Buffalo - August 22, 2014 - With the focus on the Sabres’ drafting and stockpiling prospects being the main talking points when it comes to the team these days, I couldn’t help but think: “who are some of the worst misses in the team’s history of drafting?”
We’ve already covered the non-existent Taro Tsujimoto and the uber-disappointing Marek Zagrapan and Artem Kryukov. Today, we look at one of the more unique draft busts in NHL history: Jiri Dudacek.
The 1980s were a different time. Back then, the draft wasn’t quite what it is now in terms of coverage and scouting, with just about all of the selections coming from either Canada or the United States. There were some who came over from European countries, but for war-torn countries like Czechoslovakia, it was more difficult to get players overseas.
Heading into the 1981 NHL Draft, Dudacek starred for the Czechslovak team at the World Junior Ice Hockey Championships in both 1980 and 1981, and was considered to be one of the top prospects in that year’s draft class.
The Sabres took him with the 17th overall pick in the first round, making him the first Czechoslovak player to be taken in the first round of the draft. It was a calculated risk, though. While the Sabres picked a clearly talented player, there were concerns about whether or not Dudacek would make it to North America.
At the time, Czechoslovakia was a communist country and his father was a high-ranking Communist party member. He was not allowed to leave for North America by sports authorities, claiming he was “too young” to leave the country.
While other teams helped Czechoslovak players sneak out of the country to play in the NHL, then-Sabres general manager Scotty Bowman tried to go in a different direction by trying to convince Czechoslovak officials to legally allow Dudacek to leave.
Unfortunately for both, Dudacek was not allowed to leave and wound up playing out his career for HC Kladno and HC Jihlava in the Czechoslovak Extraliga, retiring from hockey in 1991.
Though it was never his fault that he didn’t contribute to the Sabres’ franchise after his selection, the pick wound up being a wasted one for the franchise. Fortunately for them, they managed to get their next three first round picks right: Phil Housley (6th overall) and Dave Andreychuk (16th overall) in 1982 and Tom Barrasso (5th overall) in 1983. At least they got it right some of the time.
Follow me on Twitter: @2PSblog