TORONTO – The Buffalo Sabres did not win the 2014 NHL Draft Lottery on Tuesday despite having the best odds to do so. However, Sabres general manager Tim Murray is confident that the organization will still be able to draft the player they feel is the best one available come June 27 in Philadelphia.
The lottery, held at TSN studios in Toronto, was won by the Florida Panthers, who jumped up one spot. Florida had the second-best odds to win the lottery at 18.8 percent. The Sabres, who finished at the bottom of the standings, had a 25-percent chance to obtain the top pick.
Buffalo now holds the second-overall pick in the 2014 NHL Draft. It’s the highest pick the Sabres have held since the 2003 NHL Draft when they selected Thomas Vanek with the fifth overall pick.
This year, under a new rule, 13 of the 14 teams that did not qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs (or the teams that have acquired the first-round drafting positions of those non-playoff teams) had a chance at winning the right to the first overall selection. The New Jersey Devils were not be eligible to win the Draft Lottery and will select 30th overall in the first round.
“I’m not disappointed. I mean, we had a 25 percent chance driving up here,” Murray said. “We talked about it. This is kind of – with the new rule where anybody can move to one and not just four spots – it’s kind of what I was expecting.”
The New York Islanders retained their position in the lottery and are slotted to pick at No. 5. However, they must give their first round pick in either 2014 or 2015 to Buffalo because of a trade made between the two teams in October that sent Vanek to the Islanders.
The Islanders have until June 1 to decide if they will retain their 2014 pick or give it to the Sabres. Before the lottery results were announced, Islanders head amateur scout Trent Klatt told TSN that the team has yet to make a decision as to what they will do with the pick.
Murray said it really doesn’t matter to him if they get the Islanders first-rounder this year or have to wait until next year.
“I don’t have a preference. If it’s this year, we know where they are this year. We know it’s a Top 5 pick this year so we know we’re going to get a hell of a player,” he said. “There’s a lot of uncertainty about next year. So I’m not a big fan of uncertainty so we’d be quite happy with it this year.
“…I certainly know [with the Islanders] staying at five, there’s a better possibility of us getting their pick versus if they moved to one. I’m sure there’s a 50/50 chance that we’ll have two picks in the Top 5 and we’ll be prepared for that.”
Travis Viola, the Panthers vice president of hockey operations, was on hand to represent his team.
“Our guys have been working endlessly to be ready for any situation so we’re going to take a little bit of time to think about it and, come draft day, hopefully have something really steady,” he said.
Viola said that while he feels the organization has its best depth at the forward position that they’ll explore all options when it comes to their top selection.
“[We’re] leaning both ways,” he said. “There’s some big kids available and we’ll take whatever we think fits best in our system at this point.”
Barring any trades, the Sabres will be on the clock after the Panthers make their pick. Murray said they’ll look to take the player that the hockey department has ranked the highest no matter his position.
“We’re going to get a good player,” he said. “We’ll do our list in a couple weeks and have our No. 1. I think that with the way the draft sets up, we probably have a better chance of getting the guy we have one than we had today at getting the first pick.
“So to me, it’ll all work out, I believe. We’ll get a good player and I think there’s a great chance that we could get a guy we have one on our list.”
When it comes to needs, Murray said that the team has a lot of them and that drafting any player near the top of the draft boards is a possibility.
Some of the highly touted prospects that are expected to go in the Top 5 include defenseman Aaron Ekblad and forwards Sam Reinhart, Samuel Bennett, Leon Draisaitl and Michael Dal Colle. Adding any of those players to the list of prospects currently waiting in the wings in the Sabres organization would be a boon to Murray.
“We weren’t the Washington Capitals who had a half-a-percent chance of getting a pick and getting it and saying, ‘We have one specific need to get us over the top.’ We’ve got a lot of needs,” Murray said. “We’ve got a lot of good, young players coming and we just want to add to that crop of what we feel are top young prospects that are really going to put us over the top down the road. And so we’re just going to take the best player available whether we feel that’s a forward or a defenseman.
Murray also said that he feels, depending on their preparation over the next few months and the circumstances they’re put in, that there are three or four players in the draft that could be ready to play in the NHL next season.
While Ekblad is widely considered the best defenseman available, Murray said that when it comes to forward, the scouting department may already have a good idea which player will end up as their top choice.
“At the top of the forward list, there’s going to be a debate on a couple of them,” he said. “But I think we have a forward that we have somewhat of a consensus in the group that is at the top of the forward list, yes.”
The lottery picks break down as follows:
1. Florida Panthers
2. Buffalo Sabres
3. Edmonton Oilers
4. Calgary Flames
5. New York Islanders
6. Vancouver Canucks
7. Carolina Hurricanes
8. Toronto Maple Leafs
9. Winnipeg Jets
10. Anaheim Ducks (via Ottawa Senators)
11. Nashville Predators
12. Phoenix Coyotes
13. Washington Capitals
30. New Jersey Devils
The Sabres and Panthers were the only teams eligible for the top pick that changed positions once the results were revealed.
The remainder of the draft order will be determined by how teams finish in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, which begin Wednesday night.