Well duh. Wouldn't every team be looking for scoring forwards?
We're tired of mentioning "team toughness", but after hitting back-to-back-to-back jacks in 2008 with Tyler Myers, Tyler Ennis, and Luke Adam, the Sabres needed to add core muscle and keep building a team that would be hard to play against. Enter the 2009 class featuring a 1-2-3 punch of Zack Kassian, Brayden McNabb, and Marcus Foligno. Guys that hit, protect, produce, and above all show their teeth near both painted areas of the ice. The '09 group wasn't a splash of toughness. More like an injection that could make for a very stiff drink.
It's not that the Sabres gained a nasty edge at the expense of offense, but a cruise through the prospect stat sheet shows why it's time to achieve better balance with natural scoring.
Adam cashed a respectable 29 goals on the farm in 2010-11 (plus a few in the NHL), but all it took was 26 to lead the junior prospects this past season. With Marek Zagrapan, (35, 2005-06), Benjamin Breault (40, 2006-07), Paul Byron (37, 2007-08), Ennis (43, 2008-09), and Adam (49, 2009-10) topping previous leader boards, I can't recall the last time the Sabres didn't have one player hit the 30-goal barrier. The list doesn't start with the strongest credibility, but the point is that the prospects weren't exactly burning out goal lamps in 2010-11.
So let's cut to the chase.
The Sabres have selected a defenseman with their first pick in four of the last five years. I don't believe that any team in the modern era has gone with a blueliner in five of six. I declare with great confidence that the Sabres are taking a forward if they stay at #16.
Furthermore, it's the 10th anniversary of the 2001 draft that saw the Sabres take forwards with their first five picks, including centers with their first two. That coincidentally was the last time the Sabres drafted and successfully developed a scoring line pivot (Derek Roy). You're never going to fix anything with one draft class, but this haul could come close to resembling the mix of that 2001 group (sans the Europeans).
Keep in mind the Sabres have never gone through a draft without taking a defenseman. With only three slated for CHL development in 2011-12, it's hard to think that trend will begin now.
The Depth Chart
Spring 2011 prospect rankings for a longer-winded top-to-bottom analysis.*
Current stock levels show the Sabres thin at center, particularly those with right-handed sticks, while also being light at left wing. I don't advocate drafting solely to "round out the depth chart", and neither do the Sabres after taking d-men with three of their first four picks a year ago, but perhaps those spots make for compelling tiebreakers as Kevin Devine's crew constructs their board.
After passing on the position a year ago, it also wouldn't hurt if the Sabres added a goaltender. The upcoming season could be the first since 1972-73 that sees them begin the year without a drafted backstop on the farm. Only once has the franchise ignored the position two years in a row (1973-1974), and it's hard to see that happening again after a 2010-11 season that saw all three NCAA properties end the year as second fiddle.
The Buffalo Sabres franchise under Darcy Regier (1997-present)….
- have made a total of 122 draft picks, with 47 appearing in NHL (39% to date)
- 69 from the CHL (57%)
- 28 from Europe (23%)
- 25 from NCAA/Jr. "A" feeders (20%)
- 69 from the CHL (57%)
- drafted and developed 18 of the 32 players who wore the Sabres sweater in 2010-11 (56%)
- 11 from the CHL (QMJHL – 4, OHL – 4, WHL – 3)
- 5 from the NCAA (3 of which drafted from Jr. "A")
- 2 from Europe (Sweden and Slovakia)
- 11 from the CHL (QMJHL – 4, OHL – 4, WHL – 3)
- have chosen at least one player from the OHL in every draft (since 1997), and have selected more players there (26) than any other league
- have drafted a total of 24 players from the WHL, including three of their last four #1 picks (did not choose any players from the WHL from 2005-2007).
- have taken 19 players from the QMJHL, but only one in the 1st round (Marek Zagrapan – 2005)
- have selected zero Europeans in the last four drafts
- have used four of their 19 first round picks on NCAA players, but none since 2004 (Drew Stafford)
- have never selected a player from the BCHL, an established feeder league for NCAA talent. The league has had 68 players drafted since 2000
- have worked four drafts (1998, 2001, 2008, 2010) where they haven't taken a goaltender
- have drafted a total of 11 goaltenders, with only three appearing in the NHL (Noronen, Miller, Enroth)
We'll go visual to offer a little more insight into the past four drafts.
