Buffalo Sabres 2017 Draft Preview

The Jason Botterill Era is underway in Buffalo. The coach is hired. Defenseman Nathan Beaulieu has been acquired from Montreal.

Now it's time for Botterill's first draft at the head of the Sabres' table.

And if Botterill isn't already in enough unfamiliar territory, let's note that he comes from a Pittsburgh organization that did not have a first round pick in three of the last four drafts.

The one first-rounder selected, Kasperi Kapanen (2014, 22nd overall), was sent to Toronto just over a year later as part of a multi-player package to acquire Phil Kessel. That package also included the Pens' 2016 first round pick, which the Leafs cashed in when Pittsburgh qualified for the 2016 playoffs.

Needless to say, whatever asset arrives with that eighth overall selection will be a welcome addition to a franchise in need of some new tools.



In the wallet

Buffalo Sabres 2017 NHL Draft selections:

1st round, 8th overall
2nd round, 37th overall
2nd round, 54th overall (from Minnesota)
3rd round, 68th overall
3rd round, 89th overall (from Washington)
4th round, 99th overall
6th round, 161st overall
7th round, 192nd overall

Facts & Figures

The last time the Sabres selected 8th overall was 2016 (Alexander Nylander)
  • 2017 will be just third time in Sabres history that they enter with the 8th pick
  • The Sabres first-ever 8th overall pick was Rasmus Ristolainen in 2013
The 2017 Draft is the first ever to be held in Chicago, and the fifth in the Central Time Zone:
  • 1989 (Bloomington, MN) - Seven of the 12 players taken by the Sabres saw NHL playing time, including Kevin Haller (14th, 642 games), Ken Sutton (98th, 388 games), Derek Plante (161st, 450 games) and Donald Audette (183rd, 745 games).
  • 1996 (St. Louis) - The Sabres made 10 picks total over the nine rounds, highlighted by Erik Rasmussen (7th) and Cory Sarich (22nd). Rasmussen played 545 NHL games. Sarich played 969 NHL games.
  • 2003 (Nashville) - The Sabres see Thomas Vanek dominate the NCAA Frozen Four in Buffalo and get their man at #5 as part of a 10-player class that also included Clarke MacArthur (74th, 552 games), Jan Hejda (106th, 627 games) and Nathan Paetsch (202nd, 167 games)
  • 2011 (Minneapolis) - the Sabres made six picks total, beginning with Joel Armia (16th overall). Just six years later none of the six remain in the Sabres' system.
Of the 38 players to wear a Sabres jersey in 2016-17, a total of 14 were drafted and developed by the Sabres organization

The Sabres have selected at least one player from an European league in five of the last six drafts (2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2016)
  • Prior to 2011, the Sabres went four straight drafts without taking a player from a European league
When the Sabres selected Vasily Glotov in 2016 (7th round, 190th overall), it was the first Sabres pick out of a Russian league since Slava Buravchikov (2005, 6th round, 191st overall).

The Sabres have never taken a player from the BCHL
  • The established NCAA feeder league has had 86 players taken in the draft since 2000, including three first-round picks in 2016 (Tyson Jost, Dante Fabbro, Dennis Cholowski) and 2014-15 Art Ross Trophy winner Jamie Benn
From 30,000 Feet...

The depth in the prospect ranks is thinner in high-end talent compared to recent years.

Keep in mind that this is partially a function of recent first-rounders Ristolainen, Reinhart and Eichel quickly ascending to the NHL, but trading away assets while not finding oil in the hills with top-100 picks that were retained has left the Sabres in "Operation: Restock" mode.

The goaltending depth is clearly lacking numbers.

Outside of 2016 first-rounder Alexander Nylander, the wings are filled with potential middle-sixers, You can hope that one develops chemistry with an Eichel-Reinhart caliber pair to spread the talent about the lineup, a proposition that is very possible, but there is no bona fide NHL sniper present.

Center ice has some things happening at the top club with a solid five-year plan in place. It gets a little murkier in the prospect ranks.

BLUEPRINT

Former General Manager Tim Murray often referred to a heavy game.

After watching the Penguins march to the 2016 and 2017 Cups, there is no doubt the Jason Botterill philosophy is based on speed.

The Penguins are FAST. The New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Lightning? FAAAAAST. These teams are loaded with speed and hockey sense, and have represented the Eastern Conference in the last four Stanley Cup Finals with a pair of Cup wins.

Ideally you are able to blend the worlds of beef and speed together, but the days of tape measure scouting need to be pushed aside. I'm not at all suggesting drafting a fleet of sub-six-footers. I'm just saying don't pass up potential home run talent because of simple height and weight metrics. It's now how big the player is. It's how big he plays.

Erik Karlsson was a shade over 5-foot-10 and weighed 156 pounds when he was drafted...

Speed is king, though, and the thought serves as an underlying theme when building the draft board, especially when surveying the blueline crop as the Sabres know you need solid skaters at every position.

THE CHART



A quick review for the non-visual learners...

1 - The Sabres could afford to add some goaltenders

When assessing the prospect ranks, goaltending is clearly a defined area that needs to be addressed as the Sabres shied away from adding to the position in the 2015 and 2016 drafts.

The Sabres enter the expansion draft with Robin Lehner and Linus Ullmark at the top of the NHL depth chart.

With the playing future of Cal Petersen still to be determined, Jonas Johansson enters the system on a three-year contract to begin his North American development in Rochester.

Jason Kasdorf, 25, will complete the final year of his second NHL contract, likely earning his $125K salary shuttling between Cincinnati (ECHL) and Rochester as the Amerks would ideally sign a proven veteran to alleviate some of the unknown on the farm.

Regardless of Petersen's decision, the Sabres must add at least one netminder to the stable in a year that features a very strong crop of draft eligibles.

2 - Right-handed defenders continue to be an area of need

Needless to say, the Sabres would feel a greater organizational comfort level if they could bolster the depth on the back end. While they are shorter on right shots like just about every other team in the league, it really doesn't matter where the quality comes from. Just get some good, mobile defenders.

Guhle and Borgen represent the mobile "new school" defender who can tidy up the zone and still chip into the two-way game without being overzealous. Both guys can SKATE (Guhle is certainly the more adventurous of the two), and as of now could be seen as the future mates of Ristolainen and McCabe.

Meanwhile, Fitzgerald is your power play guy who goes at it by playing bigger than his frame suggests with a ceiling as 5-6 D. A greater skating game would offer a greater projection, but he looks like a player who could do well in the AHL starting in 2018-19 and go from there..

The remaining prospects highlighted by an athletic Stephens, smooth-skating Nyberg, steady Budik and fluid, two-way Chukarov have nice potential to provide organizational depth a couple of years down the line.

Adding at least two more Guhle/Borgen types, and maybe even a giant space eater, would be great, but the organization would do well by paying special attention to the speedy, pure puck-mover. They don't grow on trees, but it would really help the system if they could invest a high pick on a home run offensive d-man even if he's not the biggest guy. In the end you're creating competition in an area where you can never have enough depth.

3 - The Sabres have their greatest strength in prospect numbers down the middle, and this is perhaps the strength of the top club roster as well.

Jack Eichel (20), Ryan O'Reilly (26), and Sam Reinhart (21) offer a solid 1-2-3 punch at center ice.

Yes, I still believe Sam Reinhart is best suited to play his natural position in the NHL. You can make plays going up and down the wing, but it's best to leverage his smarts and vision down the middle of the ice.

Rasmus Asplund will be a highly competitive two-way middle line NHL player who can have an early NHL opportunity upon his North American entry, especially if Reinhart keeps carving out a role at RW.

Sean Malone and Jean Dupuy have the looks of lower-line checkers with speed and gritty tendencies.

Cliff Pu and a budding talent like Chris Brown are very compelling middles at their their current levels that could always float out to the wing.

While a nice group, I don't see that "next one", that surefire top-six NHLer, in the cupboard. You can argue that you don't need one at the moment, but the Sabres really do need to consider increasing their organizational speed down the middle.

4 - While boasting six wingers down each side, the team could use some high-profile scoring punch with a clearly defined top-line potential.

The Sabres are looking stronger down the right side and could use more natural scoring pop down the left. It's clear that a right-wing talent, like Justin Bailey perhaps, may need to succeed at the off-wing as the Sabres seek out some left side scoring punch.

