The building of a strong defensive corps is a never-ending job for a NHL GM. Having a solid group of defensemen coupled with good goaltending will virtually ensure that a team will be competitive in most every game, but getting the right mix of players is truly a challenge.
The recent draft history of the Buffalo Sabres is a perfect example of the difficulties of assembling a solid, cohesive defensive unit. In the NHL drafts of 1989-1999, Buffalo used their top pick in the draft 6 times to select a defenseman (Kevin Haller, Phillipe Boucher, David Cooper, Denis Tsygurov, Jay McKee, Dimitri Kalinin). Of those 6 picks, only McKee and Kalinin have shown better than average ability at their position, with Kalinin being a rookie this year. The only other player from that group to log substantial time in the NHL is Kevin Haller, who would probably qualify as a journeyman defenseman.
Of course, the blueline contingent is rarely built with top draft picks, alone, as a team can find good defensive talent in the later rounds of the draft. This is true in the case of the current Sabres’ defensive group, as Alexei Zhitnik (LA-4th Rd., ’91), Jason Woolley (WAS- 4th Rd., ’89), Richard Smehlik (BUF- 5th Rd., ’90), and Rhett Warrener (FL- 2nd Rd., ’94) were all selected after the 1st round (James Patrick was a 1st rounder for the Rangers in ’81). What this also points out, however, is that building the defense often means having to go outside the organization to fill in the gaps, whic Read more »