Monday, June 16, 2014

Buffalo Sabres 2014 Draft Preview

The Buffalo Sabres enter the 2014 NHL draft with their highest pick since 2003. That year, Darcy Regier and posse kept the fifth overall selection to select Thomas Vanek out of the University of Minnesota. They haven't held a pick in the top two since 1987, when Gerry Meehan made his first pick as general manager of the Sabres to select Pierre Turgeon first overall. There’s a new sheriff in town with Tim Murray, but regardless, the Sabres will once again get an impact player at the top.

The question on everyone’s mind is who does Murray like the most? There are always good players at the top of the draft, but this year’s grouping still has question marks. Lacking a consensus, sure-fire “stud”, the 2014 selection process is probably the most difficult to gauge in the past 15 years. It's also a situation that could see a flurry of trade action with teams outside of the top-10 jockeying for a juicier draft position. It would be very surprising if the top five spots go undisturbed. 


1st round – 2nd overall
2nd round – 31st
2nd round – 39th (WPG via MIN)
2nd round – 49th (MIN)
3rd round – 61st
5th round – 121st
6th round – 151st
7th round – 181st


In 2013, the Sabres had five picks in the first two rounds. 

In 2014, they have four picks in the first two rounds.

As of now, the Sabres enter the 2015 draft with five picks in the top two rounds, including three top-30 selections.

That’s a nifty way to acquire 70% of the 20 players needed nightly if you can do it right, but the chances of the Sabres deploying that strategy seem low. In fact, it makes excellent sense for the Sabres to bundle some of their picks – starting with the current draft – in an effort to acquire quality over quantity. 

The 2014 class can be considered somewhat “middling”, and it would be seem to be in Tim Murray’s personality to decisively pursue another player he feels good about without losing any traction in preparation for a strong 2015 group. With all the second-round artillery, getting back to the 12-18 range seems feasible.

A reasonable situation would see Buffalo stay at No. 2, and then stack their chips to get back into the first round much in the manner that Darcy Regier did in 2012 when he swapped No. 21 and No. 42 to move back up to No. 14 to grab Zemgus Girgensons.

I'd be eyeballing the Detroit Red Wings as a partner. Ken Holland and crew currently sit at #15, but don't have another selection until #76. They have traded down in recent years, moving back two spots in 2013 and then trading out of the round in 2011 and 2009. I suspect they'd listen if Murray called.

Or perhaps the Sabres can lessen the ante and get back into the later stages of the round much like Anaheim did in 2003, when a Ducks management team heavily influenced by Murray moved #36 and #54 to acquire the 28th pick to get Corey Perry. 

With that in mind, could it be possible that the Sabres offer #39 and #49 to Chicago in exchange in for the 27th overall selection? Like Detroit, Chicago is also without a second round pick.

Opening night strategy aside, the Sabres will no doubt be prepared to keep picking early on day two if deals don’t pan out. If in a position of managing greater numbers, the Sabres could stretch the pipeline and balance the number of entry-level contracts entering the system over the next few years. 

It’s well established that the Sabres are preparing for a youthful wave over the next three seasons, and if that deluge wasn’t enough, it’s reasonable to think that their top picks in 2014 and 2015 will be on the opening night roster in 2015-16. Staggering the development process for high-ceiling players by leveraging the NCAA and European ranks would give the club extra wiggle room and buy some time while stratifying the teeming young stable. 

The aforementioned pick load does not include the 12th, 14th and 44th overall selections from 2012 used to add Mikhail Grigorenko, Girgensons and Jake McCabe.

Add in two other high caliber prospects acquired via trade, William Carrier (2013, 57th overall – STL) and Hudson Fasching (2013, 118th overall – LAK), along with speedy, overachieving third-rounder Nick Baptiste (2013, 69th overall), and you have a pretty solid core to build around.

For the sake of a mock lineup, we’ll add the top picks from 2010 and 2011 to get an idea what Tim Murray might be looking at heading into the late-June selection process:




Many fans and members of the media seem to think that there is no way that the Sabres take a defenseman early in the draft, and maybe they're right. After all, they chose two big rearguards with the 8th and 16th overall picks a year ago. 

The Sabres should be comfortable with their depth on the back line. With Tyler Myers (24), Mark Pysyk (22), Jake McCabe (20), Rasmus Ristolainen (19), and Nikita Zadorov (18), the club boasts perhaps the most impressive under-25 defensive stable in the entire league. The assessment is notable when considering how AHL All-Star Brayden McNabb (22) was scratched off the depth chart, but the remaining group offers a nice blend of mobility, physicality, and international experience.

You would think that the strength in numbers would preclude Barrie Colts workhorse Aaron Ekblad from the conversation at #2, but then again, the Sabres are just one trade away from needing another big, all-situations defender. And hey, if he’s the best player on the board you should consider taking him.

Not only that, but the Sabres could have a lot of youth on their NHL blueline next season, and it's not like they have too many in the system. If you’re truly building organizational depth, you need to keep the wave moving, so don't be surprised if the middle-to-late rounds see the Sabres add a couple of solid backend bodies.