I don't think it's a coincidence that, with two of the Sabres best playmakers in Eichel and Reinhart being right shots, an efficient left-wing scorer like Nylander was moved on early at the 2016 draft. The backhand saucer pass is a pretty play, but having a skilled target to take those crisp forehand feeds is better.


Botterill History

We need to be careful giving credit or jeers solely to the General Manager title when analyzing drafts. There are scouts involved who drive the miles, drink the coffee, watch the players and file the reports.

And then they get up and do it again.

The amateur scouts provide the information and often make the GM look good.

When Botterill was employed by the Pens in a role with decision-making power, (2009-2013 - Assistant GM, 2014-2016 - Associate GM) a few drafting trends developed.



Summary

BALANCE: The 26-18-4 positional ratio from those eight drafts in Pittsburgh breaks down to a 13-9-2 "roster", so you can say that defense has received a slightly greater mind share at the draft table. It makes sense following the 2004-2005-2006 years that saw them load up with Evgeni Malkin (2nd), Sidney Crosby (1st) and Jordan Staal (2nd) with their top picks.

Of the 18 defensemen drafted by PIT from 2009-2016, just one was under six feet tall. The average height of the group was just under 6-foot-2 (6'1.75").

SCHOOL IS COOL: Botterill-influenced drafts have a slant towards the NCAA.
  • 45.8% of those drafted were in the NCAA or taking the collegiate path via Jr. A or high school (22/48) 
    • the Jr.A/High School/NCAA ratio is greater later with 60% preference in the 6th and 7th rounds (9/15)
    • The Penguins have chosen one player from the USHL in each of their last four drafts.
      • This is the only league to get attention in all four of those drafts.
    • The Penguins chose a player directly out of college in their last three drafts
    • The Penguins went to the BCHL for three picks in the this time frame, including 2010 first-rounder Beau Bennett
    • The Penguins selected one player directly out of the U.S. National Team Development Program
  • 37.5% were drafted out of the CHL (18/48)
    • 20.8% of the total were taken out of the OHL (10/48)
      • Six of those 10 OHLers were defensemen
  • 16.7% were selected out of European leagues (8/48) 
    • Europe is an emerging trend as five of Pittsburgh's 15 picks in the last three drafts (2014-16) were from overseas leagues 
      • three of the five hailed from Finland
    • 0% of those drafted were taken directly out of Russian leagues
      • Evgeni Malkin (2004) was the last skater selected by PIT out of a Russian league
By comparison, the Sabres' two regimes over the same period of time amassed parts in a much different manner:
  • 56.9% were drafted out of the CHL (37/65)
  • 29.2% via NCAA, Jr. A or high school (19/65) - this includes Zemgus Girgensons (USHL) and does not include Philip Nyberg (Sweden)
  • 13.8% were picked out of European leagues (9/65)
    • 1.5% of the total was selected out of Russia (1/65)

The Penguins NCAA flavor clearly carried its way to the top club roster, with the college game developing 18 of 33 (54.5%) Penguins players that appeared in five or more games in 2016-17.

As a sign that things are likely to change, just 10 of the 30 Sabres that played five or more games last season went the college route (33%). It's safe to say that Tim Murray's signings of C.J. Smith and Sean Malone were a nice gift to get his successor moving in the right direction.

GEAR UP FOR GOALIES: Pittsburgh has selected four goaltenders in their last five drafts, twice using their first picks of the draft on the position*
  • 2016 - 55th*
  • 2013 - 44th*
  • 2012 - 83rd, 113th
  • Average Draft position for G = 73rd (3rd round)
By comparison, the Sabres chose five goalies over the same period of time:
  • 2014 - 61st
  • 2013 - 129th
  • 2012 - 163rd
  • 2011 - 167th
  • 2009 - 164th
  • Average draft position for G = 136th (5th round)

While the Sabres are in a different growth mode than the Pens, the goaltending note is an interesting trend to pay attention to.

If history is relevant, picks #54, 68 and 89 are all in play to see a goaltender taken by the Sabres as the Botterill-influenced Pens seemed to value the more promising prospects as opposed to the Sabres' last-decade propensity to throw late-round darts.



Relative Age Effects?

Inspired by the article Born at the Wrong Time: Selection Bias in the NHL Draft, the 2013 Draft Preview delved into the concept of Relative Age Effects (RAE). 2017 feels like a good time to revisit.

