The Buffalo Sabres entered the draft with nine picks. They were without a second round pick because of the 2008 trade that brought Craig Rivet to Buffalo, but made up for it with three third round picks, obtained through trades with Atlanta and Boston last season in the Clarke MacArthur and Daniel Paille deals respectively.
The plan going into the draft, according to GM Darcy Regier and Sabres Head of Amateur Scouting Kevin Devine, was to draft the best player available at their pick, regardless of position. That said, the Sabres brass knew they needed to add some forwards this year as the high-end depth in the system is minimal – outside of Tyler Ennis, Luke Adam, Zack Kassian and Nathan Gerbe.
True to their word, the Sabres selected the highest rated player available in the first round by selecting the 7th rated North American prospect, defenseman Mark Pysyk from the Edmonton Oil Kings in the WHL.
All told, the Sabres drafted three defensemen and six forwards.
The Sabres did not expect Mark Pysyk to fall to them at the 23rd pick, but they were thrilled he did. A mid-season foot injury was the probable cause for his slide down the draft boards as many scouts didn’t see him play very much last year. Being on a last place team in the WHL, even as the main attraction, also limited his visibility to many NHL teams.
Considered by scouts to be a safe pick, Pysyk does not have any standout aspects of his game, but he is a tremendous skater and he moves the puck well. He plays a sound defensive game and has a high hockey IQ. He played a handful of games last year with a broken foot before being shut down for the season, which says a lot about his character as well.
Pysyk has plenty of time to develop with Buffalo as the cupboard is full of defenseman right now. He will try to build on a disappointing end to 2010 with Edmonton by taking on more responsibility and hopefully developing his offensive game. Unless he makes enormous strides, Pysyk’s talents won’t be showcased in Buffalo for several years.
Gauthier-Leduc is another player that was hurt by where his team played. Rouyn-Noranda is not a hotbed for NHL scouts. So for a defenseman who scored 20 goals last year in the QMJHL, the Sabres think they got a steal in the third round.
Touted as a pure offensive defenseman with a booming shot from the point, Gauthier-Leduc adds yet another talented defenseman to the Sabres prospect group.
While he needs to work on his strength and his board play in the defensive zone, Gauthier-Leduc, like Pysyk, has plenty of time to work on the deficiencies in his game.
The Sabres do not have many pure offensive defenseman in the system, so Gauthier-Leduc should add another dimension to the crowded backend of the Sabres farm system.
Kevin Sundher, C – Chilliwack (WHL)
3rd Round, 75th selection 2010
6′ 0 192lbs
DOB: January 18, 1992
In Kevin Sundher, the Sabres finally picked up their first forward of the draft. A natural center man with very good vision, Sundher adds to a pretty barren prospect list at the center position for Buffalo. He doesn’t blow you away with his skills but he can skate well and he has a good motor.
With 25 goals in 72 games last year Sundher showed that he has a nose for the net. His improvement statistically and physically is what moved him up the draft boards. At 6’ and 192 pounds, he has decent size he isn’t afraid to use. From his rookie season to his sophomore season, Sundher gained 25 pounds and it really showed in his game.
If Sundher can harness his great vision and hockey sense and continue to improve in Chilliwack next year, he could be a steal in the third round.
Matt MacKenzie, D – Calgary (WHL)
3rd Round, 83rd selection 2010
6′ 1 191lbs
DOB: October 15, 1991
Matt MacKenzie, the last of the Sabres third round picks, is one of only two picks were born in 1991. His maturity is evident when you watch him play; he makes smart decisions in the defensive zone, plays the body more often than not and he moves the puck extremely well in transition.
MacKenzie was on the Hitmen’s top pairing in 2010 and his 16 points in 23 playoff games reflect just how much he was relied upon and how he contributed to Calgary’s success last year.
Besides Pysyk, he is easily the most NHL-ready player of the Sabres 2010 crop. And with a multitude of defensive prospects, Mackenzie has some time before he will be wearing the blue and gold. Sabres fans should be eager for that day to come as Mackenzie has the potential to be a top four blueliner.
Beginning a run of five straight picks at forward in the backend of the draft for the Sabres is Steven Shipley. In an up and down year Shipley tallied 23 goals and 63 points in 68 games. If you take into account that he played on a very bad Owen Sound team, those numbers look pretty good.
At 6’2 and 205 pounds, the Sabres are hoping Shipley can consistently be a physical force on the ice. He is a versatile player who played in all situations last year and showed particular promise on the penalty killing unit.
Shipley has a long way to go before he gets a shot in Buffalo. Though he has great offensive tools and good hands down low, his skating is mediocre at best and his compete level just isn’t there on many nights.
If he can play a more consistent game next year in the OHL, it will go a long way for him in realizing his potential as a tough offensive forward in the NHL.
Gregg Sutch is by far the Sabres most intriguing pick in this year’s draft. Sutch was born with a severe hearing impairment, limiting him in many cases to reading the lips of his teammates and coaches. Sutch wears hearing aids which help him to hear whistles and yelling on the ice, but he has had to adapt his other senses to accommodate for this impairment.
He is known as a “wrecking ball” in the OHL, punishing opponents with his physicality and never shying away from dropping the gloves. His offensive numbers are abysmal, but it is the intangibles that he brings to the table which make him an intriguing prospect. He is an intelligent player with a non-stop motor and a nasty streak. He still has to come into his own physically, but Sutch will be a solid third or fourth liner in Buffalo someday.
In the sixth round the Sabres drafted a project player in Cedrick Henley. This is a player who was highly touted coming into junior and just hasn’t been able to stay on the ice. He has been derailed by injuries for the last two years, never totaling more than 19 points in a season.
He has the physical tools and raw talent to be a good checking forward in the NHL, however he needs to find his offensive game in order to get there. If Henley can bring a consistent effort every night next year and try to stay healthy, he could turn into a decent prospect for Buffalo.
Christian Isackson, RW – St. Thomas (Minnesota HS)
7th Round, 203rd selection 2010
6’ 0” 174lbs
DOB: January 20, 1992
The Sabres first pick in the seventh round was a Minnesota high-schooler who averaged more than two points a game in 2010. Isackson has been lauded for his hockey sense and touch around the net, potting 24 goals in 25 games last year.
He has his detractors as well, most criticizing his skating and the fact that he played high school hockey last year, making it hard to compare him to players that played at a much higher level in Canadian Major Junior or internationally. That is the likely reason that he wasn’t drafted until the seventh round.
Understandably the Sabres are anxious to see what he can do at a higher level next year at the University of Minnesota. Luckily for the Buffalo, all the intangibles are there, so if Isackson can improve his skating and add some weight to his slight frame, he could become a legitimate offensive prospect.
Riley Boychuk, LW – Portland (WHL)
7th Round, 208th selection 2010
6’ 4” 205lbs
DOB: February 20, 1991
Boychuk is the oldest player that the Sabres drafted this year having gone undrafted in 2009. He is another Sabres draft pick that saw his stock drop due to injury, having surgery on both hips to correct a joint problem in 2008. Despite the obvious injury concern, Boychuk adds more size and nastiness to the Sabres depth chart.
He is a tough player that loves to throw his weight around and is often the one sticking up for teammates, dropping the gloves nine times last year. Not to be overlooked are his 14 goals and 30 points in 66 games in 2010. He has underrated hands and a good presence around the net in the offensive zone.
Besides injuries, the biggest knock on Boychuk is his skating, which according to some scouts has shown steady improvement this past year. He has one more year of junior eligibility where he should have more opportunities to get on the ice in some different situations. It will be a tough road for Boychuk to make it to the NHL, but his pro size and toughness just might get him there.