If the Sabres are missing anything on defense, it’s that elite puck mover. Myers, Ristolainen and McCabe are capable in their own right, but there is no power-play ace like Prince Albert’s Josh Morrissey (WPG) or ex-Kitchener motor Ryan Murphy (CAR) in the system. They do not have a guy who can fly down the ice like former Moose Jaw standout Morgan Rielly (TOR). These types of players are often undersized, but pushing the pace is key part of any team’s attack strategy, and I'm thinking the Sabres have room to add a pure offensive motor given their cache of picks.


A few years ago, the Sabres had perhaps the weakest center depth in the entire NHL. They addressed the dearth with the acquisition of Cody Hodgson and the selection of Mikhail Grigorenko, but with Hodgson looking more and more like a viable top-line winger and Grigorenko being driven down a longer route through the first two years of his contract, the top of the draft could yield an elite, character glue guy down the middle of the ice to blend in with the big-bodied wingers.

Down the wings, Joel Armia looks like he’s on the right track to becoming a legit NHL right winger. The deadline additions of Hudson Fasching (RW) and William Carrier (LW) added balance to the flanker depth, while 2013 third-rounder Nick Baptiste matched Fasching in performing beyond his draft spot to earn a pro deal. Justin Bailey led the Kitchener Rangers in goals, and with another offseason of strength development, is expected to take his game to a whole new level in 2014-15. 

Everyone has seen Girgensons’ engine, but it’s worth mentioning how J.T. Compher is cut from the same competitive cloth. The Michigan standout is expected to be a key contributor for Team USA at the 2015 World Junior Championship, but he’s not the only Sabres forward positioned well for a tourney gig. In addition to Fasching, who was a member of Team USA in 2014, Baptiste, Bailey, Connor Hurley and Sean Malone should also receive calls for summer evaluation camps.

The top pick should yield an elite offensive force and future a captain. From there, I'd expect them to round out the pick set with a batch of intelligent forwards with good frames and a hard-hitting mentality. The Sabres need to keep adding guys who create chaos in front of opposing goalies and have the hands to bury pucks behind them. 


Ryan Miller is out of the picture, and while I like where the depth chart is heading and how the stage is set for a compeition over the next few years, I still wonder if "the next one" is in house. After all, it's not about the saves you make, but rather the goals you let in. 

Over in Sweden, 2012 sixth-rounder Linus Ullmark was awarded the 2014 Honken Trophy as the SHL’s top goaltender. He’s got the size and first-save ability that you like to see, but needs to get a little quicker on his feet to succeed at the NHL level. He'll remain in Sweden for another year before making his way over to the AHL.

Cal Petersen won the Dave Peterson Award as USA Hockey's Goalie of the Year following a strong season with the USHL's Waterloo Black Hawks. He'll be heading to Notre Dame in the fall, where he'll walk into a good situation right away that should see him pull the majority of starts. He's got the quickness and technique needed to succeed, but is at least three years away from determining his next career steps.

Nathan Lieuwen and Matt Hackett (RFA) had a nice battle in the Rochester nets, with the long-limbed Lieuwen stealing starts away from Hackett in the second half of the schedule. When both were re-called to Buffalo late in the year, it was Hackett who looked like the more capable goaltender before suffering a serious injury to his right knee. Lieuwen also ended the year on the mend thanks to a concussion, but is expected to continue his upward development in 2014-15, the final year of his entry-level deal.

Andrey Makarov stepped up when called upon by the Rochester Americans. Nice athleticism, a quick glove, and an ability to play the puck make the former free agent a compelling candidate. He’s proven to be a big game stopper in the past, but a Russian stigma still exists in NHL nets. To date, there have only been 11 goaltenders from Russia to grace the NHL.

Yes, Sergei Bobrovsky (undrafted) won the 2012-13 Vezina Trophy. Yes, Semyen Varlamov had a great season en route to being named a finalist this season, and yes, Andrei Vasilevskiy might be the best goaltender outside of North America. Evgeny Nabakov and Ilya Bryzgalov have had nice careers, but there’s a chance that Makarov pans out more along the lines of Anton Khudobin (or Andrei Trefilov) than he does Nikolai Khabibulin, who to this day is the only Russian to backstop a team to a Stanley Cup.

I'm not being ethnocentric here. Just pointing out numbers. If I have a chance at a quality, high end body with good reflexes and fundamentals in this draft, I just might go for it.


Regular readers of this site are familiar with the draft trend that sees a goalie taken in the first round in even-numbered years since 2006.

2006 – 11th, 15th, 23rd, 26th
2007 – zero - first G taken 36th
2008 – 18th, 30th
2009 – zero - first G taken 31st 
2010 – 11th, 27th
2011 – zero - first G taken 38th, 39th
2012 – 19th, 24th
2013 – zero - first G taken 36th
2014 – ???

Bored with writing about this every preview, it's time to take a different angle.

Varlamov, Tuukka Rask, Carey Price, Kari Lehtonen and Marc-Andre Fleury were taken in the first round. Corey Crawford was a second round selection. Jonathan Quick, Ben Bishop, Steve Mason…all taken in the third round.

That’s nine of the top 14 goalies in the 2013-14 wins column. The list also includes all three 2013-14 Vezina Trophy finalists, and five of the last six starters on the Cup winner. 