Well, sort of.

RAEs have been a known factor in Canadian junior hockey going back to the 1980's, but various draft studies on the topic dispute each other's data, so we're left wondering if RAE's really do exist at the NHL.

The aforementioned article's main finding was that "relatively younger NHL draftees have enjoyed substantially more productive careers than would be predicted by their draft slots. Moreover, the pattern of drafting far fewer relatively younger individuals has not waned and has occurred again in recent years, including in the 2012 draft."

While only Canadian-born players were used in that analysis, the bigger question is whether or not they properly factored September 16 of Draft Year-1 being the actual start of the draft class. It seems that report, and subsequent summary statement, considered Q4 players to be relatively younger than their draft mates when they were actually relatively older....

Still, the prominent takeaway from the 2012 abstract was the graphic illustration showing that players born in the first half of the year get drafted more often, yet NHL teams have a better "shooting percentage" when drafting those with second-half birth dates. (Again this is based on CHL players.)
Source: Born at the Wrong Time: Selection Bias in the NHL Draft; Robert O. Deaner, Aaron Lowen, Stephen Cobley 

Source: Born at the Wrong Time: Selection Bias in the NHL Draft; Robert O. Deaner, Aaron Lowen, Stephen Cobley


For fun, I wanted to take a simple departure and see if the NHL production trends existed by birth month or yearly quadrant over the last 10 seasons (2006-07 to 2016-17), regardless of both draft position and the league they were drafted out of.

First, a broad look at the top 100 point producers over that span.



What we see is a fairly even distribution among the league's top performers in the 10-year span.

January-March (Q1) = 23%
April-June (Q2) = 26%
July- September (Q3) = 27%
October-December (Q4) = 24%

July stands out as a peak month of birth, though.

The Top 100 over the last 10 years offers little help if you're looking to prove whether or not first-half births (January-June) or second-half births offer a better probability of success. It's 49 to 51.


If the top 100 is too broad or includes too many consistently good "non-superstars" in the data, let's take a look at the 84 players who have appeared at least once in the NHL's top 20 in points for the period from 2006-07 to 2016-17.



The distribution changes a little bit.

January-March (Q1) = 20%
April-June (Q2) = 23%
July- September (Q3) = 33%
October-December (Q4) = 24%

It's clear that we're starting to see more proof that second-half birth dates, which are historically smaller in actual numbers of those drafted, really produce at a high clip when they do get into the league. This is consistent with recent studies that suggest these second half birth dates ultimately reap greater salaries as well.

Q3 (July-Sept.), which generally* comprises the youngest players in the draft class, remains the strong quadrant.

The months show little change, but again, look at July standing out like the Sears Tower. Fourteen different players born in July comprise the 84 unique names to populate Top 20 scoring lists over the past 10 years.

Things get interesting when you get a little more granular and split September by those who were younger than their draft mates (born Sept. 1-15), and those that were older i.e. born on September 16 and after, and thus were already 18 at the time of their first eligible draft date.

Six of the eight September births (Ovechkin, Tavares, Sedin, Sedin, Matthews and Kunitz) are part of the Sept.16-30 cluster. Only two (Neal and Marleau) were part of the youngest group of players in their draft class. This greatly changes the distribution by draft year quadrant.

January-March (Q1) = 20%
April-June (Q2) = 23%
July- September 15 (Q3) = 26%
September 16-December (Q4) = 31 %

As you can guess, the same September split changes the distribution among the Top 100 point producers, moving the expanded Q4 (which contains 15 extra days) to 29%, with the now shortened Q3 to just 22%.

Small sample size no doubt, and I'm not going to "live by" the data. The main idea is that there is no reason to over-think your draft rankings by "punishing" a late-year birth date for being older than his draft classmates. Should they out-produce their draft peers because they're relatively older? Sure, but if you want to grab a player that will have a higher probability of becoming a higher-end point producer, you may want to use that Q4 birth date as a talent tiebreaker.

So why am I bringing all of this up now?

For starters, the Sabres are a great example of Q4's prowess with Jack Eichel (October), Sam Reinhart (November) and Rasmus Ristolainen (October) on their way to becoming homegrown poster children for the theory.

