Monday, June 4, 2012

Buffalo Sabres 2012 Draft Preview

“Starting today, the Buffalo Sabres reason for existence will be to win the Stanley Cup” – T. Pegula, 2/22/11

The Buffalo Sabres enter the 2012 draft months removed from a disappointing ninth place finish in the NHL’s Eastern Conference, three points shy of the final playoff spot. 
More importantly, the draft marks the beginning of the pivotal middle frame of the Pegula Plan – the three-year “win it all” mandate laid out at the owner’s now-famous February 2011 introduction. 

Terry Pegula is an entrepreneur and a family man. The visit paid to Robyn Regehr during last year’s draft was a business trip with a family touch (because let’s face it, the players’ wives make the decisions these days). 

Along those lines, family-style loyalty has been extended to the decision makers of his on-ice product, Darcy Regier and Lindy Ruff, despite the first-year burns. Perhaps with shorter leashes, the business model rolls on with no change of faces in key positions.

But when Pegula rolls over at night, the business man has to be stirring. The passionate rookie owner can’t be happy with the club’s failure to bank postseason revenue despite forking over millions on plush arena amenities and a well-advertised payroll. Rome wasn’t built in a day, but Sabres fans should fully expect his instincts to explore new avenues in order to successfully execute his plan.

So where does that leave the players?

Team President Ted Black has stated that Regier is out to make the Sabres “hard to play against”. It seems obvious that the inherited core is not hard to play against

Darcy Regier has said they are in the market for “the right center”. Tyler Ennis (RFA) sparked the team late and Cody Hodgson will be given time to qualify the investment. Where does that leave Derek Roy in what could be a productive contract year?

In the end, Ryan Miller can no longer be the sole identity of your franchise. That idea was trampled last November. What you’re left with is a team that hasn’t won a playoff series in five years; one that hasn’t even qualified for the chance in three of them.

The Sabres got a beautiful new locker room that already needs a facelift.

After witnessing the last twelve months for the Los Angeles Kings, a mediocre squad who boldly rounded out their identity via trades to become a gritty, tough team to deal with, the Sabres could again be thinking big when it comes to changing out parts. Recent acquisitions patched bruises on the apple but did not displace the core.

I have quite a few ideas for what I would do if in charge at One Seymour H. Knox III Plaza, but I digress. That’s what the rest of the internet is for.

Let’s talk about the draft.


In the wallet
The Sabres will enter Consol Energy Center on June 22nd holding nine picks:

1st round: #12
1st round (from NSH): #21*
2nd round: #42
2nd round (from CAL): #44**
3rd round: #73
5th round: #133
6th round: #163
7th round: #193
7th round (FLA from CHI): #204^

*acquired in exchange for Paul Gaustad and 2013 4th round pick
**acquired along with Robyn Regehr for Chris Butler, Paul Byron, and Ales Kotalik
^acquired in exchange for negotiating rights to Steve Montador

The Sabres 4th round pick was traded to the NY Islanders for the rights to Christian Ehrhoff.

The last time….
  • the draft was held in Pittsburgh was 1997 - Darcy Regier's first as Sabres GM
    • his first pick was Finnish G Mika Noronen (21st overall)
  •         the Sabres finished with the 12th pick was 1993
    • the pick, eventually used to select Kenny Jonsson, had previously been dealt to Toronto on 2/9/93 along with Dave Andreychuk and Darren Puppa in exchange for Grant Fuhr and a 5th round pick (Kevin Popp)
  • the Sabres picked 12th was 2008 when they chose Tyler Myers
    • (entered draft with 13th pick)
  • the Sabres had four picks in top 60 was 2001
    • Novotny - 1st; Roy, Thorburn, Pominville - 2nd
The Sabres under Darcy Regier (1997-present)…
  • have made 128 draft picks, with 52 appearing in NHL (41% success rate)
  • Drafted and developed 20 of 35 players who wore the Sabres sweater in 2011-12 (57%)
    • 13 from the CHL (QMJHL – 4, OHL – 5, WHL – 4)
    • 5 from the NCAA/Jr. "A"
    • 2 from Europe (SWE, SVK)
  • have selected one player from Europe in the last five drafts (Armia)
    • the fewest of any NHL club
  • have never selected a player from the BCHL  
    • the NCAA feeder has had 71 players drafted since 2000

Devine Intervention

When the NHL draft was shortened to seven rounds coming out of the 2005 lockout, the idea of hitting homers with fewer swings presented an even greater challenge for the Sabres, whose paltry bankroll put a focus on development from within.

Business 101 tells you that, along with limited eyes filing reports, the Sabres had one of the smallest scouting budgets in the entire league. Even if they wanted to jam the bandwidth of their bird dogs, opportunities to attend a few extra prospect tournaments weren’t always available. 

Things have obviously changed per the direction of Pegula. With new eyes covering more ice in places like New England, Ontario, the Midwest, and Europe (for both the pro and amateur fronts), the Sabres are set for deeper discussions about defensemen with good size, feet, and intelligence, forwards who consistently generate plays up ice, and big goalies whose leg strength and mental wares outweigh the skills of certain skaters.

But even if things didn’t change, I’d still expect the Sabres to continue finding value with a lean staff headed by Kevin Devine. 

Since being named Director of Amateur Scouting at the start of the 2006-07 campaign, Devine has made 37 picks – with an impressive nine (24%) already playing a combined 586 NHL games.

While QMJHL roots of Devine and Al MacAdam have run strong with nine picks (including a 2010 third rounder who scored 28 goals from the blueline), it’s his delegation elsewhere that really has the Sabres moving in the right direction.

The western success due in part to Edmonton-based Craig Benning and Kelowna Rockets assistant Kim Gellert has previously been cited. After the Sabres ignored the WHL from 2005-2007, first-round selections of Tylers Myers and Ennis (2008) and Mark Pysyk (2010), and a trio of mid-rounders that includes Brayden McNabb have created a productive trend. Six of the Sabres last 15 picks have come from “the Dub”, including two who were scouted in the Memorial Cup (Nathan Lieuwen and Matt MacKenzie). 

Iourri Khmylev and Eric Weissman should also be commended for their OHL work. The fruits of their labor have included a first-rounder that eventually netted Cody Hodgson (Kassian), a fourth-round steal (Foligno), and a sixth-rounder who led OHL defensemen in scoring (Crawford). Add in 2011 dynamics of Dan Catenacci and sturdy blueliner Alex Lepkowski and the team has chosen wisely from the nearby circuit.

Another Devine-ism worth mentioning is the recent trend of taking 19 and 20-year old players in the last two rounds. Perhaps it’s a way to get late value with a more mature asset, but over the last three years the Sabres have selected five players (2 G, 3 F) 19 or 20 years of age with a sixth or seventh round pick.

Depth chart (as of 6/1/2012)

Center of Attention

The Sabres top center prospects blend speed, distribution skills, and a developing finishing ability. While talent is present, size is not. 

The bulk of their middle-ice production comes from players six-feet and under who project more to the middle lines. Kevin Sundher made some excellent “pro” plays this season, but is not imposing in his six-foot frame. Catenacci led all Sabres prospects with 33 goals, but stands just 5’10” tall. Former San Jose pick Phil Varone dished his way to the Amerks team lead with 52 points. He also checks in at 5’10”. 

