This will be a six-part series highlighting what the Buffalo Sabres' draft plans may be, including an individual look at all four picks the Sabres have in the top-50.
With all of the suffering Buffalo Sabres fans endured this season, it may be a bit underwhelming to pick eighth in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. At various points in the season, the Sabres were challenging the Colorado Avalanche and Florida Panthers for the first overall selection, so it is certainly understood why many feel that way.
But the reality is that the Sabres have the opportunity to get a top-end prospect even if they stay at the eighth spot.
Last week, the Sabres' needs were discussed, and the feeling around the hockey world is that the Sabres will go in one of a few directions: scoring winger, three-zone defenseman or trading up into (likely) the top-four.
Scoring winger is probably the team's biggest need and also where the prospect pool falls off significantly once the top two or three guys have been selected. This makes it more likely the Sabres will go this route with their no. 8 pick, rather than hoping to pull something off with their no. 16 pick.
There are three players the Sabres will be looking long and hard at that fit the scoring wing bill: Jonathan Drouin from Halifax of the QMJHL, Valeri Nichushkin from Chelyabinsk of the KHL and Elias Lindholm from Brynas IF of the Swedish Elite League.
Simply put, Drouin and Nichushkin are special players who will factor into any NHL lineup come October. Lindholm has excelled in the Swedish Elite League as an 18-year-old, and while he may not be the prospect Drouin and Nichushkin are, he's about as close as it gets.
Drouin played with fellow top-five lock Nathan MacKinnon in Halifax, but don't let that temper your expectations. Drouin is masterful with the puck and has vision like no other player in the draft. His 105 points in only 49 games is spectacular, and that does not even include the 35 points he tallied in 17 playoff games. He is also not impeded by his size as players with his skill tend to be as he stands 5'11" and weighs in close to 180 lbs.
As you may have guessed, Drouin will move fast in a few weeks, likely to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the third spot at the extreme latest.
Nichushkin is charging up draft boards as of late and the latest mock drafts from NHL.com have him going no later than the sixth spot to the Calgary Flames, and most figuring the Carolina Hurricanes will snatch him up at number five.
Nichushkin combines size with skill like no other player in this draft and has garnered more than a few comparisons to both Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin due to his excellent skating ability and his affinity for going through people instead of around them.
The last high-end possibility for the Sabres is Elias Lindholm, who was able to score 30 points in 48 games in the Swedish Elite League despite playing against much older, stronger players. He played center last season, but could play wing in the NHL. While some question his talent ceiling, he should become a top-six forward.
Lindholm has been projected all over the top-10, but most have him going in the six to eight range.
The potential overriding theme here?
The Sabres will likely need to trade up in order to secure Drouin or MacKinnon, and possibly even Lindholm. There are other names that have been thrown around, like Hunter Shinkaruk from Medicine Hat of the WHL or Valentin Zykov from Baie-Comeau of the QMJHL, but they have the potential to be around for the Sabres' second first rounder.
Look for Darcy Regier to make a splash here, because the Sabres need top-six help on the wing. According to Josh Cooper of The Tennessean, Colorado, Florida and Nashville have all indicated that they would not be shy about discussing their numbers one, two and four picks, respectively.
While Darcy would not pass up MacKinnon or Alexsander Barkov if they were available, one would have to think Drouin and Nichushkin are the likely targets, especially if the Sabres are forced to move up to get him.
Assuming the Sabres stay at number eight, the prediction is: Elias Lindholm, C/W, Brynas IF (SEL)