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Feisty Lepkowski gets Sabres' call

Alex Lepkowski spent Saturday morning sitting at his computer, hoping his name would pop on the screen as a NHL draftee. He was still waiting in the fifth round when the phone rang. It was his agent, telling him the Buffalo Sabres picked him.

It turned out the draft site wasn't moving in real time, so the call altered the surprise. The West Seneca native, who is a lifelong Sabres fan, didn't mind.

The Sabres continued their trend of selecting local talent, taking the physical defenseman with the 137th pick in the 2011 entry draft.

"I was very ecstatic. I was a Sabres fan ever since I can remember liking hockey," Lepkowski said by phone. "It definitely makes it a lot more special being drafted by Buffalo. I wouldn't have wanted it any other way."

The 6-foot-3, 210-pounder plays for Barrie of the Ontario Hockey League. He grew up skating for the West Seneca Wings and St. Francis High School, so the chance to be a Sabres prospect was mind-blowing.

"We knew a couple of other teams were asking around about him in the Buffalo area, so we thought we'd take a shot at him right there," Kevin Devine, the Sabres' director of amateur scouting, said in Xcel Energy Center.

Lepkowski has been on the Sabres' radar for some time. He knows scout Nik Fattey through St. Francis, and he attended Buffalo's combine earlier this month.

"I kind of always felt comfortable with them," the 18-year-old said. "When I went to their combine everything felt right. I was hoping I was going to them."

Lepkowski had a difficult 2010-11 season. He started with Saginaw, suffered a shoulder injury that sidelined him for 17 games, then was traded to Barrie. He totaled six assists in 39 games, with 75 penalty minutes that included seven fights.

"He's not afraid to throw the mitts down," Devine said. "His ex-teammates in Saginaw when he got traded, they were devastated. He's a great team guy so we think we've got some potential there."

Lepkowski is the fifth player with local ties in eight years to be acquired by the Sabres on draft day. They selected Patrick Kaleta (2004), Andrew Orpik (2005) and Marcus Foligno (2009), and they traded for Tim Kennedy in 2005.

* * *

Lepkowski wasn't the only player with Western New York connections to get picked:

* Jamie Oleksiak, a 6-7 defenseman whose dad, Richard, is in the Nichols School Hall of Fame, went 14th overall to Dallas.

* Niagara Falls' Adam Clendening was a second-round selection by Chicago.

* Alexander Ruuttu, son of former Sabres forward Christian, went to Phoenix in the second round.

* Sean Kuraly, who was born in Lewiston, was picked by San Jose in the fifth round.

* Dillon Donnelly, son of ex-Sabres defenseman Gord and born in Buffalo, went to Colorado in the seventh round.

"Your dream as a kid is to be a first-round pick, but I just wanted to go to a team that wanted me the most, and I think it was Chicago," said Clendening, who attends Boston University and was the sixth pick in the second round.

* * *

Every draft has stories about players falling into a team's lap. The Sabres' tale came in the third round. They used the 77th selection on Sault Ste. Marie center Daniel Catenacci, who was ranked 37th by NHL Central Scouting.

Catenacci, who won the fastest-skater competition at the Top Prospects game, had 26 goals and 71 points in 67 games.

"We were hoping somebody would slide," said Devine, whose team did not have a second-round pick. "He was the No. 1 pick in the OHL draft a couple years ago. He's really solid on his skates, explosive speed, great wrist shot. We're glad to have him. I think he'll fit in well with us."

The 5-9, 190-pounder expected to go in the first two rounds.

"Honestly, I don't think it matters," Catenacci said. "Either way you get drafted, you're all going to camp and you've got to prove people wrong."

* * *

The only reason Colin Jacobs began playing hockey as a kid in Texas was because the Dallas Stars beat Buffalo in the 1999 Stanley Cup finals. Yet he had the biggest smile in the building clad in a Sabres jersey and hat after they picked him in the fourth round.

"I really wouldn't be here today if any of that stuff hadn't happened," said the center for Seattle of the Western Hockey League. "I'm wearing this jersey today and I'm a Buffalo Sabre, and I can't wait to get everything started."

* * *

Brad Navin and the 20 people who traveled to Minnesota with him continued to keep the faith. Only 15 picks remained in the draft when the Sabres selected the University of Wisconsin freshman-to-be in the seventh round.

"We knew it wasn't a for-sure guarantee, but I was staying as positive as I could before it came to an end," said Navin, a center who comes from a Wisconsin town (Waupaca) of about 5,000. "It was definitely worth it, that's for sure, especially coming from a small town."

* * *

The Sabres added to their goaltending stable, re-signing Williamsville minor-leaguer David Leggio to a contract worth up to $525,000 and drafting Kootenay's Nathan Lieuwen in the sixth round.

Leggio went 22-12 with a 2.80 goals-against average and .911 save percentage for the Sabres' affiliate in Portland last season. Lieuwen, a 6-5 netminder who turns 20 this summer, helped lead Kootenay to the WHL title.

* * *

Brian Campbell was one of the first building blocks Chicago put in place to win the 2010 Stanley Cup. He hopes to follow that path in Florida. The former Sabres defenseman was traded to the Panthers for forward Rostislav Olesz.

"It's going to be better for my career to go to a team like Florida and play an even bigger role than I was playing in Chicago," Campbell said by phone. "Success is going to come quick. I think it came a lot quicker than everybody expected in Chicago, and it's going to happen again in Florida."

e-mail: jvogl@buffnews.com

GRAPHIC: SABRES ENTRY DRAFT PICKS

Rd. Player Pos. Last team Fast Fact

1. Joel Armia RW Assat Was second youngest player on Finland's World Junior team last year

3. Daniel Catenacci C Sault Ste. Marie Speedster notched team-high 45 assists in 67 games for Greyhounds.

4. Colin Jacobs C Seattle Totaled 44 points in 68 games and played in the CHL Top Prospects game in 2011.

5. Alex Lepkowski D Barrie Big defenseman from West Seneca has 7 assists in 92 OHL games.

6. Nathan Lieuwen G Kootenay Went 16-2 with three shutouts in postseason to get Ice into Memorial Cup.

7. Brad Navin C Waupaca High Wisconsin recruit had 52 points in 14 games last season.