Shift to the top club, where the tandem of Ennis (5’9”) and Hodgson (6’0”) tote creative style but barely hit the preferred measurements. They follow in the footsteps of 5’9” Derek Roy. 
In fact, cutting Steven Shipley loose dispatched the biggest center in the system.

Every team can say this every year, but the Sabres need a big, #1 center prospect.

Give Me Wings

The Sabres have an interesting mix brewing down the wings, ranging from emerging banger Marcus Foligno and gritty Corey Tropp to big-bodied sniper Joel Armia. Luke Adam, not included on the chart due to him already playing over 70 NHL games, adds another beefy frame that, with re-gained confidence, should have a role in the league. 

Once you get past those four, though, there is a precipitous drop-off in talent thanks to the Kassian trade that the team is sure to address.

Would the Sabres welcome more size and grit on both sides? Yes, of course. Team toughness is improving, but the more the merrier when it comes to adding skilled battlers.

Do they need more scoring? Absolutely yes, especially considering that for the second straight year the Sabres lacked a 30-goal wing prospect.

Balancing the Blue

Remember when Craig Rivet was traded to Buffalo in July of 2008? 

Many were just as excited about his right-handed stick as they were his experience. Once a side of need, the RHD could soon be an area of relative strength with Tyler Myers extended beyond his salad days and promising rookies Mark Pysyk and Jerome Gauthier-Leduc joining the mix in 2012-13. For good measure, Matt MacKenzie looks like a reliable depth player a few years down the line barring no further setbacks.

The lefties feature Brayden McNabb and T.J. Brennan (RFA), while Alex Lepkowski brings size and raw potential to (what should be) his final year of junior. With McNabb looking to be in the top-four next season and Brennan still on the cusp, the Sabres should be in the market for left-handed talent.

If the Sabres don’t move any contracts, then the blueline can be less of a focus at the top of the draft. They’re entering the offseason with seven one-way deals, including two – Myers and Ehrhoff – locked in for two of the top-six spots for the next seven years. You can never have enough rearguards but it seems the mix of skills give McNabb, Pysyk, and Leduc an inside track on claiming three other spots a few years down the line barring trades. 

Crease Size Matters

By now it’s well established that the new NHL model involves big, athletic netminders with long limbs and a head that pokes above the crossbar when in the butterfly. In fact, just four of the top-30 statistical leaders at the position this past season were listed under the six-foot mark (Thomas, Halak, Theodore, Backstrom – all 5’11”).

The Sabres followed the trend this offseason, shoring up their depth between the pipes by inking a pair of former sixth rounders in 6’6 Connor Knapp (two-year ELC) and 6’5 Nathan Lieuwen (three-year ELC). Despite fitting the new mold, the magic question remains whether or not either can be labeled “the next one”.

Breaking the trend

When it comes to goaltending, a pattern has emerged since the lockout that has me penciling in at least two goaltenders being taken in the first 30 picks.

2006 – four in first 26 picks, plus two in 2nd round (Jhonas Enroth at #46)
2007 – none taken in 1st round, four taken in 2nd
2008 – four taken in first 34 picks, plus two more taken in 2nd
2009 – none taken in 1st round, two in 2nd, four in 3rd
2010 – two in the first 27 picks, plus two in 2nd round
2011 – none taken in 1st round, three taken in 2nd (38th, 39th, 49th)

Ironically, the Devine era has seen a goaltender taken every other year – and it has been the “off year” per the aforementioned trend – 2007 (Eidsness), 2009 (Knapp), and 2011 (Lieuwen).
It all suggests that Buffalo will shy away from the position altogether in 2012, right? Not so fast.

Employing a “best player available” philosophy with nine picks in hand could lead them to adding another goaltender now. In the spirit of achieving competition from top-to-bottom, it would make sense as Ryan Miller (two years to UFA) and Jhonas Enroth (one year to RFA) play out their existing deals. 

Any goalie taken likely won’t arrive on the scene until two years from now, right around the time that Knapp’s deal expires and Lieuwen enters his final year. With the amateur ranks currently without a Sabres goalie prospect next fall, and by the way an already juicy skater crop being forecasted for 2013, it makes you wonder what’s best for the business. 

Devine stated that the Sabres didn’t “need” a goalie last year but still took one. The strategy is only reasonable if there is one they really like.

The Class of 2012
Five things that make this group interesting:
  • Lauded for being heavier than usual with defensive prospects, the 2012 draft should eclipse the class of ’08 that saw 12 D taken in the first round
-       D are abundant but superstar potential is limited
-       four of the first five picks may actually be forwards

  • The consensus #1 North American goalie, Malcolm Subban, comes from the OHL
-       While producing prolific skaters, the OHL has produced just one goalie since 2002 that has played more than 20 NHL games (Steve Mason)

  • Legacy: Along with several nephews and cousins with NHL ties, the class features highly-ranked sons of former NHLers Griffin Reinhart (Paul), Stefan Matteau (Stephane), Tim Bozon (Philippe), Henrik Samuelsson (Ulf), Lukas Sutter (Rich), and Max Iafrate (Al)
-       all should be selected in the first three rounds

  • Injuries to highly ranked skaters throughout the year caused limited viewing scenarios, thus creating several potential wildcards among the first 50 picks
  • All play in the CHL but none of Central Scouting’s top-four North American forwards are actually Canadian (Yakupov, Grigorenko, Galchenyuk, Faksa)
-       2012 could be the first ever draft that sees zero Canadian-born forwards taken in the top-10

Leaving Home

After years of limited quality making the jump, more and more top-end foreigners are arriving in North American for their draft year to adjust to smaller rinks, and more importantly, endear themselves to NHL scouts.

The 2011 draft yielded a resounding five European players from NA juniors in the first round. The class of ’12 is set up to better that with as many as seven possibly going in the top-30, including four who should fall within the top half of the round.

It’s a trend worth talking about since every draft from 2001-2010 saw either two or fewer #1s spent on Europeans playing in North America.  Despite an unsavory bite from the apple with one of those picks (Zagrapan), the Sabres are going to have options that fall into this bucket at both 12th and 21st.

The value of the Euro and the Russian Factor

With North America well-covered, Devine’s next acts could involve a European flavor. Recent draft history shows just two top-12 “misses” from European leagues since 2000, and the Sabres could again tilt that way after looking to Finland a year ago for the team’s next top-line threat. (Recent activity suggests they’ll be a player in the growing market of late-blooming free agents as well.)

The bigger question is whether or not Regier will continue to dodge the talented Russians. It has been over a decade since the team drafted and developed a Russian (Afinogenov, Kalinin), and given the Sabres’ reluctance to select one since 2005, it seems that something may have to give if Regier wishes to jump into the elite tier of players.

The 2012 class has a heavy Russian influence at the top that is hard to ignore, and a deeper dive finds another who scored 40 QMJHL goals and the OT winner in the Memorial Cup final a year after getting passed over in his first draft (Anton Zlobin).

Russians present cultural concerns that make having a strong dressing room a requirement. There’s that whole KHL concern that could complicate future contract dealings. There was the Hangover 3 thanks to Nashville’s playoff debacle. 

