Sabres 2010 draft preview

By Tony Musso

Top 10 prospects

1. Tyler Ennis, C
2. Jhonas Enroth, G
3. Zack Kassian, RW
4. Luke Adam, C
5. Mike Weber, D
6. Brayden McNabb, D
7. Nathan Gerbe, LW
8. Corey Tropp, RW
9. T.J. Brennan, D
10. Drew Schiestel, D

The Buffalo Sabres hold the 23rd overall pick in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft.

Team Needs

The Sabres have done a good job of addressing their most glaring needs in the last couple of drafts, while still taking the “best player available” approach. In the last two drafts, Buffalo has taken a future No. 1 defenseman (Tyler Myers, 12th pick 2008), an offensively dynamic center (Tyler Ennis, 26th pick 2008) and a big bruising right winger with an offensive upside (Zack Kassian, 13th 2009). This year the biggest need is for a big, talented center with offensive upside. Essentially they need someone who can team up with Ennis and be the Sabres one-two punch of the future up the middle.

The next biggest need for Buffalo is a legitimately dangerous power-play quarterback on defense. Since Brian Campbell left, the Sabres have lacked a player with the ability to settle their power play and command respect with his shot. The Sabres have a few intriguing prospects in the system in Marc-Andre Gragnani and TJ Brennan who could fill that need, but they have yet to show that they can be dominant. The draft this year is stacked with big, smooth-skating defensemen, however, outside of the top four rated blueliners no one stands out as a dominant power-play quarterback.

Organizational Strengths

There is almost no other team in the NHL that does a better job of turning minor-league players into NHLers than the Buffalo Sabres. Since 2000, 20 of the Sabres 81 picks have played at least 25 games in the NHL. It is no surprise then to anyone that the Sabres biggest strength is depth. There are many NHL quality players in the Sabres system and they have done a great job of moving them from junior/college into the AHL and eventually, to Buffalo. Beginning from the back end, the Sabres have a great goaltending prospect in Jhonas Enroth and a couple of other intriguing college goalies in Connor Knapp, Bradley Eidsness, and Nick Eno. On defense they have some good depth coming up with Mike Weber — likely to play in Buffalo next year and Gragnani, Brennan, McNabb, and Crawford are well on their way. As mentioned before, the Sabres lack size down the middle, but have slowly built their left and right wing depth by drafting Luke Adam and Zack Kassian along with Jacob Lagace and Corey Tropp in the past three years. Adam is listed as a center, but it is believed that he might be better suited on the wing in the NHL.

The Sabres have also done a really good job of making up for their mistakes in the last three or four drafts. After taking ultimate bust Marek Zagrapan with the 13th pick in the first round of 2005, they selected Gragnani in the third round, Chris Butler in the fourth and Nathan Gerbe in the fifth. In 2006 they selected Dennis Persson with the 24th pick in the first round and, although he has not lived up to his draft position yet, they were able to get Enroth and Mike Weber in the second round. Ultimately Buffalo ranks in the top five to ten teams in getting value out of their draft position and picks. That is why they consistently finish in the top half of the NHL standings and why they will continue to pick outside of the top ten as long as their picks keep having decent careers.

Organizational Weaknesses

A quick look down the organizational depth chart will show that the Sabres have done a good job of spreading the wealth at every position. That being said, there are definitely some weaknesses, the most glaring of which is the lack of size at center. Not including Luke Adam, who projects as a winger in the pros, the Sabres do not have a center over 6’0. Obviously this has been the trend for a while now, as even the current Sabres club is without a big, dominating center. The Sabres should have a good opportunity to correct this deficiency in this year’s draft as there most likely will be a couple of talented big centers available at the 23rd pick. Another area of weakness that needs to be addressed is the lack of a legitimate right-handed defenseman in the pipeline. Since the graduation of Tyler Myers to the big club, Drew Shiestel and Alex Biega are the only defensemen in the system who shoot right and have a chance at making the team someday. Again, this year’s draft offers some options around the 23rd pick to address this issue.

One could also point out that there is no real superstar talent in the Buffalo system, especially with the likely graduation of Ennis from prospect to bona fide NHLer next year. Much of this could be attributed to the Sabres lack of a top ten draft position since Thomas Vanek was acquired with the fifth pick in the 2003 NHL Draft. Ennis and Myers are obviously on their way to being superstars, but besides them the Sabres are without any real top-flight players. Luke Adam and Zack Kassian both will likely be top-six wingers someday in the NHL but will probably never be called stars. It is an issue that is tough to correct when you consistently finish in the top half of the league standings, but one that needs to be addressed.

Draft Tendencies

Perhaps the most obvious trend that the Sabres have employed in the last three years is that they have not selected a player outside of North America in that time. You have to go all the way back to 2004, with Andrej Sekera, to find a European player who the Sabres drafted that is currently on their roster. In 2005 and 2006, the Sabres selected a Swede and Slovak in the first round; both are now considered busts. It is safe to say that Buffalo steers clear of first-round European/Russian talents.

Of the Sabres 22 picks since 2007, 14 have come from the QMJHL, OHL, or the WHL. It is likely that Buffalo will continue this trend, especially considering the lack of transfer agreement with Europe.

The Sabres have nine picks in this year’s draft (23rd, 68th, 75th, 83rd, 98th, 143rd, 173rd, 203rd, and 208th). Buffalo is in a good position with three third-round picks to possibly move into the middle of the second round or, if they decide to keep the picks, possibly take a chance on a mercurial talent that has fallen out of the top two rounds.

Hockey’s Future staff mock draft result at No. 23: Quinton Howden, C, Moose Jaw Warriors, WHL

At 6’3 and 187 lbs, Howden still has some filling out to do. However, he is a very good skater who plays a solid two-way game and is really coming into his own offensively. Last year he put up 65 points in 65 games and he is poised to have a breakout year in Medicine Hat in 2010-11. Once his body fills out he could be a force down the middle and he projects as a Patrick Marleau-type of player if he lives up to his potential.