Monday, April 20, 2009

Buffalo Sabres 2009 Draft Preview, v1.0

***SabresProspects puts on its forecasting hat for phase I of the Sabres 2009 NHL draft preview. This is an early look, as a lot can and will change in the two months leading up to the selection process*** It's never too early to build a winner, so sharpen your pencil and grab a cold one. The 2008-09 Buffalo Sabres put another notch in their belt of mediocrity by remaining postseason relevant at the trade deadline, but simply not being good enough to qualify come April. Organizational weaknesses started to surface, and higher end guys regressed. Too often the defense was unwilling to protect its meal ticket after the whistle, while the skilled forwards continued to lack any physical branding to sustain a forecheck and instill fear into the opposition. Ever consistent, the club will enter Montreal in late June holding the 13th pick of the draft for the second consecutive season, and fourth time in the past six years. The Sabres are booked for a total of six picks covering all rounds but the second. The Sabres have done OK at #13 in the past, claiming Drew Stafford (2004) and Marek Zagrapan (2005), while last season bumping up one slot to #12 to select Tyler Myers. Still, #13 can be somewhat of a no-man's land, and the winds of change are swirling as the top club looks for opportunity to strengthen its foundation. So if the Sabres, who used the draft to acquire 21 of the 32 players who wore their sweater last season, are not going to attempt a radical, out-of-character shake-up by packaging the pick with a Derek Roy-type to Los Angeles in hopes of securing franchise game-breaker Evander Kane, then maybe they're best served banging the phones in hopes of dropping down for additional picks picks in the first three rounds. Whoa whoa whoa. Trade the leading scorer? The Sabres need attitude and character down the middle. There are two ways to view Roy, one of which says that the best tradeable asset for a team lacking identity is an 80-point guy under contract a $4M per year. All hands on deck. The Sabres have to splash at the draft, as there aren't any college UFA's at the level of ultra-skilled, ultra-marketable Kane, or Brandon's heart and soul power forward, Brayden Schenn. Yes, this bold scenario is extremely unlikely as it depletes scoring depth, but the point that the organization needs to ask itself a question: Do you sit back and settle for a Stafford or Zagrapan, or do you chase down something that you currently won't have in training camp this fall?
The 2009 Depth Chart
Strengths and Weaknesses As the Regier-led Sabres drafted with a speed-based lineup in mind, the system sacrificed size along the way. Currently the average forward clocks in just shy of 6'0 with a weight of 190 pounds. The average defenseman stands two inches taller and ten pounds heavier (6'2, 199 lbs). Like last year, the primary flavor of the draft will be size. Built for the transition game, the blueline is well stocked with 16 defensive prospects, including 10 with left-handed sticks. There are mobile puck pushers who play both sides, but aside from the size theme and the obvious preference for adding another righty, the group as a whole could stand to get meaner and more rugged regardless of curve. When it comes to forwards, size, skill, and aggression is what the Sabres should be fishing for early. The pipeline is deepest at left wing, where three of the top 10 prospects (Gerbe, Ennis, Gogulla) currently reside. With suspicion that the Sabres like Luke Adam as a left wing, that flanker side becomes even stronger. With that in mind, center and right wing are the two spots where things can be freshened up with skill and the body to dish and absorb hits.
The Layout Round 1 - 13th Round 3 - 66th (from LA) Round 4 - 104th overall Round 5 - 133rd Round 6 - 163rd Round 7 - 193rd Round 2 - 43rd traded to San Jose in Craig Rivet deal Round 3 - Sabres get LA's pick from VAN in Steve Bernier trade. Round 3 - Buffalo's own 3rd was sent to LA last season when the clubs traded places so the Sabres could select Tyler Myers.