League Distribution (by year)
Round Distribution (by league 2007-2010)
Did you know…
The first chapter in Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers: The Story of Success discusses how some Canadian hockey players born in the first months of the year enjoy advantages that those born later in the year don't have. A closer study reveals that birth month does indeed correlate closely with success in hockey.
In 2010, the Sabres drafted four players born in the month of January (Pysyk, Sundher, Henley, Isackson) and another two in February (Sutch and Boychuk). The Sabres last two first-rounders have been January-born (Pysyk and Kassian) while the third was a February baby (Myers). Another January birth date, Kootenay standout Brayden McNabb, recently signed his first professional contract a year after February-born Nick Crawford lead the OHL in points for a defenseman
Still think the trend means little? The Sabres leading scorer this past season was Thomas Vanek. Diehard fans (or anyone with Google) know he was born on January 19th.
Entering the draft with picks in six of the seven rounds, the Sabres will sit out round #2 for the third straight season after burning futures on the acquisitions of Craig Rivet, Raffi Torres, and Brad Boyes.
1st round, #16
2nd round, #46 (traded to St. Louis for Brad Boyes)
3rd round, #77
4th round, #107
5th round, #137
6th round, #167
7th round, #197
The Crop Report
The class of 2011 is considered by many to be wide open after the first five picks. It's top-heavy with talented forwards, especially at the center position, while fewer choice rearguards could create trade activity as day one heats up.
If you recall last year's draft preview, I detailed the "Every Other Year" goaltending theory and went on to predict that six would go in the top-60 picks. As it turns out, six were taken in the top-62. With no first-round goalies taken in the 2007 and 2009 drafts and the Sabres eyeing the nets as a secondary need, it'll be interesting to see if the crease talent again slides in the "off year". That should allow for some decent options in the final three rounds.
What about Europeans? The Sabres will travel over the pond to begin 2011-12 but haven't selected a player from a European league since 2006 – the longest current "streak" of any NHL club. While new ownership has promised an expanded scouting presence including eyes overseas, changes have yet to be made and likely would not have a ton of impact on this draft anyways. Until deeper intel is gained I expect business as usual with European scout Bo Berglund mildly influencing a heavy North American end-product.
With a focus on the forwards and repeated reference to a "paint game", does size always matter? Yes and no. The pipeline will need to keep adding size down the middle even if Adam ends up there. Saying that tough, the skill factor could see the Sabres consider a handful of guys that are more in the mold of a Pat Verbeek. They may not all have the same "little ball of hate" style employed by Nathan Gerbe (trust me, he's working his way there), but this wide open draft class presents some interesting high-motor, sub-six-foot options. In fact, 23 of the 93 skaters invited to the combine stand below six-feet in height.
It's also worth mentioning how there are some 19-year olds that likely have carved out mindshare for teams needing a quick boost to the system. The Sabres have used their last two seventh-round picks on players in bonus years of eligibility, so keep an eye when the final bullets fly.
Did you know…
The OHL produced nine of the NHL's top-30 point producers in 2010-11, more than twice as many than any other league (NCAA, Sweden, QMJHL – 4). Five of those nine OHL products play the center position.
Day One Strategy
Director of Amateur Scouting Kevin Devine has gone on record as saying they like 18 players before seeing a significant drop-off. Given the unpredictability of the draft, I imagine Darcy Regier would be looking at a team like the Phoenix Coyotes (20th overall) as a trade-down option if players outside of their list go in the top-15. A 2nd rounder could allow a club to move up four spots, and the Coyotes hold the 51st and 56th picks.
Remember, a year ago Florida traded the 15th pick to Los Angeles in exchange for the Kings' 1st round pick (#19) and a 2010 2nd round pick (#59).
And so we'll take a cruise through the various rounds to discuss some ideal North American targets.
If the Sabres hold their position in the first round, they are sure to walk away with a very competent forward. There are several compelling players I can write about in this spot, but I'll list five who really stand out as future difference makers.
