By Budd Bailey
Hannu Virta of the Sabres
Taken in Round 2 in 1981
The next pick: Dean Kennedy played defense with a number of teams starting with the Kings. He spent the 1989-90 and 1990-91 seasons in Buffalo.
Other picks in that round: After the Virta and Kennedy selections, the Canadiens took another defenseman in the No. 40 slot. Chris Chelios turned out to be a Hall of Famer once he was done playing … and it took until 2009-10 until he played his last game of 1,651. Future Sabre Scott Arniel was the first choice in that round, while Jan Erixon and Gord Dineen also had good-sized NHL careers.
The details: This is the one pick by the Sabres in 1981 that worked out reasonably well, at least for a while. Virta, a native of Finland, came over late in the 1981-82 season to play a few games. He then stayed for the next four seasons. Hannu wasn’t a scorer, but he was rather dependable. Virta then returned to Finland to play for TPS Turku until 1996-97. He did some coaching in Europe after that.
Other 38s: Cody Ford only has played two seasons with the Bills, and the 2020 version was cut short by an injury. He may take over this numerical distinction from Virta in a year or two. Ken Charles turned out well for the Braves, spending three seasons mostly as a third guard during their best years. Scott Hutchinson was a backup defensive lineman for the Bills in the late 1970s/early 1980s for four years. Denis Tsygurov was the first player drafted by the Sabres in 1993. He didn’t show much in the NHL, and went back to Europe for a few years of play during the rest of the 1990s.
(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB)