The Montreal Canadiens do not need to necessarily win the lottery to walk into the NHL Draft with the first overall pick.
Due to new rule changes in the NHL Draft Lottery, the Montreal Canadiens do not need to win the Lottery for the first overall pick. In the past, every single team that missed the playoffs had a shot at winning each of the top picks up for grabs in the lottery. However, this year, a team cannot improve their rank by more than ten spots. This means that, if a team that is ranked 12th to 16th wins the Lottery for the 1st overall pick, they can pick no higher than 2nd to 6th overall. If any of those teams win the first lottery, by extension, Montreal will automatically be awarded the first overall pick.
Here are the two rules regarding the lotteries below:
1) The 1st overall pick is awarded via the lottery system using ping pong balls. A winning team can only jump a maximum of ten spots, meaning the top 11 teams are eligible for the 1st pick. If a team in the 12-16 range wins the first draw, the first pick will remain with the worst team (Montreal Canadiens).
2) The 2nd overall pick is awarded via the lottery system using ping pong balls. If a team in the 12-16 range won the first draw, the worst team keeps the 1st pick and is excluded from the second draw. Like the first draw, the second winner can only jump ten spots.
So, if any of the Columbus Blue Jackets, New York Islanders, Winnipeg Jets, Vancouver Canucks or Vegas Golden Knights win the lottery on Tuesday night, the Montreal Canadiens will automatically be awarded the first overall pick. Keep in mind that teams ranked in the teens prior to the NHL Draft Lottery have won top picks before. For example, the Philadelphia Flyers won the 2nd overall pick in the 2017 NHL Draft Lottery with the 13th best odds, and the Chicago Blackhawks jumped to 3rd overall during the 2019 NHL Draft lottery with the 12 best odds.
Furthermore, should this scenario happen, and the Montreal Canadiens land the 1st overall pick without winning a lottery, it would not count against the new rule imposed by the NHL regarding the limit of lottery victories. As of 2022, the NHL has stipulated that a team cannot improve their Draft rank through the lottery more than twice in a five-year period. With Montreal finishing last, they would not be improving their rank by way of lottery, but would be awarded the first overall pick by default, as the team that won the lottery for the 1st overall pick would not be able to climb high enough in the ranks to claim the big prize.