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What if "McEichel" Doesn't Pay Dividends?

Top draft picks are no sure thing in pro sports

It’s been the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel for the past two miserable seasons for Sabres fans. Finish with the worst record in the NHL this season and the Sabres will be assured at least the second overall pick in the NHL draft, and if they win the Draft Lottery later this month they’ll be getting the first overall pick. As Sabres fans know, the top two rated players (Jack Eichel, and Connor McDavid) for this upcoming draft have gotten rave reviews, each considered by NHL experts that could be franchise altering players.

Notice the use of the word “could,” and not “will,” because in sports a high draft pick is not always an automatic superstar in waiting. Through the years the road has been littered with ultra high picks that didn’t live up to the hype. The Sabres two first overall selections in their history are a decent example of the upside and downside of getting that high draft pick and the uncertainty that comes with it. The first was Gil Perreault in 1970, a franchise player for over sixteen seasons who owns multiple Sabre records. His number hangs in the rafters at First Niagara Center and he is enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Then there’s Pierre Turgeon, the first overall pick in 1987. While he did have a productive NHL career with over 500 goals, the Sabres dealt him to the Islanders after just over four seasons as a Sabre. Who was picked second in 1987? Brendan Shanahan.

But the Sabres with Turgeon certainly weren’t the only franchise to have a top pick not turn out as planned.

In 1993 there were rumors that the expansion Ottawa Senators were “tanking” in an effort to get the first pick in the draft. They did finish with the worst record, and they used their pick to select... Alexander Daigle, who was believed to be the best available talent, yet became one of the worst “busts” in NHL Draft history. And there are plenty more to add to the list. Remember Patrik Stefan in 1999? First pick in the history of the Atlanta Thrashers and one could say that the club got off to a start that they never quite bounced back from. Brian Lawton in 1984 with the North Stars? Made it big in the NHL as a player agent. As a player? Not so much. And while Eric Lindros had a great career, a Flyers fan has to wonder what if Philadelphia never made the deal to trade so much talent to the Nordiques to get him after he let it be known that he would not play in Quebec. Lord Stanley’s Cup still eludes Flyers after four decades, while the Nords were immediately turned from NHL laughingstock into perennial postseason contender for years to come, winning the Stanley Cup as the Colorado Avalanche in 1996 and 2001.

The greater point here is this. For the past two seasons the Buffalo Sabres have had an on ice product that is the worst in the history of this franchise. All in the attempt to be able to put themselves in the best position to land either of the top two picks in this season’s upcoming NHL Draft. Said player, whether it be Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel will be drafted with the idea that he will be that cornerstone player (like Gil Perreault was here long ago) for the long term all while racking up the inevitable accolades that come with being one of the NHL’s next superstars. The person drafted with this selection will have to deal with the intense pressure to perform at a high level and justify his high standing at the cost of wasting two seasons of Sabres hockey. Quite frankly, the pressure on the Sabres first pick to succeed will be unprecedented in the history of the franchise.

It’s potentially difficult and tall order for an eighteen year old to fill this role. Will “McEichel” be up to the task?

The odds may be decent, but don’t bet the house on it.

TARO SEZ (Sabres/Coyotes edition)...

Taro is quite confident that the Sabres will finish with the NHL’s worst record and guarantee themselves one of the top two picks in the upcoming draft. Even though it hasn’t been clinched as he puts pen to paper. If by some bizarre chance this does not happen, Taro reminds us that the third pick in this year’s draft would be a perfect opportunity to select...Taro Tsujimoto.

Taro was amazed that the schedule worked out such that the team closest to the Sabres in the standings was a Western team that had to wait until a critical time in late March to have both of their meetings. Somehow Edmonton was not scheduled to play Buffalo at the same time of the season.

Cheering for the other team last week: Taro feels that cheering for the opposition was, while unusual, quite acceptable. Fans pay good money, but by the same token a simple golf clap or a fist pump whenever the ‘Yotes scored would have been the more acceptable response.

Taro also thinks that the howling noise in Gila River Arena is quite annoying. Hopefully it won’t be heard much longer. Seattle? Quebec, anyone?

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