With the rights to top prospect Sidney Crosby on the line and a new lottery formula ready to go, this year's NHL draft should be an interesting one.
The NHL and the NHL Players' Association reached a tentative agreement on a new collective bargaining agreement on Wednesday and pending ratification next week, the 2005 NHL entry draft will go ahead on July 30th in Ottawa.
It also means the Crosby sweepstakes can begin.
"I'm excited that the two sides have finally reached an agreement," Crosby said Wednesday from Halifax.
"It's great to have the NHL back and now I can really look forward to the draft and hopefully playing in the NHL next season."
There is no question Crosby is the undisputed golden boy of this year's draft, having been touted as a future No. 1 pick since Wayne Gretzky called him "The Next One" several years ago.
"It's the Sidney Crosby draft no doubt, but I like the depth in this year's draft," Toronto Maple Leafs director of amateur scouting Barry Trapp told The Canadian Press. "I think there's a lot of talent out there."
Crosby, the Canadian Hockey League's most valuable player for the past two years, may be the best talent in this draft year of players born in 1987 and those born in 1986 after Sept. 15, but there are others as well.
Benoit Pouliot of the Sudbury Wolves is largely considered the No. 2 prospect and International Scouting Services has compared him to Tampa Bay forward Vincent Lecavalier.
Vancouver Giants forward Gilbert Brule, Owen Sound forward Bobby Ryan, Swedish centre Anze Kopitar and American defenceman Jack Johnson, who won a world under-18 championship with the U.S. in April, round out the top six prospects in the draft.
Other notables to watch out for in the top 10 include defenceman Marc Staal, younger brother of Carolina Hurricanes forward Eric Staal, Erie forward Ryan O'Marra and Slovak centre Marek Zagrapan, who was a 30-goal scorer for the Chicoutimi Sagueneens last year.
What makes this year's draft intriguing is that any of the NHL's 30 teams have a shot at landing the No. 1 pick.
Each team begins with three balls in the lottery barrel. For every playoff appearance in the last three years or No. 1 overall pick over the last four years, a team loses one ball.
With that scenario, Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Columbus and the New York Rangers have the best chance of drafting Crosby. Each of those teams will have the maximum three balls in the lottery barrel while the rest of the 30 teams will have either two or one.
Calgary and Edmonton are among the teams with two balls, while Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto and Vancouver each have one.
The lottery will likely be held at the NHL's board of governors meeting next week at the same time the owners ratify the new CBA.
Under the previous CBA, one of the league's bottom five teams in the regular season had the chance to win the first overall selection in a lottery situation.
This year's draft will also differ from the grandiose affairs of years past where potential draft picks would sit in the stands of the draft host's arena waiting for their names to be called and those lucky first-round selections would march on stage as cameras rolled and flashbulbs popped.
The 2005 draft may be a month past its original date and the festivities might be toned down, but one thing is for certain, Crosby will still have his moment in the spotlight.
with files from Canadian Press