NEWARK, N.J. — The Buffalo Sabres figured they’d be busy. They entered the NHL draft with the most picks and had several players on the trade market.
By the time the second round was over Sunday, they’d added another selection, traded a defenseman and made a dream come true for a Buffalonian, a feat they duplicated later.
The chaotic start significantly changed the Sabres’ defensive depth and the life of Justin Bailey. But it didn’t alter their rebuilding dilemma. As expected, they exited the draft with Ryan Miller and Thomas Vanek on their roster.
“The draft is at the forefront,” General Manager Darcy Regier said in Prudential Center. “I think you’ll see free agency next, including the buyouts, and then I think teams will re-evaluate their positions, situations from there. Whether that changes our situation in respect to Ryan and Thomas, I don’t know. I really don’t know.”
The Sabres made one trade on a day that featured a blockbuster goaltending deal and drama at the top of the draft. Buffalo acquired defenseman Jamie McBain and a second-round pick from Carolina in exchange for defenseman Andrej Sekera.
McBain, a 25-year-old who’s played three full seasons for the Hurricanes, fell out of favor in Carolina after reporting to the club out of shape following the lockout. He had one goal and eight points in 40 games after totaling 15 goals and 57 points the previous two years.
“I think Jamie will turn his game around next year,” Carolina GM Jim Rutherford said. “Unfortunately, he didn’t come to camp last year ready to play. He wasn’t in good shape, and because of that he didn’t have a good year.
“He got himself into the coach’s doghouse, and I really didn’t see that he was going to get himself out of it. I wish him well and he’s a good guy, but I do feel we’ve got a more reliable top-four defenseman with the deal we just made.”
The 27-year-old Sekera never turned into the offensive catalyst from the back end that Buffalo envisioned. He played 339 games for the Sabres and recorded 17 goals and 92 points. He had two goals and 12 points in 37 games last year.
The deal with the Hurricanes came after the Sabres rejected an earlier offer. Rutherford offered the No. 5 overall pick and McBain in exchange for No. 8 and Sekera.
“It was fairly close,” Regier said. “In the end, the decision was to go this direction.”
The Sabres used their two first-round picks on big defensemen. They selected 6-foot-3 Finnish blue-liner Rasmus Ristolainen with the No. 8 pick, and they drafted 6-5 Russian Nikita Zadorov at No. 16.
“When we looked at the forwards that were available and looked at the D, it was interesting because the year we took Tyler Myers we made a decision that we took a D and we were going to focus on forwards,” said Regier, who noted they passed over quality players by doing so. “You kind of learn from that. If there’s good D and good players, don’t be afraid to load up and get the best players you can.”
The best player in Colorado’s view was center Nathan MacKinnon. The Avalanche selected the peerless skater and scoring sensation first overall.
The drama started at No. 2. Defenseman Seth Jones has been the highest-rated prospect all season, but Florida opted for Finnish forward Aleksander Barkov at No. 2. Tampa Bay passed on Jones, too, picking up MacKinnon’s junior teammate Jonathan Drouin.
Nashville picked Jones fourth.
“This is such a tight draft,” MacKinnon said. “I don’t know if we’ve seen anything like this before. Any four of us could have been No. 1, I think, it’s pretty safe to say. Seth is a very special player, and he’s going to have an unbelievable career in Nashville.
“Along with Barkov and Jo, it’s going to be great careers for those guys, as well.”
Jones has even more incentive to be great.
“I have a competitive nature,” he said. “You definitely want to prove them wrong, and you definitely want to show them why they should have picked you. That’s not my only goal next year, but it’s definitely on my list.”
The blockbuster came at No. 9 as the crowd continued its trend of lustily booing Commissioner Gary Bettman every time he walked on stage.
“I think you might want to hear this,” Bettman shouted above the jeers.
The host Devils sent the No. 9 pick to Vancouver for goaltender Cory Schneider, ending the Canucks’ dysfunctional goalie tandem of Schneider and Roberto Luongo.
“We just felt we couldn’t go any longer in the situation we were in,” Vancouver GM Mike Gillis said.
Buffalo picked two locals, drafting Williamsville’s Bailey with the third of three second-round picks and West Seneca forward Sean Malone in the sixth round.
“I couldn’t have picked a better team to have me, and I honestly couldn’t be happier,” Bailey said. “I’m at a loss for words almost.”