Heck, if you go back to Cam Ward (25th overall, 2002) and Chris Osgood (54th overall, 1991), eight of nine Cup winners since the lockout were backed by a goalie selected in the top 90.

So yes, history suggests that it's in a team’s best interest to grab a backstop in the top three rounds. If that isn't enough, you need to consider how a new batch of up-and-comers in Vasilevskiy, Jake Allen, John Gibson and Robin Lehner were all taken in the top-40 of their draft years. We'll throw 2010 first-rounder Jack Campbell in there too, who despite injuries has been a big piece of the Texas Stars' run to the Calder Cup (12-2, four shutouts, .942 save%).

Was Tim Murray thinking about this trend when snagging Michal Neuvirth from Washington? Neuvirth, the 34th player taken in 2006, may just be the next hot reclamation project in the mold of Rask, Bishop, Lehtonen and Mason, who were all traded from the teams that originally drafted them.

And then there's this:

ANAHEIM2012 (3rd)NASHVILLE2011 (2nd)
BOSTON2012 (1st)NEW JERSEY2010 (3rd)
BUFFALO2006 (2nd)NY ISLANDERS2013 (3nd)
CALGARY2012 (3rd)NY RANGERS2007 (2nd)
CAROLINA2012 (3rd)OTTAWA2013 (3rd)
CHICAGO2010 (2nd)PHILADELPHIA2012 (2nd)
COLORADO2013 (3rd)PHOENIX2010 (1st)
DALLAS2013 (2nd)PITTSBURGH2013 (2nd)
DETROIT2012 (3rd)ST. LOUIS2011 (3rd)
COLUMBUS2012 (2nd)SAN JOSE2007 (3rd)
EDMONTON2011 (3rd)TAMPA BAY2012 (1st)
FLORIDA2008 (2nd)TORONTO2005 (1st)
LOS ANGELES2011 (2nd)VANCOUVER2011 (3rd)
MINNESOTA2009 (3rd)WASHINGTON2006 (1st, 2nd)
MONTREAL2013 (2nd)WINNIPEG2013 (2nd)


With a new GM at the helm, it's worth taking a dive into past history to study draft tendencies.

For instance, when Murray was Director of Player Personnel with the Anaheim Ducks from 2002-2005, he oversaw two drafts that yielded a total of 17 players. Seven of them went the NCAA route, three were European, and none of them were Russians.

Murray was part of two drafts with the New York Rangers while serving as Assistant Director of Player Personnel. Sole decision-making was not part of the gig in the Big Apple, but six of the 13 picks were of European descent. Two Russians were taken high during that time despite a lack of a transfer agreement in the form of Artem Anisimov (2006, 51st overall), and Alexei Cherepanov (2007, 17th overall).

The rising talent evaluator moved on to Ottawa from there. Of the 44 players taken between 2008-2013, no fewer than 11 (or 25%) of them were Swedes. The list includes highly regarded talents Erik Karlsson, Mika Zibanejad, Jakob Silfverberg, Robin Lehner and Markus Hogberg. They did not look to Finland, Russia, or the Czech Republic once during that time, while adding 14 players that were using the NCAA to advance their games.

And hey, Ottawa chose four goaltenders during Murray's time with the Sens. Among them was one second-rounder and two third-rounders. The other, who was taken outside of the top-90, is re-entering this year's draft.


So what type of history is Murray inheriting in Buffalo? It may not matter much as the philosophy has shifted a bit over the years, but while adding a slew of new bird dogs, many of the same amateur scouts that have influenced the past are still driving this year's board.

The last seven drafts have seen Kevin Devine et. al. mix it up a bit when making 56 total selections. To date, 32 of them have been signed to NHL entry-level contracts, including three of the 11 players taken in the 2013 extravaganza. In the last five years, eight the 12 players taken in the sixth and seventh rounds were passed over in previous years of eligibility.















Since Buffalo has their hearts and hopes wrapped around the young Latvian Girgensons, it’s worth mentioning five of his fellow countrymen that are back in the draft after being passed over in previous years.

At the top of the list is Edgars Kulda, a breakout star for the Edmonton Oil Kings who recently was named the Most Valuable Player at the 2014 Memorial Cup. Kulda went 30+30 in the regular season and added another 10+12 in the Oil Kings’ march to the WHL title. A fearless winger, Kulda collected eight points in five games at the Memorial Cup tourney, including a goal and two assists in the championship games versus Guelph.

Roberts Lipsbergs, listed as a sleeper for the 2013 draft class, is available following a second 30-goal season with the Seattle Thunderbirds. Lipsbergs led the Latvians with six goals in five games at the IIHF Division I Group A World Junior Championship in December, and was a point-per-game player in the playoffs with two goals and seven assists in nine games. He finished his season at the IIHF World Championship, where he auditioned for current Sabres bench boss Ted Nolan.

Completing the WHL trio is Rihards Bukarts, a talented scorer who played the past season with the Brandon Wheat Kings. Bukarts is a 5-foot-9, 190-pound stick of dynamite with excellent quickness and flashy hands. He scored 28 goals (tops among WHL rookies) and 54 points while adapting to the smaller surfaces and defensive nuances of North American hockey, and I can see an NHL club grabbing him late as a possible depth scorer.

