Buffalo Sabres 2015 Draft Preview

It's an exciting time for the rebuilding Buffalo Sabres franchise. After the two most futile seasons in team history since the league moved to an 80+ game schedule, the more fruitful portion of the business plan set forth by the decision makers is right around the corner.

And so, the Buffalo Sabres will hold the second overall pick in the NHL Draft for the first time since....2014!

Some franchises have gone through tear down phases, only to attempt to rebound via high profile trades and splashes in free agency. Not this one. Expect the Sabres to continue building through the draft, all the while developing and promoting their homegrown talent to take the more patient road to the turnaround. It's clear that the 2015 draft is an integral part of the Sabres long-term growth strategy.

Hope always springs eternal, and when all is said and done, the Sabres, who for two-year consecutive years finished with the worst regular regular season but still "lost" by not receiving the first overall draft pick, could be done finishing "second" in due time.


Sabres GM Tim Murray generally doesn't draft by positional need in the first two rounds. but a quick reference of the most recent prospect rankings and accompanying depth chart reveal some gaps in the stable.

The Sabres have no doubt amassed a bevy of young talent down the middle and at right wing, but the system is missing a legitimate scoring threat down the left side. Some of those right wing prospects could potentially slide to their off wing, of course. It's not an ideal solution, but it is one to ponder as the club could potentially see their top two centermen possessing right-handed sticks, making the need the for quality scoring on the left boards all the more necessary..

They have a solid group of young defensemen, but the overall depth quickly falls off after the top five, with the group as a whole devoid of a bona fide puck mover. Ristolainen, Zadorov, Bogosian, McCabe, and Pysyk all have the ability to lead a rush and spark an offense, but it is not their forte. As the group continues to gel, there is clearly room to add a game-breaking firecracker to the mix.

The future always seems cloudy in net, as it is historically difficult to analyze young goaltenders who are taken deeper in the draft. Petersen, Ullmark and Johansson all show promise, yet none stand out as elite players at their position just yet. Additional developmental years may change that story, but for now it wouldn't hurt the Sabres to continue investing in the position with some early round picks.


When Tim Murray was with the Ottawa Senators, 25% of the their pick haul came from Sweden.

The Sabres have selected Swedes in the last three drafts. They used two of their nine picks on Swedes in 2014, Murray's first year at the helm.

You think they have to take at least one, right?

Despite a lackluster performance at the 2015 IIHF World Under-18 Championship, Sweden has developed a decent crop of talent in this class. The Sabres recent trend could be put into action as early as pick #21.


Speaking of #21...

A few weeks back on WGR, Tim Murray was asked about a certain goalie and actually commented that he liked said goaltender right around the spot of their second pick.

I was wondering why the heck would he divulge a piece of strategy. Then I was thinking that it could be a ploy to get another team to panic into picking him before the Sabres, allowing a talented skater to slide their way down the board.

Then I came to my senses.

Sure, Murray is a brutally honest GM. With or without his personality in play, the fact is that the Sabres need to get serious about strengthening the position. If you already have a great, okay I'll say it, generational skater secured with the second pick, why not exercise the opportunity to get the best goaltender in the draft with your second pick? It's possible...but I'm still skeptical.


1st round, 2nd overall
1st round, 21st overall (from NYI)
2nd round, 31st overall
2nd round, 51st overall
4th round, 92nd overall
5th round, 132nd overall
6th round, 152nd overall
7th round, 182nd overall

The Sabres 3rd round selection was traded along with Jaroslav Halak to Washington on March 5, 2014 for Michael Neuvirth and Rostislav Klesla.


The past few years have seen this site sing the praises of the Los Angeles Kings as a model for the rebuild. It's not so far off to think that more recently Tampa Bay has emerged as another franchise to copycat. My strategy is simple. Try to get a goalie early. Round off your defensive depth in the middle. While eyeing talent that drops, consider some big, possession style players late.

Before we dive in, it's worth pointing out that forecasting specific draft day trades makes an already difficult exercise all the more difficult. I'll say this though -- both trading up or back from the 21st spots have their merits.

Trading back from 21st isn't a bad play, but there is really only one scenario where it seems plausible. The situation develops if Edmonton takes a goalie at #16, and the three skaters that I've targeted for the Sabres drop off the board with three of the next four picks. Even if that happens, there is a skater ranked outside of my Sabres.com Top 30 that I can see the Sabres taking.

