By Budd Bailey
Gil Perreault of the Sabres
Taken in Round 1 in 1970
The next pick: Dale Tallon went No. 2 in that draft. He was a good player, as he played in the NHL for about a decade. However, when Tallon was playing in old-timers’ game in the early 1980s, Perreault was leading the Sabres in scoring.
Other picks in the round: The Bruins had picks No. 3 and 4 in the first round, and used them on two players who turned out to be key players in a couple of championships: Reggie Leach and Rick MacLeish. However, those Stanley Cups were won by the Flyers. Darryl Sittler had 484 goals in 1,096 games. Dan Maloney (No. 14) was a rugged left winger with Chicago.
The details: The expansion Sabres won the right to go first in the draft via a fabled spin of the wheel. Perreault was the consensus choice to be the No. 1 pick, and he proved to be the perfect starting point for a first-year team. Not only was he a great player for 17 years (putting him in the Hall of Fame), but he also was exciting and thus put people in the seats. The combination makes him the best first overall choice in Buffalo’s history.
The contenders: Buffalo has had several No. 1s over the years, and you could make the case that two of them deserve strong consideration as the best-ever from this city’s standpoint. Bruce Smith (1985) is considered one of the two best defensive ends in NFL history. He played here until 1999, and then spent four years in Washington. O.J. Simpson (1969) was the biggest star to ever play for Buffalo, and there’s something to be said for that. When he ran for 2,003 yards in 1973, he became the biggest name in sports in the country. Simpson’s relatively short career is a drawback in this competition.
Other 1s: Pierre Turgeon (1987) only spent four-plus years here, but he did finish with more career goals than Perreault. Rasmus Dahlin (2018) has displayed some potential here in three years, so we’ll see how he does long term. Injuries didn’t allow offensive lineman Ken Rice (1961) to live up to his potential. Walt Patulski spent four seasons in Buffalo – and he never got along with coach Lou Saban – and he was traded to St. Louis. Tom Cousineau (1979) signed with Montreal of the Canadian Football League rather than play with the Bills. However, Buffalo dealt his rights to Cleveland for draft choices … and one of those picks turned into Jim Kelly. Josh Byrne (2017) has played three seasons with the Bandits, and he has become a bigger part of the offense with each season. Delby Powless (2004) was part of the Bandits’ title team in 2008; he was a decent scorer during most of his six seasons in Buffalo.
(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB)