The Buffalo Sabres are a team that prides itself on winning games through solid defense and incredible balance. Unfortunately, the team’s balance wasn’t enough to get past the sixth-seeded Boston Bruins in the opening round of the 2010 playoffs.
The Sabres’ balance makes it difficult to pinpoint one specific position or type of player to draft.
One thing the Sabres will not need in this draft is a goalie. Ryan Miller will have the reigns between the pipes in Buffalo for years to come and 21-year-old goaltender Jhonas Enroth is developing nicely with the Portland Pirates in the AHL.
Rumor has it that the Sabres would like to land Notre Dame freshman Riley Sheahan in the first round of this year’s entry draft—which will be held at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on June 25-26—assuming all of the other picks go according to plan. But would the well-rounded center fit into what the Sabres need to draft?
There are a lot of “what-ifs” taken into account in my thought process—and a lot of them will rely on the opening of free agency on July 1. The planning that it takes to account for every possible move that can be made by the 22 other teams that get to pick before the Sabres in the first round is incredible.
Since the Sabres don’t have a second-round pick this year—thanks a lot Craig Rivet—a lot of importance will be placed on who they take in the first round. Buffalo also has three third-round picks to make up for that long stretch between the first and third round without a selection.
Here are five types of players Buffalo should be looking to select in this year’s draft.
It’s still a mystery as to why Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff never gave defenseman Mike Weber a shot last season. Both Andrej Sekera and Chris Butler struggled on a nightly basis defensively and could not be trusted in pivotal situations.
Butler was a team-worst minus-15.
Weber has proven himself with the team on several occasions and led the Pirates with a plus-18 rating this season.
There is one defensive defenseman on my radar and if the Sabres are going to draft him, it will have to be in the first round—if he is still available.
Jarred Tinordi was the captain of the U.S. under-18 team and will be one of the top defensive defensemen available in this year’s draft.
On top of his tremendous defensive skills, it would be a thrill to watch the 6’4” Tinordi play on a line with 6’8” Tyler Myers. Tinordi’s defensive play would allow for Myers to join the rush as much as humanly possible.
Mike Grier was a stud last year for Buffalo and his defensive presence was easily noticeable throughout the first round against the Bruins.
Grier’s efforts also rubbed off on long-time Sabre Jochen Hecht, who led the team with a plus-14 rating during the regular season.
For the moment, Grier has one more year left with Buffalo. The suddenly defensive-minded Hecht has just two years left on his contract.
It would be extremely beneficial for the Sabres draft a defensive forward like Grier or Hecht, but one with better offensive abilities—a player along the lines of Pavel Datsyuk or Ryan Kesler. Maybe not exactly like those two, but perhaps a 30-goal scorer with the same defensive abilities as Grier.
Quinton Howden, who currently plays for the Moose Jaw Warriors in the Western Hockey League, would be a perfect fit for this role.
Howden is a tough fore-checker and finished with 28 goals in 65 games for the Warriors. The only problem is that Howden will more-than-likely be gone by the time the Sabres pick in the first round.
Tim Connolly is a playmaker. When healthy, he is arguably one of the best in the league. But his injuries coupled with a poor postseason have Connolly as the odd-man out in Buffalo.
Drew Stafford’s inconsistent and disappointing offensive season also has the rumor mill full with speculation as to where he might end up this offseason.
Despite leading the Sabres in points, Derek Roy’s name has also been thrown around in trade rumors—possibly for Tomas Kaberle in Toronto.
Any way you slice it, these three took turns disappointing the team and its fans throughout the season—except for Stafford, he dissatisfied fans for the entire season.
Buffalo needs to find a player like Nicklas Backstrom or Joe Thornton—a player who can control the puck with skill and wait for an appropriate opening to set up a play. Connolly and Stafford’s puck control was not as good as it has been and Roy could not find a healthy combination of shooting and passing.
Tyler Ennis should develop into a solid offensive scorer and passer, but it would be nice to see a player develop with him.
If the Stanley Cup Playoffs taught us anything, it’s that a team is only as good as its captain.
The Chicago Blackhawks’ Jonathan Toews was masterful in the playoffs and clearly deserved the Conn Smythe Trophy, not just for his offensive statistics, but for how he led his team each night on the ice.
Mike Richards’ efforts for the Philadelphia Flyers were equally noticeable throughout the playoffs.
But Rivet’s efforts were nowhere to be found in the postseason.
A lot of players on the Sabres’ roster have the ability to lead, but nobody wants to step up.
Tyler Myers might wear the "C" somewhere down the road, but just because a player has the skills on-ice, doesn’t mean they can lead off-ice.
As previously mentioned, another reason to take Tinordi in the first round is because he captained the U.S. under-18 team to the gold medal in the IIHF World U-18 Championship. Tinordi proved he has what it takes to lead his team during big games, the type of player the Sabres did not have during this year’s short postseason.
For those of you hockey fans who have been living under a rock for the past couple of weeks, the Sabres stopped negotiations with 2009 first-round draft pick Zack Kassian due to his role in a bar fight in Windsor earlier this month.
Stopping negotiations was probably a smart thing to do, just to make sure Kassian knows he isn’t going to get far if he continues with his “bad boy” persona.
This isn’t necessarily something the Sabres need, but it would be smart to look into it just in case Kassian’s legal troubles continue.
Kassian was drafted because he can score, he’s big, and he can fight.
The good thing about trying to replace Kassian as a fighter is that it can be done in the later rounds. The bad thing about trying to replace Kassian as a scorer is that it isn’t likely in the later rounds.
If the Sabres lose out on Tinordi and Sheahan in the first round, they might want to look at Brad Ross.
While Ross isn’t expected to go until the second round, his 27 goals and staggering 203 penalty minutes make him not only one of the WHL’s top scorers, but one of the elite agitators in the draft.
Worst case scenario: If the Sabres were to draft Ross and Kassian ends up getting a deal from the team—which he probably will—the duo will be a lot of fun to watch on the same line.