Every draft preview has what turns out to be a pipe dream "trade up" scenario. The 2015 edition has the Sabres shooting back into the top 10, with a specific mission of acquiring a versatile talent who could potentially thrive down the left side.

Option A: Trade up to the 5-6 range for Pavel Zacha
Probability: Very low, unfortunately

We'll file Operation: Attack for Zacha under "wishful thinking".

The reason to chase down Zacha is quite simple. He's a world class talent who can put up points and make teams pay a physical price. Zacha is an engaging personality, and at 6-foot-3, 210 pounds, he plays with power forward mentality that would be an exact fit for what the Sabres are looking to be moving forward.

Zacha's skill level is high. Bundle the offensive potential with his tremendous size and skating that can crate space for his fellow skill players to operate, and you have perhaps the most tantalizing package in the class not named Eichel or McDavid.

Zacha sits at No. 6 on my board, and I would be shocked if Zacha wasn't scooped in the spot by the New Jersey Devils. A few paragraphs ago I said I'd expect the Sabres to continue developing their prospects as opposed to dealing them away, but I'd pay a fairly hefty price to go acquire Zacha's services.

The next two scenarios are a little more reasonable. Here's why:

The Sabres traded #21 and #42 in 2015 for the 14th pick. A pick value chart suggests that the 21st and 31st could allow you to move up to the 9-10 range.

Florida, who currently sits with the 11th pick, might be a willing trade partner to move back since they don't get to call another name until pick #77 in the middle of the third round. Someone recently asked if I thought the host team would really trade their pick, but the league's attendance figures are telling me that there aren't going to be that many fans to upset.

Option B: Trade up to the 8-10 range for Lawson Crouse
Probability: Maybe

Crouse, who despite what the box score scouts might try tell you actually has a goal scoring knack, could serve many roles in an NHL lineup down the road. Like Zacha, he has the size and skill to play on a top line while finding space and ultimately protecting the operating interests of the team's meal ticket. He's a player who can be a wrecking ball on the forecheck, a powerful bull on his way to the crease for goals, and also one who possesses a desire to effectively kill penalties.

Frankly, it's astounding how close minded some smug forecasters can be about Crouse, as if scoring 29 times is an easy chore as a 17-year-old major junior winger who played the majority of the season without a top-flight centerman for a team employing a tight defense-first system.

Crouse is a very good player. If he wasn't, he wouldn't have earned a key role on Canada's World Junior entry in his draft year. Look at the players that have done in the past. He's in good company.

I have Crouse ranked No. 8 on my board.

Option C: Trade up to the 11-13 range for Kyle Connor
Probability: Very reasonable

Committed to Michigan, Connor is a highly-skilled two-way competitor with the exact type of natural offensive mind that the left side craves. He's not as big and strong as Zacha and Crouse, but that shouldn't matter in a few years. He's always involved in the action, and boy can he finish. It'll be interesting to watch him become more of a shoot-first player in Ann Arbor next season alongside Compher. Connor landed at No. 13 on my final board.

I hope you enjoyed your preview of the preview....


1st round, 2nd overall

You're crazy if you think I'm going to write about Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel. This site started in January 2008 because media coverage of prospects was rare. As local consumers, we might be a little Eichel'd out.

I wouldn't be surprised if Spiel The Wine was preparing an Eichel segment at this point. I tend to think the value of this draft preview resides elsewhere, and thus I think we're done here for now. The next decade should be exciting.

1st round, 21st overall

The Pick: Brock Boeser - RW, Waterloo Blackhawks (USHL), 6'1", 191 lbs.

If you like guys who can score goals...and then score a few more goals,,,and then a few more, then you are sure to like Boeser.

In fact, if you can't get your hands on the hard-working Joel Eriksson-Ek (below), then Boeser is the next best thing in my eyes if the Minnesota Wild don't scoop him up at #20. This kid is a skilled warrior who brings a lot character to the dressing room in addition to his sick production. He's anchored into the ice and plays with power, but he's a guy who pops shots off from all areas of the ice at a high rate of success (15% shooting).

Boeser was rated #22 on my Sabres.com big board after exploding for 35 goals in Waterloo. Click the link to read more about the talented forward who has a very realistic chance to be the Sabres' second pick of the draft. Committed to North Dakota this fall, Boeser will continue his career playing in the memory of a dear friend who was lost in a tragic automobile accident last summer.