1st round, 16th overall
Mark Scheifele, RC, Barrie Colts (OHL)
A complete player who kept improving as the year progressed, the Barrie Colts forward is in my opinion among the top-12 North American prospects lined up for the draft. The fact that he is right-handed makes him even more attractive at #16.
After de-committing from a scholarship to Cornell, the 6'2, 183-pounder entered the OHL with a bang in 2010-11 under the guidance of former Sabre Dale Hawerchuk. It was a muddy track all year for the Colts, winning just once every four times out, but Scheifele kept his head above water with 22 goals and 75 points against a steady diet of top defensive units. His consistency continued into the U18s, where he shined as Canada's best forward with six goals and two assists in the tourney's seven games.
The big-bodied pivot is rich in natural offensive talent. He's a powerful skater, seems to always know where his line mates are, and uncorks a heavy finishing shot. He's also proven solid in his own zone, with much of his two-way aptitude credited to him playing on the blueline up through bantam. He simply needs to add strength and become more explosive for his scoring line potential to be achieved.
I confidently take Scheifele at #16 and watch him get bigger and better over the next two seasons. My greatest fear is that he'll be picked before the Sabres are able to get to him, so I'm hoping the scouting Viagra from the U18's wears off by the time the first round gets under way.
Mark McNeill, RC, Prince Albert Raiders (WHL)
At 6'2, 201 pounds and a rock on the puck, McNeill would give the Sabres another skilled bull to roam the forward ranks. The Langley, BC product powered his way up draft lists this past season, more than tripling his rookie year totals with 32 goals and 81 points for the undermanned Raiders. Inside of that number was an impressive 20 points collected while closing the regular season on a 10-game point streak. With a build similar to Luke Adam (the pair has the exact same dimensions as 18 year-olds), McNeill carried his momentum into the postseason with five points in a first-round loss to Saskatoon. McNeill ended the year by joining Scheifele as a standout at U18s, picking up six assists to cement his mid-first round draft stature.
McNeill's size, toughness, and offensive skills would certainly fit the Sabres recent trend up front. At the same time, big, gritty centers that can score like Ryan Getzlaf are hard to find. It's abundantly clear that throwing McNeill into a mix with Ennis, Adam, Kassian, and Foligno would give the Sabres some serious positional balance in the prospect ranks for the first time in while, so I don't think they'll hesitate to snag him if Scheifele is off the board.
J.T. Miller, RW/LC, U.S. NTDP (USHL)
A big, strong forward with excellent playmaking skills, the 6'1 Miller mixes offense with plenty of jam. The Pittsburgh Hornets product scored 11 goals and 37 points in the USHL this past season before piling up another 12 points (4+8) to lead the USA to the gold medal at the 2011 Under-18 World Championship. Mix in his strength in the dirty areas and the four tilts on his season fight card, and it all adds up to a player that will fit right in with the current members of the Sabres training program.
Heading to the University of North Dakota but likely not for all four years, the Sabres just might see the improved left-hander as a future gem with a couple more years of seasoning. After all, Miller likes to drive hard and the Sioux play a power game in the highly competitive WCHA. The path seems to have worked for Drew Stafford.
Miller's hands and checking ability would provide productive, hard-hitting beef to the middle. His offensive game is simple – go hard to the net. If he does this consistently, he could develop into a Ryan Kesler-type of player for any team taking him. Why not the Sabres?
Bonus points for the Pittsburgh connection as a man with Pens connections, Terry Pegula, watches his first draft as owner of the Sabres.
Zack Phillips, RC, Saint John Sea Dogs (QMJHL)
An excellent two-way player and superb passer, Phillips remained in the center of the draft radar with a QMJHL season that saw him pot 38 goals and 95 points for the Memorial Cup winning Sea Dogs. Whether it's as a wing or his natural center position, the hard-working New Brunswick native is smart defensively and has proven to be a complete complementary player who consistently wins draws, shoots with accuracy, and makes wise decisions. With the Sabres having a scouting presence in the Maritimes, you can bet that they have a very good read on the 6'1 center. If they're like me, they don't think that he'll need a ton of time to develop.
Phillips was a smallish kid who thought for sure he'd go the NCCA route. He played New England prep at Lawrence Academy where he earned a scholarship to UMass, but then a growth spurt and trade of his rights to Saint John put him in the QMJHL on a roster with what could be four first-round picks in this draft. From there, he performed well in every situation he was put in – from the CHL Top Prospects Game to the Memorial Cup – and even rated well at the combine despite no time to prepare like most of his peers.
I like Phillips' all-around skill game enough for #16. Perhaps he isn't as explosive or aggressive as many would prefer, but he's highly competent in all three-zones and could be a future "glue guy" in the top-six with his skating, passing and finishing aptitude.
Matt Puempel, LW, Peterborough Petes (OHL)
Based on sheer goal scoring ability, Peterborough forward Matt Puempel is a name to consider when the Sabres hit the on-deck circle. The six-footer can skate and shoot lasers, and like last year when Colorado took lower ranked Joey Hishon at #17, the same range could see a team step up and take an average-sized triggerman that scored 67 goals in his first 114 OHL games.
The question mark is health. After passing his OHL Rookie of the Year totals with 34 goals and 69 points through 55 games, Puempel was forced to shut it down this past February to undergo surgery to repair a chipped hip bone. He interviewed at the combine but did not take part in workouts. While #16 could be high due to the uncertainty, it's hard to look away from the pre-injury explosiveness.
The Sabres likely appraised Puempel's jump while tracking Zack Kassian in his first post-draft year before the bruiser's trade to Windsor. Puempel came from the same AAA program as Kassian (Sun County) and trained with the Sabres prospect before joining him with the Petes. The pair even shares the same birth date (January 24th). Tell me this doesn't sound like a wildcard the Sabres need to consider.
***So what if they move down?
If the Sabres trade down to #20 or beyond, they'll likely do so knowing they will have a crack at one of the above players…or perhaps they have a dark horse in mind?
Shane Prince, LW, Ottawa 67's (OHL)
A native of Rochester, NY, the high scoring Prince opened the eyes of scouts by emerging as a top performer on a line with the OHL's leading goal and point man, Tyler Toffoli (LAK), and Oilers 2010 second rounder Ryan Martindale. The intense left wing slickly dished an impressive 63 assists (4th in OHL) en route to finishing 13th in scoring with 88 points. Goal scoring was talked about at the top, but it has been a while since the Sabres brought in a player with 60+ apples in his draft year.
In mid-March, Prince got smoked coming across the blueline by Niagara's Tim Billingsley. The hit, which resulted in a 10-game suspension for the IceDogs defender, put Prince on the shelf for nearly a month with a concussion and whiplash. He returned to play the 67's final three games of their disappointing playoffs, but didn't fully quell any health concerns until he showed up in excellent shape at the combine. Among the gamut of tests, Prince scored rather well in the strength (11 reps of 150 pounds on the bench) and endurance (12:00 on the bike) portions.
Noted for his blazing speed and ultra high compete level, Prince could slide down some lists due to his 5'11 frame. Regardless, he's well-tuned under the hood and will only get better as he becomes stronger on the puck. The Sabres brought the skilled playmaker in for a visit and I suspect Doug McKenney and the rest liked what they saw. What better way to celebrate their return to Rochester than taking a kid born and raised there who grew up a Sabres fan?
3rd round, 77th overall
Reid Boucher, LW, U.S. NTDP (USHL)
Need an efficient player who can score when the team needs it most? One of the youngest players in the draft pool (9/7/93 DOB), Boucher elevated his stock with 24 goals for the US-NTDP this past season. The Michigan State recruit continued his rise in April on a line with Miller and Rocco Grimaldi at the U18s, helping lead the way to gold with eight goals in six games. In all, the smallish battler scored 16 goals in 16 international games this past season to match the production of high-flying Grimaldi, all the while accounting for 17% of the NTDP's total offense.
Standing 5'10, 192 pounds, Boucher is more than just a clutch goal scorer. He works hard and finishes his hits, and will have plenty of time to add core strength, work on his skating, and improve his play away from the puck. The "it factor" makes me confident going with him if still available at #77, which coincidentally is close to where a 5'10, 195 pound college-bound star named Chris Drury was taken back in 1994 (74th overall).
