Buffalo Sabres win NHL draft lottery; Hart Trophy finalists announced

The Buffalo Sabres finally hit the NHL Draft Lottery jackpot on April 28th when they were awarded with the first overall pick at this summer's event on June 22-23 in Dallas, Texas. Buffalo had the best overall odds of landing the number one pick at 18.5 per cent after finishing dead last in the 31-team league this season with a record of 25-45-12. This is the third time the Sabres have held the first overall pick after selecting Gilbert Perreault in 1970 and Pierre Turgeon in 1987. It's expected the club will be choosing Swedish defenceman Rasmus Dahlin this time around.

The Sabres missed out on winning the draft lottery in recent years while stars such as Aaron Ekblad, . Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews were all taken with the first overall pick. However, Buffalo did manage to land forward Jack Eichel with the second-overall selection after McDavid in 2015. The Sabres are hoping Dahlin will be as good as fellow countrymen Nicklas Lidstrom, Erik Karlsson and Victor Hedman and is expected to make the roster straight out of training camp later this year. There's no doubt the club could use an excellent young blueliner after finishing the 2017/18 campaign with just 62 points.

The Sabres haven't made the postseason in seven years with their last playoff series win coming 11 years ago. In addition, they've never won a Stanley Cup since entering the NHL as an expansion franchise in 1970, but did reach the Final in 1974/75 and 1998/99. They're now just the second team in the last seven years to win the draft lottery after finishing in last place. The Toronto Maple Leafs also won it after placing last two years ago and selecting Matthews in 2016. The Carolina Hurricanes moved up a total of nine spots in this year's lottery and will draft second while the Montreal Canadiens moved up a spot and will select third.

The NHL announced the order of the top 15 draft picks for June during the lottery which consisted of the 15 teams which didn't make this season's playoffs. The order is: 1-Buffalo Sabres, 2-Carolina Hurricanes, 3-Montreal Canadiens, 4-Ottawa Senators, 5-Arizona Coyotes, 6-Detroit Red Wings, 7- Vancouver Canucks, 8-Chicago Blackhawks, 9-New York Rangers, 10-Edmonton Oilers, 11-New York Islanders, 12-New York Islanders, 13-Dallas Star, 14-Philadelphia Flyers, 15-Florida Panthers. The rest of the picks will be determined following the playoffs.

With Dahlin expected to go first overall there are some other top prospects who could go in the first five or six picks. These include left-winger Brady Tkachuk of Boston University, right-winger Filip Zadina of the Halifax Mooseheads, defenceman Evan Bouchard of the London Knights, defenceman Noah Dobson of the Acadie-Bathurst Titan, defenceman Quintin Hughes of the University of Michigan and fellow blueliner Adam Boqvist of Swedish junior league club Brynas.

The NHL also announced this year's finalists for the Hart Memorial Trophy which is awarded to the player deemed most valuable to his team. The winner will be announced at the NHL Awards Ceremony in Las Vegas on June 20th. The finalists are forwards Anze Kopitar of the Los Angeles Kings, Nathan MacKinnon of the Colorado Avalanche and Taylor Hall of the New Jersey Devils. The 26-year-old Hall finished sixth in league scoring this year with 39 goals and 54 assists for 93 points and helped New Jersey reach the postseason for the first time since the 2011/12 campaign. No New Jersey player has won the Hart before.

The 30-year-old Kopitar led the Kings in offence with 92 points on 35 goals and 57 assists which was good enough for a seventh-place tie in league scoring with Phil Kessel of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Kopitar helped the Kings reach the postseason after missing it last season. He's the first Kings player to hit the 90-point mark since 1993/94 when Wayne Gretzky had 130. Kopitar was also named as a finalist for this year's Selke Trophy as the league's best defensive forward and won the award in
2016. This is the first time Kopitar's been a finalist for the Hart Trophy with Gretzky being the only Los Angeles player to ever win it.

The 22-year-old MacKinnon racked up 39 goals and 58 assists for 97 points in 74 games this season to finish fifth in the NHL scoring parade. His averaged 1.31 points-per-game to finish second to McDavid's 1.32. MacKinnon had 12 game-winning goals to finish in a first-place tie with Brayden Point of the Tampa Bay Lightning and also tie the Avalanche franchise record. The youngster helped Colorado reach the playoffs and improve by 47 points this season after finishing in last place in 2016-17. He's hoping to become the third member of the franchise to win the Hart Trophy after Peter Forsberg in 2003 and Joe Sakic in 2001.