From the QMJHL, 6-foot-1, 198-pound winger Nikita Jevpalovs could be intriguing in the later stages of day two. The 19-year old, who amassed nine points (5+4) for Latvia at the Division I Group A World Junior tourney, scored 28 goals and 54 points this past season for Blainville-Boisbriand. He added another 10 goals in 20 playoff games for the Armada.

Last on the list is Elvis Merzlinkins, a big, athletic goaltender coming off an excellent season with HC Lugano of the Swiss National League. The 6-foot-3 stopper stepped into top league duty in 2013-14, notching a 2.13 GAA and .924 save%. His technique is solid, and it's possible he goes late as teams fish for some depth.


As has been the norm in recent years, a quick scan of the draft list finds at least a dozen names very familiar to the sport. None of the top-30 NHL point producers in 2013-14 have fathers who played at the game's highest level, but that's sure to change down the road. The developmental playing field certainly levels out when players hit the age of 20, but I happen to think that bloodlines are important leading up to being drafted. 

Sam Reinhart (Paul), William Nylander (Michael), Kasperi Kapanen (Sami), and Brendan Perlini (Fred) are top-10 talents with fathers who played in the NHL.

Brendan Lemieux (Claude) and Ryan MacInnis (Al) are sons of former Conn Smythe Trophy winners, while Josh Wesley (Glen) also saw his dad raise the Stanley Cup. 

Ryan Donato (Ted) and Bobo Carpenter (Bobby) are Massachusetts boys with NHL roots.

And of course there’s a heavy Buffalo flavor with Daniel Audette (Donald), Dominic Turgeon (Pierre) and Jack Ramsey (Mike) all having fathers who were drafted by, and played for, the Sabres. And we can't forget Luc Snuggerud, whose Uncle Dave also put in a few good years in Buffalo.


The first round has a core of four players at the top who are likely occupying the Sabres' top of mind awareness. Please refer to my first round rankings at the Sabres official website for a deeper dive into the top names.

Based on the assumption that the Florida Panthers select Aaron Ekblad first overall, let's just jump right in and make the pick:

Round 1 – 2nd overall

Samson Reinhart – C, Kootenay ICE (WHL), 6’0.75”, 185 lbs.

As mellow as they come off the ice, Reinhart is as smart as they come on it. Reinhart is a calm, poised distributor who has a special playmaking gift that you can't find elsewhere in the draft.

While a cerebral circulator, Reinhart ups his value with a keen finishing ability. The 18-year old tied for fourth in league scoring with 105 points this past season, along the way scoring the third-most even strength points in the entire league. The mastery rightfully earned the honor of WHL Player of the Year.

For fans, the Samson Reinhart vs. Samuel Bennett debate has raged on since the draft lottery. Both players produce consistent offense, and both can lead their teams through rough patches. While Bennett's high-tempo, edgy style makes him a fantastic two-way player, and while his year-over-year trajectory is nothing short of outstanding, Reinhart's smooth confidence and steadying influence displayed over the past three WHL seasons provides the right comfort level to invest.

For the Sabres, I might argue that the debate is more about Sam Reinhart versus Leon Draisaitl. The big German has an NHL body, great hands in tight and power around the edge that should see him advance his career rather quickly. Draisaitl matched Reinhart with 105 points, and was a quick-thinking, commanding presence down the stretch for the Prince Albert Raiders, but Reinhart's three zone wits, preparation, and consistency give him the edge in my books.

Reinhart doesn't make the high-energy highlight reels plays, and that's OK. He's crafty, disciplined, and exudes leadership qualities on and off the ice. His superb defensive positioning comes in handy on the penalty kill, and his uncanny ability to read and anticipate plays gets applied at both ends of the rink. I'll take a MENSA hockey IQ all day long, and the Vancouver-area product knows where everyone is at all times and rarely makes a mistake. You cannot teach that - you either have it or you don't - and Reinhart's body of work both in WHL and at the international level gives me all the confidence needed to call his name.

I'm not going to beat myself up over the next 10 years comparing his career trajectory to those of Bennett, Draisaitl, Dal Colle, Nylander, Ritchie or even Ekblad (who I believe goes #1 to Florida), especially if the Sabres walk away with one (or two - thanks, Garth Snow) of Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel or Noah Hanifin in 2015. This is a two-year re-build through the draft.


So with the mention of trading back up, it's worth noting four candidates who the Sabres could consider if they're able to get back into the middle of the round.

Ivan Barbashev - C/LW, Moncton Wildcats (QMJHL)

The first overall selection in the 2012 CHL Import Draft, Barbashev has carved out a reputation over the past two seasons as a highly skilled, hard-nosed worker who gets the most out of his linemates. The well-rounded Russian is strong on his skates, using his body to compete in the high traffic areas and step in front of shots in the defensive zone. Aside from his obvious high-end talent that sees him zip crisp passes and convert with a quality shooting arsenal, I'm drawn to Barbashev's heads-up awareness in all situations.

Some teams like to limit the Russian influence in their dressing room, and it's worth noting that the Senators selected a total of zero Russian players in six drafts with Murray involved, but I have no reservations about adding his work ethic to the mix. Consistency will come, but Barbashev looks like he can do a little bit of everything. I think that in the right situation he'd be able to step into the NHL right away.