This round brought to you by the letter K In the year that Kane is being suggested as a player to aggressively pursue, the first round is filled with other Special K possibilities. Drummondville's Dmitry Kulikov is a highly-talented offensive defenseman who scored 70 points as Q rookie. He makes quick decisions, and likes to shoot. As a Russian power play QB driving a high-octane QMJHL offense, his career path alone reminds of us a former Russian-born defenseman taken in the first-round (and fellow K) - Dmitri Kalinin. (note: Kalinin was drafted out of Russia before entering NA). Nazem Kadri is a six-foot center who blends great hands with excellent two-way skills. A broken jaw kept him off Team Canada at the World Juniors, but he's a do-it-all guy who, aside from his average size and strength, could fill a basic need down the middle. At 6'3, 205 pounds, Carl Klingberg is a good moving forward who can barrel around the ice and finish plays. Playing in Sweden with Frolunda, Klingberg had an impressive U18 World Championship and looks to have the frame, footwork, and offensive skill to sneak on to a team's first-round draft board. We don't think these players are going to hear their names called by the Sabres at #13. That was merely the opening act as we continue to take an early plow through the seven rounds. Let's throw some names around.
Brass Tax
Round 1 (13th) - Zack Kassian (RW, Peterborough - OHL), Jared Cowan (LHD, Spokane - WHL), Zach Budish (RW, Edina, Minn HS), Jacob Josefsson (C, Djurgarden - SEL), Chris Kreider (C, Phillips-Andover - Mass HS) Lots of talent will be available past pick #10. Talented shooters like Jordan Schroeder, Scott Glennie, and Louis LeBlanc could enter the discussion, but with sub-six-footers Nathan Gerbe and Tyler Ennis representing your biggest scoring threats, the need for above-average size works against these types, and all but guarantees that tiny offensive wizard Ryan Ellis (D, Windsor) will last past the Sabres into the middle of the round. John Moore of the Chicago Steel is one of the finest skaters and fastest risers in the draft. Strong on his feet and talented with his stick, the 6'2 glider is a left-hander who's probably off the board at #13, and doesn't really address the need for a physical edge on the blueline anyways. An imposing figure and supremely talented skater, Simon Despres plays a Jay Bouwmeester-type of game that might be too good to pass up. He uses his big 6'4, 214-pound body to block shots and absorb hits, and cooly carries the puck with a long, effortless stride that gives him the feel of a franchise player. Like Moore, Despres doesn't have a mean streak or fill a concentrated need, but the package is very attractive nonetheless. Everyone has witnessed what a Brendan Morrow/Milan Lucic type can do to the pace of a game by throwing his weight around. The 6'3, 212-pound Kassian had a similarly busy season, potting 24 goals and 39 assists in 63 games, knuckling up for 13 fighting majors (including 8 on the road), and knocking John Tavares from the Top Prospects Game. He doesn't have elite offensive talent, but the right wing's jam effects a game's flow, making him worthy of a look at #13. If he's there, his name is on the tip of Regier's tongue. With Kassian in the picture as a primary forward target, two other high-profile talents are helping make the #13 spot particularly interesting due to each suffering severe knee injuries in 2008-09. Entering the season, Spokane defenseman Jared Cowan was consensus top-5 selection for the 2009 draft. The 6'5, 220-pounder is a good skater, can score it, and plays a mean, physical style. However, reconstructive knee surgery in February means Cowan could realistically go as early as #3 if a team is still in love with him, or last until Buffalo at #13 if other keep climbing past him. Cowan is another left-handed defenseman who would obviously do nothing to bolster the size of your forwards, but if available, clearly would be an enticing package to someday bookend with fellow WHL bluechipper, Tyler Myers. In Minnesota, 6'4, 230-pound Zach Budish is a strong skating forward with the size, hands, and strength to dominate the tough areas. A natural leader, the hard working Budish was a raw first round talent and clear-cut favorite for the Mr. Hockey Award as Minnesota's top high school player before tearing knee ligaments during the Edina Hornets football season. The athletic right wing and former middle linebacker will attend Minnesota in the fall, and if fully recovered with a strong combine showing, be an ideal player for the Sabres to consider in the first round. A strong, quick skater who piles up offense, Chris Kreider has all the the tools to be an excellent center at the pro level. In 26 games with Phillps-Andover Academy, the dominating 6'2, 200-pounder produced 33 goals and 56 total points. With the Sabres lacking size and character in the middle of their lineup, Kreider is a natural leader who can dictate offense with his long stride and laser beam shot. Despite his advanced skill set, he won't play at Boston College until 2010, so patience will be rewarded to whoever makes the play. Saint John (QMJHL) owns his CHL rights. Both Budish and Kreider have looked like men amongst boys while competing at the high school level, and have the physical attributes to be immediate impact players in the NCAA. As mentioned, the draft combine will put the remaining pieces together. Speaking of men amongst boys, Jacob Josefsson played as a boy against men in the SEL last season, scoring five goals and 16 points in 50 top-league games. Swedish scout Bo Berglund is certainly familiar the 6'1, 187-pound center who is likely gaining steam after posting three goals and four assists thus far at the U18s in Fargo. Like many Swedes before him, Josefsson plays smart in both ends with enough offensive flair to suggest a quick transition to the North American game. We like Kassian's game immensely, but are feeling that he and Cowan (and Josefsson for that matter) will be gone, making another guy we like very much - Kreider - a surprise early target for the Sabres at #13.
Knocking at the door
If the Sabres are looking to move down a shade, here are some other names that deserve to be in the mix. Another big bodied right wing who is efficient at both ends, Rimouski's Jordan Caron has quick feet and slick offensive skills that could set the stage for a Memorial Cup coming out party. A late '90 birthday, the developed 6'2, 205 pounder scored 36 goals in 56 games for the Nics, including 21 in his final 25, and will only play one additional season in the Q before signing a pro deal. If Caron keeps chugging through the playoffs, his stock could creep into top-15 territory. 6'1, 190-pound Jeremy Morin is a natural goal scorer who hates to lose. The Auburn, NY native has snatched six goals and 10 points through Sunday at the U-18's in Fargo after a 2007 performance in Kazan, Russia that saw him lead Team USA with six goals and eight points. Morin will fast track to the NHL by heading to the OHL with Kitchener in 2009-10, and instantly inject offense into the organization that selects him. Kingston's Ethan Werek is not the fastest guy on the ice, but he's a gritty player who can make things happen whether skating at left wing or his natural position of center. At 6'1, 188 pounds, he pops pucks loose along the boards, and his stick skills make him a good finisher as evidenced by his 32 goals in 66 OHL games and four goals at the U18s. Added strength and defensive discipline will make Werek a solid professional prospect. He would've been a great addition to Boston University, but instead looked to maximize his draft year exposure by playing major junior.
Day Two
The Sabres second round pick exited in the Rivet deal, but this doesn't give team execs a ticket to sleep in. Recent success suggests that Buffalo has to find a way back in the game before pick #66 as promising hopefuls Enroth, Brennan, Schiestel, Gogulla, Weber, and Adam were plucked by Regier's staff between 31-60 in recent years after previously hiting with Derek Roy, Jason Poiminville, Henrik Tallinder, Chris Thorburn, Mike Zigomanis, and Doug Janik. Remember, Buffalo did get a second round pick from Edmonton at the deadline, but it was immediately folded into a paper airplane and shot it up-river to Toronto in exchange for Dominic Moore. Perhaps a player like Henrik Tallinder can be dangled? His exit could net additional picks, plus free up some cash to re-sign Jaroslav Spacek if the tag is reasonable. It's just an idea. Always prepared, we're calling Round 2 roll