FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Tim Murray had choices. Plenty of established goalies – perhaps five or six – are available this summer. But the general manager wanted Robin Lehner to fill the Buffalo Sabres’ vacancy.
“Robin was our target,” Murray said this morning after acquiring the 23-year-old from the Ottawa Senators. “He was the No. 1 goalie available from our estimation.”
Murray watched Lehner quickly rise through Ottawa’s organization when he served in the Senators’ front office. The Swede only played one season of junior, cracked the NHL as a teenager and won a Calder Cup in the AHL before battling injuries and losing his spot in Ottawa.
“I think he’s a No. 1 goalie,” Murray said outside the Harbor Beach Marriot hours before the NHL Draft. “I think he becomes a starter.”
That’s why the price was so steep. The Sabres sent the 21st overall pick in a deep draft for Lehner and 34-year-old center David Legwand.
“I think Robin needed a change of scenery,” Murray said. “I think he’s a very talented, big strong, man that is just scratching the surface.”
His age made him attractive.
“He’s young, he fits 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.”
Parting with the 21st pick wasn’t easy. Murray told his scouts to zero in on that selection this week. He informed them today the pick was gone. The Sabres’ next pick after the No. 2 selection – they’re, of course, taking Jack Eichel – is 31st.
“Are we going to get the exact same player at 31 as 21?” Murray said. “Probably not. Are we going to get a guy that’s comparable, a guy with development and everything that goes with it and can become a good player? We believe that. So I can’t stand here and tell you we’re going to get the exact same guy on our list.”
The Sabres once had three first-rounders. They used the 25th pick to pry high-scoring winger Evander Kane from the Winnipeg Jets on Feb. 11.
Murray’s pleased with the assets those picks have acquired.
“If (you) had told me that … on this day we were getting Eichel, Kane and Lehner, I would’ve said you’re on mushrooms, or I would’ve said there’s no way that’s going to happen,” Murray said. “We’re going to end up with one great prospect and two other good prospects and we’ll see how it goes. I think we’re way beyond that.”
Murray said Lehner, who suffered a scary concussion last season, has been cleared to play and is working out in Sweden.
“You’re always concerned,” Murray said about the concussion.
Lehner is 30-36-13 with a 2.88 goals-against average and a .914 save percentage in 86 games. The emergence of Andrew Hammond late last year made him expendable.
The Sabres only had one NHL goalie, Chad Johnson, under contract for next season.
Meanwhile, Legwand, the No. 2 pick by the Nashville Predators in 1998, has 223 goals and 604 points in 1,057 NHL games.