Michael St. Croix, RC, Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL)
Another gifted right-hander, St. Croix enjoyed a 29-point spike in his second WHL season to finish with a line of 27-48-75 and a +28 rating. The 5'11, 180-pounder is a natural center, using his hands and vision to deliver crisp passes and accurately pick corners with a pretty hard shot. He's not a physical, power guy and doesn't have an elite gear, but he clearly has a good sense of the game which translates to a good job around the net.
It's tough to determine whether the nifty stickhandler will be available, but perhaps a combination of lack of international exposure and average build causes him to land in the Sabres lap. Along with Pysyk on the backend, a St. Croix pick would build a nice Sabres cluster on an Oil Kings club that should emerge as a serious contender in 2011-12. The instincts are present for a scoring line career, so like current Sabres prospect Kevin Sundher, maybe it's just a matter of playing with more fire and showing a little more battle as the important minutes come. Good value here.
Nick Cousins, LC, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (OHL)
The 5'11 Cousins is a tough opponent thanks to his mix of agitation and offense. In other words, he's a pest who can score. After a regular season that saw him pot 29 goals, including a team-best 12 on the PP, and a total of 68 points for the lowly Greyhounds, Cousins continued his rise when he worked his way from Canada's third line to the #1 unit to score 4+4 at the U18s. His hard-working style makes him an appealing player in the middle rounds as the Sabres look to blend more speed and gritty versatility into the size and toughness.
Continued statistical ramp-up is expected in his next junior seasons, but it's hard to forecast loads of offense as a pro. A better projection could be a third-line energy type who can add a little spice here and there, whether it's drawing a penalty or cashing a timely tally. A player once committed to the University of Michigan, Cousins' statistical comparable might be a player in the mold of former Michigan State forward Corey Tropp, the Sabres 2007 3rd round pick who scored 26-36-62 in his draft year.
Logan Shaw, RW, Cape Breton Screaming Eagles (QMJHL)
I'm really not sure where the demand level will be for Shaw, but he's of interest if still available into the third round. At 6'3, 197 pounds, the Nova Scotian is a big winger with decent feet and a quick release who churned out 26 goals and 46 points this past season for the lowly Screaming Eagles. The reason a player of his size and scoring aptitude could slide is that his physical game often falls short of what his frame suggests. With the two-way tools in place though, increased body work could see him develop into serviceable middle line player.
Compared to last year when he was a budding forward on a roster with Luke Adam, Jacob Lagace, and Maxime Legault, Shaw looks like a more confident player. His acceleration is noticeably stronger and he's getting more shots on net. The latter was impacted by a sharp increase in ice time, which is sure to continue in the 2011-12 season – his fourth in the league. The Sabres are aware of this October-born project. If they like him, he'll become a candidate for 2012-13 AHL duty.
William Karlsson, LC, Vasteras (Sweden)
If the Sabres are going to pull the trigger on a European, Karlsson may be the type of player to open the hatch. A crash-and-bang speedster with two-way smarts, Karlsson racked up 20 goals and 54 points in 38 games this past season for Vasteras of Sweden's top junior league. The 6'0, 185-pound pivot continued to use his hands and energy to produce two goals and three assists as Sweden won silver at the U18s.
Karlsson has excellent stickhandling skills, makes nifty passes, and isn't afraid to hit high-traffic areas to make plays. Time will tell if the Sabres, who have drafted from Vasteras before (Dennis Persson, 2006), are keen to adding this fast-paced flavor to the middle of their prospect mix. With Karlsson under contract Vasteras for two years and Vasteras not qualifying for the Eliterserien next season, his 2011-12 development will occur against second level competition of the Allsvenskan.
***4th round, 107th overall
Shane McColgan, RW, Kelowna Rockets (WHL)
McColgan is a speedster who could have a legitimate shot of becoming a scoring line pro if he can achieve some consistency. The shifty product of the LA Jr. Kings has amassed 135 points in his first two WHL seasons, including a 2009-10 campaign that saw him finish as runner up to Ryan Nugent-Hopkins for rookie of the year, but didn't hit the upward trajectory that many were expecting in 2010-11. After posting 21-45-66, McColgan upped the ante by ripping off eight goals and 11 assists in 10 postseason games for the Rockets.
