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The History of the NHL Draft Lottery

As the Kings head into the Draft Lottery on Tuesday with their highest odds in a decade, take a look back at their previous positions

by Mike Commito @mikecommito / LAKings.com

When the NHL debuted a weighted draft lottery system in 1995, the LA Kings didn't have much of a chance. Among the non-playoff teams, only the clubs with the five worst records had a shot at the top pick and teams could not move up more than four draft positions or drop no more than one spot.

The new format drew inspiration from the NBA, but was also implemented to crack down on clubs that had machinations on bottoming out to nab the coveted first overall selection. 

Heading into the inaugural lottery, the Kings only had a 4.2% shot at winning the contest, and since they finished with the seventh-worst record in the league, the highest position they could move up to would be third place. It was more likely they would move down than up. 

Despite those odds, the Kings won. The team was stunned. Since it was such a long shot, the Kings' did not send anyone of note from hockey operations. Their representative was team executive vice president Lester Wintz, who just happened to be in New York at the time on business. He was just supposed to be there to congratulate and shake hands with the winner. 

The Kings may have won the lottery, but they didn't land the top prize. The Ottawa Senators held onto the first position and the New York Islanders maintained the second spot. Meanwhile, the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, who finished four spots lower in the standings than the Kings and had a 15.1% chance to move up to first, ended up getting bumped down to fourth by their local rivals. 

Although it wasn't a bona fide win for the Kings, there was still plenty of optimism. Following the results, general manager Sam McMaster proclaimed to reporters that "maybe things are finally looking up for the Kings." His words rang hollow. 

The Kings ended up using the third overall selection to take defenseman Aki Berg. Although highly-touted going into Entry Draft, the hulking Finnish rearguard never lived up to his billing in Los Angeles.

Watch: Youtube Video

After becoming a regular on the Kings' blue line in 1997-98, Berg was traded three years later to the Toronto Maple Leafs for Adam Mair and the Leafs' 2001 second-round pick, which the Kings used to select Mike Cammalleri. 

Following the 1995 lottery and draft, McMaster felt confident in the direction that the Kings were heading. So much so that, even before the 1995-96 season began, he traded the team's first-round pick to the Washington Capitals for Dimitri Khristich and Bryon Dafoe. As the season unfolded and the Kings descended to the bottom of the standings, the move looked like it could be destined for disaster. 

Just a year after winning the inaugural lottery, fans and management were now rooting to lose the sweepstakes to avoid having to surrender the first overall pick to another franchise. The Kings ended up finishing with the fourth-worst record that year and had a 10.9% chance of moving up to first. The team collectively held its breathe.

Luckily for McMaster and the Kings, they only had to give the Capitals the fourth-overall pick in what turned out to be one of the weakest drafts in league history. 

After skirting disaster, the Kings have had other brushes at winning the lottery. Following the 1996-97 season, their first full campaign without Wayne Gretzky, they finished third from the bottom, but did not move up at all and ended up drafting Olli Jokinen at number three. 

With the team re-entering the playoff picture in the years that followed, the draft lottery did not come back into focus again until 2003. But with the Kings finishing just outside the cut-off for the postseason, they never had a shot at winning the lottery. Until 2012, the league continued to limit the first overall selection to the five teams with the lowest regular-season point totals. 

Nevertheless, the Kings still made out like bandits in the first-round of the Entry Draft in those subsequent years. In 2003, they drafted Dustin Brown 13th overall, not a bad spot for somebody who just recently became the franchise leader in games played. Two years later, the Kings snagged Anze Kopitar at 11th. A two-time Selke winner, Kopitar is already in the Kings' top-five in all offensive categories. 

Video: The road to 1,000 games for Dustin Brown

But the Kings' best opportunity at winning the lottery was in 2008. After finishing the campaign with a record of 32-43-7, just ahead of the league's cellar-dwelling Lightning, they had an 18.8% chance of moving up to first position.

The Lightning won the lottery, but it would be hard to argue that the Kings lost. They used the second overall selection that year to draft defenseman Drew Doughty, who would join the club's recent first-round picks, Brown and Kopitar, to form the core of the team that would win Stanley Cups in 2012 and 2014. 

Video: 50 Greatest Moments - Drafting Drew Doughty

Following the Kings' second championship, the NHL made significant changes to the lottery system. In addition to changing the odds, and giving less of an advantage to the last-place team, every non-playoff team had a chance at the first overall pick in 2015.

More changes followed the next year. Beginning in 2016, the NHL held three draws to determine the top three picks, which meant that a club that finished in 30th place (now 31st) was no longer guaranteed, at the very least, the second overall pick. Instead, a team could potentially drop three spots, which is exactly what happened to the last-place Avalanche in 2017. 

Heading into the lottery on Tuesday, the Kings have a 13.5% chance at the number one pick, their highest odds in more than a decade. History has shown that the Kings haven't needed a lottery ticket to find success in the first round, but a little luck can go a long way. 

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