Jared McCann - C, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (OHL), 6'0", 179 lbs.

Smart both ways with a great skating game and attention to detail, McCann is a polished, high-skill playmaker with an elite caliber shot and honest two-way work ethic. His hands and vision are excellent, and his sense of the action has him hounding the puck with regularity. He produced just shy of a point-per-game this past season, but McCann's speed and determination gives him value even when he's not piling up the offensive stats. I really like this player.

The Sabres are looking to get the best players on the board, and I think McCann is a lock to be a bona fide NHL forward in just a few short years. His three-zone reliability and offensive work gives him the look of a solid second-liner with first-line upside. Targeting McCann would up the level of competition while adding some character to the dressing room.

Kevin Fiala - LW, HV 71 (SHL), 5'10", 194 lbs.

Tim Murray likes big forwards that play a "heavy game", and while Fiala doesn't pack that massive, hard hitting frame, he certainly competes like a much larger player. The whole size issue seems to give Fiala a chip on his shoulder. Scouts like that, and if the fearless attitude continues, he'll get the room to put his excellent offensive instincts to use. Fiala's meteroric rise has been remarkable, and the next 12 months should see him emerge as an elite European force. If he can work on his consistency in his own end, he'll level out the boom or bust projection and possibly work his way into form as a top end NHL scorer.

Julius Honka - RHD, Swift Current Broncos (WHL), 5'11", 178 lbs.

Honka is a highly skilled offensive defenseman who models his game after Erik Karlsson. A willingness to play the body shows up in his defensive game, but Honka's smooth mobility and ability to quickly cut up ice and gain the offensive zone make him one of the better puck movers in his class. He was solid all the way around during Finland's run to World Junior gold, where he showcased his improved defensive smarts as the team's youngest player.

Honka has a natural NHL look to him (thinking more along the lines of Kimmo Timonen), but some folks think he's set for a slide come draft day thanks to a dropoff in production over the final two months of the season. With the Sabres set to go young on the blueline, Honka could arrive on the scene in two years and blend his scoring in among the bigger guys already in house. Targeting him as a trade-up, even if somewhere in the 20's, could make sense for a rebuilding team.

Round 2 – 31st overall

Thatcher Demko – G, Boston College (Hockey East), 6’3”, 192 lbs.

Do I think the Sabres will take a goaltender in this spot? No, probably not. 

Do I think Demko will slip into round two? Maybe, if he gets past teams like Chicago and New Jersey.

Do I think the Sabres should take him if he does slip? I’d heavily consider it, especially if it means getting both the top forward and goalie in the class.

Demko is that big goalie with sound fundamentals that I keep harping on. He has a similar frame and composure to fellow NTDP product John Gibson, and he's the front-runner to lead Team USA in the crease at the 2015 World Juniors. You can read my write up on Demko and decide for yourself, but I'm not sure I see 30 other prospects better than Demko in this class.

Conner Bleackley – C/LW, Red Deer Rebels (WHL), 6’0.25”, 192 lbs.

Teams can win with highly competitive players that do everything well, and Bleackley does just that without having one top-notch standout skill. Bleackley shined as a 17-year old captain in the Western league, using his strong two-way skills to ring up 29 goals and 68 points for a mediocre Rebels squad. A strong skating game, ultra soft oft passing hands and a willingness to finish hits round out a potential middle-line package that coaches love, and I would rush to the stage to take him, especially if Demko is already off the board. He kind of reminds me a guy who went 33rd in 2009.

Nick Schmaltz – C/W, Green Bay Gamblers (USHL), 6'0", 170 lbs.

There is a slight chance that Schmaltz drops out of the first round, and if he does, the Sabres will have a very difficult time passing up his playmaking skill. Schmaltz is calm, smooth and effective, using his great hands to find teammates in tight spaces and snap quick rising shots. He paired with Sabres prospect Connor Hurley to form a dominant duo at the World Jr. A Challenge, potting a tourney record 12 points in four games. With a little maturity and some time to iron out his defensive zone play, Schmaltz has the makeup of an NHL caliber forward following his NCAA tour with the University of North Dakota.

Roland McKeown – LHD, Kingston Frontenacs (OHL), 6’0.75”, 195 lbs.

A smooth two-way defenseman with a solid frame and superb skating, McKeown could potentially go as high as 25th overall, making him a real option for Buffalo anywhere after. McKeown can lug the puck up ice, but he really shines in the passing game with strong exit feeds and distribution on the power play. He’s not a soft player, as he’s slowly starting to play the body more. Continuing to get more involved in the physical battles should round out a very solid prospect, but for now we like his overall foundation and offensive motion. 

Round 2, 39th overall

Brendan Lemieux – LW, Barrie Colts (OHL), 6’0.25”, 206 lbs.

Son of former NHL pest Claude, Lemieux totes the same peskiness and clutch scoring ability that made his father one of the greatest playoff performers of the past 20 years. Scouts tracking Ekblad regularly noticed Lemieux making things happen from between the hashmarks. His powerful cuts and heavy wrist shot helped him score 27 times last season, and his disturbing presence near the crease drew his share of attention from the opposition. When push came to shove, Lemieux dropped the gloves three times, taking on guys who averaged 6-foot-4 and 216 lbs.