Joel Eriksson-Ek - LC, Farjestads BK (SHL), 6'2, 180 lbs.

I've been hot on Eriksson-Ek for the past few months, but I just don't think he's going to be there.

The 6-foot-2, 183-pound pivot can do it all. He can score big goals, kill penalties, win faceoffs and shut down the opposition's top forwards. In essence, he's a bigger Swedish version of JT Compher in that he's a fiery, skilled competitor with a full 200-foot game. The thought of these two playing on the same line together down the road is quite compelling. I'd even move up a few spots to get him if I had to for this reason alone.

After scoring 21 goals in 26 games for FBK's J20 squad,  Eriksson-Ek's confirmed his offensive prowess at the U18s in April, when the crafty forward shined for an otherwise "meh" Team Sweden with five goals in the tourney's five games.

Eriksson-Ek is locked into a contract through 2017-18, but I'm not drafting him for today. I ranked him No. 21 at Sabres.com, and I'd stick with it if he's still on the board.

Ilya Samsonov - G, Magnitogorsk (KHL), 6'4", 205 lbs.

We're getting the vibe that Samsonov could be the apple of Murray's eye in this spot, especially if Edmonton passes on him with the 16th pick.

The Russian, who I ranked as the 24th best prospect in the draft, didn't attend the NHL combine in Buffalo, but the Sabres were able to visit his private workout a week later in Detroit and left impressed. The fact that he came to North America should be seen as a good sign.

With a huge frame and nimble athleticism, Samsonov proved himself as the top goaltender in the class this past season. He was lights out at the World Junior A Challenge (1.67 GAA, .952 save%), including a record-setting 46-save shutout in the bronze medal game over Canada East. He ended the year with another strong showing at the U18s (2.67 GAA .934 save%), where he made 49 saves to earn a preliminary round victory over Team USA.

The big modern goalie who can move with ease and look over and under screen is in en vogue. Samsonov's five-hole isn't too big at 6-foot-4, and he does a good job keeping his rebounds under control, which is key for developing netminders. He's a few years away on his developmental curve, so the two years remaining on his KHL contract shouldn't be a deterrent to any interested party.

Jakub Zboril - LHD, Saint John Sea Dogs (QMJHL), 6'1", 184 lbs.

We like defenseman who can dish out physical punishment and make teams pay on the scoreboard. Meet Zboril, a speedy rearguard who can cover a lot of ground and doesn't appear to have any weaknesses to his game. Zboril is an aggressive defender with superior strength for his age group. He has a very hard shot and he can be nasty when he needs to. The uber-talented Czech collected 13 goals and 33 points in 44 games this season, his first in North America.

I placed Zboril 20th on my list. As much as I've become enamored with Eriksson-Ek and Boeser, I'd have to stick to my board and select Zboril if he's there for the taking.

WILDCARD: Paul Bittner – LW, Portland Winterhawks (WHL), 6’4”, 204 lbs.

Just because I have Bittner ranked #31 doesn't mean the Sabres won't take him at #21.

The Minnesota native has been a key contributor for the past two seasons in Portland, providing big goals and tough board play for a deep Winterhawks squad.  In 66 games of his draft year, Bittner poured in 34 goals and 71 points, including eight multi-goal games and three hat tricks. It was a nice numerical season on his resume, but the knock on Bittner remains is his consistency.

When Bittner wasn’t toiling out west, he was enjoying quality facetime back east as he was afforded the rare luxury of appearing in both the CCM/USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game in Buffalo and January’s BMO CHL Top Prospects Game in St. Catherines, Ont., where he scored a goal in Team Orr’s 6-0 rout of Team Cherry.

Bittner’s skating looks a bit clunky in open ice, but he generates a lot of momentum and always gets where he needs to be. He’s a regular crease presence who uses his uses his big frame to battle for position and jam at pucks, but he’s also effective at finishing plays off the rush thanks to his quick, heavy wrist shot.

While Bittner doesn’t have a punishing physical dimension in his repertoire, his overall size and strength on the puck will be attractive to teams looking to add puck protection skills and a soft set of hands around the net.

There are so many tools in place that he's impossible to ignore. I personally like him better at #31 than I do in this spot, but I'd understand the scenario that would see the Sabres take him.


2nd round, 31st overall

There are rally just two names that I'd like to see the Sabres consider at #31. Both are defensemen, yet both play completely different styles.

The Pick: Oliver Kylington - D, Farjestads BK (Sweden), 6'0", 185 lbs.

Surprised? Me too.

A draft darling entering the season, the fleet-footed Kylington was once thought of as the top European prospect and a challenger for Hanifin as the draft's top rearguard before falling off the radar for many scouting services due to uneven efforts and patches of uninspired play during the 2014-15 season. Talent is talent, though, and it's not hard to forecast Kylington as a potential two-way force who'd fit in perfectly with the Sabres' current crop of young defenders they have stockpiled.

Kylington's effortless skating and puck skills lead to some flashy plays at times. With that flash comes low percentage tries that see him force passes to a less-than optimal target. With that said, he'll definitely need to be challenged by coaches to be a safer, more consistent player moving forward.

Some may think this is a sketchy pick, but I see it as an opportunity to hit a home run as the draft's second day begins if his name is still on the board. We'll see how risk averse the Sabres are if he makes it past Friday.

Nicolas Meloche - RHD, Baie-Comeau Drakkar (QMJHL), 6'3", 205 lbs.

Perhaps my favorite defenseman in the entire draft class, Meloche had a very solid year as a hard-hitting talent with some very nice offensive upside. The Drakkar standout simply has a pro look with his solid positioning and smooth, confident puck handling skill and ability to punish forwards who enter his territory. He's a commanding two-way presence who shows up when the game is on the line, providing key defensive stops and quick-thinking plays with the puck.

Meloche contributed 10 goals and 34 points in 44 regular season games. He shrugged off a late-season injury and lit it up in the playoffs with another four goals and 10 points in 12 outings.

If Kylington is selected in the first round and the Sabres keep this pick, I'm happily taking Meloche and getting ready for the rest of the day.

Vince Dunn - LHD, Niagara Ice Dogs (OHL), 6'0", 187 lbs.

An electrifying puck mover with a developing physical edge, Dunn acquitted himself in his draft year as an impact defenseman despite lacking the ideal frame normally needed to succeed in the NHL. His feet are light, allowing him to quickly exit the zone and shoot into open ice to advance the puck over the red line. If you can picture a defender who likes to infuse himself into the offense by slipping into the high slot or carrying the puck deep like a fourth forward, that is how Dunn operates.

If you want proof that his defensive zone play is vastly improved, how about looking at Connor McDavid's lack of success against the IceDogs this past season. McDavid shredded the OHL, scoring points in 45 of the 47 games he suited up for. The two times he was unable to notch a point came when his line was matched up against the Dunn pair for Niagara. That's a pretty significant accomplishment.

Mackenzie Blackwood - G, Barrie Colts (OHL), 6'4", 215 lbs.

Blackwood has been rock-solid in the Colts' net the past two seasons to cement himself as the top-rated North American netminder available, He's very very quick and poised with excellent lateral movement, and of course, his big frame takes away a ton of net from shooters. One good thing about this pick is that he's a late-96 birth date, meaning he can play one more season in the Ontario League and then enter the AHL ranks in 2016-17.

As is often the case with young goalies, Blackwood's numbers (23-15-2, 2.98 GAA, .902 save%) don't tell the entire story. His skill set is where it needs to be, and his goalie IQ and vision makes him a logical target. He's a battler who can win games, making him in the discussion as the Sabres look to shore up the position with high-end talent early on day two.


2nd round 51st overall

The Pick: Daniel Vladar - G, Kladno (Czech Republic), 6'5", 185 lbs.

If Samsonov is not the Sabres' pick at #21, the next best thing would be Vladar at #51.

A massive netminder who is not yet 18 years old, Vladar is a massive goaltender with equally massive talent. He's quick, strong and agile, generating great power with his legs when going side-to-side. It's encouraging when a young European goalie exits his comfort zone to become a better player, and that's what Vladar will do in 2015-16 when he arrives in North America to study under former NCAA standout Peter Mannino as a member of the USHL's Chicago Steel. I'm concerned the Vladar won't last to this spot, so the Sabres may need to get creative to secure his services.

Erik Cernak - RHD, HC Kosice (Slovakia), 6'4", 207 lbs.

