Buffalo - August 25, 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, Artem Kryukov and the oft-forgotten Jiri Dudacek. Today, we at one of the team’s biggest busts of the 1980s: Shawn Anderson.
Anderson made a name for himself at the University of Maine as an offensive defenseman, registering 13 points in 16 games as a freshman. General Manager Scotty Bowman tabbed him with the fifth overall pick in the 1986 NHL Draft and the huge expectations followed.
Anderson would make the Sabres out of camp for the 1986-87 season and was even the team’s second-leading scorer coming out of preseason play, notching two goals and eight assists. He stayed with the team until mid-November before he was sent down to Rochester.
Unfortunately for Anderson, that would be the crux of his entire career in Buffalo: stick around in the NHL for a while, disappoint and get sent back to Rochester. Rinse, repeat. This continued until the Sabres dealt him to the Washington Capitals prior to the 1990-91 season for defenseman Bill Houlder. Anderson would be traded again before the season started, this time to Quebec, where he played just 31 games. Poor Andeson was traded again the next season, first to the Winnipeg Jets and then back to the Capitals in the span of two days. His last action came in one game during the 1995 season for the Philadelphia Flyers before bouncing around the AHL and IHL, eventually landing in the German DEL for five seasons before calling it quits.
The tough part about the Anderson bust is who the Sabres missed on in that 1986 NHL Draft. Solid players like Adam Graves and Teppo Numminen (who would coincidentally finish his playing career as a Sabre before joining their coaching staff) were taken in the second round, but the Sabres missed on two big potential players in the top 10: Vincent Damphousse (sixth overall to Toronto) and Brian Leetch (ninth overall to the Rangers).
Damphousse would go on to have one of the more underrated careers of the 1990s, spending most of his time with the Montreal Canadiens. He very quietly scored over 400 goals and finished with 1,205 career points. It was Leetch, however, that really hurts. The American-born defenseman wound up winning the Calder Memorial Trophy as rookie of the year in 1989, the Norris Trophy as top defenseman twice (1992, 1997) and a Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP in 1994. The 10-time NHL All-Star would compile an incredible 1,028 points in 1,205 career games, spending all but 76 of those games with the Rangers. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2009.
The Sabres took a swing and missed hard with the selection of Anderson, one of a few big blunders during the Scotty Bowman era with the Sabres. It’s crazy to imagine what the Sabres would have looked like on defense if the team had added Leetch to go with Phil Housley. What might have been.
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