But perhaps Pegula and Black’s connections to Pittsburgh bring to memory a kid named Malkin who helped turn that franchise into an annual contender? It’s worth trying to triangulate and rationalize.

It all comes down to the research conducted, the discussions with coaches and agents, and the pre-draft interview process.

America’s Got Talent

USA Hockey has made advances internationally, earning four consecutive IIHF U18 gold medals and two of the last eight U20 titles. The USA has also made advances at the NHL draft.

After 11 first round picks in 2010, last year’s crop yielded just five worthy of a spot in the top-30. In all a total of 60 Americans were taken in 2011, including an impressive 28 from the USHL, the country’s Jr. “A” engine centered in the Midwest. Another successful driver is the U.S. National Team Development Program, which fields a team in the USHL and has several alumni in the NHL including Nathan Gerbe.

2012 is expected to resemble the 2011 class, with five or fewer projected to go in round one but a healthy dose of American talent rounding out the final six rounds. 

Day One

Why trading up makes sense

Rational: aside from maybe wanting to add a lefty, the Sabres seem well enough on D to the point that targeting high-end offensive artillery makes great sense. They hold the assets to get into the upper tier.

Sabres historical: this will be the sixth time in 43 drafts that the franchise goes in with multiple first round picks – and they’ve used the first pick on D/G all five times heading in.

NHL historical: a defensemen has been selected with the 12th pick in nine of the last 11 drafts

“Panic doesn’t seem to work” – T. Pegula, 2/22/11, via Art Rooney

Picking 12th is no reason to panic, but if I’m casting a line off Pegula’s yacht into a sea with hundreds of fish, knowing that there a scant few who are bigger and better than the others, I’m putting as much bait on the hook as possible to angle my way into that honey hole.

Consider this:

The top-10 statistical centers last season performed at an average size of 6’2”, 203 pounds.
-       Eight of the 10 were drafted 1st, 2nd, or 3rd overall
o   Another was taken 11th  (Anze Kopitar)
-       Seven of the 10 have played in the Stanley Cup finals
-       Four of the seven have won the Cup
-       List does not include Sidney Crosby (1st overall, won Cup, barely impacts avg. size)

Meanwhile, it has been 25 years since the Sabres last drafted a franchise center, Pierre Turgeon (1987). He was taken 1st overall.


The Sabres may not have to go all the way to #1 to catch that coveted pivot, but they’ll need to get close.

It’s assumed that Russian scorer Nail Yakupov goes off the board quickly. An explosive right wing, the 5’10 sniper has collected 170 points in two years with the Sarnia Sting. Great offensive instincts and an immediate increase in team speed go to whoever takes him. I’ve never really pictured him in blue and gold, but he’ll undoubtedly step right in and stack 75 NHL goals before his 21st birthday (just like fellow former Sting forward, Steven Stamkos).

A player who theoretically could prevent Yakupov from going 1st is Everett defenseman Ryan Murray, another who will step right into the NHL. Murray lacks offensive superstar potential but shows the poise and defending skills that teams who finish low in the standings crave. He played in six games at the World Championship prompting Oilers President of Hockey Operations Kevin Lowe to call him “a top player in the draft”, but many question whether he’s done enough to unseat the Russian gunner. 

The ideal situation sees the Sabres trading up to #2, taking away the unknown of what Montreal (3rd) and the Islanders (4th) will do. There is history with Columbus that makes you think that the two clubs will definitely be talking. At the very least they will need to get in ahead of Brian Burke’s Maple Leafs at #5. 

If the going rate to move up a 2-3 spots has been a 1st round pick + a 2nd/3rd  round pick, then one can assume that adding another high pick plus a player and/or prospect to that base would be a minimum requirement to go from 12th into top five territory. 

For me, it’s a two horse race if the Sabres are looking to go up and get their man. Both will play at the requisite height and weight when they hit their 20’s, and both employ a determined two-way style that is the key for a successful NHL center.

Grade “A”

Alex Galchenyuk – C, 6’2, 205 lbs., Sarnia (OHL)

I’ve been waiting two years to say this:

SabresProspects fully endorses Alex Galchenyuk as the Sabres top target in the 2012 draft.

Despite missing nearly the entire 2011-12 season due to a torn left ACL, Galchenyuk still scores very high on the Sabres wish list thanks to his superb offensive skills and ability to play a strong 200-foot game. It’s a complete toolset of brilliance and toughness.

Born in Milwaukee and raised in Belarus, Galchenyuk moved back to North America in 2009 as a 15-year old and immediately made waves with 44 goals and 87 points in 38 games with the Chicago Young Americans. Inspired to play in the OHL all along, the hard-working gem became a member of the Sarnia Sting the following season, getting scouts lathered up with a very strong finish en route to scoring 31 goals and 83 points as a 17-year old alongside fellow high-roller Nail Yakupov.

Galchenyuk rates highly in all the areas you’d expect from a high first rounder. He’s incredibly clever with the puck. He controls sharp shooting and passing skills at top speed. He embraces and initiates the physical side. His overall sense and consistently high effort level has scoring line potential written all over it. Being half- Russian and half-American doesn’t scare me one bit. 

Scouts have compared Galchenyuk’s hard working, high character ability to that of Ron Francis, a hall of famer center that Regier long coveted but could never acquire. Here is that golden opportunity to go get a tenacious competitor that fits right in to what the Sabres are building. 

And hey – remember that 6’2, 203-pound average? The kid is cut. He’s healed. He’s tough. Go get him.

Filip Forsberg – C, 6’2”, 181 lbs., Leksands (Allsvenskan)

The talented Swede, who was recently named the top forward at the IIHF U18 World Championship, has the do-it-all make-up to someday anchor an NHL club. A dynamic power forward, Forsberg is a consistent two-way battler who uses straight-line speed to beat defenders to the net. He’ll put up points and shut down the opponent’s top lines.

The nifty stickhandler has played all three forward positions over the past few seasons, but projects very well as a center. In conjunction with his five-goal, seven-point performance at the U18s, Forsberg used his size and skating to dominate the 2011 Memorial of Ivan Hlinka. He recorded an assist and 15 shots on goal in six games as Sweden marched to the gold medal at the U20 World Junior Championship.

Forsberg’s skill and strength package at a young age (he turns 18 in August) compares similarly to Gabriel Landeskog. Unlike Landeskog, who went to the NHL directly from Kitchener, Forsberg is currently slated to remain in Sweden to play out the final year of his contract. 

The kid can shoot and has the ability to dominate down low. If you can’t get Galchenyuk, Forsberg represents a desirable option worth an aggressive pursuit.


It's time for the annual cruise through the draft, where we have the Sabres looking for skill, mobile defenders, and guys who can create chaos in front of the opposing goal. 

1st round, 12th overall

Teuvo Teravainen – LW/C, 5’11, 180 lbs., Jokerit (SM-liiga)

Slick and creative, Teravainen’s playmaking instincts and excellent puck control could make the Sabres look to Finland’s top league for the second straight season – especially if they are unable to trade into the top-five. In fact, they may have to bump their way up a few spots to safely snatch the SM-Liiga rookie of the year.

