Buffalo Sabres: Positives and Negatives of Their Draft Class
The Buffalo Sabres used all 10 of their draft picks yesterday and acquired another via trade to re-stock their prospect cupboard.
While the Sabres' draft has been applauded by many, there still were some negatives at the end of the day.
What were they?
Positive: Bolstering of the Blue Line
Coming into the draft, many felt the Sabres were going to concentrate on the offensive side, but they ended up drafting two huge but talented defenseman with the Nos. 8 and 16 picks and making a defensive trade.
Rasmus Ristolainen is a great fit for this Sabres team. He is a three-zone defenseman that will not wow you with offensive talent, but he makes smart decisions with the puck and has the size to become an elite shutdown guy as well. He needs to work on his skating and fill into his 6'4" frame a bit, but given his play in the Finnish Elite League last year he has an excellent chance of making the team in October.
Nikita Zadorov is another huge but talented guy, standing at 6'5" and weighing in at 220 lbs. Zadorov is much more raw than Ristolainen and is likely at least two to three years from making an impact at the NHL level, but he could be a top pairing guy not too far beyond that. With a few more years with the London Knights of the OHL, Zadorov can grow in one of the best programs at churning out top-level NHL defenseman.
The trade for Jamie McBain made a lot of sense as well. Not only did the Sabres pick up the No. 35 pick in the deal, they were able to ship off one of the more frustrating players that has come through the pipeline in years. Andrej Sekera had and still has tons of potential, but inconsistent play, including multiple mental errors a night, doomed him to the bottom pairing in Buffalo for most of his time.
In McBain the Sabres get another power play weapon to play across from or in support of Christian Ehrhoff as well as an extremely promising player that is only 25.
Negative: No Immediate Help on Offense
Long-term the Sabres look to have done great on the offensive side of the puck, but they were unable to parlay any of the 10 picks they entered into the draft with into immediate offensive help.
Their best chance to do so was likely to take Valeri Nichushkin with the eighth pick used on Ristolainen. A big bodied winger with a scoring touch, Nichushkin likely would have played from day one with the Sabres and been an excellent complement to the team's other young forwards.
The potential to trade up to No. 5 was apparently there as well, but in terms of immediate help the Sabres probably did not miss any opportunities there. Elias Lindholm, who was drafted by the Carolina Hurricanes, likely will be playing in Sweden for at least one more year, and Sean Monahan, drafted by the Calgary Flames at No. 6, has a chance to make their roster, but seemingly will return to Ottawa of the OHL for at least another year.
Regardless, the Sabres probably should have done more to address the offensive side earlier in the draft. Passing at No. 8 is understandable, but, despite the promise Zadorov has, they probably should have looked to a forward at No. 16, especially with Hunter Shinkaruk available.
Positive: Long-Term Offensive Help
However, credit must be given where credit is due.
JT Compher, the Sabres' pick at No. 35 is an excellent two-way prospect that will make an impact on the Sabres in about three years after some time with the University of Michigan Wolverines.
Connor Hurley, the youngest player in the draft, has huge potential at the pivot position and will hone his skills at the University of Notre Dame.
Finally, Nick Baptiste is a young, sizable winger from Sudbury of the OHL that is improving his offensive game and may be a great pickup in the third round.
Negative: Overpaying a Free Agent Just Became More Likely
Given the inability for Darcy to pull in one of the "right now" offensive guys, the reality that the Sabres will have to enter the free agent market in earnest on July 5 has set in.
No one expects this team to compete for the Stanley Cup next season, but with or without Ryan Miller and/or Thomas Vanek, they certainly want them to be competitive.
Enter one of the bigger name free agents.
With the realization that Kevin Porter is still penciled in to the opening night lineup, the Sabres need to pick someone up. Who that is may completely depend on how outrageous the free agent market gets.
A few names to keep an eye on: Nathan Horton, Stephen Weiss, Danny Briere, Tyler Bozak and Viktor Stalberg.
Horton and Weiss will be the most expensive of that group, with Horton likely asking for upwards of $6 million a year for a five-plus year deal, and Weiss probably in the five year, $5 million per year range.
Briere will be cheaper considering his struggles the past few seasons, but his chemistry with Vanek goes back a long way and could be a big part in a playoff birth next year.
Bozak and Stalberg are fringe guys that may succeed in different roles than they had on their old teams. They won't be super expensive, but risky given the essential flyer you'd be taking on them.
Positive: A New Core
Whenever you have 11 picks in a draft, you have effectively created a new wave of talent for your team, and the Sabres certainly are no exception.
Even if two or three guys from the class turn out, the Sabres have added significantly to their "new core" that includes the likes of Tyler Myers, Cody Hodgson, Tyler Ennis, Marcus Foligno, Mark Pysyk and Mikhail Grigorenko.
Ristolainen, Zadorov, Compher, Hurley, Bailey and Baptiste all have excellent shots at becoming NHL-level difference makers. Add them to the "soon-to-be" list that includes Zemgus Girgensons, Brayden McNabb, Joel Armia, Jake McCabe and Corey Tropp and the future looks extremely bright.
Negative: The Miller and Vanek Saga Drags on
Not that anyone should ever hope for the departure of two of their team's best players, but this saga has entered Rick Nash-like proportions.
The draft came and went yesterday and both Miller and Vanek remain with the Buffalo Sabres.
However, Pierre LeBrun of ESPN tweeted earlier this morning that the Sabres remain "intent" on trading Miller at some point. When, however, is the operative question that no one knows the answer to.
The reality? Miller's price will take a sharp tumble once the season starts, so in order for Darcy to get full value he needs to unload him sooner rather than later.
Vanek's situation seems a bit less tenuous. Sure Regier was listening to offers for him, but it never seemed too likely that he was going to go anywhere.
So while any question about Vanek coming back may, and stress may, be answered, Miller's status is as up in the air as ever.