The tides of the NHL have shifted. Perhaps it is because NCAA and European developed products are playing larger roles, but the evidence suggests that the perceived NHL advantage formerly held by Q1 birth dates has dissipated.

The results will likely keep being reflected at the NHL draft.

Per the below breakdown of notable eligibles by Draft Year Birth Quadrant, I can argue that the 2017 first round will see as many as 10 players selected with a Q4 1998 birth date, and close to two thirds of the round will be comprised of second-half birth dates.


Notice the established RAEs driving larger numbers in the January-June quadrants. It seems like this draft will be like most, in that January-June babies will be picked the most, but the July-December babies may very well end up being the most productive.

I'll let you know in 10 years...

In the meantime, I might offer some friendly advice. If you want your child to be an elite NHLer, perhaps a nice, romantic Valentine's Day dinner is in order....

 Class In Session

Every draft has an element of unpredictability, but the 2017 event absolutely reeks of it.

Still, I wanted to offer a few notes on what to expect come Friday and early into Saturday.

1) We know who the first two picks will be. Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier will undoubtedly go 1-2. We just don't know the order yet. After that, it's anyone's ball game as picks 3-7 can go in any order. It gets even muddier after that.

2) We really don't know which defenseman will be first off the board.

3) 2017 will in no way shape or form resemble the 2012 draft that saw defensemen comprise eight of the top 10 picks. Not a chance. It will likely resemble 2016 and 2014 (two D in the top 10), or perhaps 2015 (three D in the top D).

4) We're not sure if a goalie will be picked in the first round - there is one or two that are certainly worthy for a pick by, say, Dallas at #29 - but an early-second round run is expected regardless. It usually starts within the first 6-8 picks, but this year it likely starts with Vegas at #34 unless they amass a boatload of additional first-rounders and snag one there.

5) Eleven European-born players were selected in the first round back in 2014. Another 11 European-borns went in the first round in 2015. Despite being top-heavy with Laine, Puljujarvi, Juolevi, Nylander and Sergachev in the top 10, that number slipped to just seven first-rounders in 2016. This year should see the number climb right back to 11.

6) With the draft pool not being as deep as it has been in the past, 2017 is a prime year to see more second and third year eligibles taken higher than normal. Morgan Geekie, Ty Lewis, Matthew Murray, Denis Smirnov, Tyler Steenbergen, Maxime Fortier, Johnathan Kovacevic, Jack Adams, Jack Ahcan, Mareks Mitens, and Thomas Gregoire are just a handful of names that could be picked around the middle of the draft.

7) As has become the norm in recent drafts, there are several players in this draft class who have fathers with NHL playing experience. Some of them include:
  • Nolan Patrick
  • Callan Foote
  • Lias Andersson
  • Cayden Primeau
  • Josh Norris
  • Skyler Brind'Amour
  • Jake Leschyshyn
  • Jesse Bjugstad
  • Tyce Thompson
  • Ryan Sandelin
  • Mark Kastelic
8) With Phil Housley in as Sabres Head Coach, it's interesting to note two players from Stillwater High School, where Housley coached from 2004 to 2013, that are expected to be selected as part of the Class of 2017.

Bjugstad, mentioned above is a tough, physical defender with a nice two-way mindset and a cannon of a shot. He is not yet committed to school or the WHL, but he could be one to watch in the later rounds with a likely stint with Green Bay (USHL) coming in 2017-18.

Noah Cates is an offensively talented forward committed to the Minnesota-Duluth. More on him a bit later.

Friday Night Lights

Time to talk strategy.

Let's get this out of the way now:

The Sabres have taken a forward with their first pick in the last three drafts. The franchise has NEVER taken a forward with its first pick in four consecutive drafts.

The Sabres clearly need defensive prospects, but the club is in a bit of a pickle as they need to start winning immediately. The greatest angle of attack to making the playoffs next season is addressing the D with a series of deals.

Yes, a series of deals. Viktor Antipin should be seen as a third-pairing player who can add some pop to the power play. Brendan Guhle skates like an NHL rearguard, but Botterill's plan likely sees him begin the year in Rochester. The Sabres are going to need to refresh more bodies and getting Nathan Beaulieu from Montreal was just a start.

