusetts) of the American Hockey League that will keep the Coyotes’ top minor league affiliate back east for at least one more year.

There is believed to be some flexibility within the agreement that allows the Coyotes to escape if they choose to move their affiliation closer to Arizona, or within the state. The Coyotes would still prefer to play in the AHL’s newly formed Pacific Division, but multiple logistics made the move impossible for next season.

The Coyotes do not own an AHL team, but that is a possibility down the road. 

The Springfield franchise was founded in 1994 and is currently tied as the fifth longest-tenured team in the AHL. The Falcons were most recently affiliated with the Columbus Blue Jackets from 2010-15. They were previously affiliated with the Jets and Coyotes from 1995-2005.

"We have had the opportunity to work with this organization in the past and are excited about renewing the relationship with the new management team in Arizona," Falcons president Sarah Pompea said in a statement.

The Falcons compete in the Northeast Division of the AHL’s Eastern Conference and play their home games at the MassMutual Center in Springfield.

The Coyotes signed London Knights center Christian Dvorak to a three-year, entry-level deal on Friday, locking up another junior player as they did with center Ryan MacInnis last week. 

Dvorak, 19, had 41 goals, 109 points, and a plus-33 rating in 66 games to finish fifth in the OHL in points this season and tied for third with Connor McDavid in assists.

"His game has expanded," GM Don Maloney said recently. "Drafting him when we did, I’d have to say his progress is ahead of the curve."

Maloney does not expect Dvorak to be with the Coyotes next season because he still needs more development. Dvorak was allowed to report to Portland (AHL) for the Pirates’ playoff push this weekend because his junior season is over, but he would not be eligible to play in the minor leagues next season due to the CHL-NHL agreement which prohibits players under 20 (by December of that year) from playing anywhere other than juniors or the NHL.

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