The Buffalo Sabres enter the 2012 NHL Draft armed with four of the first 45 picks, which is the most picks inside the top 50 that they have had since 1998. Though he receives a lot of flak from fans, Darcy Regier should be commended for both his draft record and deft maneuverings at last year's draft as well as the 2012 trade deadline which brought in the extra first and second round picks that the Sabres hold this year.
Top 10 Prospects:
1. Joel Armia, RW
2. Brayden McNabb, D
3. Mark Pysyk, D
4. Marcus Foligno, LW
5. T.J. Brennan, D
6. Corey Tropp, RW
7. Jerome Gauthier-Leduc, D
8. Kevin Sundher, C
9. Daniel Catenacci, C
10. Connor Knapp, G
The Sabres will likely focus on a few different areas of need in this year's draft, but the highest need on the list should be the lack of high-end offensive talent coming up through the ranks. The Sabres will also look to add size down the middle, as they don't currently have a center over six feet tall among their prospects. If they keep both of their current selections in the first round, it is entirely possible that they could address both of these needs with their top two selections.
The last major need for the Sabres is to find a developmental goaltender. Currently they are without a true developmental number one goaltender in their stable of prospects. It wouldn't be a total surprise if the Sabres used one of their first four picks on the future successor to Ryan Miller.
The greatest strength of the Sabres organization right now is their incredible depth at defense. They have three players that will likely fight for time on the roster next season in McNabb, Pysyk, and Brennan and several other serviceable options down the pipeline in Gauthier-Leduc, Drew Schiestel, Alex Biega, and Matt Mackenzie. While this shouldn't rule out the Sabres selecting a defenseman with their top pick, it should be noted that the blue line is overwhelmingly the most plentiful position for the Sabres.
The Sabres also have several tough two-way wingers who made some noise with the big club in 2011-12. Marcus Foligno and Corey Tropp were essential components to Buffalo's late season surge and should be elevated to regular roles in 2012-13. In addition to those two, the Sabres also have developing tough guy Riley Boychuk and future power forward Shawn Szydlowski playing for the AHL's Rochester Americans.
It should also be noted that, although the Sabres lack any big-bodied centers, they do possess two very good future secondary scorers in Kevin Sundher and Dan Catenacci. Those two could both be middle-line pivots of the future for the Sabres due to their speed and scoring touch.
The most glaring weakness is that there isn't really any top line caliber offensive players outside of Joel Armia so it is clearly an area that needs a boost. With the addition of Catenacci in last year's draft, Buffalo added a nice offensive player who could blossom into a solid playmaker at the next level, but as of right now he still has a long way to go. Sundher is a tremendous skater and he shows flashes of his scoring ability but consistency has been an issue. Foligno is also capable of playing top six minutes as a scoring power forward but that really is it as far as scoring forwards go.
With the signings of Knapp and Nathan Lieuwen to contracts this offseason, the Sabres locked up two good players to add depth in goal. Unfortunately, that leaves Buffalo with no developmental goalies in junior, college or Europe, meaning the Sabres will almost certainly take at least one goalie in 2012.
The Sabres have a much-deserved reputation as a team that gets the most out of their draft picks, with the current roster consisting of about 75% homegrown talent. This is good for developing good teams that consistently finish in the middle of the pack but it can be problematic when you don't occasionally take risks on more talented and perhaps more volatile players which the Sabres are not known to do. This draft has a lot of injury and character question marks so it will be interesting to see if the Sabres break the mold of playing it safe.
With the first round selection of Finland's Joel Armia at last year's draft, the Sabres finally ventured across the pond for a pick. It had been a glaring draft tendency until last season that the Sabres had only taken North American players since 2006. Now that the Sabres have an expanded scouting staff and more money, we will likely see more Europeans being chosen by the Sabres in the future.
As is customary with change, it is hard to accurately predict draft tendencies when circumstances are different. In this case, owner Terry Pegula has changed the culture and philosophy of a team that was previously known for drafting on a budget. This should be an interesting draft in which the Sabres are major players with their glut of early picks.
The Sabres hold the 12th, 21st, 42nd, 44th, 73rd, 133rd, 163rd, 193rd, and 204th picks in the 2012 NHL Draft.
12. Radek Faksa, C/W, Kitchener Rangers (OHL)
Having drawn comparisons to former Kitchener Ranger Gabriel Landeskog (COL), Faksa brings a blend of physicality, size, and skill to the Sabres' forward ranks. An OHL rookie in 2011-12, Faksa already possesses an NHL frame at 6'3, 202 pounds and should only get bigger and stronger as he matures. He builds his game around his size and strength and, combined with his skating and hockey sense, would be a great complement to the Sabres current group of forwards.
The Sabres would likely scoop up Wilson if he is there, though Derrick Pouliot would be tempting. Zack Kassian's departure at the deadline left a hole for a power forward and Thomas Wilson fits the bill. Buffalo could really go in any direction here; they could do what they did with Mark Pysyk in 2010 and draft the best player available or they could take a developmental goaltender, which they don't have right now.