(Reuters) - The rebuilding plans of the woeful Toronto Maple Leafs received a shot in the arm when they won the first overall selection in the National Hockey League draft lottery on Saturday.
Although Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan would not reveal who his team will choose at the draft in Buffalo on June 24, American teenager center Auston Matthews, is the consensus top pick, followed by Finnish forwards Patrik Laine and Jesse Puljujarvi.
”It’s a team sport and not about one guy,“ Shanahan told NBC Sports. ”Certainly, when you have an opportunity to pick first overall it’s important for the Toronto Maple Leafs, our fans, our ownership group that has given us an opportunity to do this rebuild in the right way.
“We earned this the hard way. It wasn’t a whole lot of fun this year. Our guys, our coaching staff did some really good things here in Toronto.”
The Maple Leafs finished the recently-completed season with the worst record in the 30-team league (29-42-11) and had the best chance to win the weighted lottery, 20 percent.
The Winnipeg Jets climbed from sixth to number two in the lottery and the Columbus Blue Jackets moved up a spot to third.
Matthews, 18, from Scottsdale, Arizona, is an Arizona Coyotes fan, but it seems he will begin his NHL career north of the border.
He currently is in Helsinki, Finland, preparing with the American team for the World Championship, which begins in Russia on Friday.
“Very nerve wracking but I know I have a lot of mixed emotions,” said Matthews, who played for Zurich in the Swiss league this season.
“It’s nice to have a little bit of clarity, though nothing is set in stone. We’re still a ways away from the draft so just trying to stay in the moment right now and enjoy my time here and focus on the world championship.”
The Maple Leafs last won the Stanley Cup in 1967 and remain the only team among the pre-expansion six organizations (Boston Bruins, Chicago Blackhawks, Detroit Red Wings, Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers) not to have won the top prize since the NHL underwent its first expansion from six teams to 12 for the 1967-68 season.
The Leafs have made the playoffs only once in 11 seasons and have not had the first overall selection since 1985, when they drafted Wendel Clark.
After Columbus, rounding out the draft order of the 11 other teams that did not make the playoffs will be Edmonton, Vancouver, Calgary, Arizona, Buffalo, Montreal, Colorado, New Jersey, Ottawa, Carolina and Boston.
Reporting by Tim Wharnsby in Toronto; Editing by Andrew Both