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Sabres add Eichel, O'Reilly, Lehner to speed rebuild

by Dan Rosen

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Buffalo Sabres general manager Tim Murray isn't a fan of talking in hypotheticals, but even he knows Friday could be remembered as an unprecedented day.

"Hey, it's exciting, it's exciting," Murray said. "We've gotta get ready for [Saturday], but we did hit some targets today, and that's satisfying when you can do that."

If Friday only featured the selection of Boston University forward Jack Eichel with the No. 2 pick in the 2015 NHL Draft at BB&T Center, that might have been enough to be considered one of the most important days in Sabres history. But Murray built on it by acquiring forwards Ryan O'Reilly, Jamie McGinn and David Legwand, and goalie Robin Lehner in separate trades.

It was the exact type of day that can speed up a rebuild, which is precisely what Murray was trying to do.

The Sabres got O'Reilly and McGinn early in the first round from the Colorado Avalanche for defenseman Nikita Zadorov, forwards Mikhail Grigorenko and J.T. Compher, and the No. 31 pick.

Buffalo acquired Lehner and Legwand from the Ottawa Senators earlier Friday for the No. 21 pick, which Ottawa used to select center Colin White.

The Sabres' plan is for Evander Kane, who was injured when Buffalo acquired him from the Winnipeg Jets in a seven-player trade on Feb. 12, Eichel, O'Reilly, Lehner, McGinn and Legwand to make their Sabres debuts under new coach Dan Bylsma on Oct. 8 against the Senators. Sam Reinhart, the No. 2 pick in last year's draft, is expected to be in the lineup with them.

"The reason you prepare yourself and you draft properly and you make trades like this is so you get better and you move up the standings," Murray said. "I expect that's what we're going to do."

Murray does have some work to do with O'Reilly, who has one year remaining on a contract that carries a $6 million NHL salary-cap charge, according to The Sabres would not have traded the assets for O'Reilly if they didn't plan to keep him long term.

Murray said he spoke to O'Reilly and his representatives during the draft Friday and the Sabres are prepared to offer a lucrative contract extension.

"I assume I'm going to have to," Murray said. "You know going in when you make a trade like this that negotiations are going to be starting at a high number, so we're fully prepared for that."

They are because O'Reilly is the type of center and player Murray wanted to buffer the entry into the NHL for centers Eichel and Reinhart.

"At one point we possibly could have been looking at those guys as 1 and 2. That's not what I wanted at all," Murray said. "We want to take the pressure off them, certainly at home when we have the last change. I like the fact that they may get easier matchups. On the road they're still going to get tough matchups and we know that."

Murray said he has heard nothing but good reviews on O'Reilly, 24, from general managers and players around the NHL. O'Reilly had 55 points, including 38 assists, in 82 games this season. He had an NHL career-high 64 points in 80 games last season, when he won the Lady Byng Trophy. He has 246 points in 447 NHL games, all with Colorado.

"I think his hockey sense is off the charts. I think he makes everybody around him better," Murray said. "There's nothing I don't like about him. And I think the consensus from a lot of players that I've spoken to that have played with him and been around him was he seems to be 'the guy.' At the World Championships, for example, (Sabres forward) Tyler Ennis came back and raved about him. I've heard the same from other GMs that their players have said the same thing.

"I think he changes a lot of things for our organization."

So does Lehner, Murray said.

He likes Lehner's age (23) and the fact he's under contract for two more seasons, and will be only a restricted free agent after that. Murray also knows Lehner from his days as Senators assistant general manager. Lehner was the starting goalie when the Binghamton Senators won the Calder Cup in the American Hockey League in 2011.

"I think he's a No. 1 goalie," Murray said. "I think he becomes a starter."

Lehner missed the last two and a half months of this season because of a concussion he sustained Feb. 16, when he collided with teammate Clarke MacArthur in a game against the Carolina Hurricanes.

Murray said Lehner has gained some weight and has been medically cleared, feels good, and has been working out in Sweden.

"He's got a couple months now to get in tip-top shape, hopefully," Murray said. "I believe he will."

Lehner was having a down season before he was injured (9-12-3, .905 save percentage, 3.02 goals-against average), but Murray said he thinks that was a result of being in a tandem with another No. 1 goalie, Craig Anderson.

Murray said he expects Lehner's performance to be better in an unquestioned No. 1 role, which is why he was OK giving up a first-round pick to acquire him.

"He fits with what we're trying to do," Murray said. "And if it takes this year only to get his feet back under him, I'm fine with that, because if we become a competitive team in two years or three years and he's found his game and becomes what we think he is, it's the perfect fit."

Murray can look back at a first round that at one point had the Sabres with three selections but resulted in a roster overhaul that could make them a contender for a Stanley Cup Playoff berth as early as next season.

"I can tell you that our players back home are excited," Murray said. "I got a couple texts from different guys, and if that excitement that they showed today carries over into training camp, I believe we can improve by quite a bit. In saying that, we've got a long way to go to improve to get to be competitive or a playoff team."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

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