It's no problem the Buffalo Sabres don't have Connor McDavid
Even in losing out on McDavid, the Sabres still walk away winners
Sometimes, if you’re really lucky, you can win even when you lose.
On Saturday night, the Buffalo Sabres did just that. Buffalo entered the 2015 NHL draft lottery with the best odds of obtaining the No. 1 pick in the draft. For the second season in a row, the Sabres walked away with the second overall pick, losing the lottery and first overall pick Connor McDavid to the Edmonton Oilers.
While the Sabres “lost” the lottery, they still walked away as winners. In claiming the second overall pick in the 2015 NHL draft, Buffalo will have a chance to enter next season with one of the premiere talents in the class and a crown jewel to an excellent farm system of young talent.
It’s the most interesting thing about sports that one can see Buffalo fall in this year’s draft class and still call them losers. They lost the opportunity to draft McDavid, one of the best prospects to enter the draft in recent memory, who is expected to be taken No. 1 overall by the Edmonton Oilers. Many pundits have compared McDavid to Pittsburgh Penguins forward Sidney Crosby.
The Sabres shouldn’t be upset with the second pick, but there was also room for tremendous upside had they received the No. 1 pick. For the second season in a row, Buffalo entered the draft lottery with the best odds to land a premier talent with the first overall pick and walked away crestfallen with the second pick in the draft. First, the Sabres missed out on Aaron Ekblad and now they will miss out on McDavid.
After the Ping-Pong balls came out with the allotted draft picks, Buffalo fans probably thought the sky was falling. Buffalo fans believe they were robbed and the NHL wanted Edmonton, a team that has hilariously won the lottery four times since 2010, to land McDavid so that he could be the franchise player they thought they had when they drafted Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov.
Not really. When simply zooming out and looking at everything, the Sabres are fine and should be content with what’s left on the board.
The addition of Eichel, the projected No. 2 pick in this year’s draft and other hyped prospect in this draft isn’t a small addition. In the games where I’ve watched Eichel play, he appeared to be a premiere talent. He’s a good offensive attacker, a good passer and great at controlling the puck. He also isn’t scared of contact on defense.
In short, Eichel possesses the talent to go No. 1 in almost any other draft class, so to get him at No. 2 is great for a struggling franchise.
Then consider the Sabres already have a great farm system of talent. Over the poor play from Buffalo over the last three years, the Sabres have added young talent after young talent, creating an organization of young players funneling through the minor leagues to the major leagues in the next three years.
On the offensive end, 2014 Buffalo first round pick Sam Reinhart got a taste of the majors, playing nine games with the Sabres last season. Guys like Mikhail Grigorenko and Zemgus Girgensons are all on the verge of getting major playing time for the Sabres in the near future. Even guys like Tyler Ennis and Evander Kane are still under the age of 26.
Defensively, the Sabres are in the midst of a youth movement, too. While most of their top six are older players in the midst of their prime, Nikita Zadorov (age 19) played 60 games last season, Ramus Ristolainen (age 20) played 78 games and Jake McCabe (age 21) saw time in two games last season. Even after the trade of Tyler Myers, the Sabres still possess enough young talent on the defense to make the turnover to the younger talent in the near future.
There’s nothing better in sports than a good team that’s young. That’s what the Sabres are building. For three seasons, the Sabres went in the “tanking” route, acquiring multiple first round picks over multiple seasons and building through the draft. The losing of McDavid is disappointing, but it wasn’t the failure of that process. Jack Eichel will come in next season and help the Sabres be interesting.
Perhaps the Sabres could even be decent, next year. The team they hold to model themselves after are the New York Islanders. The Islanders were a team at the bottom of the NHL for years, drafting good players year after year. Once they made the offseason additions of Jaroslav Halak, Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk, the young talent came around and they became one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference.
While the Sabres are on low end of that curve, the transition into a young team is nearly complete and Buffalo, with the addition of Eichel, is on the verge of competing for the playoffs once again.
Quentin Haynes is a sports editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org