Cernak is physical, mobile defenseman who played the past two seasons in Slovakia's top men's league. With pro experience under his belt, Cernak put his size to work with a strong performance at the 2015 World Junior Championship, owning his space around his own goal while adding two helpers in the Slovaks' six-game march to the bronze medal. Cernak looks like he'll be a solid pro, perhaps even a darn good one.

In addition to be hard hitting force in his own zone, Cernak looks like a smart player who seems to make the right decisions with the puck. He brings bonus value with a huge, accurate shot from the point. Cernak is without a contract moving forward, so the thought is in play that he will move to the CHL or perhaps even make the immediate jump to the AHL.

Jacob Forsbacka-Karlsson - RC, Omaha Lancers (USHL), 6'1", 190 lbs.

A playmaking, two-way centerman, JFK is a highly intelligent player with a well-developed style away from the puck. JFK, who left Sweden as a 16-year-old to hone his craft in the USHL, is appealing to the Sabres in this spot because he consistently applies his gifts as a high-level thinker of the game. He can lock it down defensively, sticking to his man and picking the right spots to use a burst of speed and a quick stick to go for the steal. He possesses excellent vision and decision making skills as well, giving him the look of a surefire third-line candidate following his continued development at Boston University.

Erik Foley - LW, Cedar Rapids Roughriders (USHL), 6'0", 185 lbs.

Involved. Energetic.Powerful. These are just three terms used to describe Foley's well-rounded repertoire. Foley, who will enroll at defending NCAA champion Providence College in 2015-16, has a budding physical element to his game with a shot the pops off his stick with ease.

The individual skills are still being developed, but hockey minds have taken notice due to his clear potential. Foley earned an invite to the 2015 USA National Junior Evaluation Camp, putting him on the radar for World Junior duty in the next two seasons pending the expected growth in his game. I like this kid's attitude, effort and ability to finish plays, making him worthy of consideration early on day two.

Travis Dermott - LHD, Erie Otters (OHL), 5'11", 197 lbs.

Dermott rates high on all the core competencies for a defenseman. He has a powerful skating stride with a nice top gear. He has a stocky build and low center of gravity that he uses to successfully compete in one-on-one battles. He is tough to knock off the puck, uses his quick feet to find space to make a play. I'm getting the feeling that scouting opinions are all over the board with Dermott, but there's little doubt that he's available after round two given his solid production and all of the attention the Otters received this year.


3rd round - NO PICK

The Sabres could always find a way to get into the third round. If they do, let's be prepared with a few names to consider.

Jens Looke - LW/RW, Brynas IF (Sweden), 6'0", 180 lbs.

Another player who showed a responsible two-way style and impressive offensive skills at the World Junior Championship, Looke has the skating and intelligence to succeed as a middle-line NHL contributor. Some guys you can see play once and you know they have what it takes. That's the feeling I get with Looke, who smoothly enters the zone with his head up and an extremely tight handle on the puck. He's can create with finesse, but it's easy to protect Looke as an imposing presence on the forecheck once he adds about 15 more pounds and gains his man strength. He's just a really likable player.

Jeremy Lauzon - LHD, Rouyn-Noranda Huskies (QMJHL), 6'2", 193 lbs.

A smooth gifted skater who likes to bang bodies along the boards, Lauzon emerged this past season as a do-it-all defender who can light up the scoreboard, as evidenced by his 15 goals in his draft year. Every viewing of Lauzon this season showed a smooth and alert player with the puck who zipped crisp, accurate passes out of the zone and provided support up ice with a heavy shot from the point. Think Pysyk with a little more bite to his game. That's what a team is getting when they draft Lauzon.

Jordan Greenway - LW, USA Under-18 (USHL), 6'5", 223 lbs.

The Boston University commit has all the tools in the world. Enormous size. Smooth hands. Good vision and puck skills. If Greenway could score a little more, he'd be a surefire first round pick. He still could be taken higher than this spot I suppose since the draft is done on potential and five-year projections, but if he's on the board in the third round it's a very safe pick for a Sabres team looking to get bigger and more skilled.

Roope Hintz - LW, Ilves (Finland), 6'2", 185 lbs.

One of the underrated draft eligible performers at the World Junior Championship, Hintz brings a strong skating game and smart two-way play every night. He is proving to be a hybrid type of forward who has shown traces of power with an ability to grind down low and protect the puck on the cycle while also displaying good playmaking vision in open ice. He recorded two assists in five games at the U20 event, but his overall sense and work ethic were his standout qualities throughout the year.