Teravainen lacks the ideal size and physicality of what the Sabres are looking for, but his tremendous quickness in hands (super fast), feet, and mind make him a threat anytime he has the puck on his stick. He’s a top-notch skater who snaps accurate passes. He’s deadly on the power play. Give him some years to fill out and add depth to his shot and you have yourself a very interesting candidate for scoring line duty, as evidenced by his 11 goals and 13:40 average TOI as a 17-year old in Finland’s top league.

Interestingly enough, the Finnish surname Teravainen translates to “sharp little thing”. It holds true on the ice, as the slick forward has his head up ready to make a play regardless of where he lines up (line juggler’s dream). He controls the game so well that he’d be a dangerous NHL center with quick-fire wingers. 

The Sabres already have Finnish trigger Armia ready to fire down the right side. Wouldn’t it be something to see the pair togehter this winter at the U20’s as an exciting advertisement for Pegulaville?

Cody Ceci – RHD, 6’3, 207 lbs., Ottawa (OHL)

Anyone who watched Ceci glide into the zone and uncork his booming slapper knows that this kid has solid offensive potential. A final cut for Canada’s U20 team last winter, the Orleans, ON native shot his way to 17 goals and 60 points this past season to finish as the #2 scorer among league defenders. 

Ceci is an excellent puck mover who’ll gladly leave his post when seeing an opening to pressure the net. While posting gaudy numbers up ice, Ceci does a great job using his big frame and reach to shut things down in his own end. His hitting game is a work in progress, but his mobility and decision making make for quick outs. 

Smart and skilled, Ceci’s two-way package has top-pair potential written all over it. He’ll be in high demand come draft day. The Sabres will have to think long and hard if he’s on the board when they’re on the clock.

Pontus Aberg – LW, 5’11”, 187 lbs., Djurgardens (SEL)

A sharp-shooter with tremendous speed, Aberg missed an opportunity to put his game on display at the World Junior Championship thanks to a hit taken in Sweden’s final pre-tourney tilt. Aberg still had plenty to show as a gritty 17-year old in the SEL, posting eight goals and 15 points in 47 games. His attitude and style landed him on the top line for chunks of the year, contributing to his being named a finalist for the league’s rookie of the year. 

Aberg is a finisher all the way, using quick changes in direction and a fabulous array of shooting skills to get the job done. His accurate wrist shot pops off his stick, and he pounds one-timers with excellent velocity. Playing in the top league made an already defensively conscious player even more aware. 

Djurgardens failed to qualify for the SEL next season, meaning Aberg will toil in the Allsvenskan for the at least one of the remaining two years on his recently signed extension. 

Olli Maatta, LHD, 6’2, 202 lbs., London (OHL)

The smooth skating Finn quickly adjusted in his first season of North American hockey, leading the London Knights blueline corps in scoring with 32 points (5+27) in 58 regular season games before upping the ante with six goals and 23 points in the Knights’ run to the Memorial Cup. Excelling enough to earn trust in all situations, no other draft eligible did more in the playoffs to enhance his value than Maatta.

While not being an overwhelming physical force, Maatta works very hard defensively. His stability in his own end progresses to play up ice, where his excellent puck carrying ability and passing skills go into effect. The playoffs showed his smarts in all three zones including an ability to get more shots through on the power play.  

Maatta would add a quality left-handed stick to a D corps already set to push the pace. Don’t forget – there’s a defensive master named Teppo Numminen coaching in Buffalo who would love nothing more than to share the insights and wisdom of his 1,372 NHL games with a talented young countryman.

Sebastian Collberg, RW, 5’11, 176 lbs., Frolunda (SEL)

Collberg is an explosive wing whose superior speed, vision, and shooting makes him dangerous when entering the zone. He hits the seams and gets to the net, making it a task for much larger defenders to neutralize him. A team who could use more pure offense, Collberg would up the Sabres potency with his ability to always get on the puck.

Collberg produced at every major international tournament in the past year, starting with a 3+4 performance at the Memorial of Ivan Hlinka in August and ending with a 4+5 effort at the U18s in April.

In six games at the U20 World Junior Championship, Collberg scored four goals on 10 shots, added three assists, and connected for two key shootout goals including the winner over Switzerland. While the bulk of his points came against lesser opponents (1+2 vs Latvia, 2+1 vs Slovakia), he filled his role rather well for a 17-year old. 

He’ll remain in Sweden next season, having already declared no interest in Canadian junior.

1st round, 21st overall (from Nashville)

Stefan Matteau – C, 6’2, 210 lbs., USA U-18 (USHL)

Skilled with a splash of edginess, Matteau hits, scores, hacks, whacks, and plays sound two-way hockey. The gritty power forward scored 15 goals and 32 points in 46 games this past season while also mixing in some suspension time. Matteau is a disruptive player with his high compete level and big frame. His finishing skills keep him in the first round discussion. 

Unfortunately for Matteau, a point producer with Saskatchewan’s Notre Dame Hounds before joining the US NTDP, he was not allowed to test his game at the IIHF U18s due to not playing two consecutive years in the U.S. after the age of 10. 

Matteau opted out of a scholarship to North Dakota to instead play next season in the QMJHL with the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada where his father is an assistant coach. Discipline and quickness are areas he’ll need to address, but overall a player who rightfully compares himself to Jordan and Eric Staal fits right in on a Sabres team looking to be “hard to play against”.

Ludvig Bystrom, LHD, 6’1, 208 lbs., MoDo (SEL)

A strong skating defenseman, Bystrom opts for efficiency instead of flashiness when putting his all-around skills to use. The well-built Swede plays his zone with a very active stick, using his feet to maintain position and his body to get low to block passing lanes. The same sequence will often see him break up a rush then head up ice with the puck and create a scoring chance with a sharp feed. 

Mobility, puckhandling, and passing are the strengths of his game, creating a compelling blueline package that can see him go anywhere from the bottom third of the first round to the top-half of the second. Scouts were impressed with his work at the Hlinka, Five Nations, and U18s tournaments, and he’s a sure fire bet to land on Sweden’s U20 club for the 2013 World Juniors.

Colton Sissons – C/W, 6’1”, 189 lbs., Kelowna (WHL)

Part of me thinks that Sissons could be the Ryan O’Reilly of the 2012 class – a forward lauded for leadership skills that somehow slips out of the first round. However, much like with Myers, a bigger part of me thinks Gellert’s experience with the Rockets creates a well-written book that puts him in the discussion at #21.

A hard-nosed righty with a compelling mix of finish and grit, Sissons’ blue collar style and two-way reliability makes him 2nd/3rd line ladder type. He finished second in scoring for the Rockets this past season with 26 goals (half scored on PP) while being named the team’s top defensive forward. His wrist shot pops off his stick. He uses his size aggressively. He’ll slide to block shots. I liked Sissons quite a bit in his rookie season, and was just as impressed this year watching him play a mix of wing and pivot. He pays the price to get the job done.

Scott Laughton, C, 6’0, 177 lbs., Oshawa (OHL)

One of the more underrated players in the top half of the draft, the scrappy two-way center endeared himself to forward-needy teams when he showed up as Canada’s best player at the U18s. I don’t want to over-emphasize a single tournament, but Laughton was engaged on every shift, employing grit and instincts that resulted in two goals, seven points, and several hard-earned battles won.  