The real issue here is size. He knows what to do with the puck, but the feisty forward is a smallish 5'8, 165-pounds. He needs to get stronger and continue playing bigger like he did during the playoffs, and more importantly carry the strong finish into next season if he's going to get the shot his skills deserve.
The elusive wheels and vision make you wonder if back-to-back seasons of 65+ points are worth considering for a Sabres club looking for offense. With a scout nearby, the Sabres will have better intelligence on him than any other team making picks. His skills have me thinking of him at #77, but I'm slotting him here to match a lower risk with the potentially high reward.
Steven Fogarty, RC, Edina Hornets, (MN-HS)
Despite missing an opportunity to snatch a strong Notre Dame forward in 2010 (Riley Sheahan), the Sabres could be in line for another crack by targeting Irish commit Steven Fogarty. A 6'2 power forward in the making, Fogarty rolled through Minnesota's class AA ranks this past season with 26 goals and 51 points in 30 games, amounting for over 20% of Edina's offense along the way.
Fogarty is strong down low, likes the physical game, and obviously has a decent set of hands. He recorded three hat tricks this past season, including a four-goal game, and a total of nine multi-point contests. The Mr. Hockey award finalist joined the USHL's Chicago Steel for six games at the end of the season, scoring two goals, and is set to return for a full year of Jr. "A" to improve his skating before entering the CCHA in fall 2012.
There's a chance that Fogarty is moved out to wing as his career progresses, but regardless of where he plays, he's got the size and tools that could project nicely four years down the line.
Zac Larraza, LW, US NTSP (USHL)
A hard working wing, Larraza is a legit mid-round target due to his size and blue collar attitude. The 6'2, 195-pound Arizona product was a consistent two-way force this past season for the NTDP. After scoring just 12 goals and 20 points over the past two seasons in Ann Arbor, Larraza likely moved up draft lists with a strong showing at the U18s. His energy game produced a goal and four assists at the tourney, including a clutch shorthanded marker against Canada that started with his own shot block.
Hockey clubs will always need responsible depth players to satisfy middle line roles. An intelligent player who competes hard, Larazza will take his speedy effort to Denver of the WCHA this fall where he'll develop under the same roof that produced Chris Butler.
Andrew Fritsch, RW, Owen Sound Attack (OHL)
Arriving in an early season trade with Niagara, the efficient Fritsch quickly clicked with Garrett Wilson and Joey Hishon, scoring 27 goals and 35 assists for the OHL Champions before getting sidelined by a late-season lower body injury. The two-way forward returned in the final series, producing limited numbers but having a clear impact on flow of the offense. The Brantford native went on to score a goal and an assist in four games at the Memorial Cup.
Quick-footed with an average frame, the 6'0 Fritsch could last to this point depending on how much credit evaluators give to him versus his line mates. Teams value responsible guys who can skate and finish so he's a logical target for the Sabres as the better scorers start disappearing. If selected in this spot, it would be the second consecutive year that the Sabres have used a fourth rounder on a member of the Attack (Shipley).
***5th round, 137th overall
Matt Mahalak, G, Plymouth Whalers (OHL)
An athletic 6'3 netminder from the Whaler goaltender factory (Michal Neuvirth, Justin Peters, Jeremy Smith, Matt Hackett, Scott Wedgewood), Mahalak maintained his well-thought-of draft stature with a solid rookie finish for the OHL's Whalers. The Toledo, OH native, who played at Culver (IN) Military Academy and then with the USHL's Youngstown Phantoms before heading to major-junior, eased his way through eight games but quickly warmed during the important part of his draft year, peaking with a .934 save percentage in 15 starts after January 1st.
A bright student off the ice, the disciplined Mahalak is a big butterfly goaltender with an excellent glove. He looks strong in the nets, moving well with the play and making himself big when challenging. He's just a promising young goaltender who should keep getting better, making him a great choice in the thick of day two. Notable Regier goaltenders taken in the neighborhood of this pick include Ryan Miller (138th, 1999) and Brad Eidsness (139th, 2007).
