DALLAS — Swedish defenseman Rasmus Dahlin went first overall to the Buffalo Sabres and Russian winger Andrei Svechnikov second to the Carolina Hurricanes in the two most predictable developments of an NHL draft that also featured some curveballs.
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.”
The selections after Dahlin and Svechnikov brought some surprises. Montreal took Finnish center Jesperi Kotkaniemi third and Arizona went a bit off the board with center Barrett Hayton fifth, allowing high-scoring Czech winger Filip Zadina to fall to Detroit with the sixth pick.
“I wasn’t really surprised,” said Kotkaniemi, who had been linked to the Canadiens in recent days. “I heard that they were looking for centers. So I hoped that they chose me.”
Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said before the draft that they were going to take the player they thought would be the best down the road. Holland figured Zadina can be a 30-goal scorer in the NHL.
“We’re trying to build,” Holland said. “We’re looking to acquire as much talent as we can as quickly as possible.”
Dahlin should spark the rebuilding process for Buffalo, which 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.
Botterill and his staff met with Dahlin at the scouting combine in Buffalo and came away as impressed with the young Swede’s self-assessment as his on-ice talent.
“I think Mr. Dahlin could improve pretty much 31 teams in the National Hockey League,” Botterill said earlier in the day. “You watch him on the ice and you’re very impressed with his hockey sense, his speed, his puck skills but a very humble man off the ice.”
About an hour before the Sabres were on the clock, the Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals made the first trade of draft weekend by sending 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.
Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan has spoken with Carlson’s agent about a deal but had not agreed to one as of Friday night.
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 top 10 picks were all made without any trades, despite Edmonton GM Peter Chiarelli advertising the 10th overall pick was available, especially for a defenseman.