The edgy Toronto native got off to a slow start his second OHL season, scoring just three times in the first 25 games, but rallied after line changes to finish with 21 goals and 53 points to get himself back in the first round chatter. Lofty expectations of being selected #3 overall in the 2010 OHL draft after Galchenyuk and Gaunce are starting to be realized.

Laughton is a reasonable thought at #21, especially if forwards like Brendan Gaunce and Tom Wilson are chosen ahead of him. He’s not the biggest or the most offensively gifted, but his bite and hustle blends in well with guys like Foligno and Tropp who play with an edge and like to create traffic. His willingness to get his nose dirty – 10 fights in last two years – is just a cherry on top. 


Slater Koekkeok, LHD, Peterborough (OHL)

After taking former Notre Dame Hounds Tyler Myers (2008) and Brayden McNabb (2009), could the Sabres again go back to the Saskatchewan prep bloodlines for a blueliner? The Sabres will have another to consider in the 6’2, 200-pound Peterborough Pete.

A fabulous skater with size and skill, the offensive-minded Koekkoek has top-4 potential but only played in 26 games this season after undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery. Pre-injury, he displayed improved defensive work and coast-to-coast skills that would plug right into the NHL transition game. He’s a mover and a shaker with great power and vision who can realistically go anywhere between 20 and 45. 

I’ll readily admit that perhaps the Viagra from his rookie season never quite wore off, but home run potential could be in play if you get him in the right spot. Is 21st is too early? Check back in a few years.

Day 2

The Sabres enter Saturday with a luxury that they haven’t enjoyed since 2008 – a 2nd round pick. What they do on Friday will largely dictate how they begin Saturday, so for now we’ll assume that they stick to their board and hope that a few players slip to their two-pick range of 42nd and 44th. One of those is a goaltender. 


2nd round, 42nd overall   

Oscar Dansk – G, 6’2, 186 lbs., Brynas (SWE Jr.) 

Team philosophies regarding goaltending vary, but if the Sabres are going BPA and Dansk is still on the board at #42, then adding the talented Swedish goaltender is a no brainer – especially if the team keeps both #2’s. Rated as a first-round talent, I cannot see the Sabres taking a backstop there despite the fact that Regier’s first-ever pick was a European netminder.

A big game player, Dansk is familiar with and enjoys playing in North American sized rinks after attending Shattuck-St. Mary’s for three years before heading back to Sweden to work with renowned goalie coach Pekka Alcen in Brynas. Since going back, he has greatly improved his puck tracking. He’s simple and square, and after Galchenyuk, might be my favorite player in the draft.

Dansk was superb at the major scouting events over the past calendar year, starting with an impressive 2011 Memorial of Ivan Hlinka (3-1, 2.72 GAA, .914 sv%) and finishing with an even better U18’s (4-1, 1.98 GAA, .937 sv%, SO). In between the silver medal performances, he wowed scouts with a 51-save shutout performance over Team USA at the World Jr. A Challenge. 

Standing 6’2”, Dansk appears average in his frame per the recent goaltending trends. However, the smooth Swede shows above-average quickness and strength while maintaining total control of his wide frame. His glove is sharp and to date he has shown no major issues with rebounds.

Tim Bozon – LW, 6’1, 183 lbs., Kamloops (WHL)

Born in St. Louis, reared in the Swiss junior ranks, and a representative of France internationally, the Euro flavored sniper is right in the wheelhouse for a Sabres club needing scoring down the left side. 

A compelling package of speed and finishing ability, Bozon bundled his creative skills to bag 36 goals and 71 points in his first season of North American hockey while on Kamloops’ top line with undrafted Colin Smith and J.C. Lipon. He’s shifty and agile in transition, and it’s the same feet that contribute to his competent own-zone play whether it’s hustling to loose pucks or clogging a lane on the backcheck. Bozon finished with a +27 rating and will only improve his one-on-one work as he adds mass. 

While not a banger, the element I appreciate most about Bozon is something else that he is not – soft. Looking at what the Sabres are building, it’s very easy to see his scoring skills blending in to the future top-nine forward mix.   

Henrik Samuelsson – RW/C, 6’2, 211 lbs., Edmonton (WHL)

Rugged and tough, Samuelsson plays with an edge reminiscent of his father, former Penguin Ulf. The physical forward played with the U.S. NDTP in 2010-11, but followed his father back to Sweden this season to play with hockey factory MoDo.

Figuring his rough style would translate better to North America, Samuelsson ventured back across the pond in January to join the Edmonton Oil Kings for their stretch run to the WHL Championship. He’d ramp-up with seven goals, 23 points, and 48 PIM in 28 regular season games. He’d continue through the playoffs (4+10) before being the OKs best forward at the 2012 Memorial Cup (2+3). 

What keeps a player like Samuelsson out of the top rung of forwards is his skating. The Sabres have taken a big body with heavier feet in this spot in the past (Adam). Even if cautious, Samuelsson’s bloodlines and willingness to engage could be of interest in the spirit of adding skilled snarl. 

Ville Pokka – RHD, 6’0”, 196 lbs., Karpat (SM-liiga)

A steady defender with strong puck skills, the six-footer’s much-improved skating over the past year has firmed-up his stature as a guy who could creep into the first. As Pokka’s footwork improved, so did his two-way versatility en route to a solid rookie year in Finland’s top league. 

Pokka’s poise as a 17-year old landed him on Finland’s U20 world junior team, where he scored a goal and three assists in big minutes at the expense of a Maatta injury in the tourney opener. He’d later put a stamp on the year with an excellent six-point performance on Finland’s top pair at the U18s.

Through the course of the season, Pokka proved strong on his blades with a smart stick and high panic threshold. He never wows you one key skill, but he seems to do most things really well including ripping his rising shot. Guys like this make for safe projections as a #3/#4 NHL defender, so he’d be a comfortable selection especially if you‘ve refrained from getting a blueliner to this point.

2nd round, 44th overall (from Calgary)

Mark Jankowski – C, 6’3, 175 lbs., Stanstead (MPHL)
Shooting up draft boards after both growth (six-plus inches) and statistical spurts, the lanky Jankowski caused many scouts to shoot south off A-10 to the small border town of Stanstead, Quebec to see a kid who scored 53 goals and 93 points in 57 high school games. Not bad for the 17-year old, whose 9/13 birth date makes him one of the youngest players in the draft class.

The Sabres should have a pretty good read on Jankowski. They had a scout present in November when he scored 3+4 in mini-game format at the Northeast Classic in New Hampshire. They later sent four scouts (more than any other team) to Boston in mid-March to watch the quick-riser skate at a higher level. The three-day event confirmed what many had suspected –  the Providence commit has excellent playmaking skills and an upgradeable frame worthy of a second round pick.

The skilled pivot will refine his defensive work over the next few years, but there’s no question that Jankowski could quickly become a beast of Hockey East with the Friars under Nate Leaman’s tutelage. Bonus points for growing up a Sabres fan. 

