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Sabres' bad luck continues in NHL Draft Lottery; Devils win

TORONTO – Buffalo has never had any luck in the NHL Draft Lottery. It got worse Saturday night.

The Sabres watched two teams with poorer odds vault past them and into the top three, dropping the Sabres to the No. 8 pick in this June’s draft. They also picked eighth last season and took forward Alex Nylander.

The draft order shuffled significantly in the CBC Studios as the NHL held lotteries for the first three picks. New Jersey won the No. 1 selection despite just the fifth-best odds at 8.5 percent.

“A franchise like us, this is what we need,” Devils General Manager Ray Shero said. “We have 11 picks and now the first overall pick. To win this, I think it’s great for us. The Devils haven’t won anything in a little while, so this is a step in the right direction hopefully, and we’ve got to take advantage of it.”

Philadelphia vaulted all the way to No. 2 after entering with just a 2.2 percent chance at the top pick, the 13th-worst odds. Dallas moved from No. 8 to No. 3.

The NHL Draft will be held June 23-24 in Chicago.

Last-place Colorado, which had the best lottery odds at 18 percent, will draft fourth. The Avalanche will be followed by Vancouver at No. 5, Vegas at No. 6, Arizona at No. 7 and the Sabres at No. 8. Vancouver also fell out of the top three last year.

“What we saw this year is going to be normal for the lottery,” said Trevor Linden, the Canucks’ president of hockey operations. “Our best chance was to move down, and we did.

“It’s a lottery. I guess when you go to the grocery store and buy a lottery ticket and you don’t win, you don’t get that upset. So I won’t get too upset about this.”

The Sabres had the sixth-best odds by virtue of their 33-37-12 season. Buffalo had a 7.6 percent chance of winning the No. 1 pick.

With no general manager in place, Larry Playfair, the Sabres’ director of alumni relations, represented the team. The Sabres are continuing their search for Tim Murray’s replacement. They have interviewed New Jersey Assistant GM Tom Fitzgerald, TSN’s Pierre LeBrun reported Saturday.

Fitzgerald has been with the Devils for two seasons after a position-filled stay with the Pittsburgh Penguins. He served as the director of player development, assistant coach, assistant to the general manager and assistant GM. The Sabres drafted his son, Casey, last year.

“Fitzie’s done a great job for us,” said Shero, who hired Fitzgerald for the Penguins and hired him away when he joined New Jersey. “It was a good move for Fitzie and a better move for me. He’s done everything from run the farm team to our development, helping with our amateur and pro staff.

“He’s played over 1,000 games in the league, and that’s 1,000 more than I’ve played. He has a different perspective than me, and that’s helpful.”

Shero will have the choice of two centers with the No. 1 pick. NHL Central Scouting has tabbed Nolan Patrick as the best draft prospect despite an injury-plagued season. The forward for Brandon of the Western Hockey League missed a total of 39 games, including the Wheat Kings’ four playoff outings. He still managed to put up 20 goals and 46 points in 33 games.

The 18-year-old is the son of former Sabres first-round pick Steve Patrick and the nephew of longtime Buffalo defenseman and assistant coach James Patrick.

Switzerland native Nico Hischier is a close No. 2, and it’s possible teams have him rated above Patrick. Hischier plays for Halifax in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. The center put up 38 goals, 48 assists and 86 points in 57 games.

“You’ve got some really good players here, and now we have the pick,” Shero said. “It’s great for our franchise. It was really fun to watch them from afar this year, but never did I really think we’d be in the position – even when we lost a lot at the end – I never thought I’d be in position to draft one of these guys. It’s a fun day.”

Linden says the teams down the order should still look forward to the selection show in June.

“Everyone’s talking about how weak it is,” Linden said of the draft, “and I think there’s some great players available. I think there’s great players available in rounds two, three, four, five. You challenge your guys to find them.

“Everyone talks about the top two players, but there may be a player drafted in the top 10 that turns out to be the best player in this draft.”

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