Lemieux has the wide body, cut frame and fearless attitude to compete in the NHL, and it could happen rather quickly with another big year in Barrie. He's your prototypical "bastard" who I'd love to have on my team (and would hate to play against).

Anton Karlsson – RW, Frolunda Indians J20 (SWE), 6’1.25”, 187 lbs.

If Lemieux doesn't make it to this spot, then Karlsson would be the next best thing.

A physical forward with a very capable offensive dimension, Karlsson’s versatile mix of agitation and puck skills fits right into what the Sabres are looking to build. His determination on the forecheck makes for a tough assignment, and his strong skating makes him hard to handle when he gets momentum with the puck.

Karlsson played a grind role at the U20 Worlds and was blanked offensively at the U18s, but his size, two-way grit/energy/sandpaper/(enter other adjective to denote his toughness in battle), and hands down low should see him occupy many different roles down the road. Karlsson adding to his international resume over the next two years should make for a strong North American candidate when he’s ready to take the leap.

Jack Dougherty – LHD, United States NTDP (USHL), 6’1”, 186 lbs.

Doughterty is heading to the University of Wisconsin in the fall, where his assertive, well-rounded mix should make an immediate impact in B1G play. He's an efficient puck mover who exhibits excellent passing skills and sound defensive awareness. He limits his mistakes in the face of pressure. On top of it all, the Minnesota native is very much engaged physically. Adding strength and polishing up his skating game should see the Minnesota native realize his NHL potential rather quickly.

Round 2, 49th overall

Jake Walman – LHD, Toronto Junior Canadiens (OJHL), 6’1”, 170 lbs.

A speedy run-and-gun defender, Walman’s move back to defense (after a brief stint at forward) coincided with a six-inch growth spurt that has left scouts drooling at his long-term potential. His all-around game, which includes some nasty, edgy tones, saw him shoot up the draft rankings prior to earning the CJHL Rookie of the Year (past winners include Claude Giroux).

Walman is aggressive moving the puck up ice, combining a good handle with excellent vision and agility, and he’ll get plenty of time to fill out his frame throughout his commitment to Nate Leaman’s rising Providence College program. The Sabres might be over-investing a touch at this spot in the draft, but their impressive stable gives them an opportunity to be patient while monitoring Walman’s long-term development. 

Ryan Donato – C, Dexter School (NE Prep), 6’1”, 180 lbs.

With a lofty offensive ceiling and hustling, team-first mentality, Donato has shredded the New England prep ranks with 66 goals in 58 games the past two seasons, many of them being “NHL” caliber. He doesn’t possess blazing wheels, but he doesn’t need to with the style that he plays. He’s very strong on his skates with elite playmaking sense, and his natural instincts see him read and react quicker than many players in his age group. Donato will get a chance to play for his father, former NHLer Ted, at Harvard in the fall of 2015, setting up the potential for a dynamic duo with current Sabres prospect Sean Malone while adding quickness to his tantalizing skill set.

Jonas Johansson - G, Brynas IF J20 (Sweden), 6'4", 198 lbs.
I got a brief glimpse of Johansson over the summer at the USA National Junior Evaluation Camp, and was particularly impressed with his great size and simple positioning. He's s big, wide goalie with excellent athleticism and a great glove who forces you to pick corners by taking away the bottom shelf. His size and butterfly style are similar to Robin Lehner, whose Murray's Sens picked at a similar spot (46th overall) back at the 2009 draft, and he plays deep in his crease like fellow countryman Henrik Lundqvist. If Johansson sees it, he stops it. Much like Demko before him, Johansson can marinate for a few more years in a strong program and gain some valuable international experience before advancing up a level.

Nick Magyar, RW, Kitchener Rangers (OHL), 6’1.75”, 194 lbs.

After backing out of his commitment to Ohio State, Magyar decided to head north to Ontario and join current Sabres prospect Justin Bailey in Kitchener. The move paid off, with the Cleveland Barons product catching on quickly en route to potting 20 goals and a team-high 46 points to earn the Rangers' Rookie of the Year award. Magyar boasts a robust power game and a nice touch around the net. He can dish the puck accurately, and he isn't afraid to use his size to advance the play. Scouts like his work ethic, 200-foot game and team-first attitude, and it's fair to think that his stock will keep rising with what should be a breakout campaign for an improved Rangers squad in 2014-15.

Nicolas Aube-Kubel – RW, Val-d’Or Foreurs (QMJHL), 5’11, 187 lbs.

An emerging secondary scorer, Aube-Kubel saw his stock rise with a strong performance in the Memorial Cup semifinal that showed that, despite his lack of ideal size, he has the seam-splitting speed and acceleration to develop into a difference maker. He has excellent all-around offensive skills, including a good handle on the puck and a swift release, and he keeps his feet motoring in the defensive zone with tight turns and attention to detail. The parts are in place for a versatile forward with a second line ceiling.

Round 3, 61st overall

Shane Eiserman – C/LW, Dubuque Fighting Saints (USHL), 6’1.5”, 200 lbs.

