Dallas — Rasmus Dahlin went first overall to the Buffalo Sabres, Commissioner Gary Bettman was booed relentlessly by the crowd all night and trade chatter didn’t amount to a whole lot of movement.
With the exception of one trade by the Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals, the first round of the NHL draft went off without many surprises. Only two players and a handful of picks were traded Friday night, leaving general managers hoping for more on Day Two.
“That was kind of a boring first day or first round,” Philadelphia Flyers GM Ron Hextall said. “It’s not typical for this day.”
The Sabres picking Dahlin at No. 1 and the Carolina Hurricanes taking Russian winger Andrei Svechnikov at No. 2 got the draft itself off to a predictable start. Montreal taking Finnish center Jesperi Kotkaniemi third and Arizona going a bit off the board with center Barrett Hayton fifth allowed high-scoring Czech winger Filip Zadina to fall to Detroit with the sixth pick.
“I’m telling my agent if they will pass on me, I will fill their net with the puck,” Zadina said. “I want to prove them that they have done, like, bad decision.”
Not a whole lot of big decisions happened Friday night at American Airlines Center. The Sabres taking Dahlin was automatic since they won the draft lottery in April, and the 18-year-old wore a Buffalo Bills hat Friday prior to the selection. Svechnikov got to try on the Hurricanes’ draft hat before he was the No. 2 pick just as general manager Don Waddell acknowledged recently.
Dahlin is the second Swedish player to be taken No. 1 and the first since Mats Sundin in 1989. Sundin went on to a Hall of Fame career.
“It’s pretty crazy actually,” Dahlin said. “He’s a legend in the hockey world. It’s kind of weird but amazing.”
GMs found it weird that there weren’t more trades consummated. A few teams swapped picks late in the first round, but the big shakeup came a half-hour before the draft when the Capitals traded veteran defenseman Brooks Orpik and backup goaltender Philipp Grubauer to the Colorado Avalanche for a second-round pick.
The trade netted Washington the 47th pick but most importantly cleared significant salary-cap space to attempt to re-sign pending free agent defensemen John Carlson and Michal Kempny. MacLellan said he was close to getting a deal done with Carlson, so he had to prepare.
“It’s hard to do, but we had to create some room to sign some players,” MacLellan said.
Grubauer was the first domino to fall in what could be a fascinating goaltending market. Ottawa’s Craig Anderson is reportedly available, and Columbus might have to make a decision on Sergei Bobrovsky if like winger Artemi Panarin the two-time Vezina winner isn’t willing to talk about a contract extension with just a year left before free agency.
The Capitals and Hurricanes discussed a trade for Grubauer that would’ve given Washington a higher second-round pick, but MacLellan opted to send the 26-year-old German to the Western Conference rather than giftwrap him for a division rival, and Colorado’s Joe Sakic was willing to take on Orpik’s salary to get Grubauer.
“We knew the asking price was high and we had the cap room that we can give cap flexibility for us to not have to give up more than we did,” said Sakic, who added he’ll look to trade Orpik or buy out the 37-year-old. “We felt it was important to get Grubauer. We just like what he can do for us.”
The Sabres love what they’re getting in Dahlin, who should spark the rebuilding process for a team that has missed the playoffs in each of the past seven seasons. The smooth-skating playmaker was considered the consensus first pick for more than a year.
“It’s been a long waiting,” Dahlin said. “You can’t really plan anything. Finally today I can plan my future. I love to call my new town Buffalo.”
After co-owner Kim Pegula made some opening remarks, general manager Jason Botterill announced Dahlin as the top pick. In the corner of the arena, Sabres fans in attendance chanted, “Dahlin! Dahlin!”
Bills draft pick Josh Allen tweeted after the pick: “Welcome to Buffalo @rasmusdahlin00! Can’t wait to watch you play, wings on me later this summer.”
Dahlin will jump to the NHL right away and should help the club’s league-worst offense that contributed to its last-place finish. He had six assists in seven games at the world junior championships in Buffalo and put up 20 points in 41 games in Sweden’s top pro league this season.