A solid argument can be made that the greatest NHL draft moment in Buffalo Sabres history didn’t happen at the draft. It was actually two days prior to the event.
And it almost didn’t happen for them.
When the Sabres and Vancouver Canucks entered the NHL as expansion franchises in 1970, a decision as to which club would select first overall in the NHL Draft was to be determined by a spin of a 14-numer wheel. If the wheel stopped between 1-7, the Canucks would pick first. Should it come to a halt between 8-14, it was Buffalo that would select first overall.
It really was the first time in NHL history that the draft was an event of substance.
NHL President Clarence Campbell would spin this magical wheel at a media luncheon two days prior to the June 8, 1970 draft in Montreal. When the moment arrived and the wheel came to a halt, Campbell would holler out that the winning numbe was one. It would be Vancouver’s pick.
Immediately, there was commotion.
“I remember (Sabres coach-GM) Punch Imlach and (assistant GM) Fred Hunt jumping up and yelling, ‘No, you got it wrong,’” Gilbert Perreault recalled.
Campbell took another look.
“Wait a minute,” Campbell said. “I called it wrong. “It’s number 11 in favor of Buffalo.”
Lucky Number 11 for Sabres
“The arrow on the wheel was covering up one of the ones,” Perreault explained. “That’s why they didn’t realize at first that it was 11.”
Imlach didn’t wait for the day of the draft to declare who he’d be selecting with the first overall pick.
“There’s absolutely no question that I’ll take Perreault,” Imlach announced.
Without a doubt, the Sabres made the right choice.
Perreault led the Montreal Jr. Canadiens to a second consecutive Memorial Cup title in 1969-70. He would lead all playoff scorers with 17-21-38 totals.
Arriving to the NHL, he didn’t miss a beat.
In his rookie season, Perreault’s 38 goals would obliterate the NHL standared for a first-year player of 34 goals that Nels Stewart had held since 1925-26. He would win the Calder Trophy.
“You wanted to do well, to show them that they’d made the right choice,” Perreault said.
Perreault would go on establish Sabres franchise records for games played (1,191), goals (512), assists (814) and points (1,326). He would earn induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1990.
However, there’s one misnomer that’s always been associated with the Sabres legend. People think he wore No. 11 because that’s where the wheel landed to land him in Buffalo.
“I’d worn number 11 with the Jr. Canadiens,” Perreault said. “I guess you could say that 11 has been a pretty lucky number for me.”