The theme of Buffalo’s 2007 NHL draft was buying North American. Going into the draft, five of the top six Sabre defensemen and two of their top four defensive prospects were European. Buffalo management changed that mix as they grabbed two North American blue liners with their top two picks. Notably, for the first time since 1995, the Sabres drafted a player from the Canadian Hockey League with their first pick, taking T.J. Brennan from St. John’s of the QMJHL. Uncharacteristically, Buffalo didn’t draft a single European.
Many picks this year were off the charts, especially Drew Schiestel (rhymes with pistol), ranked 223rd by the International Scouting Service but who was picked 59th overall by the Sabres. Schiestel’s low ranking forced him to make a decision about attending the draft. Afterward, he said he didn’t want to miss out on a lifetime opportunity and opted to attend. Schiestel didn’t miss out, but the same could not be said for Schiestel’s dad. "Actually my dad left two minutes before I got picked so he wasn’t around when they called my name. He went to get a drink because he wasn’t expecting it," he said.
With only two goalie prospects in their system, the Sabres drafted two goalies in the later rounds. "We try and draft at least one goaltender every year because it’s such a long road. It’s about perseverance, it’s about continual growth," said Sabres General Manager Darcy Regier.
T.J. Brennan, D – 2nd round, 31st overall
6’0, 204 pounds, (St. John’s, QMJHL)
With their first pick the Sabres grabbed Brennan who a year ago played for the relatively obscure Junior Elite Philadelphia Little Flyers. Brennan didn’t start playing hockey until he was 10. Last summer Brennan decided he wanted to play at the best level possible and secured a free-agent tryout with the expansion St. John’s Fog Devils in Newfoundland. Brennan made the team and made a name for himself throughout the 2006-07 season as a standout offensive defenseman. Going from the Little Flyers to the second round in the NHL draft in one year was a huge jump for the young New Jersey native.
"I’ve got to settle down with it. It’s still pretty unbelievable. I can’t wait to go back and tell my friends everything. But you’ve just got to take it as it goes. This whole year was really new to me so it was pretty hard to take in. You see the lists that come out and a couple of people rated me pretty high which was really unexpected."
The first player taken on the second day of the draft receives a little more attention than a typical second rounder but Brennan showed poise in the media scrum. Brennan shows the same poise with the puck whether he’s taking it out of the zone or playing the point. This serves him well as an offensive defenseman and with 16 goals and 41 points in 68 games; Brennan won the Raymond-Legace Trophy as the QMJHL’s Top Rookie Defenseman in the 2006-07 season.
Awards aside, Brennan said he would like to add more speed and explosiveness to his game and admits he needs to work on his defensive skills. Despite that, the Sabres were very happy with their pick and were hoping Brennan was available when the first round ended.
"There were three or four players in the mix. Brennan was the guy everyone really felt comfortable with…[and] wanted the most," said Regier about his first selection. "He started late but he’s really going in the right direction."
Drew Schiestel, D – 2nd round, 59th overall
6’1, 180 pounds, (Mississauga, OHL)
With Buffalo’s second pick of the second round, they grabbed an excellent skater who was buried on the Mississauga Ice Dogs roster throughout the 2006-07 season. Schiestel leans more to the offensive side of the game as he joins the rush frequently and often to his detriment. He certainly needs to fill out and get stronger to make a contribution at the professional level. He has a decent shot and stick skills but like so many Sabres defensemen, his skating is his bread and butter.
Schiestel believes his run in the playoffs played a role in getting him drafted higher. After scoring 21 points in 66 games during the regular season, Schiestel scored six points in five games and had the best plus/minus on the team in the playoffs. "I finished off strong and I was happy with the way I was playing so I had a lot of confidence coming into today," he said.
Corey Tropp, RW – 3rd round, 89th overall
6’0, 190 pounds, (Sioux Falls, USHL)
The leading scorer for the Clark Cup Champion Sioux Falls Stampede will join Sabre prospect Tim Kennedy at Michigan State for the 2007-08 season. Tropp, a sniper managed 26 goals and 62 points in 54 USHL games last season.
The Michigan native scored twice in the third period of the 2007 USHL All-Star game to earn MVP honors. Tropp ramped up his physical game throughout the year and his draft status increased accordingly.
