Sabres 2007 draft preview

By Stuart McDonald

Sabres Top 10 prospects

1. Drew Stafford, RW
2. Clarke MacArthur, C
3. Andrej Sekera, D
4. Marek Zagrapan, C
5. Daniel Paille, LW
6. Jhonas Enroth, G
7. Michael Funk, D
8. Marc-Andre Gragnani, D
9. Dennis Persson, D
10. Nathan Gerbe, C

Although the Sabres do not pick in the first round, they own the first pick in the second round and will select 31st overall.

Team Needs

A quick examination of the four games to one semi-final series loss to the Ottawa Senators shows you exactly what Buffalo needs.  The Sabres, despite a peerless regular season, couldn’t stop the Daniel Alfredsson, Dany Heatley and Jason Spezza line in the playoffs, no matter who they put out against them. The Spezza line scored five, six, three, zero and seven points in each successive game. You can guess which game the Sabres won.

Toni Lydman and Henrik Tallinder were the Sabres shutdown pair of defensemen and were -4 and -3 respectively in the series. Brian Campbell was -3 playing primarily against Ottawa’s second line. Aside from Ales Kotalik, none of the Sabre forwards embarrassed themselves defensively, although no shut-down line could stop the Spezza line either. 

Buffalo’s immediate need is for another top-notch defensive defenseman to help Tallinder and Lydman. There are about a dozen unrestricted free agents that fall into this category ranging from Danny Markov and Scott Hannan on the high end to Shane Hnidy and Brad Lukowich on the low end. The Sabres are probably in the market for something in between such as Cory Sarich, Ossi Vanaanen, Andy Sutton or Martin Skoula. A lot will depend on which of these free agents is willing to truly test the market. Much will also depend on whether or not the Sabres can re-sign Chris Drury and Daniel Briere and for how much. 

Organizational Strengths

Sabre forwards need to find a way to play better defensively when the need arises. Whether the Sabres coaching staff decides to approach it by committee, or form a shutdown line, the Sabres have the personnel up front to do it. The Sabres organization is so deep at forward that they can form a shut-down line whether they sign unrestricted free agents Chris Drury and/or Daniel Briere and still have offense to spare.

Drew Stafford is a lock to make the team out of camp and has the potential to be a gritty, goal scoring, first-line winger. Clarke MacArthur and Daniel Paille may both find themselves playing defensive roles with the Sabres this season although there is enough forward depth at the NHL level to address the team’s needs without dipping into the minor league talent pool.   

Buffalo’s No. 1 goalie is an organizational strength. Miller was probably Buffalo’s best player in the playoffs and bears little responsibility in the semi-final loss to Ottawa. Miller had a .910 save percentage in the series despite facing 27 more shots than Ray Emery.

Organizational Weaknesses

The Sabres long-term need is in goal. Ryan Miller will be an NHL No. 1 for a long time but besides Jhonas Enroth, a second-round pick in 2006, there are no elite goaltending prospects in the organization. Adam Dennis, a late round pick in 2005, has some potential as a No. 2 but he is a few years away from the NHL. Because of the dearth of top goaltending talent in the 2007 draft, don’t expect Buffalo to use their first pick to address their goaltending needs. Trevor Cann, or Enroth’s Swedish teammate Joel Gistedt, may be available when Buffalo uses its second pick at 59th overall.

Whether in the NHL or on the farm, Buffalo’s defensemen are mostly of the smooth-skating, offensive variety. Henrik Tallinder can play an elite defensive game but the Sabres don’t have many stay-at-home types, nor do they have a bruiser. Mike Weber is the only player in the organization that matches that description and he’s a few years away. Top blue line prospects, Andrej Sekera, Michael Funk, Marc-Andre Gragnani and Dennis Persson are all primarily offensive players although Funk has some size and Persson has some edge to his game.
 

Draft Tendencies

For a couple of years the Sabres have been moving further and further away from traditional scouting and more towards video. This season, video scouting cost the team both their amateur scouting director, Jim Benning and pro scouting director Terry Martin. For the last eight years, Benning has had considerable input at the draft so it will be interesting to see if new amateur scouting director Kevin Devine has a different approach to team building.

The Sabres haven’t drafted a player from the CHL with their first pick since Jay McKee in 1995. Look for that trend to continue unless the perfect CHLer drops to 31st.

The Sabres often succumb to temptation and grab a forward when their real need is on the blue line. Last year was the first since 2002 that they grabbed a forward with their first pick. Even in 2002 they traded defenseman Keith Ballard less than a year later to help acquire Drury.

The Sabres will be looking to take a defenseman but won’t be shy about grabbing the best player available as they’ve done in the past. The Sabres have always liked speed and quickness and have rarely worried about size. Perhaps the playoff loss to Ottawa or the new director of amateur scouting might lead them in another direction this year? 

Hockey’s Future staff mock draft result: No first-round selection (traded to Washington)

Current Draft Picks

2nd Round – 31st  (from PHI)
2nd Round – 59th
3rd Round – 89th
4th Round – 116th (from VAN)
6th Round – 179th
7th Round – 187th (from EDM)
7th Round – 209th

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