BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) - First, Paul Reinhart’s son. Then, Claude Lemieux’s.
Tim Murray’s first NHL draft as Buffalo Sabres general manager featured a distinct “Family Ties” theme, and also was top-heavy on Canadian junior league forwards.
The Sabres opened the second round on Saturday by selecting left wing Brendan Lemieux 31st overall. The forward for Barrie of the Ontario Hockey League is the son of four-time Stanley Cup champion forward Claude Lemieux. And the selection came a day after Buffalo used the No. 2 pick to select center Sam Reinhart, whose father split 11 NHL seasons between the Atlanta/Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks.
The trend continued in the sixth round, when the Sabres selected Michigan high school center Christopher Brown, the son of former Detroit Red Wings forward Doug Brown.
Murray called the NHL family connections a matter of coincidence and not design.
“That never came into my mind at all,” he said. “Obviously, with Reinhart being our potential first pick, you know his father played. But as far as the rest of them go, it was just the way they fell on our list.”
That list was as extensive as the Sabres’ many needs. Murray, who took over in January after Darcy Regier was fired, is responsible for rebuilding a team coming off one of the worst seasons in franchise history. Buffalo (21-51-10) finished last in the NHL standings, set a franchise record for losses and they set a post-NHL-expansion-era low by scoring just 150 goals.
The Sabres used seven of their nine selections on forwards. They also picked Swedish-born goalie Jonas Johansson, 61st overall, and Swift Current defenseman Brycen Martin (74th).
The opportunity to take Lemieux - projected by NHL Central Scouting to be a first-round talent - took away part of the sting Murray felt a day earlier, when he was unable to swing a trade to add an extra first-round pick.
Much like his father, Lemieux is a gritty two-way forward, who is just as capable of producing points as penalty minutes. He finished tied for third in Barrie with 53 points (27 goals, 26 assists) and led the team with 145 penalty minutes in 65 games last season.
“He plays a chippy, intimidating style. But in saying that, he’s not a one-dimensional player,” Murray said. “He’s a unique player out of the guys that we drafted in that he’s got a lot of jam. But he can play the game.”
The Sabres also landed a player who has further motivation to succeed after being passed up in the first round.
“I’m just going to use that as fuel,” Lemieux said. “They gave one of the more fiery guys in the draft a lot more fire. So I’m definitely excited.”
The 18-year-old will get his opportunity sooner than later on a team rebuilding from scratch after Buffalo spent much of the past two years purging its veteran core.
Reinhart, however, is the only member of this year’s draft class with a realistic shot at making the Sabres’ roster as early as this season.
Murray made one trade Saturday. He dealt the 39th pick - one of Buffalo’s three second-round selections - to Washington in exchange for the 44th and 74th picks.
The Sabres selected speedy forward Eric Cornel (Peterborough) 44th and then took Czech Republic-born forward Vaclav Karabacek (Gatineau) at 49. Buffalo rounded out the draft by selecting forward Maxwell William (Massachusetts prep school) in the fifth round, and Swedish forward Victor Olofsson with its final pick.
Murray placed an emphasis on adding forwards in part because the Sabres have young up-and-coming depth on defense, including Rasmus Ristolainen and Nikita Zadorov, who were both selected in the first round of last year’s draft.
The Sabres have a chance to add even more top talent in next year’s draft, in which they will have three first-round picks.
“We added a lot of assets,” Murray said, assessing the draft class. “They’re either going to be Buffalo Sabres, or they’re going to allow us to get other Buffalo Sabres. So I think when you draft a lot of players early, that automatically helps your organization.”
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