Brent Andrews, LC, Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)
Andrews is a hard-working, two-way forward who does many things well. Not a flashy offensive contributor but more of a role player, the PEI native scored 12 goals and 29 points this past season for the Mooseheads. Perhaps his most sparkling stat was finishing 11th in the league in faceoffs with a 55% success rate. Once a highly rated prospect in the QMJHL draft (15th overall in 2009), Andrews came through with a strong checking line performance at the U18s.
At 6'1, 198-pounds, Andrews is confident in his base execution. He finishes hits, kills penalties, and plays smart with the puck on his stick so now what you want to see more of his shooting and skating games to produce a statistical bloom. I think he represents a good value pickup in the second half of the draft based on his proficiency down the middle.
Troy Vance, RHD, Victoriaville Tigres (QMJHL)
Fairly mobile in his 6'6, 205-pound frame, Vance packs the potential of an active shutdown defender with intriguing offensive upside. The 17-year old arrived in January to sturdy up the Tigres blueline, racking up a +8 rating and four points (1+3) in 23 games. Vance continued his upward trend in the playoffs, notching another four points (1+3) in nine contests before bowing out in the second round to Saint John.
The Pennsylvania native isn't classified as nasty but has shown the ability to line up some impressive open ice hits in his brief QMJHL career. General smarts compliment his huge frame so added strength to the legs and upper body could be the developmental key as teams eye him on day two. He doesn't turn 18 until August, so he'll have two solid years of QMJHL action to put it all together.
Colin Smith, RC, Kamloops Blazers (WHL)
Much like fellow Edmonton native Tyler Ennis, the 5'10, 170-pound Smith is a slippery, undersized playmaker who has the offensive skills to be a breakout junior player. Smith finished third in scoring for the Blazers this past season, collecting 21 goals and an even 50 points while appearing in all 72 games. He caught fire as the season progressed, ripping off 26 points (14+12) in 27 games after January 1st before cooling off in the final two weeks as the Blazers faded down the stretch. With Kamloops out of the playoffs, Smith finished his season with two goals and an assist for Canada at U18s.
Smith's game is marked by quick feet that allow for separation and an ability to be a pest without the puck. An all-around catalyst, he also thinks the game well. He makes plays at speed and will try to spark things physically despite his small stature. The addition of strength will only make him a better battler, but for now he relies on his high compete level to absorb the physical grind. Anywhere after the top-100 seems about right for the talented yet smallish forward.
***6th round, 167th overall
Michael King, RHD, Westside Warriors (BCHL)
My token BCHL selection comes in the form of Colorado College commit Michael King. A 6'4, 205-pound defenseman, King is physical, mobile, and likes to get involved in the offensive end of the ice. Chosen by Kootenay in the 3rd round of the 2008 WHL draft, the rookie rearguard instead attaracted NCAA offers by scoring five goals and 18 assists in 48 games this past season for the Kelowna-based Westside Warriors.
King, who would likely be talked about much higher if he had played WHL champions this season, is expected to play one more year in the BCHL before hitting the WCHA in 2012. For a Sabres team that really isn't in a hurry to push defensemen through the system, this big, well-rounded package is one to consider late given the extended path of development.
Mike Pereira, LW, University of Massachusetts Minutemen (Hockey East)
Passed over in 2010, Pereira followed his strong finish in the New England prep ranks with an excellent freshman year in Hockey East this past season. Speedy with a nice set of hands and noticeably bigger, the 5'11 wing tied the team lead with 12 goals to finish third on the Minuteman in scoring with 23 points. Pereira is sure to score some clutch goals in the coming years, so the sixth round would be a wise buy to snatch a player who just a year ago was invited to the NHL combine.
An injury that limited his combine participation (and perhaps his decision to attend a second-tier program) may have hurt his draft prospects in his first run, but there is no excuse for him to go un-tabbed this summer. The 19-year-old clicked on 14% of his shots on goal as a freshman and should only become a better all-around player by the time he's through in Amherst. A definite development camp candidate if he goes undrafted.
Barclay Goodrow, LW, Brampton Battalion (OHL)
A big-bodied shooter who scored 67 goals in 71 games as midget before entering the OHL, Goodrow could make sense for the Sabres in the later rounds if they think they can refine his footwork. The Aurora, Ontario native got his draft year off to a slow start with just five goals in his first 24 games, but eventually cut loose to snipe 15 in his next 25 to re-emerge as a legit scoring threat. Finishing as the Battalion's leading goal man with 25 in 65 regular season games, the 6'2, 208 pound wing was unable to get anything going in a first-round playoff loss to Niagara.
