TORONTO — Last year, Brendan Shanahan stood in the sequestered room at the Draft Lottery and watched one ball determine the future of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The franchise had the best odds to land Connor McDavid on the final draw. Four of the 11 balls remaining in that air mix chamber would have delivered the most highly touted generational prospect since Sidney Crosby.

Shanahan’s pockets were jammed with lucky charms. They didn’t help.

Consider Saturday a night of redemption. The Maple Leafs, who entered with the best odds for the No. 1 overall pick, had some of the worst odds to win the lottery after the first three balls climbed up the chute.

Six. Eight. Five.

No. 13 was the only ball left that could deliver the No. 1 pick to Toronto. It was a scant 9 per cent shot.

The Edmonton Oilers nearly pulled off Grand Theft Lotto for the fifth time. They were one of three teams, along with Winnipeg and Columbus, with two balls in the mix and the best odds.

The Maple Leafs hit the jackpot.

“It’s just good fortune,” Shanahan told TSN. “It’s interesting it came out that way. It’s out of your control, stuff like that. I find it more humorous than anything. Last year, I decked myself out; I had stuff in my pocket. This year, I had nothing. I changed it up a bit. I went au naturel.”

With a little long-term vision and a lot of luck, the Shanaplan was vindicated on Saturday night. There will be a little less pain next year.

The Toronto Maple Leafs became the first 30th place finisher to win the Draft Lottery in the last six years, earning the right to select a long-coveted franchise centre in Auston Matthews with the golden ping pong ball combination. 

On June 24 in Buffalo, the Maple Leafs will draft first overall for the first time since picking Wendel Clark in 1985. Despite years of poor finishes, this will also be Toronto’s first time drafting in the top three since 1989.

Shanahan would not confirm that the Maple Leafs will select Matthews with the No. 1 pick, but did hint “our scouts are very pleased with tonight’s results.”

With Matthews, the final vision of the Maple Leafs’ rebuild inches closer to focus. He can join William Nylander, Mitch Marner, and Morgan Rielly as the core of the future.

“I think it’s a great piece to it,” Shanahan said. “I wouldn’t put too much pressure on any one player. We recognize that at this stage, whoever’s coming in here is going to be a young person, a rookie, and not going to have the weight of the world thrust on their shoulders.

“This is not going to be a saviour. That’s not the way the game is played these days. You need to have a full team.”

Other than the Maple Leafs, the Winnipeg Jets ended winning big, jumping from the sixth spot all the way to second overall in the new format. Finnish sniper Patrik Laine is far from a consolation prize for the Jets, with many scouts wondering whether he could possibly overtake Matthews for the top pick. 

Saturday’s lottery wins were a bonus for Toronto and Winnipeg, who both hold another first- round pick in June’s draft.

The Columbus Blue Jackets will pick third overall, likely connecting Jesse Puljujärvi with the NHL’s only Finnish general manager in Jarmo Kekalainen.

Saturday’s biggest loser ended up being the Arizona Coyotes. There were not high expectations in the lottery, with the Coyotes holding the seventh-best odds at 6.5 per cent, but the Coyotes held the same exact odds as the Maple Leafs on the final draw.

A No. 3 ball instead of No. 13 would have sent the Phoenix born and bred Matthews to the Coyotes as a franchise saviour. He grew up a Coyotes fan. They ended up staying at seventh.

“We hit the post,” Coyotes CEO Anthony LeBlanc told TSN. “We are still very excited about our seventh overall draft choice as well as our first-round draft pick from the New York Rangers. We are confident that we will come away from the draft with at least two very good prospects.”

The Calgary Flames fell from fourth to sixth. And the Canucks dropped from third to fifth. The Montreal Canadiens (ninth) and Ottawa Senators (12th) remained in their slots as per the inverse standing order.

With all seven Canadian franchises missing the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time since 1970, there was a combined 68.5 per cent chance the No. 1 pick landing in the lap of a Canadian team.

No Canadian team other than the Edmonton Oilers has drafted No. 1 overall in the last two decades, since the Ottawa Senators selected Chris Phillips first in 1996.

Maple Leafs fans finally have something to celebrate.

“They needed some good news and while there's still a lot of work to be done, this was some good news for them and they deserved it,” Shanahan said. “I hope they're out in the streets of Toronto right now just feeling a little bit better.”

Unlike a lot of fans, Shanahan only clicked through the online Draft Lottery simulator once.

One time was all he needed. Why press your luck? 

Shanahan liked the results so much that he quickly closed his laptop, holding his breath and hoping the same would pull through during the real draw. It worked.

“I’ll never do it again,” Shanahan said, cracking a smile.

Redemption. At long last.


2016 Draft Lottery Results

Draft position TEAM
1 Toronto Maple Leafs
2 Winnipeg Jets
3 Columbus Blue Jackets
4 Edmonton Oilers
5 Vancouver Canucks
6 Calgary Flames
7 Arizona Coyotes
8 Buffalo Sabres
9 Montreal Canadiens
10 Colorado Avalanche
11 New Jersey Devils
12 Ottawa Senators
13 Carolina Hurricanes
14 Boston Bruins