Lukas Sutter – C, 6’1, 207 lbs., Saskatoon (WHL)

Another in the seemingly endless line of Sutters, Lukas rose up draft charts this year by blending strong offensive play into his aggressive checking style. By the time of his strong performance at the CHL Top Prospects Game, the word was already out. The gritty forward brought his intensity to the rink every night, more than tripling his previous year’s output with 28 goals and 59 points, and adding 10 fighting majors and a +15 rating.

An energy player with plenty of sandpaper, Sutter is a realistic target to increase team toughness and competently anchor your lower lines. His improved skating really moved him up a few rungs, and being a late ’93 birth date, the disturber can enter the AHL after one more year of junior. 

Scott Kosmachuk – RW, 6’0, 185 lbs., Guelph (OHL)

The pesky Kosmachuk has excellent skating ability and the matching compete level to check the opposition’s scoring line while adding timely offense. The Toronto Marlies product doesn’t possess high-end offensive skills, but he often brings a no-quit attitude, a characteristic that led to his 31 goals in his first year of featured duty in Guelph (finishing 2nd to just Yakupov among OHL draft eligibles). 

Similar in size and style to Tropp, Kosmachuk’s versatility saw him spend the majority of the U18s on a checking line, finishing as one of two forwards who did not collect a point. He’ll want to smooth out his consistency moving forward (16 multi-point games, 29 zero-point games), but he brings energy, an ability to get the puck deep, and a willingness to be coached. He may not possess top line NHL potential but there is always room in the system for guys who will hit, agitate, drop the mitts, and plug offensive holes. 

Michael Matheson - LHD, 6’1, 178 lbs., Dubuque (USHL)

The Boston College commit is a powerful skater with great acceleration and defensive skills. A mature leader with a tremendous work ethic, Matheson potted a healthy 11 goals and 27 points in 53 games while showing a strong understanding of gaps and angles in his first season of Jr. “A” with Dubuque of the USHL. His one-on-one physical skills are average but the total technical package is intriguing.

The Quebec native has a pro style tool set that will see him keep building offense as he goes. He likely would have been the 1st overall pick in the QMJHL draft a couple of years back but made his NCAA aspirations well-known.  It’s hard to foresee him lasting all four years in the Heights (or perhaps even this long in the draft), for Matheson will likely realize his NHL readiness well before his degree.

3rd round, 73rd overall

Jake McCabe – LHD, 6’1”, 200 lbs., Wisconsin (WCHA)

Many of the defenders in this draft bring a strong two-way skill set to the table, and McCabe’s total package could be considered among the best. The Wisconsin native played in the WCHA as a true freshman in 2011-12, using smarts and excellent mobility to score three goals and 12 points while getting PP time alongside points machine Justin Schultz on the Badgers top PP unit. 

It’s not all offense though. McCabe has a mature body and good shutdown skills that could make for a nice #4 defenseman after his days in Badgerland. A product of the U.S. NTDP, McCabe’s history with Amerks bench boss Ron Rolston could lend to some valuable input on draft day as the Sabres re-load youth on the blueline. 

Sam Kurker – RW, 6’2, 198 lbs., St. John’s Prep (USHS – MA)

It may be out of character for the Sabres to take a prep star early, but physical forwards who can score are at a premium these days and Kurker fits the bill. The banger landed on the map by leading the 2011 Select 17 tourney in scoring, subsequently earning a spot on Team USA for the Hlinka. The senior captain followed up by using his big right-handed shot to score 32 times in 23 games this past season as St. John’s battled to a semifinal loss to BC High in Boston Super 8 playoffs. 

A Boston University commit, Kurker isn’t just a good player who dominates against high school competition with sheer athleticism. It’s his skating and commitment to hit the dirty areas that projects as a solid pro, and a huge factor in the Terriers asking him to make the immediate jump to Hockey East in 2012. Many people are calling Baldwinsville, NY native Cristoval “Boo” Nieves the top American high schooler in this draft, but Kurker’s powerful, wide body and ability to get to the net put him right in the mix.

Jon Gillies – G, 6’5”, 210 lbs., Indiana (USHL)

A big butterfly goalie, Gillies has everything that scouts look for – size to read play through traffic, quickness to make the first save, and confidence to compete. Recently finishing his second season in the USHL, the Salisbury product drew loads of praise thanks to a 31-11-9 record, 2.77 GAA, and .915 sv%.

Gillies is an anomaly to the “goalies are often the team’s best skater” tenet, yet he challenges well and stays square going post-to-post. He’s not an acrobat. Shooters try to wait him out, but he simply gets in position and blocks the puck. 

The mystery of where Gillies will play next season was settled in May when the big Maine native became Nate Leaman’s latest recruiting coup, declining Patrick Roy’s offer to backstop the QMJHL’s Quebec Remparts to instead take the #1 job at Providence College. 

Francis Beauvillier – LW/C, 6’1”, 180 lbs., Rimouski (QMJHL)

Beauvillier is an intense competitor with a developing power game. Blessed with fleeting speed and a rocket of a shot, the Sorel-Tracy, Quebec native became a teammate of Jerome Gauthier-Leduc in Rimouski as part of the Lewiston MAINEiacs dispersal draft. He went on to score 23 goals with the Oceanic, equaling the total scored during his previous two years in the league.

A late ’93 birth date, Beauvillier gained attention at the CHL Top Prospects game by winning the Fastest Skater Competition, a contest won by Buffalo’s 2011 third-rounder a year ago. A solid base and work ethic is in place. Becoming a more consistent producer could see the shooter become a decent middle line player a few years down the line.


Charles Hudon – LW, 5’10”, 170 lbs., Chicoutimi (QMJHL)

In a year when the Sabres could use scoring down the left side, a smallish playmaker that has stacked 48 goals, 126 points, and a +54 rating over in his first two seasons is certainly worth discussing as day two heats up.

Hudon possesses excellent hands and a superior offensive mind. While his knack for being in the right spot creates loads of opportunities, his lack of size and elite speed puts him in tough against seasoned defenders. He's not super feisty, but he competes night in and night out. He takes a licking and keeps on ticking. 

His strong play this past season carried into the playoffs, where the Alma, QC native (hometown of former Sabres prospect J.S. Allard) potted six goals and 11 points in 18 games. I can see him being of interest to scouts who think they can boost his feet and acceleration. An ideal fourth rounder, I'm listing as a wildcard here for there’s a good chance he's in someone’s top-100.

5th round, 133rd overall

John Draeger – RHD, 6’2, 186 lbs., Shattuck-St. Mary’s (USHS – MN)

Another in the mobile two-way mold, Draeger is a physical defender who can push the pace from the back end. The Michigan State commit played on Shattuck’s top pair this year, using his well-developed frame, long stick, and good reads to shut down the top forwards in his age group as the Sabres skated to the tier 1 national title this spring in Buffalo. It’s not all defense though, as his skating and heavy shot contributed to an impressive 11 goals and 30 assists for the Minnesota prep powerhouse.

Draeger’s steady year-over-year progression since entering the Shattuck program makes him a legit blueliner of interest at this point of the draft. The athletic rearguard will bypass the USHL and go straight to the CCHA next season, giving him a solid three years (at least) to add mass and round out a budding package. With the Sabres having quality numbers on the blueline, a player like Draeger would be ideal if the team loads up at forward early on.

