THE FLORIDA Panthers bucked the odds by jumping up a spot to win the NHL draft lottery and earn the right to the top pick June 27-28.

The Panthers, who finished 29th in the league, vaulted ahead of the last-place Buffalo Sabres, who had the best odds of winning the lottery held in Toronto last night. The Panthers (29-45-8) had an 18.8 percent chance of winning the lottery, behind only Buffalo (21-51-10), which had a 25 percent shot.

Florida will have the first pick for the fourth time in franchise history.

The draft will be held at the Wells Fargo Center on June 27-28.

The top two projected prospects are left wing Samuel Bennett, of OHL Kingston, who finished first in the final rankings released by NHL Central Scouting last week, and OHL Barrie defenseman Aaron Ekblad.

The Panthers' move up marked the fourth straight year in which the last-place team failed to win the lottery. Since the NHL lottery system was introduced in 1995, the last-place team has earned the No. 1 pick only six times.

The remaining 11 teams maintained their draft order based on the final regular-season standings, starting with the Edmonton Oilers staying with the No. 3 draft pick. Calgary will select fourth followed by the New York Islanders.

The New Jersey Devils, who finished 20th, were included in the lottery to maintain the weighted odds, but were not eligible to be selected.

The Devils are already slotted to pick 30th after being sanctioned by the NHL. The league ruled New Jersey circumvented the collective-bargaining agreement by attempting to skirt the salary cap by signing Ilya Kovalchuk to a 17-year, $102 million contract in 2010.

The Devils were initially scheduled to forfeit the pick this year, before the league reduced its penalty last month.

The first 13 draft slots were set by the lottery, and included the Pacific Division champion Anaheim Ducks, who will select 10th. They acquired a first-round pick in a trade with Ottawa, which finished 21st.

Noteworthy

* Another group of former NHL players has filed a federal class-action lawsuit alleging that the league has downplayed the risk of head injuries, while at the same time promoting fighting and violence in the game.

The lawsuit was filed in Minneapolis yesterday. Retired players Dave Christian, Reed Larson and William Bennett are the named plaintiffs leading the suit. It alleges that the NHL put its players "at a substantially higher risk" for developing memory loss, depression, dementia, Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease.

The lawsuit, which is similar to one brought by former football players against the NFL, joins others filed by hockey players in Washington and New York and seeks monetary damages and increased medical monitoring.