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Buffalo Sabres

#1: The Sabres Biggest First-Round Bust, Cold War Casualty



The Buffalo Sabres have had some major successes in the NHL Draft, starting with their first franchise selection of Gilbert Perreault, to Hall-of-Famers Tom Barrasso and Pierre Turgeon, to their most recent top overall picks of Rasmus Dahlin and Owen Power, but where there is success, there is inevitably failure. For the final entry on the list of Sabres first-round failures, we look at a forward from behind the Iron Curtain that never got to North America to play and was a major miscalculation by GM Scotty Bowman.

#1 Jiri Dudacek

Bowman’s draft record with the Sabres after leaving Montreal in 1979 was mediocre to that point, with 1980 first-rounder Steve Patrick having only limited success in the NHL. After winning the Adams Division and losing to Minnesota in the second round in 1981, the Sabres had a late first-round pick and, at 17th overall selected Czech winger Jiri Dudacek,

The 18-year-old was considered the best junior prospect outside of North America after scoring seven goals for Czechoslovakia at the Under-18’s in 1980, but that was unimportant because the Cold War was in full effect and getting players from Communist countries was impossible unless the players defected, like Hockey Hall of Famer Peter Stastny (who played for Czechoslovakia in the Lake Placid Olympics) and younger brother Anton, who defected to play for Quebec in 1980.

Unlike the Nordiques and the Sabres with Alexander Mogilny in 1989, defection was out of the question in the case of Dudacek since his father was a high-ranking Communist official in the government. Bowman tried to cajole the Communist sports officials in Czechoslovakia to let Dudacek play in North America, as they had done with more veteran players, but after the Stastny defections, they would not allow it to happen.

Internationally, Dudacek shined in the 1981 Canada Cup and at the 1982 World Junior Championships but went scoreless in the 1984 Canada Cup. He played 13 seasons in the Czech league for Kladno and Dukla Jihlava (playing two seasons with a young Jaromir Jagr) but only played outside of his home country after the wall came down.

While there is no doubting Dudacek’s talent, the pick was representative of the hubris of Bowman, thinking that he could convince the Czechoslovak officials to let a young star play in the West.