One of the best things that I've noticed with Hintz is the he's a very good defensive zone player. He uses his size to and long reach to separate the opposition from the puck and is good at breaking up plays with his stick. Still, Hintz has excellent offensive tools that could see him carve out a middle line NHL role with a few more years of seasoning in Liiga. Hintz will play the next season with HIFK.

Kyle Capobianco - LHD, Sudbury Wolves (OHL), 6'1", 180 lbs.

A smooth two-way defender with plenty of room to add mass to his 6-foot-1, 180-pound frame, Capobianco was a standout performer for a weak Sudbury squad this past season, notching 10 goals and 40 points while appearing in all 68 contests. He doesn't turn 18 until after the draft, and you have to think the leadership gained from being named Assistant Captain at such a young age should pay off down the line.

Capobianco is a familiar name to local hockey fans. Kyle's brother Tony was a standout netminder for Canisius College as recently as two seasons ago. I bet if you were to ask Nick Baptiste about Capobianco, he'd tell you that the kid has a lot of poise and unusual maturity to go along with the obvious two-way talent. His panic threshold is high and his decisions are usually correct. That's all you want to see at this stage for a player who has lots of promise.


4th round, 92nd overall

The Pick: Brendan Guhle - LHD, Prince Albert Raiders (WHL), 6'2", 185 lbs.

A big body who has the look of a solid physical presence once his frame fills out, the 6-foot-2, 185-pound Guhle is a beautiful skater who embraced a big-minute role this past season after the Raiders dealt Josh Morrissey (WPG) to Kelowna. He isn't an offensive stalwart. nor is he a shutdown, top-pair anchor, but he has the tools to be a good support piece who can lend to the transition game as he settles into his growing body.

I think in most drafts he'd be a solid third round selection, so if he somehow slips to the start of the fourth, you have to look long and hard at a player who is both physical and durable with a raw yet emerging set of offensive tools. We're getting into the area where you're looking to grab developing talents with upside, and Guhle is one that stands out in this category, especially given the Sabres current situation.

Conor Garland - RW, Moncton (QMJHL), 5'8", 163 lbs.

A Massachusetts product who was a goal scoring machine for Shattuck St. Marys before entering the Quevec League, Garland stands out as a dynamite offensive prospect in a year that has seen fellow small guys Tyler Johnson dominate the playoffs and Johnny Gaudreau make a run at the Calder Trophy. Garland, who is in his second year of draft eligibility, looks to pack significant offensive upside after posting 129 points (35+94) this season. I'm always skeptical when it comes to smallish QMJHL scorers. Frankly, I wasn't sold until late in the year. Garland will be on the ice in August in Lake Placid at the 2015 National Junior Evaluation Camp.

Matej Tomek - G, Topeka Roadrunners (NAHL), 6'3", 180 lbs.

The North Dakota commit completed an excellent season with Topeka of the NAHL, recording a 1.83 GAA, .928 save% and six shutouts to earn the league's Goaltender of the Year award. Tomek, who was slowed by injuries and later faltered in the playoffs, draws from a modern technique. He has a wide stance and drops quickly to make butterfly saves. His glove looks okay as long as he keeps it high. The Sabres could afford to take Tomek if they miss on the other top targets. He'll need to stay in school for at least three years, but that's a good situation for both parties when dealing with a goaltender of Tomek's potential.

Robin Kovacs - RW/LW, AIK (Sweden), 6'0", 160 lbs.

A dangerous shooter who can finish at a high rate of success off the rush, Kovacs shot up draft boards this past season thanks to his performance as AIK's leading scorer with 17 goals and 28 points in 52 Allsvenskan contests as an 18-year old. Playing for a weaker team, the young winger proved himself as a pesky competitor who competes in all areas of the ice to create his opportunities. It's this workmanlike attitude that gives him a good amount of long range potential at the NHL level.

Kovacs isn't the fastest or flashiest. He does have a natural ability to get pucks to the net, often leveraging his quick left-handed wrist shot from all angles. He's one of these players who can chip a puck to himself and quickly strike in transition.

Jesper Lindgren - RHD, MODO (Sweden), 6'0", 161 lbs.

