The 2018/19 season was a frustrating one for the Sabres, as hopes were raised by a ten-game run of victories, only for that winning form to be short-lived. Failure to win a place in the playoffs meant the post-season drought continued into an eighth year, but can the 2019 draft picks change things?
In round one, the Sabres had a seventh pick and no chance of getting the most sought after players in the draft, instead of selecting centre Cozens from Lethbridge Hurricanes. He enjoyed the best season of his fledgeling career in 2018/19 with 84 points from 68 games and was rated the hottest Canadian prospect in this summer’s draft. He is not likely to produce the immediate NHL scoring returns of Kaapo Kakko or Jack Hughes, but he is an exciting talent.
Buffalo was able to draft a second player in the first round and took defenseman Ryan Johnson. The 18-year-old comes from Sioux Falls Stampede and he managed 19 assists and six goals for his team in 2018/19. Johnson has the potential to be a top-class NHL defenseman, although many of those evaluating the Sabres picks are suggesting he needs to work on the offensive side of his game.
Having missed out on the second round of the draft, the Sabres took goalie Erik Portillo in round three. At 6-6 he is one of the tallest keepers in the league, but there are varying opinions about his abilities – with some arguing he is calm and knows how to make use of his height, while others suggest his tracking and technique are below par. He adds squad strength though.
Another exciting prospect who scored a peach for the US in the Hlinka Gretzky Cup game against Canada, the Sabres drafted Huglen in round four. They traded up to secure him and he is exciting – having managed 21 goals and 66 points for Roseau and Fargo last season. No one who saw the goal can doubt his ability, but he needs to produce it regularly.
US hockey fans don’t know much about this Swedish winger, but he is another one that the Sabres traded up to land when they drafted him 143rd in round five. Swedish sports writers cite solid puck skills and handling in the 18-year-old’s favour, although his stats of 4 goals and 4 assists for Vaxjo Lakers last year are not mind-blowing.
The final pick was Czech Lukas Rousek in round six from HC Sparta Praha. He had strangely varying agency rankings, from 39 to 101, but the Sabres had been watching him throughout the draft and there is some excitement about his NHL potential due to his competitiveness and ability to accelerate rapidly on the ice.
Most of these players are about the future, not the present, but it is never really possible to tell how draft picks will work out in advance of the action.