Before the NHL's top sixteen teams have a chance to compete for the Stanley Cup, the worst 14 teams will get a shot at landing a player who could potentially improve their chances of doing so in the future.
The Draft Lottery has seen the Edmonton Oilers select first overall for the past three years, selecting Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov with each of those picks. This year, the Oilers have just a 4.7% chance of winning the top pick, just slightly less than the Calgary Flames at 6.2%, as per TSN.
The teams with the best chances of winning are the Florida Panthers (25%), the Colorado Avalanche (18.8%), and the Tampa Bay Lightning (14.2%). In this year's Lottery, the winning team will draft first overall, and the remaining 13 teams will select in "reverse order," sorted by their regular season point totals.
But even if the Flames don't win the Lottery, which they likely won't, the potential to draft a pretty good-looking player in the top ten is still there, especially if they do manage to trade their some of their picks or put together a package of picks and a player to move up in the draft.
In the midst of the Oilers' lotto streak, Derek Zona from the Copper & Blue wrote an article about where "top players" (a forward who had played a minimum of 200 NHL games and scored 0.5 PPG) were selected in the draft from 1997-2005. The study he cited found that of the 32 players drafted in slots four to seven, where the Flames will likely be choosing this summer, 16 of them went on to become top players in the NHL. The study also found that the odds of drafting a top player (also defined as a top-five forward or a top-three defenceman) is still higher even in the 14th-25th overall range than anywhere else in the draft, but still less than doing so with a pick in the eighth to 13th overall range.
With their three first round picks, the Flames could potentially select a player in the the top ten, one in the 14-25 range, and one in the 25-30 range. The Flames haven't exactly fared well selecting in the 14-25 range in the past nine years. The only player that comes close to satisfying the criteria for a top player selected by the Flames in that range is Mikael Backlund, with 170 games played at 0.36 PPG. Others, like Greg Nemisz, Kris Chucko and Matt Pelech have been less successful, to say the least.
Even if the Flames could package their bottom two first round picks into a trade for a pick in the eighth to 13th overall range, their chances of selecting a top player would still be around 41%, and likely better than the odds of doing so with two picks in the 14-25 range or the 25-30 range. I think that for the time being, trading up into the top-15 is slightly more realistic than trading up into the top-five or ten, as teams that need a prospective star player are going to be very reluctant to give up those picks (and for a good reason).
The above article also nicely articulates why I believe the Flames should select a forward with at least their first pick in this year's draft, but we'll save that conversation for another time closer to the date once the Flames' draft position is officially official.