Buffalo got good return on mid and late-round picks in 2007

By Tony Musso
Photo: The Sabres moved up in the 2007 draft to acquire defenseman T.J. Brennan. The blueliner has made his NHL debut this season, putting his rocket shot on full display. (Photo courtesy of the NHL)

After trading away their top pick at the 2007 NHL trade deadline, the Sabres were left without a first rounder for the first time since 1993. Overall it seems as though Buffalo was still able to come away with good value from the draft. Several of the picks are on the verge of being NHL regulars and General Manager Darcy Regier was able to use 2007 fifth round pick Paul Byron as an asset in the deal to acquire defenseman Robyn Regehr from Calgary.

All in all it was a modestly good draft for the Sabres, with no top six forwards coming out of it and maybe one top four defenseman in T.J. Brennan. Like most Sabres drafts, this one was safe.

T.J. Brennan, D, St. Johns (QMJHL) – 2nd round, 31st overall
Status: Prospect
NHL Games Played: 8

After dealing away their first rounder to the Capitals at the trade deadline, the Sabres tried to recoup their losses by acquiring the Flyers 2nd rounder which was the first pick in the round, 31st overall for Martin Biron. With that pick, the Sabres selected defenseman T.J. Brennan. Coming into the draft he was heralded for his cannon of a shot and his offensive instincts.

Since being drafted, Brennan has steadily risen up the ranks of Sabres prospects by honing his positioning and learning when to jump into the play offensively. He scored 37 goals in his three years in the QMJHL and he has continued that into Portland and now Rochester of the AHL. Last season in Portland, Brennan led all defenseman with 15 goals in 72 games, which was good for third in goal scoring by defenseman in the AHL.

The unfortunate injuries that have decimated the Sabres ranks this season have helped Brennan to break through into the NHL for a stint. He has filled in on three separate occasions this season, playing solidly in each. With limited ice time he had one goal in eight total games played and his rocket shot was on full display. Brennan is likely the next prospect after Brayden McNabb to make the permanent jump on the blue line for the Sabres.

Drew Schiestel, D, Mississauga (OHL) – 2nd round, 59th overall
Status: Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

With the Sabres second rounder they selected another defenseman, this time out of the OHL. Drew Schiestel was drafted a little higher than projected by Central Scouting but his skating and NHL frame were good enough for the Sabres to pick him at the tail end of the second round. Schiestel posses good mobility and defensive instincts but is lacking in high-end offensive upside.

Schiestel was able to steadily improve his offensive numbers during his junior tenure with the Ice Dogs, a feat that should be standard for an NHL second round pick. He made the jump to Portland in the 2009-10 season, along with fellow 2007 second round draftee T.J Brennan, a player that he will forever be compared to based on their draft proximity and position. After a mediocre rookie season, Schiestel burst out of the gate in 2010-11 beginning with a very good performance during Sabres training camp and continuing on into the season. Unfortunately, just days after being selected as an AHL all-star, Schiestel tore ligaments in his right knee and was sidelined for the remained of the season.

After working tremendously hard to rehabilitate his right knee, Schiestel entered the Amerks 2011-12 opener with high expectations. Instead he came away with an MCL sprain of his left knee, one that would sideline him for eight games and most of the month of October. Since the injury, Schiestel has slowly regained his confidence and has improved with each game played. Though he has fallen off since his early season form of last year, there is still a lot to like about him. With his entry-level contract set to expire at the end of the season, expect the Sabres to re-up his deal and let him work out the injury bug that his bitten him so harshly thus far in his pro career.

Corey Tropp, RW, Sioux Falls (USHL) – 3rd round, 89th overall
Status: Prospect
NHL Games Played: 16

The Sabres wasted no time in selecting the tough and offensively gifted Corey Tropp in the third round. Tropp finished his final season at Sioux Fall with 62 points in 54 games. He then moved onto Michigan State as a freshman in 2007-08. It wasnÕt until his sophomore season at Michigan State that Tropp made waves for all the wrong reasons.

In a game against rival Michigan University, Tropp slashed Michigan defenseman Steven Kampfer (MIN) in the neck while he was down after being checked from behind by Tropp’s teammate Andrew Conboy (MTL). The result of the infraction was that Tropp and Conboy were suspended by Michigan State for the remainder of the 2008-09 season. Tropp came back fired up for his junior sesaon in 2009-10, one in which he earned 2nd team all CCHA honors while leading the Spartans with 42 points in 37 games.

In his rookie campaign with Portland last season, Tropp managed a respectable total of 10 goals and 40 points in 76 games. Tropp started the season off great in 2011-12 with a very good showing at the Traverse City tournament and at Sabres camp which led to an early call-up to Buffalo that earned him 13 games in November and early December. A concussion forced him out of the line-up for awhile but he has since returned as a regular member of the lineup.

Bradley Eidsness, G, Okotoks (AJHL) – 5th round, 139th overall
Status: Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

In keeping with a recent trend of drafting a goalie per year, the Sabres selected their first goalie in the 2007 draft in Bradley Eidsness. The Sabres had selected at least one goalie in every draft since 2002 and they saw good value in the fundamentally sound goaltender. Eidsness would go on to win MVP honors in the AJHL in 2007-08 and then jump to the University of North Dakota in the following season.

