LAS VEGAS — Gilbert Perreault and Rene Robert are both in their late 60s now. But when Sabres fans gather to see the two surviving members of the famed French Connection, like they did here Monday night for one of the team's annual Road Crew events, everyone gets transported back to the franchise's glory days of the 1970s.
There have been a lot of struggles for the Sabres in recent years, of course. But things are finally starting to feel different. In No. 1 overall pick Rasmus Dahlin, there's a new building block sparking optimism among fans — and franchise legends.
"I saw him in practice and camp and I'm dying to see him play a game," said Robert, 69, who got that chance Tuesday night when the Sabres met the Vegas Golden Knights. "From what I've seen, he's the whole package. You have to keep in mind he's 18 years old and only as good as the team you have. He's got to grow up with the team every year.
"He's going to be a superstar for years to come. I think he'll be better than [Nicklas] Lidstrom was in Detroit. The way he handles the puck, the way he positions himself and the way he sees the play, you don't see too many talents like that come along."
The week after the draft, just before the start of development camp, Dahlin had his first meeting with Perreault. The franchise's greatest skater and its newest hope went around town greeting team sponsors and visited Ladder 5 of the Buffalo Fire Department on Seneca Street.
"It was nice for both of us," said Perreault, 67. "He was an 18-year-old in a new city. I remember doing something like that but I was 20. We went around to different places, took pictures with the fire department and it was great. I got to know him a little bit and we had a good time together."
"That was special to be with a guy from the French Connection," Dahlin said after practice here Monday. "I haven't seen him play, but I heard a lot of things, so it was great to be with him. And he's a funny guy, too."
Perreault, who is always good for a quip or an Elvis impersonation, had a good laugh when that comment was relayed to him.
"I don't know what was funny," Perreault said. "I just tried to stay loose so he wasn't shy with me and make sure he was having a good time and I think he did.
"But I really did want him to know this is a great franchise. If this thing is going to start make the playoffs, people will really be behind them. They've got a lot of great talent on the team and they just added another one in the first choice. I can't wait to see how the team looks this year and the future."
Perreault said he had not caught any of the Sabres' first five games on television so he was keenly interested in getting his first glimpse of Dahlin on Tuesday as well.
"I can't wait to see him and I can't wait to see the team," Perreault said. "I'll watch him and I'll watch Jack Eichel. The team looks good and let's hope they get a lot of wins and make the playoffs.
#1 on the ice & in the community.
Gilbert Perreault & Rasmus Dahlin with Ladder 5, Seneca Street. 🚒👨🚒 pic.twitter.com/88QwOX3BT0
— Buffalo Sabres (@BuffaloSabres) June 26, 2018
"Everybody has pressure and I think you need pressure to play. You have to put it on yourself. They have the talent. They just have to believe in themselves. Have a good time on the ice and have fun together."
Dahlin said Perreault didn't really talk to him much about pressure as a No. 1 pick. He said Perreault simply wanted him to understand how much he would enjoy his experience with the Sabres.
"He was not talking about being No. 1. It was more to play for the fans because everyone in Buffalo is so passionate," Dahlin said. "He told me a lot of good stuff about the club and some of the things they did in the past.
"You meet the old players and they're just normal guys. It's very cool to meet them. You walk around with someone like him and you see the passion the fans have. They were very happy to see him. Very happy."
Robert said he's confident the Sabres are putting Dahlin in a position to succeed.
"You're No. 1 overall, there's pressure on you, obviously," Robert said. "Every place you look, someone is looking at you, expecting miracles. I played nine years with Gilbert and nobody's perfect. Everybody makes mistakes and hockey is a game of mistakes at times.
"I really think Dahlin came at this place at the right time. He came to a team that's rebuilding. As he grows, the team grows and I know they're going to be patient with him."
Perreault and Robert also had praise for the work of coach Phil Housley, who has made an effort to emphasize the team's heritage this season. The Sabres have put photos of many alumni above locker stalls in KeyBank Center and Housley showed his players a video in training camp with messages from the alums taped at the team's kickoff golf tournament last month at Wanakah Country Club in Hamburg.
"It means a lot to us," Robert said. "Phil proved himself when he played. He proved himself when he was an assistant in Nashville. And with the bunch of young kids the Sabres have and the talent coming up, you need someone young enough to understand the mentality of the young players and to guide them in the right direction."
"These guys in the locker room understand the players who played here before mean a lot to not only the Buffalo community, but around the United States," Housley said Tuesday. "I'm happy they can be a part of it.
"It's full circle with Gilbert being the first pick and being with Rasmus. Gilbert is really a class act. He supports the Sabres and our young guys out here. It's a good fit, a good mix of older generation and new generation coming in."
Robert was traded by the Sabres to Colorado in 1979 so he did not play with Housley. Perreault was Housley's teammate the final four-plus seasons of his NHL career before he retired for good in 1986.
"He's got some experience now and we have to give him a chance to be successful," Perreault said. "At the golf tournament, he wanted us to say a few words and we were happy to do it. Everybody wants to make sure the team is doing well. Buffalo is a great place to play. We love the city and we wish them luck.
"I don't want to think about the past. I'm thinking about the future and it looks very good now. They're getting draft picks, they're making trades to change the attitude in the room. It looks good. Let's wait and see."