Goodrow, whose skating remains choppy while adjusting to a recent growth spurt, is sure to toss his weight around a little more as his game develops. Based on his offensive tendencies and the fact that he's sure to see a ton of time for the Battalion, the size and upside around the paint makes him an interesting candidate when rounding out the draft class.
Dillon Donnelly, LHD, Shawinigan Cataractes (QMJHL)
Born in Buffalo while father Gord helped patrol the Sabres blueline in the early '90s, the 6'2, 193-pounder brings the exact same aggressive element to the Cataractes. Known for hitting ability and willingness to drop the mitts (35 fights in his first two QMJHL seasons), the hard-nosed bloodlines have bred a stay-at-home protector that could prove to be solid sixth-round value if he masters the simple game.
One of the youngest players in the draft (9/7/03 DOB – same as Boucher), Donnelly will get some big game experience as part of his development cycle when Shawi hosts the 2012 Memorial Cup. Until then, he'll be expected to work on his skating and decision making while maintaining his fearless edge.
***7th round, 197th overall
Yannick Veilleux, LW, Shawinigan Cataractes (QMJHL)
An average skating forward who employs a physical brand, Veilleux has the offensive potential to make a late-round chance look astute a few years down the road. The 6'2, 190-pounder got off to a hot start this past season scoring six goals in his first six games on a line with Michal Bournival (MTL), but faded in the final months to finish with 19 goals (10 on the PP) and 48 points.
The former #2 pick in the QMJHL draft, Veilleux has the instincts to approach the 30/65 ranges with another year of hitting hard and keeping the puck down low. It's that nose for the net and willingness to get involved that puts him in the discussion if still lingering in the final rounds.
Maxime Lagacé, G, PEI Rocket (QMJHL)
A big, quick goalie with excellent reflexes, Lagacé won eight of his 12 starts as a QMJHL rookie while serving as backup to veteran Evan Mosher. His stats weren't mouthwatering (3.59 GAA, .884 sv%) along the way, but there's a Prior to entering the QMJHL, the Saint-Augustin, Que. native led Quebec midget AAA in goals-against-average (1.87) and save percentage (.930), and finished second in wins (18).
Lagacé is focused in the crease, reading the play well while using fast legs and gloves when challenging. Increased leg strength will help his lateral quicks and contribute to better overall movement as his career progresses. Lagacé has the build and technique to be a quality find once worked on, and with limited viewings on the Island, it's plausible that the athletic 6'2 netminder is available if the Sabres want him.
Tyler Graovac, RC, Ottawa 67's (OHL)
A tall, fluid skater, the 6'4, 180-pound Graovac represents an intriguing option down the middle as day two comes to a close. He didn't post blistering offensive numbers this past season in Ottawa, contributing a modest 10 goals and 11 assists, nor did scouts have an opportunity to watch him compete in the playoffs due to a broken arm, but the Brampton native has hinted at an untapped, two-way offensive package that could be close to a break out.
Over the next two seasons, you want to see him use his size, play with more grit, and capitalize on his scoring line minutes whether it comes at center or wing. He's another player that I'd like to see invited to development camp if he goes undrafted.
Nathan Lieuwen, G, Kootenay ICE (WHL)
An athletic 6'5 netminder, Lieuwen was once a highly rated draft prospect that saw his stock fall due to a concussion in his draft year. It took some time to regain his consistency, but he evolved into a reliable force in his third draft eligible season. After posting 33 wins and a 2.79 goals against average behind a Brayden McNabb-led defense, the refreshed 19-year old earned WHL playoff MVP honors by backstopping the ICE to their third Memorial Cup appearance.
Lieuwen is still somewhat of a raw goaltending prospect. His lateral movement needs work and he seems to have an issue catching the puck. I'm not sure how far he can take his game, but the huge stopper could theoretically be your stopgap #2 in the AHL next season. Think of him late as a "let's see if he develops" type of pick if other options have been exhausted.