By JOHN WAWROW
AP Hockey Writer
The Montreal Canadiens are not only hosting the NHL draft in July, they’ll have a chance to be the headliners after winning the draft lottery on Tuesday night.
The Canadiens retain the right to the No. 1 pick, a bright spot after a turbulent season in which they changed coaches, overhauled their front-office, finished last in the overall standings and most recently mourned the death of former star Guy Lafleur.
“I can only imagine the buildup of anticipation, excitement and interest in the Montreal Canadiens,” general manager Kent Hughes said of the city and fanbase that essentially lives and breathes ‘Bleu Blanc et Rouge’ year-round. “You hope as an organization that you don’t pick No. 1 overall all too often, but when you’re in that situation, it’s pretty special.”
The New Jersey Devils’ run lottery luck continued, winning the second of two lottery drawings to move up from fifth to the second slot. It’s the fourth time the Devils have been draft lottery winners since 2011, which included them landing the No. 1 picks in both 2017 and 2019.
“Adding another core piece to our group down the road is everything every team wants to continue to do, and this will allow us to do that,” Devils GM Tom Fitzgerald said of a team that has missed the playoffs in nine of its 10 last seasons. “So who that player may be, no idea right now, but we’re excited that we hit the lottery.”
The Devils’ win bumped Arizona from second to third, Seattle to fourth and Philadelphia to the fifth slot. The remaining slots from 6 to 16 remained unchanged based on where the teams finished in the standings.
The final 16 spots in the draft order will be determined by where teams finish in the playoffs.
This year’s top draft prospect is considered to be Ontario Hockey League center Shane Wright, who is ranked first among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting.
Wright, who is from Burlington, Ontario, and plays for the Kingston Frontenacs, has an opportunity to become the first OHL player drafted first since Edmonton chose Connor McDavid with the No. 1 pick in 2015. Wright averaged 1.49 points-per-game in finishing with 32 goals and 62 assists in 63 regular-season outings this season.
Wright said he couldn’t watch the draft lottery because he was preparing to compete in a playoff game.
Slovakia’s Juraj Slafkovsky is ranked first among international prospects. He scored seven goals to earn MVP honors at the Beijing Winter Olympics in February and help Slovakia win bronze — the nation’s first Olympic ice hockey medal. The 6-foot-3 winger has a chance to become the highest-drafted Slovakian-born player after Marian Gaborik was chosen third by Minnesota in 2000.
The top U.S.-born prospect is Logan Cooley of the United States Development Program, and ranked second among North American skaters. He’s from the Pittsburgh area.
Montreal had the best odds to win the No. 1 pick — though only 18.5% — and became the 10th team to finish last and retain the top pick since the NHL introduced the lottery in 1995.
The Canadiens have had a lengthy wait to host the draft, scheduled for July 7 and 8. Montreal was originally scheduled to host the event in 2020, but the last two drafts were held remotely because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Hughes said it’s too premature to determine which player the Canadiens might target. A former agent, Hughes started the job Jan. 19, replacing Marc Bergevin. Hughes also has retooled the front office, firing coach Dominique Ducharme in February and replacing him with Martin St. Louis, who maintains the interim coaching tag.
The Canadiens went from reaching the 2021 Stanley Cup Final, which they lost in five games to Tampa Bay, to a 22-49-11 finish — the franchise’s fewest wins in 60-plus-game season.
Montreal becomes the first team to host the draft and have the No. 1 pick since Toronto in 1985, when the Maple Leafs selected Wendel Clark.
The draft lottery also settled two picks among the top 16.
Chicago’s selection at No. 6 will go to the Columbus Blue Jackets as part of the trade in which the Blackhawks acquired Seth Jones last summer. The Blue Jackets will also pick 12th.
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