After most of a day to think about the Buffalo Sabres’ second-place pick in Saturday evening’s 2015 National Hockey League draft lottery, most fans interviewed Sunday had already moved past any disappointment into excitement over the player we got, Jack Eichel, instead of Connor McDavid, the one who got away.
“We took one second to be a little bit upset that we didn’t get the first guy,” said Sarah Stanton of Orchard Park, who was enjoying a glorious day on a rooftop patio at Pearl Street Grill & Brewery with friends Kerry Chella of Orchard Park and Jeff Teplitsky, who now lives in Cleveland. “But as soon as we got the second, everyone is welcoming, we are ready to go.”
“I was going in with zero expectations of getting McDavid,” said Teplitsky, who knows a thing or two about sports, having worked as Buster Bison from 2011 until 2014 before moving to Ohio. “As they said, 20 percent chance of McDavid, 100 percent chance of Eichel. Plus he’s a U.S. boy, so I liked that. People were nervous yesterday about it, but I was sitting there thinking, ‘If we don’t hear our name called, we get another generational talent.’ ”
“I also like the fact that he went to Edmonton, and Edmonton is a hot mess,” said Chella.
All three objected to the NHL lottery methods, and were suspicious of the fact that Edmonton has had the first pick four times in the last six years.
“Some of my friends cried; they were really expecting” the Sabres to get the top pick, said Kayla Kelly of Lancaster, also socializing with friends on the patio.
Phil Szal, working an eye-catching Buffalo Pedal Tours party bus with his father, manager Ken Szal, has already seen Eichel play in the Frozen Four. “Eichel has such a big heart. When I saw him in the Frozen Four, when they ended up losing, he had this look on his face, he was so hungry. You want guys like that on your team.”
“There’s no guarantee that No. 1 will turn out to be No. 1,” said Ken Szal. “Your No. 3 can very likely be the No. 1 that people didn’t choose. Thurman Thomas wasn’t the No. 1 running back, and he turned out to be an excellent running back. When somebody isn’t named No. 1, there can be a little more fire in their engine to prove that they were wrong.”
Eichel, said Szal, “is going to be loved by our community, and the community is going to boost him on our shoulders, and we will make him know that he is important to us and we will give everything to make him be the best player he can become.”
Dave Wilson of Lackawanna watched the draft. His reaction, he said with a laugh, was, “typical Buffalo .... We were the worst team in the league and we can’t finish, so it hurt.” But like other fans, Wilson quickly looked on the positive side. “I’m happy with Eichel. I follow enough so I know he’s good. I did watch McDavid and I felt we got robbed a little, but I’m over it, it was quick. I am very happy with Eichel, because he’s a stud too. But I really did want McDavid. I traveled to see him a few times, went to Erie a couple of times and saw him play here in a juniors game.”
Some Sabres fans who were watching their sons play baseball at Shoshone Park in North Buffalo on Sunday offered their opinions. John Hornung said he believed both Eichel and McDavid could be “generational players.”
“When you’re in the mix of it and watching the lottery, you always want that first pick,” he said. “You get trained to want No. 1. But in hindsight, I don’t think it means anything. It felt like we lost something, but in the end I think we probably didn’t lose anything.”
Michael DiLeo also thought there wasn’t much difference between the two players. “I’d have rather have got the first pick, but the second pick – he’s supposed to be as good, I guess. I think we’ll still be in good shape getting that second pick.”
Mark Pcionek wanted to see the Sabres get an American player, and was thrilled with the result.
“I liked the fact an American was picked for the first United States team, and fair enough, a Canadian went to Edmonton,” he said. “I think Eichel will do super here. I think he’ll fit in, and hopefully he puts himself in the draft, and comes and plays.
“From what I understand, Eichel’s playing with people between the ages of 21 and 24, and McDavid is playing with 18- to 21-year-olds. So, I’ll take the kid playing with men, versus the kid playing with kids.”
Anyone looking to buy that Eichel Sabres sweater will have to wait a while. A manager at a local sporting goods store predicted that nothing will hit the shelves until the players sign their contracts.
At Canalside, Tim Kroll of Allentown said that although Eichel may have an immediate impact, it also might take a few years for the team to gel. “You’re never going to put together a good hockey organization in six months or a year; you have to have players who have been working together for a year or more. They have to predict where the other guys will be moving, and get to know how they play and perform under pressure before you are going to be developing a championship team. You could have Wayne Gretzky on the Sabres, but one guy doesn’t win games. Hockey is a team sport, through and through.”
D.J. Kirszenstein of North Buffalo and Steven Zinter of Alden, heading to Canalside, were both disappointed and a bit suspicious. In the weighted lottery, the Sabres had a 20 percent chance of winning the top spot to Edmonton’s 11. 5 percent.
“We should have been No. 1,” said Kirszenstein. Both said that it didn’t seem to be a coincidence that Edmonton had scooped the top pick yet again.
But Zinter isn’t looking back, he’s looking forward. “I think Murray is going to trade for No. 1 anyway, so it’s not going to matter,” he said. “It’s going to happen. I’m just worried about what he’s giving up.”
Kroll is looking even farther ahead. “Like all diehard Sabres fans,” Kroll said, “We just want to see one cup come here. Just one, before we die.”
Teplitsky, who calls himself “the eternal optimist,” predicted that the Sabres will see McDavid and the Oilers “in the Stanley Cup finals, when we win the cup in three years.”
News Staff Reporter Mark Sommer contributed to this report. email: email@example.com