Lindgren is a smallish defender who shines as one of the speediest puck-moving defenders in the draft class. Lindgren torched the J20 ranks this past season, racking up 33 points (6+27) in 39 games, while also adding one helper in four SHL contests.

Of course, a player of his size and ability is drawing comparisons to Ottawa stalwart Erik Karlsson. Before anyone starts comparing him to any NHLer, though, Lindgren has much to do in the way of rounding out his defensive zone prowess. I would consider him as a high risk, high reward pick in the early wound, but I would definitely jump on this developing talent, especially if the Sabres are unable to secure any of the blueline targets at #31.

Matthew Spencer - RHD, Peterborough Petes (OHL), 6'2", 203 lbs.

A mobile all-situations player, Spencer executes with a good awareness and a very strong passing game. He did a lot for his home club in Peterborough this past season, and seemed to keep it a bit simpler when he arrived at the U18s, making excellent outlet feeds and relying less on his recovery speed to perform his defensive duties. Spencer does everything well without having the one great, standout attribute. That's a nice platform to work off from as he builds his strength and speed over his next two seasons, which should see him emerge as a premier OHL defender just as the Petes had planned when taking him third overall in the 2013 Priority Selection.

If the Sabres are looking to shore up their defensive depth, guys like Guhle, Spencer and Capobianco made a ton of sense. They all gained valuable top pair experience at the junior level in their draft years, setting the table for them to be "the guy" moving forward.


5th round, 122nd overall

The Pick: Aleksi Saarela - C/LW, Assat Pori (Finland), 5'10", 198 lbs.

A nifty offensive player who executes with good footspeed and a fearless style, Saarela was once a highly-ranked European prospect but dropped down draft charts this season after failing to produce big numbers in his first full Liiga season with Assat (6-6-12 in 51 games). But right when you thought his stock was sliding to no man's land, Saarela piled up three goals and eight points in seven games at the U18s to get himself back on the map. Saarela has been a favorite of mine for a while with his willingness to dig in and bring out the best of his skill. I would take him as high as the fourth round, but something tells me 30 teams don't think as highly of him as I do.

Luke Stevens - LW, Noble & Greenough (NE Prep), 6'4", 192 lbs.

Son of former NHL All-Star Kevin Stevens, Stevens is an efficient high school forward with a ton of potential. Stevens, who is committed to Yale University for 2016-17, scored 11 goals and 29 points this past season despite missing a month with a separated shoulder. He has good hands and can move about really well, giving patient decision-makers plenty to be excited about as the strength development and transformation into a power forward type takes it course over the next four years.

Radovan Bondra - LW/RW, HC Kosice (Slovakia), 6'5, 212 lbs.

If you can't tell, I enjoyed the Slovakian World Junior squad quite a bit this past winter. Bondra was one of the reasons they were a treat a watch with his good mobility and offensive knack. He's not related to former Washington Capital star Petr, but he has the same ability to score goals. He's simply a powerful winger who can lower his shoulder and protect the puck as he drives the net. Bondra will need time to develop, but a pick like this could be one that pays off.

Loik Leveille - RHD, Cape Breton Screaming Eagles (QMJHL), 6'0", 220 lbs.

Leveille has given scouts glimpses of a do-it-all defender who makes a mark on the scoresheet. He puts his low center of gravity and detailed-oriented agenda to good use in the defensive zone, and can provide lightning quick sparks to the offensive game whether he skates it himself or follows the play down the off-side and makes himself available for the one-timer. Leveille lit up the Maritimes this past season, connecting for 13 goals and 54 points while logging 77 PIM including one fighting major.

Ethan Bear - RHD, Seattle Thunderbirds (WHL), 5'11", 201 lbs.

A solid potential depth defender who functions calmly like a veteran, Bear is consistent and reliable both at even strength and on the penalty kill, but he can use his rocket shot at the junior level to create chances on the power play. His heavy one-timer is perhaps his best pro-ready trait, but Bear did a really good job improving his all-around game in the second half of the season when he received more power play time opposite Shea Theodore (ANA) at the point.

Some see Bear closer to the third round range, but I wouldn't invest a pick that high with all of the other talent available in this class. While he's getting more adventurous with his skating game, Bear projects as a safer pro who can move the puck out quickly to the skill players. Following a successful U18s for Canada, the 5-foot-11, 200-pound Bear is expected that Bear will continue to develop in big minutes as the T-Birds top defender over the next two seasons.