Bradley Eidsness, G – 5th round, 139th overall
5’11, 190 pounds, (Okotoks, AJHL)
In the year of the Tier II draftee, No. 2 overall Kyle Turris had lots of company. Bradley Eidsness was the 12th goalie selected and the first Tier II goalie to get picked in 2007.
Going into the season, Eidsness had to compete for the starting goaltender position despite entering junior as the top goalie in the Alberta Junior Hockey League. Eidsness started slowly with an .835 save percentage in his first three games but rebounded to earn the Okotoks Oilers’ top goaltending job and finish with a 2.87 GAA and a save percentage of .907.
Eidsness, a butterfly goalie with good rebound control, will join the University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux in the fall.
Jean-Simon Allard, C – 5th round, 147th overall
6’2, 195 pounds, (St. John’s, QMJHL)
Unlike many 2007 Sabre draftees, Allard’s stock fell throughout the year. Central Scouting had Allard rated as the 37th best North American skater in their mid-season rankings, a long way from 147th overall. When asked to explain Allard’s fall the Sabres GM defended him. “(Allard) is a big guy that comes from a small town,” Regier said. “He just has to fill into his body, get stronger and gain intensity. Maybe that’s the biggest thing: intensity and consistency.”
Allard is a skilled forward who skates well for someone his size. He finished third on St. John’s in scoring with 38 assists and 50 points in 69 games. At the moment his biggest weaknesses include inconsistency and a lack of grit.
Paul Byron, C – 6th round, 179th overall
5’8, 135 pounds, (Gatineau, QMJHL)
It took Paul Byron two months before he earned more than sporadic ice time with the Gatineau Olympiques. Finally, after almost 40 games, center Brett Morrison was traded to PEI. Byron took the opportunity and ran with it scoring 44 points in 68 games. Be wary of Byron’s statistics though, because he had little to no ice time in half of his games.
The Sabres went out on a limb with Byron, who was not on many radar screens thanks to his late start. The Sabres love skill above all else and have not been scared off by size in the past. Top prospect Nathan Gerbe is a perfect example. Like Gerbe, Byron is a goal scorer.
Obviously at 135 pounds Byron has to fill out considerably and improve his strength. However, in the "new NHL" Byron is certainly not a frivolous pick.
Nick Eno, G – 7th round, 187th overall
6’3, 190 pounds, (Green Mountain, EJHL)
Nick Eno didn’t attend the NHL draft. The former standout goalie for Howell High School in Howell, Michigan was at home when the phone started ringing. The first call was from his agent telling him he’d been drafted. As one would expect, the phone continued to ring. One of the calls was from his high school coach who had encouraged him to leave high school hockey to get to the next level. Eno had listened to his coach and for his senior year he played for the Green Mountain (VT) Glades of the Eastern Junior Hockey League.
Playing for a weak Glades team, Eno finished in the top 10 in both GAA and save percentage and earned a trip to the EJHL All-Star game. Eno is the first player to be drafted to the NHL from the Green Mountain franchise.
Drew MacKenzie, D – 7th round, 209th overall
6’2, 200 pounds, (Taft, USHS – CT)
MacKenzie is a big smooth-skating defenseman with a bit of a mean streak. He plans to play for the Omaha Lancers of the USHL before attending the University of Vermont in the fall of 2008. MacKenzie fell in the draft largely because he’s a year behind many of his peers who have already played a year in the USHL. MacKenzie will take some time to reach his potential but as long as the Sabres are patient, there is no reason to believe they didn’t steal a good one with the third to last pick in the draft.
Sabres 2007 selections
2nd round 31st overall TJ Brennan D 6-0 204
2nd round 59th overall Drew Schiestel D 6-1 180
3rd round 89th overall Corey Tropp RW 6-0 195
5th round 139th overall Bradley Eidsness G 5-11 190
5th round 147th overall Jean-Simone Allard C 6-2 195
6th round 179th overall Paul Byron C 5-8 135
7th round 187th overall Nick Eno G 6-3 190
7th round 209th overall Drew MacKenzie D 6-2 200
The Sabres traded their fourth-round pick (116th overall) to Calgary for the 139th and 147th selections in this year’s draft.
Ken McKenna contributed to this article. Copyright 2007 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.