The Buffalo Sabres came into this year’s draft lacking in the following three major areas in their prospect pool: quality, natural centers with size and skill, right-handed defensemen, and elite offensive prospects.
Darcy Regier and company succeeded in shoring up one area (RHD), partially adding to another (Centers), and completely missing one the last area (elite offensive talent) by passing up on Emerson Etem (RW) who fell all the way to #29 to Anaheim after being projected as a top 15 pick, but what’s done is done; I guess Etem wasn’t as highly rated on their board. Let’s move on to the players the Sabres drafted.
Defense seems like a nice place to start since one of them was Buffalo’s 1st round pick. After missing out on some players on their draft board that include Riley Sheahan (C), power-forward, Nick Bjugstad (RW), and the California boy, Beau Bennett (RW), the Director of the Sabres’s Amateur Scouting Department, Kevin Devine went with the swift RHD, Mark Pysyk from the Edmonton Oil Kings of the WHL.
I would have liked for the Sabres to have moved up to get their guy, but one of the prerequisites for moving up in the 1st round was having a 2nd round pick, which was something the Sabres lacked and were unable to obtain because teams seemed to want to hold on to them to either move up or to use in a deep draft like this one was, so I was fine with them not moving up here.
Pysyk was ranked 7th by Central Scouting (injury concerns bumped him down in the draft) and is listed at 6’1, 170 lbs and is an extremely fluid, speedy skater with a great first pass out of the zone as well as shut-down and special teams capabilities; he was also the anchor for a pretty bad Edmonton Oil King team, so all of you stat guys should keep that in the back of your mind.
Concerns were raised about his physical play, but I’m not too concerned as that’s not really his game and he said that he would take steps to improve on that a bit along with his shot and “meanness.” Based on all of this, I’d say Pysyk’s potential is a top-4, all situations, NHL defenseman. One more thing that I’ll add about Pysyk is that he is AHL-eligible this year, which is will be great for his development.
The next two defensemen Buffalo took were both picked in the 3rd round: Matt MacKenzie and Jerome Gauthier-Leduc, both of whom are RHD. Gauthier-Leduc’s claim to fame is his offensive game on the blueline; he put up 46 points in 68 games in the QMJHL last season and has a bullet shot.
However, the guy is going to be a bit of a project because he’s needs to shore up his play in his own end, but at least Darcy pulled the trigger on a guy who has the tools to potential be a catalyst for offensive from the blue line in the future. Some more food for thought with regard to Gauthier-Leduc is that his junior coach according to Devine is better than former junior defenseman and current Pens defenseman, Kris Letang was at his age.
MacKenzie, who is from the WHL doesn’t really excel at any one facet of the game on defense, but he is good at every facet of it and is a very smart player. This was definitely a safe pick here, but it’s the one that made me mad the most because Buffalo passed up on Finnish talent, Teemu Pulkinen (LW) who was arguably a top 10 offensive talent in this year’s draft. I know Buffalo has gotten burned by some of their European prospects, but it’s inexcusable to completely shut yourself off from talent like that, but I digress. Onto the forwards.
The most notable pick here was their 3rd round pick of center, Kevin Sundher from the WHL. Sundher possesses some size and skill as well, which is what Buffalo sorely needs as well as some solid two-way play and grit.
The knocks on him were his shot which is just average at this point and his consistency with regard to effort. The pros far outweigh the cons though in my opinion. This is a solid pick here. Next up are forwards Steve Shipley (C), Gregg Sutch (RW), Riley Boychuk (LW), Cetrick Henley (RW), and Christian Isackson (RW); the former three’s draft stock had also fallen a bit due to injury.
Shipley who is listed at 6’2, 205 lbs has developed his defensive game a bit more at center according to scouts to complement his offensive capabilities that include a very accurate shot; his speed and physical play needs to improve though. With that being said, scouts also are saying that he will probably be shifted to right-wing if he makes it to the next level.
Sutch, who was a 5th round choice is the most intriguing of this bunch given that he is deaf and requires a hearing aid. That hasn’t slowed him down at all though as he does play a very physical game and is really tough to play against. This is exactly the kind of guy Buffalo would embrace if he ever makes it to the show and if he does make it , it would be in a bottom six, checking forward role.
Boychuk, a 7th round pick plays a similar game, but has more size at 6’4, 210 lbs and a little more offensive ability; he too is destined for a bottom 6, checking forward role if he makes it. The even bigger Henley (6’5, 195 lbs) will be a project, but could yield huge dividends in the future as a power-forward; he is definitely a boom or bust kind of pick here, which is fine considering this is a 6th round pick we’re talking about.
Last but not least is the 7th round pick Isackson. Isackson was quite the scorer in high school and will be playing Thomas Vanek’s alma mater, the Minnesota Golden Gophers in the fall. The right-winger is also very smart and has a non-stop motor according to scouts to go along with some pretty nice offensive vision. With all of that being said, his skating needs to improve or he will probably be destined for something else other than hockey after college, but he does have great potential.
Now that I’ve gone over the picks, how good did the Sabres end up doing overall? I’d give them a C+ here because they did shore up the RHD position and managed to pick up some solid prospects even if they were mostly wingers. With that being said, the center depth is still deplorable thanks to only picking one player in the entire draft that projects to be a center in the NHL.
I know Luke Adam and Tyler Ennis were both centers in junior, but they both project as left-wingers at the NHL level and I also don’t have anything against the wingers that were picked as they are all good prospects in their own right, but as it stands right now, Sundher would step in as the team’s best center prospect and that’s downright scary; I would’ve liked to have gotten a couple of more centers instead.
Also, the team still lacks elite offensive prospects and when you’re a team like the Sabres who preaches building through the draft and not spending big money in free agency, it’s kind of hard to take the next step from being a playoff team to a cup contender when you don’t have any of that talent in your pipeline.