Committed to the University of New Hampshire, Eiserman is natural wing prospect who plays with speed and power. He’s tough on the puck, using his size to win battles and jam things up around the net. The NTDP product played a preparatory year in Dubuque, scoring 16 goals and 40 points in 53 games with Fighting Saints. He also knocked in two goals in four games at the World Jr. A Challenge. His strength was apparent at the NHL Combine, with 18 bench press reps at 150 pounds (2nd most), and you just get the feel that he’ll be able to step into a big league role after a few years of ironing out his consistency in college.

Vaclav Karabacek – RW, Gatineau Olympiques (QMJHL), 6’0”, 190 lbs.

The hard-working Czech goes about his business efficiently with a north/south style and good offensive instincts. Karabacek was a consistent producer all season long in Gatineau (21-26-47), but really stepped up in the playoffs with 12 points (6+6) in the Olympiques’ nine games. He added more bling to his draft resume at the Under-18’s, where he notched three goals, three assists and a team-best plus-four rating, all the while managing an effective two-way effort highlighted by strong work in the corners and along the boards.

Juho Lammikko – RW, Assat Pori Jr. (FIN), 6'2", 190 lbs.

A intelligent and reliable two-way forward, Lammikko lacks highlight reel skills but instead works his tail off to get to the net front, produce points and support his defenders the other way. He sees the ice well and isn't afraid to use his size to make a play. The blue collar package popped for 17 goals and 42 points for Assat's junior squad, and looks poised to make a dent full time in Liiga action moving forward. The straight-line Finn produced six points (2+4) at the U18s, and could end up as a blue collar diamond in the rough after a few more years of seasoning on Finnish soil with the same program that developed Sabres 2011 first-rounder Joel Armia.

Johnathan MacLeod – RHD, United States NTDP (USHL), 6’2”, 200 lbs.

A hard-hitting defender with good own zone awareness, MacLeod’s upside as a mobile and rugged middle pair performer should see him go in the middle rounds. He’s simple and effective, using his size and snarl to clean up around his net and get the puck out of the zone with quality passes up ice. He handles the puck well, but his game is all about using his body and executing open ice hits. Committed to Boston University, MacLeod will have ample time to advance his all-around game and grow into a more pro-ready style.

Lucas Wallmark – C/W, Asploven (SHL-2), 6’0”, 170 lbs.

Wallmark, a Sept. 5 birth date, went through his first draft unclaimed but won’t go through a second time around. He’s a solid offensive performer with great vision, but his lack of explosion out of the blocks may hold him back a bit when he graduates up a level when things happen at a quicker pace. Still, his body of work against his peer group makes him worth a look in a draft short on skill. The Swede looked very good in top-six minutes at the 2014 World Junior Championship, posting three goals and eight points in seven tourney tilts. 


Heading into the fifth round, my process hopes that one of five prospects somehow drops down.

Round 5, 121st overall

Julius Bergman – RHD, Frolunda Indians J20 (SWE), 6’1”, 196 lbs.

An offensive-minded rearguard with a physical element to his game, Bergman’s up-tempo style makes for a compelling NHL prospect. His skating and vision saw him rack up an impressive 13 goals and 34 points with Frolunda’s junior squad, and there’s a chance that he sneaks on to Sweden’s 2015 World Junior Championship entry with a strong start in 2014-15. He’s a bit of a long term project, but his size and two-way foundation would make for a good value pick if he slips past the top 100.

Axel Holmstrom – C, Skelleftea AIK (SHL), 6’0”, 194 lbs.

Holmstrom is a powerful, gritty forward that surged up draft boards late following an excellent World U18s that saw him collaborate with William Nylander to snag three goals 11 points in the tourney’s seven contests. He worked hard along the boards and made some heady defensive plays as well in his U18 performance. Injuries hampered his start of the year, but he eventually got it firing with 15 goals and 38 points in 33 junior contests to cement his status as a middle-round candidate. If his skating sees him drop past the fourth, the Sabres should seriously think of pulling the trigger. Holmstrom recently signed a three-year extension with Skelleftea, giving any interested suitor plenty of developmental flexibility.

Michael Amadio – RHC, North Bay Battalion (OHL), 6’1”, 190 lbs.

An evolving worker at both ends of the ice, Amadio has strong playmaking instincts with the potential to develop into a future shutdown middle. He collected 12 goals and 38 points this past season in a second-line role, but Amadio showed vast improvement away from the puck in North Bay's run to the OHL Championship series by pitting his tight defensive style against the opposition's top forwards. There is two-way, third line upside in play given his opportunistic scoring and willingness to make the "effort play". In my mind, his size and long-term projection belong in the 80-100 range, but if he slips I'd gladly grab him.  

Keegan Iverson – C/RW, Portland Winterhawks (WHL), 6'0.75", 219 lbs.

The MVP of the 2014 All-American Prospects Game with a goal and an assist, Iverson is a strong, heavy forward who plays an intimidating brand. The edgy Minnesota native scored 22 goals and racked up 70 PIM last season on Portland’s third line, giving scouts confidence that his size and speed can translate to role player that can pop off his hard shot for some secondary scoring. His big frame and low center of gravity makes him tough to move from the center lane, and he likes to hit hard when applying pressure. 

Justin Kirkland – LW, Kelowna Rockets (WHL), 6’3”, 190 lbs.

