TORONTO – Whether the Buffalo Sabres win the right to draft mega-prospect Connor McDavid or settle for the second pick tonight, the rebuilding team will emerge victorious from the most anticipated NHL Draft Lottery ever.
Leaving town with Jack Eichel, the consensus No. 2 selection, in your arsenal for years to come wouldn’t be a bad consolation prize, right?
“You look at what the Sabres had in the pipeline, when you add a player like McDavid or Eichel, it changes your franchise forever, there’s no question,” NHL Central Scouting’s David Gregory said.
Given the Sabres only have a 20 percent chance to grab the No. 1 pick, Eichel will likely be in Buffalo next season. In any other year, the Boston University center would be the runaway top choice.
“Even if (the Sabres) don’t win, they’ll end up with either myself, Eichel or whoever,” McDavid told the Erie-Times News on Friday. “They’re still going to get a very good player. If it’s me, then I’ll be more than honored to go there. I’ll be so happy. But if it’s not, then they’re going to get a very special player.”
But McDavid, of course, is the real prize for the Sabres, who are guaranteed the first or second pick thanks to their last-place finish. They want the slick 18-year-old Erie Otters center so badly they constructed a team essentially built to lose – tanked, some say – this season.
General manager Tim Murray expects the Sabres will land Eichel.
“I don’t think about the draft lottery. I just assume we’re going to lose, so it’s just another day,” Murray, who wouldn’t talk to reporters this week, told the team’s Web site. “We’ve got an 80 percent chance of losing the lottery. So if I spent my days worrying about that, I’d be a basket case by Saturday. It’s just another day in the process.”
He added: “I can’t wait until it’s over. I can’t wait until Sunday and Monday, and we know where we’re picking, and we just prepare.”
Thankfully for Murray and the legions of Sabres fans sweating out the lottery, which will be conducted inside the CBC building, it will be over just after 8 tonight, when the results are announced on TV.
Sabres president Ted Black will watch the draw inside a closed room. No mobile devices will be allowed. Murray will be the team’s representative on television.
How does the lottery work? A combination of four random balls numbered 1 to 14 will be picked from a machine. The four numbers will be matched against a chart with each team’s combinations. The order doesn’t matter.
Clearly, McDavid, hockey’s biggest prospect since Sidney Crosby 10 years ago, seems comfortable joining the Sabres. The team wooed him in the summer during a stop to promote an Otters game in Buffalo and early in the season when the phenom’s four-point night wowed the more than 11,000 fans inside the First Niagara Center.
“I love Buffalo,” McDavid told the Toronto Sun. “It’s a great place. I know it very well. Playing in Erie, I’ve been to Buffalo a whole bunch. It’s kind of the closest (NHL) place to Erie and there are a lot of Sabres fans living in the area. I live with a diehard Sabres fan in my billet (Bob Catalde). It’s a special place.”
McDavid understands cities are pinning their hopes on him. It’s a situation he wants to be in, almost a “dream come true,” he said. He’s looking forward to the lottery.
“I won’t be too nervous,” he told the Times-News. “It’s the NHL. Wherever you go it’s going to be an honor and it’s going to be a dream come true, whether it’s Buffalo or Toronto or wherever, who knows? It will just be a fun experience.”
McDavid hasn’t thought about fitting into Buffalo.
“That’s a lot of thinking that I’m not really doing,” he said. “I’m just more worried about where it is and what team it is. I haven’t been thinking about where I’ll live or how I’ll fit or anything like that. That’s something I’ll worry about down the road.”
Just how good is McDavid? He has 11 goals and 23 points in only nine Ontario Hockey League playoff games? He scored 44 goals and 120 points in 47 regular-season contests.
Does he have a flaw?
“I certainly haven’t seen one,” NHL Central Scouting’s Chris Edwards said. “And you know what? I think if you’re looking for a weakness in a guy like that, then you got too much time on your hands. The whole idea of hockey is scoring goals and winning games.”
Eichel, the Hobey Baker Award winner as college hockey’s top player, scored 26 goals and 71 points in 40 games as a freshman. His Terriers lost the national championship game last week.
Right now, most rank McDavid as the bigger prospect. That could change down road, however.
“Eichel has the upside that maybe five years from now, 10 years from now the gap is even closer than they think it is right now,” Gregory said. “There’s just something special about a player that size (6-foot-2). I still think that he has some unreal upside. I think he’s going to do things we haven’t seen yet.”
McDavid, whose Otters start their third-round playoff series next week, will be in Toronto. Eichel will be available via conference call.
The Sabres lost the lottery to Florida a year ago when they had greater odds (a league-high 25 percent to 18.8) than the Panthers. Buffalo picked center Sam Reinhart No. 2.