regardless of what the board currently says. Round 2 (XX) - Tomas Vincour (RW/C, Edmonton - WHL), Alex Chiasson C/RW, Des Moines USHL), Brayden McNabb (LHD, Kootenay - WHL), Ryan O'Reilly (C, Erie - OHL), Seth Helgeson (LHD, Sioux City - USHL) A rumbling skater with a thick shot, the 6'2, 203-pound Vincour got the 2008-09 season off to a bang with 27 points in his first 30 games. After an average performance at the World Juniors, the big Czech continued to grind away on the sub-.500 Oil Kings. Vincour missed a month in January/February with a shoulder separation, finishing the season with four goals and four assists in 14 games after the tournament. The RW/C totaled 17 goals and 19 assists in 49 games for the season. Another late '90 birthday, The 6'4, 187 pound Chiasson is a fantastic power forward prospect heading to Boston University in the fall. Competing hard while grinding out offense at center or right wing, the Quebec City product used excellent hands to score 17 goals and 50 points for East Division cellar dweller Des Moines. A solid faceoff performer, the USHL All-Rookie Team member can go anywhere between 25-45. Mean and tough, the imposing MacNabb is a physical force who can play in all situations. The 6'4, 200-pound left-hander scored 10 goals and 26 total points in 2008-09, while piling up 10 fighting majors. McNabb, who has put up a +5 for Canada at the U18's, will excel when playing a simple stay-at-home game, Minor concerns with his skating cause him to drop a few spots, but he needs to be considered once day two gets cooking. Erie's O'Reilly is a strong, playmaking center who's good on faceoffs. Named captain for Team Canada at the U18s, the former #1 overall pick in the OHL is extremely driven and ultra-competitive. His character, skills, and 6'2, 200-pound body make him a good fit for the Sabres down the middle. Heading to Minnesota in the fall, the 6'5, 225-pound Helgeson is an intimidating, Mike Komisarek-like presence that many teams would love to have. A physical, shutdown type, the Faribault, MN native defends his crease and will drop the mitts. The Sabres could benefit from netting a bruising blueliner at some point, and here's a willing participant who can also shoot the puck with authority. We like all of these guys, but would opt for Vincour first if you land back into the round. Vincour/McNabb. Round 3 (67) - David Savard (RHD, Moncton Wildcats - QMJHL), Tomas Tatar (C, Zvolen, Slovakia), Kenny Ryan (RW, USNTDP, NAHL), Brian Dumoulin (LHD, Jr. Monarchs - EJHL), Danny Mattson (RW/C, Holy Angels - Minn HS) A physical, shutdown player who can contribute offensively, the 6'1, 201 pound Savard scored nine goals and 35 assists for the defensively sound Wildcats. His fearless defense-first style was rewarded by being named one of three finalists for the Kevin Lowe Award for best defensive defenseman. Savard had a 50-goal turnaround in his +/- (-21 to +29) to finish as one of the league's most improved players, and looks like a solid third-rounder despite being ranked in the 160's at CSS's midterm, and #104 on their final list of North American skaters. Tatar jumped onto the scouting radar when his seven goals at the World Juniors trailed only Russia's Nikita Filatov (CLS) and consensus #1 John Tavares who each potted eight. A slashing skater who plays a gutsy, agitating style despite his smallish frame, Tatar (5'11, 176) has good hands and is always on the puck. His energy-laced game creates opportunity, making him an exciting player to watch at both ends of the ice. The 6'2, 204-pound Ryan was 2nd on the NTDP with 21 goals, consisting of an amazing break down of 16 at even strength, five shorthanded, and zero on the power play. A skilled right wing who can play a grinders role, the versatile BC recruit isn't flashy but will work hard to make things happen. He has netted four goals in six games for Team USA at the U18's. A Boston College recruit compared to Hockey East predecessor Ryan Whitney (BU), Dumoulin is a highly skilled puck mover that could be a valuable power play piece after a few years of strength development and defensive skills in Hockey East. Big, mobile and off to the NCAA, the 6'3, 197-pound offensive package may look attractive to the Sabres if other areas are addressed before hand. A slick North Dakota