A product of the Notre Dame Hounds, Kirkland is a budding power forward with an emerging hitting game and a team-first mindset. He's good in battle along the boards, and he's got the feet to take the puck to the net. Scrapping really isn't his thing, but he'll defend himself when he needs to. His consistent work ethic saw him elevate his game as 17-year old, potting 17 goals and finishing strong with 15 points in the final 16 regular season games, all the while supporting both sides of the special teams coin. I'm not sure he lasts to this spot following his five-goal, five-assist performance in 14 playoff tilts, but he's a worthy call if available.

Round 6, 151st overall

Blake Clarke – LW, Saginaw Spirit (OHL), 6’1”, 196 lbs.

Thought of as a first-round prospect entering the season, Clarke endured a massive slide throughout the 2013-14 campaign. Clarke potted 19 goals in 2012-13 as an OHL rookie, but responded with just two goals in his much anticipated follow-up. With the disappointing season behind him, Clarke’s north/south power game and heavy wrist shot still make for a sensible pick for a team already loaded at forward. Why not take a player who could very well get his game back over the next two years? Bonus.

Nelson Nogier – D, Saskatoon Blades (WHL), 6’2.25”, 191 lbs.

Smooth and safe, Nogier showed the poise and shutdown discipline that scouts crave prior to undergoing season ending surgery to correct a torn labrum in December. A sure top-90 prospect prior to the injury, it is hard forecasting how much the down time will impact his draft stock. His size is a plus, he plays an excellent positional game, and he gets around the ice quickly with ease. 

Jacob Middleton – LHD, Ottawa 67’s (OHL), 6’4”, 208 lbs.

Size, mobility, toughness, heavy shot – Middleton has it. The 67’s were not very good in 2013-14, but Middleton was afforded opportunities to play in different situations and even earned a spot in the CHL Top Prospects Game. There were spans of inconsistency throughout the season, but the experience should springboard to greater things down the road. Tim Murray has scouted his share of junior games, and with much of his past year spent in the Ottawa region, you have to wonder if his viewings have an impact on the process.

Ryan Foss – LW/C, Windsor Spitfires (OHL), 6’3”, 183 lbs.

Foss was signed by Windsor as an undrafted free agent and went on to produce 13 regular season goals to thrust his name into NHL draft contention. An honest, rock-solid forward in all three zones, Foss uses his frame to compete beneath the goal line and in front of the net. The size, skating and commitment are in place, so it’s all about getting stronger and faster over the next two seasons if Foss wants to work his way into third or fourth line professional role down the road.

Ryan Mantha – RHD, Indiana Ice (USHL), 6’5”, 225 lbs.

A long-limbed stay-at-home defender, Mantha plays a simple yet effective game. Goals aren’t really Mantha’s thing despite packing a blistering point shot (he potted just four in 105 USHL games over the last three seasons), but the foundation to be a safe, crease-clearing pro is in place. Improving his footwork and employing a nastier edge will help him achieve his top end potential. He could play one more year in the USHL before continuing his development at the University of North Dakota.

Round 7, 181st overall

Austin Carroll – LW, Victoria Royals (WHL), 6’3”, 216 lbs.

The fact that the Phoenix-area product (who was born in Canada) has not yet been signed is a little perplexing. Sure, Carroll is in his third year of draft eligibility, but after participating in a development camp with Phoenix and later the main camp with Anaheim, it seems he should be on the radar. At 6-foot-3, 214 pounds, Carroll hits, fights, and skates well with a strong net presence. Western Conference style hockey is en vogue, and Carroll fits the bill. His 34 goals this season in Victoria prove that the hands are there, making him totally worth a flier in the later stages. He'd step in and play for Rochester right away if you needed him to. Bonus points for Claude Lemieux being his agent.

Kyle Wood - RHD, North Bay Battalion (OHL), 6'5", 229 lbs.

Wood overcame a regular season knee injury to put forth a strong second half and eventually shine in the OHL playoffs with 10 points (2+8) in the Troop's run to the league final. He has the desirable size and intriguing offensive package that teams look for in a rearguard, but it was really his all-around smarts that backboned his late-season surge. Wood was ranked the 191st North American skater by Central Scouting, but his playoff performance was a revelation to many scouts, and should see him selected anytime after the third round. 

Nick Wolff – LHD, Eagan (US HS), 6’4”, 201 lbs.

A solidly built enforcer type on the blueline, Wolff’s raw athleticism came through with an encouraging showing last summer at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial. Many see Wolff getting picked as early as the third or fourth rounds, but I'd hesitate investing that high in a player who, outside of the Select 17 Hockey Festival and subsequent international tourney, has rarely been tested beyond the Minnesota high school ranks. The hard-hitting defender will enroll at Minnesota-Duluth in 2015 following a year with the USHL’s Des Moines Buccaneers.

Olivier Leblanc - LHD, Saint John Sea Dogs (QMJHL), 6'0", 160 lbs.

The Sea Dogs struggled this season, but the undersized defender showed his vision and puck moving skills with regularity to keep his name among late-round draft hopefuls. Like so many of his peers, he'll need to add some serious muscle mass to his frame over the next two season to prepare for the next level, but there's no doubting his sharp passing and confidence with the puck. Leblanc is well worth a late-round lottery ticket given his skating and playmaking skills.