Eidsness has had a rollercoaster career at North Dakota. His freshman year, he put together good stats, starting 41 games and posting a 2.56 goals against average and a .906 save percentage, while at the same time helping the Sioux win the WCHA championship and earning WCHA All-Rookie team honors. He followed that with an even better year statistically while starting 41 games and earning second team All-WCHA honors. Last season things began to go downhill for the junior goaltender. After two seasons in which he was the unquestioned starter he was challenged by sophomore Aaron Dell for the job and he lost miserably. In just seven games, Eidsness put up the worst totals of his career with a 4.09 goals against average and an .812 save percentage. Not good numbers for a goalie with NHL aspirations.

Knowing he had to be better in his senior campaign, Eidsness set about trying to rectify the damage his junior season had done to his stock as an up and coming goalie. Though he couldn’t wrestle the full time job away from incumbent junior Aaron Dell, he is still nonetheless posting excellent numbers. It is a safe bet that Eidsness and fellow senior goalie prospect, Connor Knapp will sign entry-level deals this summer, making for good competition moving forward and a much needed influx of goaltending prospects into the Sabres minor league system.

Jean-Simon Allard, C, St. Johns (QMJHL) – 5th round, 147th overall
Status: Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

With the second of the two fifth round picks acquired from the flames at the draft, the Sabres selected boom or bust center prospect, Jean-Simon Allard. The 6’2 offensive-minded centerman had a respectable sophomore season in the QMJHL in which he scored 50 points in 69 games, good for third on the team. His detractors said that he needed to be bring a more consistent effort night in and night out, while his supporters would point out his above average hockey sense and creativity on the ice. Though he was able to maintain his scoring pace in junior through two more seasons of 60 and 56 points respectively, he did not receive a contract offer from the Sabres.

Since leaving the QMJHL Allard went on to become an assistant college hockey coach at Jeanois Alma in Quebec and this season he signed on to play for Marquis de Saguenay in the semi-pro LNAH league in Quebec.

Paul Byron, C, Gatineau (QMJHL) – 6th round, 179th overall
Status: Prospect
NHL Games Played: 30

Looking to bolster their strength in the middle even more the Sabres drafted diminutive pivot, Paul Byron in the sixth round. Byron was a wildcard coming into the draft, he didn’t even make it onto Central Scouting’s final list of North American skaters. The Sabres thought his speed and offensive upside outweighed his obvious lack of size and took a chance on the speedy center.

He steadily improved throughout his junior career, going from relative obscurity in his draft year to playing with Claude Giroux (PHI) and scoring 32 points in 19 playoff games in helping Gatineau win the QMJHL title in 2007-08. His final year of junior he led Gatineau with 99 points in 64 games, tops for any Sabres prospect in 2008-09.

In 2009-10, Byron scored an entry-level deal with the Sabres and he started on a path that would prove his doubters wrong as his 160 pound body held up well in the pro ranks. He played 57 games in his rookie campaign, scoring 33 points and recording 59 penalty minutes. Byron would continue to improve in 2010-11 where earned an eight game call up with the Sabres, bolstering his value as a potential energy forward at the NHL level.

The Sabres used that increased value and include him as part of the package to acquire Robyn Regehr from the Calgary Flames. Byron has had more of an opportunity with the flames, appearing in 22 games to date this season while splitting time between Abbotsford and Calgary.

Nick Eno, G, Green Mountain (EJHL) – 7th round, 187th overall
Status: Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

The Sabres went back tried to add another goaltending prospect to the mix with their seventh round selection of Nick Eno out of the EJHL. Eno was an EJHL all-star nominee in his draft year and his 6’3 frame was very projectable for the Sabres brass. Eno joined the college ranks in the following season, manning the net for Bowling Green. Unfortunately, he never posted better than mediocre numbers at the collegiate level and he wasn’t extended a contract by the Sabres. He was offered a tryout at the Sabres ECHL affiliate in Gwinnett during training camp but he was released. He continues to bounce around looking to stick in one of the various US minor leagues, most recently he spent some time in the SPHL playing for the Mississippi Surge.

Drew MacKenzie, D, Taft H.S. (CONN) – 7th round, 207th overall
Status: Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

With their last pick of the seventh round, the Sabres tapped Connecticut high-schooler, Drew MacKenzie. The 6’2 blueliner was touted as a smooth skating defender with offensive upside. Though he was quite raw coming from the high school ranks, his skating ability and size made him an intriguing pick for the Sabres. Following his draft year, MacKenzie jumped from Taft to the USHL‘s Waterloo Blackhawks where he was able to experience the rigors of a longer season with more travel. He posted respectable numbers with four goals and 18 points in 57 games to go along with a whopping 103 penalty minutes.

MacKenzie played just one season in the USHL before joining the University at Vermont hockey program. MacKenzie’s stock has gone up each season as he has led all Catamount defenseman in scoring for the last two seasons. In 2011-12, he has already bested his point totals from a year ago and he is third on the team in scoring. He will likely get an entry-level contract offer at the end of the season.