There will be many good prospects available in the NHL Draft when it's held June 22-23 in Dallas. But come Saturday night in Toronto, there are 15 teams with their eyes on just one.
The Buffalo Sabres have the best odds on getting a player who could anchor their defense corps for years, and their thin blueline could certainly use the instant infusion of talent. But everything will be decided by the league's annual draft lottery.
The prize is 18-year-old Rasmus Dahlin, the 6-foot-2 Swede who might be the best defenseman taken No. 1 overall since Denis Potvin went to the New York Islanders way back in 1973. He is certainly going to be the top pick in the draft, and it's simply a question of which team gets to take him.
That will be decided in a drawn-out selection show that will be televised on both sides of the border. The lottery results for teams picked Nos. 4-15 in the draft will be revealed around 7:30 -- but the draft order for teams 1-2-3 will have to wait until close to 10 p.m. during the second intermission of the telecast of Game 2 between Vegas and San Jose. The proceedings will air on NBCSN (pregame), NBC (in-game) and CBC in Buffalo.
The lottery will take place at the CBC studios in downtown Toronto. Sabres General Manager Jason Botterill will represent the team on stage as the results are announced. In the nearby room where the actual draw will take place, another front-office representative from each team will be sequestered without electronic devices for about four hours with NHL officials that include Commissioner Gary Bettman. The Sabres rep will be Chris Bandura, the team's longtime vice president of media relations.
Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly will announce the results live on the television show.
The lottery is a weighted system that will choose the top three teams in the first round of the draft. By virtue of their last place finish in the overall standing, the Sabres have the best chance to win the No. 1 pick at 18.5 percent. The worst they can do is No. 4, if they lose all three lotteries. That was the scenario last year as Colorado finished last and dropped to fourth after getting leapfrogged in the lottery by New Jersey, Philadelphia and Dallas.
The Devils selected Swiss forward Nico Hischier while the Flyers moved all the way up from No. 13 to win the No. 2 pick and selected Canadian junior star Nolan Patrick. Dallas took Finnish defenseman Miro Heiskanen while Colorado took UMass blueliner Cale Makar. While Hischier and Patrick combined for 33 goals and 82 points this season, Heiskanan and Makar have yet to play in the NHL.
The draw is done by the random selection of four bouncing balls from a lottery machine. Fourteen balls, numbered 1 to 14 are entered into the machine for each selection and four are then expelled, forming a series of numbers. The four-digit series is matched against a probability chart that divides the possible combinations among the participating clubs. The actual draw will not be shown on television but the league will post it on NHL.com.
There are 1,001 possible combinations. If 11-12-13-14 is the series, the draw is redone. The Sabres have the most combinations, with 185 out of the 1,000. Ottawa is next at 135 (13.5 percent chance). Arizona has 115 (11.5 percent), followed by Montreal with 95 (9.5 percent) and Detroit at 85 (8.5 percent).
Even with the best odds, the Sabres actually have a better chance of falling to No. 4 (50.6 percent) than they do of finishing in the top three (49.4 percent).
Dahlin was in Buffalo a few months ago, playing for Sweden as a 17-year-old in the World Junior Championship. He had seven goals, 13 assists and 20 points in 41 games this year for Frolunda in the Swedish Elite League.
So if not Dahlin, then who? Forwards Andrei Svechnikov (Barrie) and Filip Zadina (Halifax) are high on most lists as is Boston University forward Brady Tkachuk. He's the brother of Calgary's Matthew Tkachuk and was a key member of Team USA at the World Juniors. On defense, the highly touted names include Evan Bouchard of London, Noah Dobson of Acadie-Bathurst in the Quebec League and Adam Boqvist from Sweden.
Many teams could use Dahlin to help on defense, with Montreal and Detroit just two of the four Original Six clubs in the lottery. Chicago (6.5 percent) and the New York Rangers (6.0) are also involved in the proceedings for the first time in many years after failing to make the playoffs. The Blackhawks moved from No. 5 to No. 1 by winning the lottery in 2007, earning the right to select South Buffalo's Patrick Kane with the top pick.
Ottawa could form a super pair with Dahlin and Erik Karlsson, or trade Karlsson for a bevy of assets and let Dahlin take over its defense. Karlsson and longtime former Detroit star Nicklas Lidstrom are the NHL stars most compared to Dahlin.
Also entered are Vancouver (7.5 percent), the New York Islanders (6.0, with 3.5 from their own pick and 2.5 from Calgary's), Edmonton (5.0), Carolina (3.0), Dallas (2.0), St. Louis (1.5) and Florida (1.0).
The lottery, of course, has not been kind to the Sabres in recent years. They finished last overall in both 2014 and 2015 and didn't win the draw either time. Florida won the '14 draw, taking defenseman Aaron Ekblad while Buffalo chose Sam Reinhart. Edmonton won in 2015 to take Connor McDavid while Buffalo took Jack Eichel. The Sabres' frustration was compounded when archrival Toronto retained the No. 1 spot in 2016 to select Auston Matthews.
The Leafs' lotttery win was the first one by a team since 2010, when Edmonton kept the top spot to select Taylor Hall. Last year was the most jumbled lottery in history. New Jersey moved from No. 5 to No. 1, Philly from 13 to 2 and Dallas from 8-3. The big losers were Colorado (dropping from 1 to 4), Vancouver (2 to 5), Vegas (3 to 6) and Arizona (3 to 7). As part of its expansion agreement, Vegas was given the same odds as the No. 3 team and guaranteed to drop no lower than No. 6.
The odds have changed over the years as a result of rule changes and the addition of Vegas. The Sabres, for instance, had a 25 percent chance of getting the No. 1 pick in 2014 and a 20 percent chance in 2015. Colorado was at 18 percent last year with Vegas being an extra participant in the lottery. With only 15 teams in the proceedings this year, the odds are slightly better for each team.