TORONTO – Jackpot.
The third time was the charm for the Buffalo 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.
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."
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.
"Dahlin is in a class of his own," said Goran Stubb, director of NHL European Scouting. "He's fulfilled everything that was expected of him as a regular with Frolunda. He's a smart two-way defenseman with a great set of tools, including skating, puck handling, vision, intelligence and shot.
"He's not overly physical on the ice, but he doesn't shy away from the rough stuff."
After the lottery balls finally bounced Buffalo's way, the Sabres will find out exactly what Dahlin brings June 22 in Dallas.
"I'm trying to be a two-way player with a more offensive game," Dahlin said during the Draft Lottery 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."
Buffalo spent two hours dreaming of a legitimate chance of No. 1. The NHL unveiled the 15th through fourth picks prior to the Vegas-San Jose playoff game, and it announced the top three during the second intermission.
This will be the third time Buffalo drafts first. It selected Gilbert Perreault in 1970 and Pierre Turgeon in 1987.
Dahlin's plan until the draft?
"I will eat, sleep and train," he said, "just working out every day."