TORONTO – Over Phil Housley’s first season as coach, the Sabres rarely showcased the aggressive style the slick Hall of Fame defenseman wants to implement in Buffalo.
The NHL’s worst team didn’t possess the talent to play fast and move the puck from the blue line the way Nashville Predators did during Housley’s successful stint as an assistant coach.
The Sabres lacked a true No. 1 defenseman – basically, they needed a modern version of Housley – to zoom all over the ice and create offense.
But winning Saturday’s NHL Draft Lottery will deliver Rasmus Dahlin, a dynamic defense prospect whose many talents have drawn comparisons to Erik Karlsson and Nicklas Lidstrom.
In all likelihood, Housley will finally have an ace defenseman to lean on in all situations and ignite his attack.
“#1 Pick! Looking forward to the #NHLDRAFT2018! So excited for our fans in Buffalo!” an excited Housley tweeted shortly after the Sabres secured the first overall pick June 22 in Dallas.
Despite a 62-point season in 2017-18, Sabres general manager Jason Botterill has voiced plenty of support for Housley.
“I’ve really enjoyed working with Phil Housley over the past year,” Botterill said Saturday inside the CBC building, where the lottery was held. “I’m very excited about the type of team he wants to create, what he’s trying to install.”
With Dahlin, Housley might have his biggest piece of the puzzle.
Botterill said Sabres center Casey Mittelstadt, who was supposed to play for Team USA at the upcoming World Championship, will miss the tournament because of a groin injury.
Botterill said Mittelstadt, 19, should be fine in about two weeks.
“It’s disappointing for him and ourselves because we thought this was going to be a great opportunity for him,” he said. “Casey’s … a young kid. He was excited to play with Patrick Kane, he was excited to play with these players.”
“We’re trying to find skill and we’re trying to find players a lot of different avenues,” Botterill said. “We did that with NCAA free agents. It’s also a scenario where we can look over to Europe for certain players. The back end is something we can certainly improve on.”
Botterill on Housley’s assistant coaches: “I’ve talked to Phil Housley about that and continue to evaluate the situation, but those are conversations that Phil and I will continue to have.”