Sabres follow last place-finish by landing No. 1 draft pick
The Buffalo Sabres finally won something on the heels of a season in which they endured mostly losing.
A franchise which became the NHL’s first to finish 31st in the standings following this year’s addition of the expansion Vegas Golden Knights came away a winner in the draft lottery held in Toronto on Saturday night.
After center Ryan O’Reilly acknowledged two weeks ago that a losing culture crept into the Sabres’ locker room, perhaps landing the No. 1 pick could provide motivation, general manager Jason Botterill told The Associated Press by phone.
“We talked about change, and everyone assumes that’s like bringing in new players or bringing in new coaches, but it’s also changing things , how you go about your training,” said Botterill, who took over in May after GM Tim Murray and coach Dan Bylsma were fired.
“Hopefully this gets them that much more excited,” he added. “We’re bringing in a No. 1 overall talent to this group. And my guess it’s going to give our coaches a jump. And it’s certainly going to give our players a little jump.”
The Sabres will pick first for the third time in team history, and first since selecting Pierre Turgeon at No. 1 in 1987. Buffalo also lands the top pick after losing the lottery each of the previous two times the team finished last and settled for the No. 2 selections in both 2014 and ’15.
“I certainly know the disappointment from those couple of years, but what people have to understand is we brought in excellent players in those years,” Botterill said, referring to Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart. “But there always is that excitement and that attitude, the No. 1. And I’m very happy for our group.”
The Carolina Hurricanes made the biggest jump in the draft order by moving from the 11th spot to 2nd. Montreal also shook up the draft order by moving up one spot 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.
The Sabres finished 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 finishing team to retain the first pick by winning the lottery since it was introduced by the NHL in 1995.
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 after playing for Barrie of the Ontario Hockey League.
The top-rated U.S.-born prospect is Boston University forward Brady Tkachuk, the son of former NHL star Keith Tkachuk.
Botterill said it was premature to say who the Sabres would consider selecting, though Hurricanes president Don Waddell guessed it will likely be Dahlin.
That’s fine for Waddell, who was more concerned about the Hurricanes moving back in the order.
“When it got to be No. 11 and our name didn’t come up there, it was like: ‘Wow, do you believe just what happened?’” Waddell said. “At 11, I think everybody’s comfortable that they’re going to get a good player but probably not a player that was going to jump on your team right now.”
The Hurricanes are 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 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 picking second.
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.
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 remaining 16 draft positions will be determined based on playoff results.
AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno contributed to this story from Washington.
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