Sabres follow last place-finish by landing No. 1 draft pick
The Buffalo Sabres followed a season filled with losses by finally winning something — the NHL draft lottery — and landing the No. 1 pick for just third time in franchise history.
The Sabres became the first team to finish 31st in the standings following the addition of the expansion Vegas Golden Knights. And they entered the draft lottery in Toronto on Saturday night with the best odds — 18.5 percent— to win the first pick.
The Sabres overcame their past disappointments the last two times they finished last and settled for the No. 2 pick in both 2014 and 2015.
The Carolina Hurricanes landed the No. 2 pick in making the biggest jump in the order by moving up from the 11th spot. The Montreal Canadiens moved up one spot in the order and will select third.
The Hurricanes and Canadiens moved ahead of Ottawa and Arizona. The Senators dropped from the second slot to having the fourth pick, and Arizona dropped from third to fifth.
This year’s draft will be held at Dallas on June 22-23.
Swedish defenseman Rasmus Dahlin is regarded as the top-rated prospect and is listed first among European skaters in the final NHL Central Scouting Bureau’s final rankings. Russian forward Andrei Svechnikov is the top-ranked North American prospect based on him playing for Barrie of the Ontario Hockey League.
“We’re absolutely ecstatic,” Sabres general manager Jason Botterill said before noting the splashes the Buffalo Bills made in the first round of the NFL draft on Thursday. “It’s been a couple of great days for our fan bases.”
The Bills, who like the Sabres are also owned by Terry and Kim Pegula, traded up in the draft order to select Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen with the seventh pick and then traded up again to select Virginia Tech linebacker Tremaine Edmunds at 16th.
Botterill completed his first year after GM Tim Murray and coach Dan Bylsma was fired following last season.
The Sabres proceeded to finish 25-45-12 and ranked last in numerous offensive categories. They extended their franchise-worst playoff drought to a seventh straight season and went 11-25-5 at home to match the fewest victories in team history.
Buffalo became just the eighth last-place team to win the lottery to retain the No. 1 pick since the lottery was introduced in 1995.
The Sabres selected Gilbert Perreault with the first pick in 1970, their inaugural season. And they also selected Pierre Turgeon with top pick in 1987.
Hurricanes president Don Waddell already anticipates Buffalo selecting Dahlin.
Dahlin has the chance of becoming just the second Swedish-born player to be taken first after the Quebec Nordiques chose Mats Sundin with the No. 1 pick in 1989.
Scouting bureau director Dan Marr regards Dahlin as “the clear-cut No. 1, pro-ready prospect.” He has represented Sweden at the past two World Junior Hockey tournaments, including a silver medal finish at this year’s tournament held at Buffalo. And Dahlin also had an assist in two games at the Pyeongchang Olympics in February.
Pittsburgh Penguins forward Patric Hornqvist compared Dahlin to another star Swedish blue-liner, Tampa Bay Lightning stalwart Victor Hedman.
“Whoever’s going to take him is going to get a top-pair defenseman for a long time,” Hornqvist said.
The Hurricanes have never selected first since the franchise entered the NHL as the Hartford Whalers in 1979. The team is also in a state of flux under new team owner Tom Dundon.
Carolina is searching for a general manager after Ron Francis was reassigned to another front-office position last season. Last week, coach Bill Peters announced his resignation and was then hired by the Calgary Flames on Monday.
Carolina’s move up the order mirrored the draft lottery results from a year ago when Philadelphia made the largest jump in the lottery’s history by going from the 13th slot to winning the second pick.
The Canadiens will select third for the second time since drafting Alex Galchenyuk at that position in 2012.
The next step for the prospects will be attending the pre-draft combine in Buffalo from May 27 to June 2.
The lottery settled one more selection with Philadelphia landing the 14th pick to complete a trade in which the Flyers sent Brayden Schenn to St. Louis in June. The Blues had the option to retain this year’s first-round pick but only if it landed among the top 10 spots.
The Senators are expected to retain their selection and instead send their 2019 first-round pick to Colorado. Ottawa held the option to keep its pick if it landed in the top 10 as part of a three-team deal in which the Senators acquired Matt Duchene from Colorado and sent Kyle Turris to Nashville.
The remaining 16 draft positions will be determined based on playoff results.