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Sabres finally celebrate NHL Draft Lottery win

Get No. 1 pick after losing out twice before

by Mike Zeisberger @Zeisberger / NHL.com Staff Writer

TORONTO -- The third time was a charm for the Buffalo Sabres. Maybe vice president of media relations Chris Bandura is to thank for that.

The Sabres won the 2018 NHL Draft Lottery on Saturday and have the No. 1 pick in the 2018 NHL Draft. The Carolina Hurricanes will pick No. 2, and the Montreal Canadiens will be No. 3 after moving up in the drawing.

Though Buffalo entered with the best odds to win (18.5 percent), there was angst throughout Western New York that fate would not go in the Sabres' favor. Given recent history, it was easy to see why.

 

[RELATED: Sabres win No. 1 pick in NHL Draft Lottery]

 

This was the third time in the past five seasons that the Sabres entered the lottery with the best odds to win. They lost the previous two occasions.

In 2014, they were leapfrogged by the Florida Panthers, who selected defenseman Aaron Ekblad at No. 1. The Sabres took forward Sam Reinhart at No. 2.

In 2015, it was the Edmonton Oilers who passed Buffalo to draft forward Connor McDavid at No. 1. The Sabres, selecting No. 2, picked forward Jack Eichel.

Having seen the Sabres miss out on the top pick before, Bandura opted to change things up this time. Rather than have a representative in the room where the lottery order was being determined, he declined the invitation.

"We had someone in there in the past. I thought we needed to do something different to alter our luck from those previous instances," Bandura said with a laugh, nodding at general manager Jason Botterill.

 

[RELATED: Dahlin tops Central Scouting's final ranking of International skaters | Svechnikov stays No. 1 in Central Scouting final rankings]

 

"Good thing he did," a grinning Botterill replied. "Because it worked."

Buffalo (25-45-12) had 62 points in Botterill's first season as GM, finishing last in the NHL standings to be given the best odds in the lottery.

"There's a frustration level and there's a disappointment level that we couldn't take more steps in certain areas," Botterill said. "There was some difficult times. But whenever you're coming into a new situation, it's not going to be perfect. Development's not always going to be every day or 100 percent getting better."

Asked about the reaction from Sabres fans, Botterill said, "I hope they're ecstatic. Look, they've been extremely supportive. You felt it in the building (KeyBank Center). There was certainly a lot of quietness coming into the games, but whenever we did something well, they wanted to cheer. They wanted to be supportive."

The Sabres have picked No. 1 twice, drafting forward Gilbert Perreault in 1970 and forward Pierre Turgeon in 1987.

Video: Botterill on Sabres' draft lottery win

Botterill was understandably coy about whom the Sabres might pick. He's not going to show his cards this early in the process. But according to Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin, Sweden defenseman Rasmus Dahlin stands above the rest when it comes to draft-eligible prospects.

"There's a cutoff at No. 1," Bergevin said. "After that, there's a debate from No. 2 to No. 5."

Dahlin is the No. 1 ranked International skater by NHL Central Scouting and was named best defenseman at the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship playing for Sweden.

Because that tournament was held in Buffalo, Botterill had the opportunity to watch some of the top prospects in person. His scouting report on Dahlin describes the type of player who would be a franchise-changer.

"He's the type of defenseman that 31 teams in the National Hockey League want these days," Botterill said of the 18-year-old. "Just that ability to jump up in the rush and create offensive chances but also have that competitive spirit to play against other team's top players.

"I think there's actually quite a few guys at the top of the draft who could certainly have the opportunity to step in right away."

Video: Sabres earn No. 1 choice in 2018 NHL Draft

Dahlin (6-foot-2, 183 pounds) had 20 points (seven goals, 13 assists) in 41 games for Frolunda of the Swedish Hockey League this season.

"I'm trying to be a two-way [defenseman] with a more offensive game," Dahlin told NBCSN. "I like to make good passes and skate well, I think. ... I'm trying to work very much on my shot, of course my strength, and my weight. I think [those are] the main things."

Dahlin would be the first Sweden-born player selected No. 1 since forward Mats Sundin in 1989 by the Quebec Nordiques, and the 18-year-old would fit nicely into a young core of Sabres that includes Eichel, 21; Reinhart, 22; and defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen, 23.

Imagine a defense anchored by two kids named Rasmus. Sabres fans were doing that within minutes of the lottery victory, gleefully celebrating on social media.

On this special night in Buffalo Sabres history, they had reason to.

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