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'It's a big step' | Adams looks ahead following Sabres' lottery win

Buffalo holds the No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 NHL Draft

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber /

Kevyn Adams threw his hand down on his desk, leaned back in his chair and flashed a wide grin when the Buffalo Sabres logo appeared on his television Wednesday night. 

In the moments leading up to the NHL Draft Lottery, Adams thought about the arduous season that landed the Sabres a 16.6-percent chance at winning the No. 1 overall pick - the best odds of any team. His heart raced at the idea of the selection falling their way. 

NHL deputy commissioner Billy Daly revealed the draft order one logo at a time until only two teams remained, the Sabres and the expansion Seattle Kraken. Adams exhaled when it was revealed the Sabres had come out victorious. 

"It's a big step in the right direction of where we're headed and we're excited to add this young next great Buffalo Sabres player to our franchise," Adams said.

"... To me, this was an exciting night and now we have to get it right."

Video: 1-on-1: Kevyn Adams on picking 1st overall

The Sabres have nearly two months to determine their course of action prior to the NHL Draft, which will be held virtually on July 23 and 24. Adams said he will encourage internal debate with a number of players to consider for the top selection. 

NHL Central Scouting Services lists University of Michigan defenseman Owen Power as the top North American skater available. Power, considered a top prospect for his blend of mobility and size at 6-foot-6, is currently playing among NHL players with Canada at the IIHF World Championship. 

But the options extend beyond Power. His Michigan teammates, centers Kent Johnson and Matthew Beniers, both rank among Central Scouting's top six North American prospects. Center Mason McTavish took the No. 2 spot on that list after spending the season playing professionally in Switzerland. Swedish left wing William Eklund sits atop the list of European prospects. 

Adams said the Sabres will not draft based on positional need, but rather on who they believe projects to have the highest ceiling. 

"We're certainly not going to pick a player we think that has the best chance to play right away," Adams said. "We want the player we think is the best player in the long run. So that's really a critical differential as we kind of look at this draft."

Video: Sabres GM Adams on Draft Lottery win

NHL teams find themselves in a unique position leading into this year's draft given the range of games played for prospects in 2020-21. The OHL was forced to cancel its season due to the COVID-19 pandemic while the WHL was limited to 24 games. Various NCAA programs faced interruptions to their seasons.

Adams and associate general manager Jason Karmanos took in the U18 World Championship in April, a marquee event that pits top prospects against their peers. 

"It's different," Adams said. "But I also challenged our scouts and our organization, I think it's also an opportunity. It's an opportunity to really maybe be in a position to find some players that maybe in another year wouldn't have been there. So, that's the way we're looking at it."

Having those discussions will be among the priorities in what figures to be a busy two months for Adams, with a wide-ranging search for a head coach ongoing and the Expansion Draft approaching on July 21. Adams also said a discussion is nearing regarding the next step for captain Jack Eichel's rehab of a herniated disc in his neck, with an agreed upon 12-week recovery window having recently ended. 

All of those decisions will influence how the organization moves forward following a season that ended with a last-place finish but also offered a glimpse of optimism given how young players took ownership of high-leverage roles down the stretch. 

Adams said he was energized by the passion he felt from those players during their exit meetings, which he considered the sign of a young core eager to grow together. 

"To me, this is about putting a group of people together that really care about each other, that really, truly love this organization, that love that jersey, that love this city, and I know I've said this now for a year but there has to be a connectivity between our organization, our team that goes on the ice and our fan base," Adams said. 
"Is that youth? Yeah, that could be part of it but it's them growing up together, and then learning about each other at these young ages to say, 'Hey, we're in this together and let's make this right.' That to me is exciting." 

The Sabres will have their choice of player to add to that mix come July 23. The clock starts now. 

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