Henri Ikonen – LW, 6’0, 194 lbs., Kalpa (FIN Jr)

Good sized with an excellent skill base, Ikonen leveraged hard work and scoring ability to quickly rise through the Finnish junior ranks all the way to a spot on Kalpa’s top roster as a 17-year old. He stuck for just eight games in 2011-12, but showed enough promise in that small window to earn a three-year extension before heading back to the junior club. Once there, he roasted the league with 17 goals and 45 points in 37 contests.

Ikonen doesn’t bring a fluid playmaking style, but he’s strong in pursuit, beats defenders to the spot, and gets a fair of amount of shots on goal from in close. Playing at the U18’s, his ability to create traffic led to a pair of goals while playing mostly third-line minutes.

Cedric Paquette – C, 6’1, 197 lbs., Blainville-Boisbriand (QMJHL)

Unranked by Central Scouting after getting passed over in 2011, the 18-year old trigger man scored 31 goals in 63 games this past season, his first in the QMJHL, and then another seven goals and 10 assists in 11 playoff contests to cement his status as a bona fide draft prospect. 

Paquette does a good job using his size in the offensive zone but is still raw in terms of his overall play down the middle. It’s not that he isn’t trying. He’s shown a keen ability at the faceoff circle and puts forth the effort on the backcheck. Paquette’s speed and release get him noticed. He could be an excellent late-round find once coaching and learned systems sink in.

Chris Marchese, LW, 6’0, 210 lbs., Windsor (OHL)

A former first-round pick in the OHL draft, Marchese is a big shooting threat that turned his development around after a mid-year trade out of Erie. The six-footer had battled inconsistency since his arrival in the OHL, but seems to be on the verge of a breakout campaign after clicking for close to a point-per-game after landing in Windsor. In reality, the finish along with his work on the Spits PK could bump him a round higher. 

Scouts want to see an elevated and compete level from Marchese moving forward, for when fully engaged the wing goes hard into the dirty areas and puts a lot of shots on net. Doing so could see a healthy increase from the 18 goals (7 PP) posted a season ago.

Matt Murray – G, 6’4”, 160 lbs., Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)

Large and athletic with quick limbs, Murray looks like a contender to challenge the OHL’s recent poor track record of producing NHL goalies. You can’t see this by looking at his poor OHL stats (4.08 GAA, .876 sv%), but you could when witnessing his performances at the CHL Top Prospects Game and especially at the U18’s where he bailed out Canada with several spectacular stops. 

Murray’s reflexes, glove hand, and recovery grade out quite well, while his agility is considered average. Goaltending is 90% mental, and many observers suggest that his confidence was shaken when the Hounds went out and traded for Dallas prospect Jack Campbell. How he reacts next season should tell a better story. 

6th round, 163rd overall

Linus Ullmark – G, 6’3, 198 lbs., Modo (SWE Jr)

Big and raw, the talented Ullmark enters his second draft year after an excellent season with Modo’s J20 squad that saw him post a solid 2.76 goals against average and .918 save percentage with the storied franchise. Ullmark’s play steadily improved throughout the season and into the playoffs, where he sparkled with a 2.24 GAA, .927 sv%, and one shutout in five starts.

Growing up dreaming of playing for Modo’s top club, Ullmark got his wish at the Christmas break when he was called in to back up Mikael Tellqvist while Anton Forsberg was away at the U20s. When Telllqvist fell ill, Ullmark was thrust into his first start as an 18-year old on two hours notice and held up well in an OT loss to Lulea.

While the bottleneck kept him buried most of the year, we’re still giving Ullmark a good shot to be drafted by the Sabres and an equally good chance to earn a larger SEL role with Modo before coming to North America.

Adam Johnson – LW, 5’11, 150 lbs., Hibbing (MN HS)

Tucked up north in the great state of Minnesota is a speedy playmaker who potted 137 points in 51 high school games over the past two seasons. The smallish Duluth commit has one more year of high school to complete, but lands on the draft radar thanks to quick puck movement, a sniper’s shot, and the ability to leverage his one-on-one skills at a high rate of success. There’s a good chance the Sabres have a good read on this potential lottery ticket.

Granted some of Johnson’s inflated stats can be attributed to Hibbing/Chisholm being classified as a 1A (small) school, but the body of work put together before his 18th birthday (turns 18 on draft day) makes him a regarded package set for a call in the final three rounds. He’ll obviously need to increase his weight by 20% for him to become a serious contender. 

Joel Wigle – RW, 6’2”, 196 lbs., Niagara (OHL)

Developing up the road in St. Catharines, the big bodied wing has many of the same power forward traits that the Sabres were looking for when drafting Gregg Sutch out of the OHL two years ago. He hits hard, is strong on the boards, and has some decent hands around the net. 

The problem for many teams is that the 6’2, 196-pounder received limited opportunity to show his skating and grit as he was buried on a deep Ice Dogs roster that boasted a double-digit amount of NHL draft picks. A two-year OHL vet, next season should see Wilgle amp up his offensive numbers with more ice time. He has the size, vision, and two-way instincts to make it happen, and it’s quite possible the Sabres liked what they saw when keeping tabs on former prospect Steven Shipley.

Samuel “Hunter” Fejes – LW, 6’1, 191 lbs., Shattuck-St. Mary’s (MN HS)

A powerful left wing, Fejes gets to the net and scores. The Colorado College commit led Shattuck with 38 goals in 53 games this past season, including a 4+4 performance at the USA Tier I 18U national championship this past spring in Buffalo.  His package of hands and tenacity on the forecheck was a key to Shattuck’s national title, creating an intriguing day two option.

The Alaska native will make the jump to the WCHA next fall as a kid you can’t help but pull for. In 2006 while on his way to a hockey practice, the car he was in was involved in a terrible rollover wreck that left him with a cracked skull and his mother dead.

7th round, 193rd overall

Matt Benning – RHD, 6’0”, 218 lbs., Spruce Grove (AJHL)

Son of former NHLer Brian and nephew of Sabres amateur scout Craig, the bulky six-footer looks to be on his way to carrying out the Benning family tradition of shutdown defensive play. The steady worker showed smarts and mobility en route to posting four goals and 18 points in 44 games last season with the Saints. His blend of toughness saw him add 87 PIM to this season line.

The talented leader is planning on going the NCAA route with his choice of school yet to be determined. Where exactly he’ll play next season is a whole other question. Thought to be returning to the AJHL, Benning was recently scooped up in the USHL draft by the Dubuque Fighting Saints – a club partly owned by Boston GM Peter Chiarelli (whose top assistant is another of Benning’s uncles, Jim). On top of all that, the Tri-City Americans acquired his WHL rights from Kootenay prior to last season in the event he opts to change course.

Morgan Zulinick – C, 5’11, 181 lbs., Salmon Arm (BCHL)

Hailing from Kamloops, BC, the playmaking Zulinick has the skating and competitiveness in place to develop into a solid late-round find. The 17-year old scored 24 goals and 66 points this season in the BCHL and looks set for the tall duty of entering the University of Wisconsin as a true freshman in 2012-13. It’s very odd that he didn’t play for Canada West at the Jr. “A” challenge.

