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Joy in Sabreland as Buffalo lands top pick in NHL Draft

TORONTO – Jason Botterill wasn't worried about hitting the jackpot. Suddenly, as the Buffalo Sabres reached the final four of the NHL Draft Lottery, the prize was right before his eyes.

"That was the first time I was like, 'Oh, my goodness. This is nerve-racking, for sure,'" the Buffalo Sabres' general manager said Saturday night.

The nerves were worth it. They led to a celebration.

The third time was the charm for the Sabres, who won the NHL Draft Lottery on Saturday night and hold the No. 1 pick for June's draft. Like 2014 and 2015, the last-place Sabres had the best odds for the top spot. Unlike the other two years, they will select first.

It should change the franchise. It definitely changed the mood of the fan base.

"I hope they're ecstatic," Botterill said inside CBC headquarters. "We knew we were going to get a very good player added to our organization, but it's great that we now control our own destiny. We get to pick who we want. That's a great feeling."

The unquestioned No. 1 selection is defenseman Rasmus Dahlin. The 18-year-old represented Sweden at the Olympics in South Korea and the World Junior Championship in Buffalo this season. He was named Best Defenseman at the World Juniors, recording six assists, 25 shots and a plus-7 rating in seven games to help Sweden win the silver medal.

"Dahlin is an exceptionally talented prospect who will be able to contribute, influence and impact a team's fortunes much in the way that defensemen Erik Karlsson and Victor Hedman have in the NHL," said Dan Marr, director of NHL Central Scouting. "If you wanted to pick one player from the 2018 Draft who could potentially be viewed as a generational talent, Rasmus would be the only candidate. There is that much respect for him and his abilities."

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Dahlin was seven years younger than anyone else on Sweden's Olympic team. The 6-foot-2, 181-pounder totaled eight goals and 23 points in 47 games in the Swedish Hockey League.

"He's the type of defenseman that pretty much 31 teams in the National Hockey League want these days," Botterill said. "Just that ability to jump in the rush and create offensive chances but also has that competitive spirit to play against other teams' top players."

After the lottery balls finally bounced Buffalo's way, the Sabres will find out exactly what Dahlin brings June 22 in Dallas – though Botterill wouldn't tip his hand and announce the obvious pick.

"Well, we want everybody to show up in Dallas, so we'll keep that and we'll go through our interview process," Botterill said with a smile.

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Dahlin watched the lottery from Sweden.

"I'm trying to be a two-way player with a more offensive game," Dahlin said during the television show. "I like to make good passes, and I skate well, I think. I'm trying to improve very much my shot, my strength and my weight.

"I like to watch so many great players, but I like to watch Erik Karlsson the most."

Dahlin's plan until the draft?

"I will eat, sleep and train," he said, "just working out every day."

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This will be the third time Buffalo drafts first. It selected Gilbert Perreault in 1970 and Pierre Turgeon in 1987.

"This is a good day," Botterill said. "We're going to bring in a player who has a history of – if you look at any of the top players – they have a history of being successful players. That's we need more and more in our organization is people who have experience of winning and are excited about trying to win at the National Hockey League level."

The final three teams in the running for the No. 1 pick were Carolina, Montreal and Buffalo. The Sabres had an 18.5 percent chance of landing the top spot. Montreal was at 9.5 percent. Carolina was at 3 percent.

The balls bounced in Buffalo's favor for once after going elsewhere in 2014 and 2015.

"It's a great feeling," Botterill said. "It was nerve-racking at the very end. I'm just very, very happy for our fan base."

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