Pittsburgh Penguins: Big NHL Draft changes could hurt the future

The NHL’s Board of Governors approved new entry level draft changes that begin to go into effect this year and will have a sweeping impact across the league

Imagine for a second that instead of finishing third in the 2003 NHL Draft lottery, the Penguins won the lottery outright. No need to trade for the first pick, and Marc-Andre Fleury is still the choice. With the second-worst record in the league that season, it wouldn’t have been too hard…

And then in 2004, with the worst record in the league, the Penguins could have won a second consecutive lottery for the chance to draft Washington’s Alex Ovechkin or run it back and draft Evgeni Malkin. Give me Geno every day that ends in “Y” but that’s two lottery wins.

With those two lottery wins, the Penguins would look very, very, very different. Under the recently enacted lottery changes, the Penguins would have been ineligible to win the 2005 lottery.

Goodbye, Sidney Crosby. And maybe goodbye, Penguins.

Under the NHL’s new draft lottery rules, there will be some sweeping changes to the way teams will draft in the future.

Starting in 2021, the number of lottery balls (the number of chances a team has to selected for a draft pick in the lottery) will be reduced from three to two. That means the last place team will no longer slip below the third pick — hello, Detroit Red Wings in 2020.

Additionally, two more rule changes will be implemented beginning with the 2022 Draft.

There will no longer be teams that can move from 14 to the first overall pick (sorry, New York Rangers) as the limit will be a 10 spot jump. This narrows the number of teams eligible to win the lottery from 16 to 11.

And perhaps most importantly, no team will be allowed to win the lottery more than twice in any five-year period. The first five-year period will start being counted with the start of the 2022 draft.

How does this affect the Penguins?

Considering the Penguins haven’t had to worry about a lottery selection since the 2006 NHL Draft, other than last season’s weird preliminary limbo selection, the lottery may be a foreign concept to some Pens’ fans.

For a refresher, any team that misses the playoffs is entered into a draft lottery that determines the first half of the first round of picks. The team with the worst record receives the best chance of winning the lottery and those odds decreases as you go up the list of worst NHL teams.

While the state of the franchise probably won’t reach early 2000s levels, with four top picks inside the top two between 2003-06, the “dark ages” following the dissolution of the Crosby, Malkin, Letang years have the potential to be pretty bad.

It is of my belief that as long as Crosby is a Penguin, which is at least through the 2024-25 season, the Pens will compete for a playoff spot. And it would be very Crosby like to play well until he’s 40 years old.

However, you cannot discount the chance of the Penguins once again competing for the first pick in the draft once those years are over. With Letang and Malkin both out of contract after next season, the 2022-23 season may the first of the Pens finally being on the outside looking in.

In the event that Malkin and Letang aren’t resigned, and Crosby suddenly retires, the Penguins would be in some deep, deep water. The prospect pool is among the worst in the league, and it wouldn’t be unrealistic that the Pens would compete for the first pick for a few seasons.

While I don’t think the Penguins will be competing for the first pick in the next few years, these new rule changes could prevent the Pens from jumping from 14 to 1 as was the possibility last season. And in an alternate universe, maybe the Pens never would have had a chance at Crosby.

With a legendary 14 years of playoff appearances on the books, it’s been unlike Pens’ fans to worry about draft changes. Hopefully, that will continue to be the case.

What do you think of the new NHL Draft lottery rules? Do you think it’ll impact the Pens in the years ahead?