Despite his average frame, Zulinick has an all-around offensive package featuring a good burst and excellent handle and creativity. He would have fit in nicely with the Edmonton Oil Kings, who used a 3rd round on Zulinick despite clear college intentions. Some will call this my obligatory BCHL mention, but talent is talent and Zulinck has plenty despite lacking the model frame. 

Troy Donnay – RHD, 6’7”, 185 lbs., Erie (OHL)

Donnay is a lanky, mobile defender that could develop into a useable stay-ay-homer after a few years of serious strength development and work on his puck skills. Accurately classified as a raw project, the Flint, MI native uses his long stick to make simple plays but has quite a ways to go in terms of overall development.

Donnay started to spread his wings after a mid-year trade to Erie, carrying the puck more and being more engaged physically. He finished the year with four fighting majors, a number scouts expect to increase with added confidence. The Belle Tire alum could make for a fun option to follow Tyler Myers and Joe Finley but I’m not considering him until the final round.

7th round, 204th overall (from FLA via CHI)

Jay Dickman – LW, 6’6”, 220 lbs., St. Paul Johnson (MN HS)

A moose on skates, the 6’6, 220-pound Dickman scored 42 goals in 25 games this past season for Class AA St. Paul Johnson, the alma mater of legendary coach Herb Brooks, before shuttling to Fargo of the USHL for a brief cameo/orientation period.

While possessing Sherman tank size and soft hands, Dickman’s slow feet make him a considerable project entering his preparatory Jr. “A” season. If his skating can come around, the Sabres or any other team taking a chance on him late could end up big winners in the long run. He’s uncommitted for college but surely one to keep an eye on. We’re treating this similar to the Brad Navin pick of a year ago – a late blooming 19-year old that fills the net. 

Justin Auger – RW, 6’7”, 216 lbs., Guelph (OHL)

Another massive body, the 6’7 Auger chipped in seven goals and 14 points in his inaugural major junior year. He’s controls the puck well with his long stick and does a good job working the boards and planting at the edge of the paint.

Big, raw players often get drafted earlier on sheer potential, but Auger’s footwork and lack of regular snarl could make scouts cautious until the later stages. Big guys take time to smooth out their stride. Auger will be a considerable project until he can consistently beat guys to a spot and produce more offense. Filling out and getting meaner will only help the cause.

Gustav Rydahl – C, 6’2”, 194 lbs., Frolunda (SWE JR)

Sneaking into the class of ’12 with a 9/11/94 birth date, the gritty Rydahl is a tenacious center with excellent character. His play is marked by defensive awareness, thunderous hits, and excellent board work that often results in shots on goal. He’s not the most creative pivot and he may never crack your top-two lines, but the two-way leader brings the size and compete that teams look for come draft day.

Arriving in Frolunda from Farjestad, Rydahl came on strong late in his first year with the Indians, using his heavy shot to produce eight goals and 29 points. When he wasn’t hitting or bringing intensity on the puck, he was blocking shots and doing the little things to round out his strong mix.

Other names you should know

Williamsville product Dylan Blujus elevated his play in his second season with the OHL’s Brampton Battalion, being more conservative with his offense while exhibiting a mature defensive posture. With his confidence and consistency heading in the right direction, the 6’3 Blujus’ package of size and skill could see the Jr. Sabres U18 product land as early as the third round.

If you want to screw with the Flyers, you may want to consider drafting Czech spark plug Tomas Hyka. The quick, skilled wing showed well enough in the Flyers training camp last fall to warrant a free agent offer. However, the Flyers were unaware that Europeans passed over in a draft cannot be signed as free agents out of European league until the age of 22. Hyka instead went to Gatineau of the QMJHL, scoring 20 goals and 64 points as a 19-year old to maintain his status as 2nd round hopeful.

In a year where forward talent fades another scorer previously passed over in 2011, South Shore Kings wing Jimmy Vesey, is definitely worth a look as day two gets cooking. The talented New Englander used the snub as motivation, adding muscle and speed en route to breaking the EJHL single-season scoring record with 48 goals and 91 points in 45 games. Committed to Harvard in the fall, the 6’2, 200-pounder’s record breaking season took place with the Sabres having close tabs on his vast improvement. 

A steady do-it-all leader, Moncton’s James Melindy stepped up his game after the Wildcats dealt anchor Brandon Gormley to Shawinigan at the QMJHL trade deadline. He was hitting and defending his teammates more. He was doing a better job starting the transition game. He proved to a responsible, tough defender with two-way skills. There is not a lot of flash to the 6’2 Melindy’s game but I can see the Sabres liking him if they had a 4th round pick.

Similar in stature to former 6th rounder Paul Byron, Jesse Graham plays the same position and style reminiscent of another former 6th round pick of similar size – Brian Campbell. Pint sized but a very strong skater, the Niagara IceDogs defender draws his value in being an offensive catalyst. His 41 points this season ranked 10th among OHL defenders, comparing similarly to Campbell’s 43 in his draft year. He added a goal and eight assists in the IceDogs run to the OHL final. If he was 20% heavier, he’d be in the first round discussion.

After a dominating midget year with the Buffalo Regals, Eden, NY native Alex Iafallo moved on to the Fargo Force of the USHL in 2011-12, scoring an impressive 17 goals and 32 points in 58 games as a Jr. “A” rookie. The 5’11 Iafallo has a chance of sneaking in as a late-round pick before attending WCHA front-runner Minnesota-Duluth this fall.

Born in Buffalo when father Randy was playing for the Sabres, Tyler Wood is a developing two-way defender out of Nobles who will hone his game at Brown beginning in 2013. The 6’3, 200-pound righty, who notched four assists at the midget nationals in Buffalo this past spring as a member of the Cape Cod Whalers (coached by another former Sabre, Ed Ronan), has the size to warrant a pick in the final round.

A player noticed during USHL viewings, Chicago Steel defenseman Jaccob Slavin could be one of these sleeper prospects a few years down the line with his calm demeanor and up-ice vision. Like Brayden McNabb in his draft year, Slavin moves well going forward but needs to improve his backwards skating to tie it all together. The Colorado native, who skated for Team USA at the 2011 Hlinka, will head back west to Colorado College in the fall of 2013.

Michigan high school is one of the lower levels trolled by NHL scouts, but yet a few made it out to check out Mack MacEachern, a powerful skater with soft hands who like Jankowski was dominant in nearly every game he played. Probably a seventh rounder at best, the 6’2, 175-pounder will stay local when he goes up a level at Michigan State University in 2013. 

Ryan Culkin is a smart, hard-working defenseman who kept improving as the season wore on for Patrick Roy’s Quebec Remparts. Reliable in his own end, the Montreal native show upped his confidence and increased offensive awareness in the playoffs with added minutes and responsibility. The 6’1 lefty probably goes in the 3rd round.

If Memorial Cup star Anton Zlobin somehow makes it past the 3rd/4th rounds, then the Sabres would be wise to consider risking a pick on the 19-year old Russian. Passed over a season ago, Zlobin stayed on the fringe of draft radar by burning the Q for 40 goals. His defensive game leaves a lot to be desires, but he’s a guy who can do damage in space. Elevating his stature with five goals, including a pair in the final, and nine points at the 2012 Memorial Cup should see him go on day two.