The Buffalo Sabres hold two first-round selections: their own pick at No. 13 and San Jose’s pick at No. 26 (from the Brian Campbell trade). They have five other picks throughout the rest of the draft, including No. 44 and 74 overall. Having two first-rounders gives the team a great deal of flexibility, allowing them to move up for a prospect they love, or trade out of the 13th spot with the security of having another first-round pick. Based on their situation, trade speculation has been rampant, with most scenarios having the team move into the top 10.
The organization is in a position of power looking at this year’s draft. Although the Sabres suffered through a disappointing season and had to give up their top defenseman to get the extra pick, they do have four picks in the top 74, along with a solid and diverse pool of prospects. The organization could use size at forward and defense, but without a glaring need, may select the best player available if a blue-chipper falls to them.
Top 10 Prospects
The Sabres had a disappointing 2007-08 season, finishing in 10th place one year after having the best record in the league. After having a good set of prospects for the past several years, many of those young players are with the NHL club, and need to hone their abilities and develop consistency. After losing several stars over the past year, what the team needs more than anything else is tough, veteran leadership.
Overall, the core of the team’s forwards are locked up for the immediate future. Paul Gaustad, Steve Bernier, and Daniel Paille are RFA’s, and Darcy Regier has been adept at locking in young players for reasonable short-term deals, which is to be expected with these three forwards.
Keeping premier talent has been another story, and this summer will likely be a pivot point for Jason Pominville and Ryan Miller. Both the leading scorer and frontline goaltender will be vulnerable to other teams after next season (Miller as an UFA, Pominville a RFA), and the team does not want to have another contract negotiation blow up in its face as has been the recent trend.
Henrik Tallinder was not the front line defenseman the team expected this past season. Despite his regression, he is still under contract, and will likely be on the roster next year, along with established defensemen Jaroslav Spacek, Toni Lydman. Youngsters Mike Weber and Andrej Sekera should stick with the Sabres next season. With Teppo Numminen and Dmitri Kalinin unlikely to be brought back, the team could use another veteran presence at the position.
The front-runner to fill that void is Brooks Orpik, an UFA Western New York native who was a physical presence during Pittsburgh’s run to the Stanley Cup Finals. Along with toughness, he would bring good size (6’2, 219 lbs.), he’ll only be 28 at the start of next season, and his younger brother Andrew Orpik is a prospect in the Buffalo system.
A quality, balanced set of prospects. Goalie Jhonas Enroth projects to be a solid NHL starter. As noted above, Weber and Sekera will likely graduate from prospect to NHL regulars next season. Past that, the Sabres signed several of the intriguing players in their organization over recent months, including South Buffalo talent Tim Kennedy and Boston College standout Nathan Gerbe. Both players will need time to develop in Portland (Buffalo’s new AHL affiliate) after productive college careers.
Clarke MacArthur is on the cusp of being an NHL regular if he can develop consistency. Marc-Andre Gragnani, Marek Zagrapan, T.J. Brennan, and Chris Butler have all showed promise, but are likely a year away from competing for a spot in the NHL.
Since the departure of Jay McKee, the team has lacked a strong stay-at-home defenseman. T.J. Brennan is coming along, but is unlikely to crack Buffalo’s top six next season. Most of the prospects on defense are offensive-minded, so bringing at least one tough blueliner into the fold would bring balance.
Many of the team’s skilled forwards are a bit undersized, and it would be helpful to bring in a tough power forward to develop. With Bernier, Gaustad, Thomas Vanek, and Drew Stafford already in Buffalo, there is time for a prospect to develop.
Although Enroth and Brennan show great promise, the team does not have a can’t-miss star in their system. They have a lot of players that project to second or third tier contributers, but not a star like Vanek or Miller to pin their hopes on. The team may be able to fill that void at 13, or perhaps move up into the top 10 to grab a true blue-chipper.
Buffalo trends toward tough, hardworking players that fit with the ethos of the city. They have been targeting North American players with high regularity, often ones with distinguished college careers (Miller, Vanek, Stafford). The team hasn’t been afraid to select an undersized player if they feel that they are getting a good value with the pick (Nathan Gerbe). In the past, when they haven’t had a glaring need, the Sabres have selected the best player available regardless of position, and that will likely continue this year.
Hockey’s Future staff mock draft result:
No. 13: Kirill Petrov, RW – Although he is a risk due to signability issues, Petrov projects as a first-line power forward at the NHL level, and would quickly improve the Sabres’ organizational depth by bringing good size, speed, and hands around the net. Much will depend on the team’s level of comfort in bringing him over from Russia, particularly with no agreement between Europe and the NHL currently in place.
No. 26: Yann Sauvé, D – The Sabres seem to be perennially lacking a big, rugged defenseman, which may lead them to pick this 6’3, 220 lbs. blueliner who patterns his game after Calgary star Dion Phaneuf.
Current Draft Picks:
1st round, 13th pick (13 overall)
1st round, 26th pick (26 overall)
2nd round, 13th pick (44 overall)
3rd round, 13th pick (74 overall)
4th round, 13th pick (105 overall)
5th round, 13th pick (135 overall)
7th round, 13th pick (165 overall)