It’s not that selecting a defenseman with the first pick in the NHL draft is always a mistake.
Denis Potvin is one of the greatest of all time, and the Islanders opened the 1973 draft by selecting the cornerstone of their dynasty teams. Rob Ramage, Roman Hamrlik, Ed Jovanovski, and Chris Phillips all had very nice careers. Bryan Berard was an excellent pro who was derailed by catastrophic injury. Aaron Ekblad hopefully isn’t going down the same road after the season-ending leg injury he suffered in March.
University of Michigan blueliner Owen Power was the top-rated player available on Friday night, and the Sabres used the No. 1 pick on him, three years after using the No. 1 pick on Swedish defenseman Rasmus Dahlin — an experience that should have shown Buffalo the potential folly of such a move.
Dahlin is still only 21, and finished third in the Calder Trophy vote in 2018-19, so it’s not like he’s a total bust, but you also have to wonder whether the Sabres would have been in position for a No. 1 pick again so quickly had they selected any of the three forwards who followed Dahlin in the 2018 draft: Andre Svechnikov, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, or Brady Tkachuk. Either way, we’re already up to the point where Dahlin is a restricted free agent this summer. By the time he puts it together in the NHL, he could very well be on his way out the door in Buffalo.
Now the Sabres, who did not make a long-rumored trade of their best player, Jack Eichel, at the draft, sit in a similar position with Power. The next two picks were a pair of centers, Power’s college teammate Matt Beniers to the Kraken, and Mason McTavish from Peterborough of the Ontario Hockey League to the Ducks.
The good news for Buffalo — hey, good news for Buffalo! — is that before the draft, the Sabres fleeced the Flyers by getting Robert Hägg, the No. 13 pick, and a 2023 second-rounder for Rasmus Ristolainen, the No. 8 overall pick from the 2013 draft who has spent the past eight seasons showing exactly why it’s a bad idea for the Sabres to go for a defenseman in the first round.
With the pick acquired for Ristolainen, the Sabres took Swedish winger Isak Rosén… who had one point in 22 games for Leksands IF last season. Granted, that’s as a teenager in a league with grown men like Leksands teammates and former NHLers Marek Hrivik, Carter Ashton and Mirco Mueller, but one point in 22 games is still… yikes.
See you again with the No. 1 pick in another couple of years, Buffalo.