Buffalo Sabres: An Early Look at the 2014 NHL Entry Draft

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Buffalo Sabres: An Early Look at the 2014 NHL Entry Draft
Bill Wippert/Getty Images

The Buffalo Sabres have ridden the struggle bus most of the season, and due to that, they will likely be "rewarded" with a top pick in the 2014 NHL draft. 

As it stands right now, the Sabres are in last place in the NHL with 31 points, four behind the Edmonton Oilers in 29th place and seven points behind the Calgary Flames in 28th place. However, the Sabres have four games in-hand on the Oilers and two in-hand on the Flames, so that order could be jostled a bit when they even out. 

Regardless, the Sabres will almost certainly not improve their position too much in the next 37 games. Sports Club Stats, via millions of simulations of the remaining NHL season, gives the Sabres a 63 percent chance of remaining in last place, a 26 percent chance at finishing 29th and only a 9 percent chance at finishing 28th. 

That amounts to a 98 percent chance at finishing in the bottom three this season, which is about as close to a sure thing as it gets in the sporting world. 

So what does this mean for the Sabres moving forward, especially in regard to the 2014 entry draft?

First, the Sabres have a 98 percent chance of picking in the top four and an 89 percent chance of picking in the top three. 

With the new modified lottery rules going into place at last year's draft, the Sabres, and every other lottery team, are assured a draft slot no more than one pick below where they would have picked if the order was based on pure standings. That means if the Sabres do in fact finish 30th (which would give them the first overall pick based on pure standings), the lowest they can pick is 29th if they do not win the lottery. 

This does not even consider the possibility of the New York Islanders not deferring their first-round selection obtained in the Thomas Vanek trade to next year or the very real possibility of Matt Moulson and/or Ryan Miller netting more first-rounders. 

Armed with that statistical assurance, the Sabres also can expect that they are going to get an excellent player with their top pick. 

While this year's draft does not seem to have the same overall top-end talent that last year's offered, the top prospects this year are still skilled. 

The Central Scouting Service (CSS) released its midterm rankings earlier this week, and while there was somewhat of a shake-up at the top, the top five had no surprises. 

CSS has its top five as Samuel Bennett, a center for the Kingston Frontenacs of the OHL; Leon Draisaitl, a center for the Prince Albert Raiders of the WHL; Aaron Ekblad, a defenseman for the Barrie Colts in the OHL; Sam Reinhart, a center for the Kootenay Ice of the WHL; and Michael Dal Colle, a center/left wing for the Oshawa Generals of the OHL.

While Bennett topping the rankings was a bit of a surprise, his inclusion in the top five is not. A physical but offensively gifted center, he is a great skater and can find space on the ice quickly. At 6'0", he is not physically enormous but has the size to make plays in the open ice and on the forecheck. He also possesses a bit of a mean streak, as he is likely to eclipse 100 penalty minutes this year with Kingston. 

Draisaitl was one of the few bright spots on Germany's World Junior Championship roster this year and has made a name for himself in the WHL. What impresses about him is his nose around the net, quick release and his ability to forecheck. While not the fastest skater, he moves well and can also play wing if necessary. If his skating improves, he can become a true three-zone force. 

Ekblad has a lot in common with next year's darling Connor McDavid, as he too was granted an exemption to play in the OHL as a 15-year-old. Ekblad is big at 6'3" and can skate well. A defenseman's best friend is the first pass, and his is excellent, as is his shot. While he's not going to light up the scoreboard from the point, he is arguably the player with the highest ceiling in the draft. 

Reinhart has gotten a lot of attention in the early part of the season and rightfully so. He sees the ice as well as anyone in the 2014 class and has the skating and puck-handling skills to boot. He isn't the biggest guy at 6'1", but he uses his size effectively and can push the play through the neutral zone. His performance at this year's World Juniors was not mind-blowing, but he played a solid tournament by scoring five points in seven games. 

Finally, Dal Colle is not going to impress with his finesse, but he can score. A big-bodied center/wing, he can push the puck effectively and has a nose for the net. His skating needs some work, but he is one of the younger players eligible for this year's draft. 

Those five players would all fight for a spot immediately with the Sabres, with Reinhart likely starting on the team from Day 1. 

The most interesting decision to be made leading up to the draft—especially if the Sabres end up picking firstwould be whether or not to take Ekblad. While he may be the player with the highest ceiling, he also plays at a position that the Sabres seem well-equipped for in the future, especially with offensive talents like Bennett and Reinhart available. 

So, while the Sabres may continue to struggle the rest of the season, as it stands right now they have a 98 percent chance at landing a player who will be a big piece in making them a Stanley Cup contender again.

 

Follow me on Twitter for NHL and Sabres news all season long: @SwordPlay18

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