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The Sabres didn’t win the lottery, but they still aren’t losers

It’s hard to not be a little disappointed that the Sabres didn’t win the lottery this weekend. After months and months of imagining Connor McDavid putting on a Sabres jersey for the first time (and you didn’t have to do that much imagining, since many already had McDavid Sabres jerseys stitched,) it is a strange feeling realizing odds are that he never plays for Buffalo.

The Sabres lost the lottery, and the instant reaction is a feeling of dread. I felt it. It stings. But now we move forward with the new face of the Buffalo Sabres, Jack Eichel. It’s still going to be a ton of fun.

Eichel led the nation in scoring as a freshman, scoring 26 goals and 45 assists in 40 games. He won the Hobey Baker, given to the best player in college hockey. He was the first freshman to win the award since Paul Kariya, and the first to be nominated since Zach Parise.

He’s strong, and uses his size very well. He’s smart, and a leader who was the captain of the United States in the latest World Junior tournament. As Boston locals would say, he’s got a wicked shot. He can shoot from anywhere, and shoots lasers from the faceoff dots.

Any other draft he would have been a clear-cut first overall pick. The disappointment, the feeling that he isn’t special, is only because he’s constantly compared to McDavid. The Sabres are still likely getting one of the most talented players to ever play for the franchise. He just isn’t McDavid.

The Sabres didn’t really lose. The tank was still worth it, and the Sabres can still be a strong Cup contender going forward. Eichel is the first line center to anchor this team for years to come, adding him to the group of Evander Kane, Sam Reinhart, Zemgus Girgensons, Tyler Ennis and Matt Moulson, not to mention the strongest prospect pool in the league.

Eichel is the last big piece to the rebuild, the player that really puts Buffalo over the top. As time goes by, the sting will go away. Jeremy White made an analogy the other day that I thought was very fitting. When I learn someday in the future that I’m going to be a father, I know that I’ll really want a son to watch hockey with. If I find out I’m having a daughter, I’ll be just as excited. I’m going to be a father! It’s still a great thing, just maybe not what you thought you wanted originally.

Are you worried that he’ll go back to school? It doesn’t matter if he does. The Sabres aren’t winning the Cup next year anyways. Worried that he’ll be upset that Tim Murray was clear that he wanted McDavid? We all wanted McDavid, every GM in the league wanted McDavid. He wants to play in the NHL, and he has already said he understands Murray’s sentiment. Eichel is the Sabres guy now, and they’ll love him just as much as they would have loved McDavid. He’s going to score a ton of goals. His jersey is going to fly off the shelves. He will make the Sabres relevant again. He may fit the Buffalo fan mentality even more than McDavid would, although I hated that point before the lottery. Nothing gets Buffalo going like a blue-collared nature.

Sure, I was nervous while watching the lottery. I was disappointed with the result too. I sat in my room that night, just thinking about McDavid’s name stitched onto an Edmonton jersey. It didn’t compute. But the dust has settled, and the Sabres have their guy. It’s time to embrace him.

No matter how you feel about Eichel, thank goodness the Sabres finished in 30th. You don’t want to be Arizona today, who has to decide between Noah Hanifin and Dylan Strome.

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