The 1988 NHL Entry Draft was one of mixed reviews for the Buffalo Sabres. The draft itself was strong and deep, producing future stars like Mike Modano, Trevor Linden, Jeremy Roenick, Temmu Selanne, Rod Brind'Amour, Mark Recchi and Rob Blake. The Sabres emerged with two keepers, both with later picks. Alexander Mogilny was drafted 89th overall while popular tough guy Rob Ray was selected 97th overall. The Sabres also picked future NHLers Keith Carney, Darcy Loewen and Wade Flaherty.
But most drafts are remembered for the first round selections. Luck plays a fair-sized role with later round picks, but no one likes to look bad in the first round. For all the stars chosen in the 1988 draft, there were also, as always, a number of first round busts such as little known Kevin Cheveldayoff, Corey Foster, Daniel Dore and the Sabres first round choice Joel Savage.
Joel, a 5'11" 200 pound right winger out of Surrey, British Columbia, emerged as a junior star in his draft year. 1987-88 was his second season with the Victoria Cougars. After a quiet rookie season, Joel erupted with a 37 goal and 69 point season. He peaked at exactly the right time as he went from an average prospect to being labelled as a possible franchise player, and thus earning him the 13th overall draft spot.
However Joel would suffer a major setback in 1989-90. He returned to Victoria after attending the Sabres training camp, and had a terrible season. He scored just 17 goals and 47 points. Suddenly people were not as high on Joel. The only thing that fell further than his offensive statistics was his confidence..
Joel persevered heartily. He turned professional in the 1989-90 hockey season, but his struggles continued. He got into just 43 games with the AHL Rochester Americans and scored 6 times and assisted on 7 others.
His second pro season saw him rebound, scoring 25 goals and 44 points in 61 games in 1990-91. He was rewarded for his hard work and perseverance with a 3 game call up to the Buffalo Sabres. In those three brief games he picked up his first - and only - NHL assist.
Joel returned to training camp in 1991-92 with a new vigour in hopes that he had worked himself out of his doldrums. However he would suffer another setback. Injuries limited him to just 59 games in Rochester. He would score just 8 goals and 22 points.
Joel's career in the Sabres organization was over the following year. He signed on with the expansion Anaheim Mighty Ducks but he was released after a terrible 1993-94 season which saw him score just 4 goals in three different IHL cities.
Joel turned to the Canadian national team in 1994-95 and found his confidence again on the international ice surface. He embraced the game once again and headed to Germany in the following season where he signed on in the German league. He would remain in Europe, mostly in Germany, to finish out his career. He played with quite a few former NHLers and re-found his love of the great game of hockey.