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Mike Harrington: Anticipation building for Sabres to be atop hockey world at NHL Draft

It has been 31 years since the Buffalo Sabres had this chance. It will be the first time for General Manager Jason Botterill.

Friday night in Dallas, Botterill will step to the microphone and announce to the world what is widely known – Rasmus Dahlin will be the No. 1 overall pick of the NHL draft, and a new era of the Blue and Gold will be upon us.

The Swedish defenseman will be anointed the new savior just over two months after the end of an embarrassing 62-point season that saw the franchise finish last in the NHL for the third time in five years.

"It's an exciting time for our organization, and our staff has put in a lot of time to go through the process for this pick," Botterill told The Buffalo News. "It comes after a year where you can hardly be excited about our results, but we know we're getting a very good player that will hopefully have a lot of success with our organization in the future.

"Friday in Dallas will be a good celebration for us and the player," Botterill said. "Then after that, it will be time to keep discussing how he will fit in, how we will put him in the best position to succeed."

Botterill has remained coy for the most part about discussing Dahlin, largely because the league is mindful of the fact the 18-year-old is not Sabres property until he is actually selected.

But the GM admitted he and his staff were particularly engaged during their discussions with Dahlin during the Scouting Combine here a couple of weeks ago.

"I've always been very impressed with him on the ice and what he's been able to create on the ice," Botterill said. "But what we've been impressed during our discussions with him the last little bit is just how humble he is, how focused he is on improving his game. When you talk to him about things he needs to improve on, he has a great ability to use a self-awareness of his situation. We have enjoyed sitting down with Rasmus, getting to know him."

Mike Harrington: Dahlin gives Sabres an international spotlight

The Sabres have not selected No. 1 overall since they took Pierre Turgeon in 1987. Before that, you have to go back to their first-ever draft choice when Gilbert Perreault was selected in 1970. So this is a pretty epochal moment.

The drafting of Dahlin is the keynote item but far from the only point of emphasis during what figures to be a busy few days in Big D. The Sabres also have pick No. 32, the opener of Saturday's second round, and could get a significant player for their future with it or trade it for immediate NHL help. They have no third round pick but two fourth-rounders, as well as a choice in rounds 5, 6 and 7.

"Where we're at, every pick is very important for us," Botterill said. "There are pieces already in Buffalo we're very excited about but we're at the point where we have to add more players to our group, add more depth to our organization. We've talked a lot about the importance of doing it right at 32.

"And we've talked to our amateur side about making sure we kept our focus. You always have to go through the process and you always have to be prepared. In this industry, you just never know when opportunities are going to come. Whether it's something to come on the draft floor, a couple days ahead of time, whatever."

Botterill on O'Reilly: 'The interest in Ryan is not surprising at all'

Specifically, rumors linger that the Montreal Canadiens remain hot on the heels of Sabres center Ryan O'Reilly, and a package that could include the No. 3 overall pick would be part of those discussions.

Far-fetched? Certainly. But Botterill & Co. have made sure to do due diligence on other top-10 players. Just in case.

The most likely scenario, however, is that Botterill takes Dahlin at No. 1 and sits back and watches the rest of the first round unfold. After Dahlin, it's expected Carolina will take Barrie winger Andrei Svechnikov at No. 2. Then all bets are off as the Canadiens could prompt a lot of shifting if they trade out of No. 3.

"For pure draft picks, it's going to be very interesting to see what materializes," he said. "We think even from picks 2-3 on, teams' lists will be very different. It will be interesting to see if teams try to move up by being surprised a player is there or if teams are going to stand pat because they're comfortable who they're going to get."

Aside from O'Reilly, there's not a lot of heavy rumors floating around the Sabres. Still, the draft is a new kind of silly season in the NHL.

"You can't control everything that's said out there," Botterill said. "We've had discussions with different teams. Since the end of the season, you saw from our players, our coaches and myself that we were very disappointed in how the season progressed.

"We are certainly looking to improve our team – but what GM isn't?"

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