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Sabres lose lottery to Oilers, will move to No. 2 for likely selection of Eichel

TORONTO -- The Buffalo Sabres were losers Saturday night at the NHL Draft Lottery and it wasn't unexpected given their odds.

No matter. They got Jack.

The Edmonton Oilers hit the jackpot, winning the annual draw of ping pong balls and thus earning the right to select Erie Otters superstar Connor McDavid with the No. 1 overall pick at the NHL Draft June 26 in Sunrise, Fla.

The last-place Sabres thus move down to No. 2, from where they are widely expected to take Boston University sharpshooter Jack Eichel with their first pick.

Buffalo will pick second for the second straight year. The Sabres finished last in the NHL and lost the lottery to Florida in 2014. Buffalo selected Sam Reinhart after the Panthers took defenseman Aaron Ekblad with the No. 1 pick at the draft in Philadelphia.

The Sabres had a 20 percent chance to get McDavid, the Erie Otters center who is considered the best prospect since Sidney Crosby was selected first overall by Pittsburgh in 2005. That was the best odds, albeit not great ones, among the 14 non-playoff teams who got automatic entries in the lottery.

From a machine that spouted four ping pong balls, one of Edmonton's 115 combinations was drawn and the Oilers were named the winner during a brief ceremony at the Sportsnet studios here that was nationally televised in both the United States and Canada. Team president Ted Black represented the Sabres in the lottery drawing room, with General Manager Tim Murray on set for the television program.

The Oilers had the No. 1 pick in three straight years from 2010-12 (Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov), and will be opening a new downtown arena in 2016.

Acquiring McDavid had long been Murray's obsession and the Buffalo GM has routinely hiked down the Thruway to watch games in Erie. He was also on hand as McDavid led Team Canada to the gold medal at the World Junior Championships in Toronto in early January.

Speaking about the 18-year-old last month to the New York Times, Murray said, "I watch him too much and I think too much about him. I wish I could help myself.”

Sabres fans have had smiliar feelings all season.

A "Pray for McDavid" sign atop the 300 level was a regular visitor in the second half of the season during Buffalo games in First Niagara Center. The kid himself was on the ice playing to rave reviews in October, when more than 12,000 fans showed up at the FNC to watch the Otters beat the Niagara Ice Dogs in an Ontario Hockey League regular season game.

Still, getting the rights to draft Eichel is a pretty good consolation prize. In almost any other draft year, Eichel would be the top pick and Murray has been on hand for several of his games as well.

Eichel harnessed his game of speed and power to post one of the best seasons ever by a freshman in college hockey this season. He had 26 goals, 45 assists and 71 points in just 40 games as Boston U. got all the way to the championship game of the NCAA Frozen Four before falling to Providence.

Eichel also became the first freshman since 1993 to win the Hobey Baker Award, college hockey's version of the Heisman Trophy.

Arizona will pick third. Toronto fourth and Carolina fifth. The rest of the order is New Jersey, Philadelphia, Columbus, San Jose, Colorado, Florida, Dallas, Los Angeles and Boston.

Teams that qualify for the playoffs have their draft order set once the postseason is complete. The Sabres also own the first-round pick of the New York Islanders, which was deferred to 2015 by the Islanders last year in the wake of the trade of Thomas Vanek to Long Island in October, 2013. It's expected that Murray will be willing to part with that pick in an effort to bring some NHL talent to the Buffalo roster and speed the franchise's rebuild.

But part with the No. 2 pick? Don't look for Murray to be taking any calls.

 

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