recruit, Mattson is a dazzling, one-on-one stickhandler who can snipe. He likes to create more than shoot, but still scored 30 goals and 69 points in his 25 games as a senior to become a Mr. Hockey finalist. Extremely talented as a puck distributor, the undersized forward is building bulk to accommodate more one-on-one wins through the WCHA's physical grind. Tatar represents an explosive element that could go a long way given the Sabres system, but the Sabres Maritime scouts could have a good enough comfort level with Savard's readiness and steadiness to make him a target. Round 4 (104th)- Ben Chiarot (LHD, Guelph - OHL), Kevin Lynch (RW, USNTDP - NAHL), Marcus Foligno (LW, Sudbury - OHL), Simon Bertilsson (LHD, Brynas - SEL), Brennan Yadlowski (RHD, Lethbridge - WHL), Chiarot is a physical, stay-at-home defenseman with decent hands on the puck. Strong on his skates at 6'3, 214 pounds, the Hamilton native has the makings of a nasty guy to play against. He logged six fights this season, and should continue to improve under the guidance of Storm assistant and Buffalo native Chris Hajt as he eases his way into the role of #1 dman. The offensively talented Lynch looks like a sleeper in waiting by following up a 19-goal USNTDP season with five goals and a +8 thus far at the U18s. The 6'1, 190-pound product of the Detroit Honeybaked program will join the Michigan Wolverines in the fall. A hard-driving, consistent role player, the 6'2, 203-pound Foligno had a successful second half to his season with Sudbury after a good showing in the CHL Top Prospects Game. He doesn't have the natural offensive knack of brother Nick, but he blends the Foligno passion with the work ethic of a wrecking ball to look like a nice middle-line LW at the professional level. Bertilsson was one of the top offensive defensemen for Brynas as a junior, connecting for 9 goals and 31 points in 30 games. The 6'1, 180-pound 17-year old earned a 21-game call to the top club in the SEL before notching an assist and solid +5 for the Swedes through Sunday in Fargo. Turning 18 the week of the draft, Yadlowski is an interesting prospect out of Lethbridge. The 6'1, 187-pounder is a puck moving defenseman who compares himself to Brian Campbell. However, the right-handed rearguard had nine fights in 2008-09 while displaying a keen shot blocking aptitude. He sees a lot of ice time, will continue to blossom with two more seasons of development in the Dub. An offensive Lynch would be a great catch in this spot, but for some reason we fear that he'll be off the board. A lot can change, but for now we're thinking that the Sabres may look to get meaner by grabbing the rising Chiarot. Round 5 (133) - Jeff Wyer (G, Reading High - Mass. HS), Micheal Fine (C, Sault Ste. Marie - OHL), Byron Froese (C, Everett - WHL), Michael Zador (G, Oshawa - OHL), Patrick Wey (RHD, Waterloo - USHL) The 6'0, 170-pound Wyer is a quick, fluid-moving goaltender scheduled to play at least one season of EJHL hockey before hitting Hockey East with New Hampshire. After leading Reading HS to Super-8 championship a year ago, the sharp Wyer posted a solid 1.50 GAA and .932 save percentage in 2008-09. Playing on the league's worst team, Fine got off to a quick start as a 17-year old by scoring 25 points through December. Tailing off with just 12 points the rest of the way, the 6'0, 190 pounder has plenty of two-way upside to work into. The pesky pivot was invited to play for Canada in Fargo before leaving the team due to personal reasons. Froese, a 5'11, 185-pound center, stepped right into a scoring role as a 17-year old rookie with Everett by scoring 19 goals and 57 points in 72 games. Not overly aggressive but consistently productive, Froese has scored four goals and seven points for Canada at the U18's and seems like a somewhat safer play if on the board. Oshawa netminder Zador has shown good progression since his trade from London. Chosen for Team Canada over Owen Sound's Scott Stajcer, Zador has posted a 1.99 GAA and .938 save percentage for Team Canada at the U18s highlighted by a 42-save performance in a 2-1 loss to the Americans. A steady defensive defenseman, Patrick Wey completed a two-year USHL stint by dropping seven goals, 34 points, 75 PIM, and an impressive +22 with the blueline factory in Waterloo. Wey is another