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Panthers jump Sabres to win NHL draft lottery

Published on NewsOK Modified: April 15, 2014 at 8:59 pm •  Published: April 15, 2014
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NHL draft lottery losers last year, the Florida Panthers had their number come up this year.

In the meantime, chalk up yet another loss for the Buffalo Sabres.

The Panthers bucked the odds Tuesday by jumping up a spot and earned the right to the top pick in June. Florida, which finished 29th in the league, vaulted ahead of the last-place Sabres, who had the best odds of winning the lottery held in Toronto.

"It means a lot to us. We've very excited," said Travis Viola, Panthers president of hockey operations. "We're looking to continue to build on our core talent of young players. It's just a great opportunity."

It also marked a reversal of fortune for Florida.

After finishing last a year ago, the Panthers were relegated to the No. 2 pick after Colorado won the lottery.

The top two projected prospects are left wing Samuel Bennett, of OHL Kingston, who finished first in the final rankings released by NHL Central Scouting last week, and OHL Barrie defenseman Aaron Ekblad.

The draft will be held in Philadelphia on June 27-28.

The Panthers (29-45-8) had an 18.8 percent chance of winning the lottery, behind only Buffalo (21-51-10), which had a 25 percent shot.

The Sabres continued what's been a losing trend since the season began in October.

Buffalo's 51 losses were a franchise worst, and the most losses in the NHL since the New York Islanders went 21-51-7-3 in 2000-01.

General manager Tim Murray took the latest loss in stride, telling the team's website that he almost anticipated losing out on the No. 1 pick.

"We're very comfortable," Murray said. "The other way would've been gravy, but it's kind of what we thought would happen, and we prepared for it."

The Sabres were guaranteed falling no further than second.

Florida will have the first pick for the fourth time in franchise history.

The Panthers are gradually rebuilding. They made a splash this year by acquiring goalie Roberto Luongo in a trade with Vancouver. And they'll be picking third or better for the fourth time in five years.

Their previous top three picks — defenseman Erik Gudbranson (in 2010), wing Jonathan Huberdeau (2011) and center Aleksander Barkov (2013) — all played significant roles this season.

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