FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Tim Murray has radically changed the Sabres with the help of three first-round draft picks. He didn’t even need a hallucinogen to do it.
Buffalo’s general manager picked up starting goaltender Robin Lehner on Friday morning from Ottawa, along with veteran center David Legwand, in exchange for the No. 21 overall selection. Murray will select Jack Eichel with the No. 2 pick Friday night. The Sabres had a third selection late in the opening round but dealt it to Winnipeg in February as part of the package for Evander Kane.
“If you would have told me the last day we had the three before the Kane trade that on this day we’re getting Eichel, Kane and Lehner, I would have said you’re on mushrooms,” Murray said. “I would have said, ‘There’s no way that’s going to happen. We’re going to end up with one great prospect and two other good prospects and we’ll see how it goes.’
“I think we’re way beyond that right now, so I’m excited about it.”
Murray, a scout at heart, says it’s always tough to trade high draft picks. But he is certain he made the right move in dealing No. 21 for Lehner.
“Can you not tell how excited I am? I am,” he said outside the Sabres’ hotel headquarters. “I’m legitimately excited, and I don’t say that very often. We’re going to walk out of here, I assume, after today with Jack Eichel and Robin Lehner. I think that’s huge for the franchise, huge for the organization.”
The Sabres have been in the market for goaltenders, reportedly talking with the New York Rangers about Cam Talbot and Vancouver about Eddie Lack. Murray decided on a goalie he knows well. He was part of the group in Ottawa that drafted Lehner in the second round in 2009.
“Robin was our target,” Murray said. “I think he’s a No. 1 goalie. I think he becomes the starter. When I talk about guys that are a starter or a No. 1 center or a No. 3 defenseman or whatever, I mean on a good team. I mean on a contending team. I mean on a competitive team. I mean on a playoff team.
“If he’s a 6” in our rating system, “what we believe is an impact player in the National Hockey League, we’re not getting that at 21. If he was 27, 28 years old, I probably would have taken a step back. He’s young. He fits what we’re trying to do.”
Lehner, who is 23 years old, had this season cut short by a concussion.
“You’re always concerned,” Murray said. “He’s been quiet since then. He’s back in Sweden. He’s gained a little weight, but he’s working out now. He’s been cleared. He says the workouts are going well. He’s excited and has a couple months now to get in tiptop shape hopefully, and I believe he will.”
While Lehner’s role is clearly defined, Legwand’s place in the Sabres’ organization is not. The center will be 35 next season and is likely suited to a fourth-line role.
“I don’t know him,” Murray said. “We’ll see what his attitude is when he gets to camp. We’ll see what role Dan” Bylsma “gives him. There’s a lot of questions on that. He’s a veteran that’s been around a long time. He knows what goes on in this league. From everything I’ve heard he’s a professional.
“Through camp and through exhibition games and through the early part of the season, hopefully he finds his role.”
The second overall selection is the only remaining pick for Buffalo in the first round. The Sabres have Nos. 31 and 51 in the second round, which begins Saturday morning.
“We have had multiple meetings before we got here, and I asked my guys to concentrate on 21 and go over it again and to really dig deep into those players,” Murray said. “Are we going to get the exact same player at 31 as 21? Probably not. Are we going to get a guy who’s comparable, a guy with development and everything that goes with and can become a real good player? We believe that.”