6th round, 152nd overall

The Pick: Jiri Fronk - RW/LW, Cedar Rapids RoughRiders (USHL), 6'2", 201 lbs.

As the Sabres search for players that are further along in their development, the 21-year-old Fronk stands out as a late-round consideration due to his powerful game, willingness to battle all over the ice, and the fact that he can immediately be dispatched to the AHL. And oh yeah, this young man can rack up goals. Fronk, who competed on the same Cedar Rapids line with the aforementioned Erik Foley, powered his way to the net front to score 17 times in his first 20 USHL contests. He'd finish the season with 29 tallies, including a 15.4% shooting efficiency, and 50 total points in 60 games.

Troy Terry - RW/C, USA Under-18 (USHL), 5'11", 180 lbs.

Terry is a smooth, confident player who does a lot of things very well. He starred at the USA Hockey Select-17 Camp in Buffalo in the spring of 2014 and has remained one of the guys I've tracked closely since then. Terry, who is property of the USHL's Lincoln Stars, connected for three goals on 17 shots as a top-six forward at the U18s to get himself firmly in line to be drafted. One of the youngest players in the draft with a September 10 birth date, the highly competitive Colorado native will head home to enroll at Denver as a true freshman in 2015-16. Chicago and Anaheim are among a handful of teams interested in this kid. Why not the Sabres?

Chris Wilkie - RW, Tri-City Storm, 6'0, 194 lbs.

Passed over in his first year of eligibility, the slick-mitted Wilkie is poised to be rewarded with an NHL draft pick after scoring 35 times this past season to tie for the league lead. While Wilkie's goal scoring ability is appealing, his greatest traits remain his no-quit mentality and three-zone intelligence. The kid consistently brings it on every shift. Wilkie, who is committed to North Dakota, will be looking to become the rare Nebraskan to make the NHL.

Kevin Stenlund - C, HV 71 (Sweden), 6'4", 205 lbs.

Stenlund is a big, rangy center with a good hands a respectable two-way foundation. The HV 71 product plays a simple, straight-line game with a very strong work ethic without the puck. Thicker frame might be appealing to the Sabres, and if they've done their homework (trust me, they have), Stenlund is a player who will be on their radar in the final rounds if he lasts. Too much size, talent and creativity to pass up.


7th round, 182nd overall

The Pick: Steven Ruggiero - RHD, USA Under-18 (USHL), 6'3", 200 lbs.

A big stay-at-home defender, Ruggiero de-committed from Penn State to take a scholarship at defending NCAA champion Providence. Ruggiero executes with a tight defnesive mentality. He's good with his gaps and positioning, and doesn't mind playing the body. He's simple and reliable, making for a quality selection late in the draft given his upside as a depth role player and ability to continue his development in a strong collegiate program.

John McDermott - LW, Westminster School (NE Prep), 6'2", 190 lbs.

Committed to Boston University in 2016, McDermott is a strong skater and puck possession player who will first play a ramp-up season with the USHL's Tri-City Storm before hitting Hockey East. Big guys who can move and control the puck at a high rate of speed are at a premium these days. McDermott elevated his stock this past season with work on his shooting and playmaking polish. The Sabres can take him late and stash him in a good program for a few years while the talent emerges.

Gustav Olhaver - LW, Rogle BK (Sweden), 6'6", 215 lbs.

Another massive power forward who has the potential to develop into a bottom-six force, Olhaver sticks out with his obvious size and reach, but he has very good hand-eye coordination and a surprisingly good handle on the puck in traffic. He's not at all awkward like a Great Dane as one might think. To me, that's a pretty decent foundation to build off of. Ohlaver tries his best on every shift. Once he starts to dominate physically, look out.

David Henley - LHD, Charlottetown Islanders (QMJHL), 6'4", 203 lbs.

A hard-hitting stay-at-home rearguard, Henley takes pride in being an abrasive force and all around pain to play against. He's very raw with his skill, but that's not why you'd consider him. He's a character kid who is willing to put the work in to maintain his edge.

Henley made the highlights early in the season when he lowered his shoulder and put a huge hit on 2014 first-rounder Nikolaj Ehlers as he entered the zone with his head down. His skating is coming along, and with that his work comes improved positioning and better three-zone competency. The Sabres previously selected his brother Cedrick at the 2010 draft.

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