strong Boston College recruit that is worth a look if available outside of the top 100 due to his solid all-around skill level. This is where the names will change quite a bit in the next few weeks. The 5th round would be a great spot to grab the underrated Fine, but the exceptionally talented Wyer could be the play as the Regier Sabres seem to like fifth round goaltenders. Round 6 (163) - Tommi Kivisto (LHD, Red Deer, WHL), David Pacan (C, Cumberland Grads - CJHL), Benjamin Casavant (LW, PEI - QMJHL), Andrew Agozzino (LW, Niagara- OHL), Andrej Nestrasil (LW, Victoriaville - QMJHL) Kivisto, a 6'1, 195-pound Finnish defenseman, won't turn 18 until two weeks prior to the draft, and definitely endured the mental ups and downs that a 17-year old hockey player should expect in his first North American season. A good skater who can distribute passes and hits, Kivisto accumulated 21 assists for Red Deer, and hopes that another season in the Dub unlocks his total game. Opting for the University of Vermont instead of playing in the OHL with the Niagara Ice Dogs, the 6'3, 190-pound Pacan will steadily add 20 pounds of muscle to his solid frame over the next few years. The big, offensively gifted pivot scored 22-38-50 in 48 games as a 17-year old in the CJHL, and could be a nice sleeper while he gets it going in Hockey East. A burgeoning workhorse for PEI, the 6'1, 200 pound Casavant is a grinding forward with good finishing ability down low. As a 17-year old, he finished in the top 10 in scoring on a below average Rocket club with 39 goals and 80 points. His skating and conditioning may be a concern, but the character traits are present to suggest that he's coachable and worth a shot given his offensive ability. Still fishing for offense, the Sabres could put his will to the test in conditioning camp to see if they can break his feet into those of a pro. The quick-footed Agozzino is coming off a 27-goal, 56 point campaign for the Niagara Ice Dogs. Undersized at 5'9, 188 pounds, the unrated Agozzino is a go-to, all-situations player who goes hard at both at the end and knows how to score a clutch goal. As a Q rookie, Nestrasil displayed his goal scoring touch with 22 goals and 57 total points in 66 games for Victoriaville. The 6'2, 200-pound Slovakian is all offense though, as his game is short on grit and consistent effort. Still, gaining a level of consistency could make the big left wing a future threat. Round 7 (193) - Cam Reid (C, Westside - BCHL), Matt Brown (LW, Moncton - QMJHL), Dan Delisle (C, Totino-Grace - Minn. HS), Steven Racine (G, Taft - CT HS), Gabriel Dumont (C, Drummondville - QMJHL), The 6'2, 185-pound Reid is a New Hampshire-bound power forward who could become the first ever Sabres draft pick from the BCHL - an established NCAA feeder. He compliments his playmaking style by driving hard to the net and working the tough areas to get the job done. A two-way worker, Reid caught fire after a deadline trade to Westside. The forward didn't appear on any version of a ranking list this season, but has enough game to be a formidable Hockey East forward by his junior season. Moncton's Brown is a hard-working left wing who can score and play defense. The 5'11, 190-pounder caught fire out of the gate, scoring 18 goals in 40 games before a January elbow injury put him down until the final game of the regular season. He scored one goal in nine playoff games, and will have two full years of QMJHL to get bigger and stronger Another power forward project, Delisle is a Duluth recruit with a pro offensive package of quick feet and a long reach. In 25 games this season, the 6'4, 223-pound center scored 31 goals and 53 points en route to earning a Mr. Hockey nomination. The senior captain brings character and skill, and with continued work on his defensive game, could be late-riser once he hits the collegiate circuit. The 6'2, 177-pound Racine is a Buffalo native currently uncommitted for college. The Sabres previously looked to Taft in seventh round when they chose Drew MacKenzie in 2007. Racine is a big, quick goaltender with good positioning. Diminutive yet pesky, the 5'9, 175-pound Dumont is buried as a creative middle liner on a stacked Voltigeurs club. Small but packed with energy, the longshot prospect consistently packs an exciting, opportunistic stick.