Aside from dangling Evander Kane as trade bait, your greatest bit of currency is the 8th overall pick. Even if considered to be a down draft year, the Sabres would be offering a nice asset that doesn't have a salary attached to it. Moving the pick is a compelling scenario.

When it comes to drafting forwards, the Sabres simply need to hit some home runs and find players with top-six potential, even in the later rounds. You can still draft players for intensity and energy, but it is much easier to add gritty lower-line role players via trades and free agency. The highly talented centers and wingers that can pile up goals need to be identified, drafted, developed, nurtured.

And lastly, character. You want the highly-skilled players as mentioned, but in the later rounds, particularly in this draft class, you want to find guys who have the upside but have also demonstrated the work ethic and other off-ice attributes that can only increase their potential to someday become a viable professional asset.


THE IDEAL PLAYER

With Housley locked in, and noting how the Sabres haven't had a dynamic defenseman like him since his trade out of Buffalo 27 years ago, it's seems like an ideal time to talk about Cale Makar.

Makar is an attacking rearguard who likes to go deep in the zone with a great handle on the puck. He can skate like the wind, using his edges with exceptional balance, and he can rifle shots from range.



The Sabres may need to move up to get him, but he seems like an ideal fit for the aggressive style that Housley wants to play in Buffalo.

You can read my Sabres.com profile on #4 Makar here.

***

1st round, 8th overall

If the Sabres stand pat, there are a few names that can definitely be crossed off the board.

Nolan Patrick - C
Nico Hischier- C
Gabe Villardi- C <-- I'm not sure he goes #3, but I cannot see him making it past #5.

The players I actually have ranked #3 and #4 would be ideal for the Sabres system, but I just can't see them being there so barring a coup:

Casey Mittlestadt - C
Cale Makar - RHD

All of sudden, you need Las Vegas to see the upside in centerman Cody Glass as a stabilizing force at #6, and for Arizona, who used four of their five picks in 2016 on defensemen, to take a forward like Owen Tippett, Martin Necas or even a player like Michael Rasmussen, who many have rated higher than I personally do, at #7.

While the Sabres would be happy with any of the aforementioned players being there at #8, the described scenario would leave the Sabres with a fairly easy decision:

Miro Heiskanen - LHD, HIFK (Liiga)
6'0", 172 lbs. (previous height listed included sneakers)
DOB: 7/18/99

Born in Finland - check
Born in July - check

He is very comparable to Makar with perhaps a stronger defensive game. He may lack the same "pop" in his offensive game, but he should be viewed as the safest defender available in top 10.

Heiskanen is a smooth and polished two-way defender who is strong in coverage and very efficient and creative in the offensive zone. He was a big-time player at the U18s after a full season battling against men in Finland's top league.

Using the eighth pick on a Finnish defender has worked one time. It would be great to go back to the well.

You can read my Sabres.com profile on #6 Heiskanen here.

***

Now, let's be real. There is a high probability that Heiskanen is not available at #8. He could go as early as #3.

Luckily for the Sabres, there is another defender available that just might appeal to both Botterill and Housley given his talent level and playing style, and you wouldn't be crow-barring him into the spot just because you need a D.

Timothy Liljegren - RHD, Rogle BK (Sweden)
5'11.5", 188 lbs.
DOB: 4/30/99

Liljegren entered the season as the consensus top rearguard available in the 2017 class. A battle with mononucleosis set him back, and he didn't meet expectations as a result. He is essentially the 2017 version of Jakob Chychrun, an immensely skilled athlete that was so scrutinized for having poor hockey sense that he fell all the way to 17th overall in the 2016 draft.

The bottom line is that all of the raw tools are in place, from his swift, agile skating to the way he thinks the game with a pure transitional mindset. If Liljegren gets the puck in space, look out. With continued coaching, he's the type of player that will thrive when placed among other uber-skilled peers.

While opinions are all over the board on where he he will ultimately land come draft day, I believe that Liljegren cannot be passed on by Buffalo if Botterill and Housley are truly the right people for their respective positions. Development. Development. Development. You're not drafting for today. You're drafting for tomorrow.

It may take a bit of patience, but Liljegren may end up being a gem with upside rivaling that of Makar, if he understands his path.

You can read my Sabres.com profile on #8 Liljegren here.

***

In year's past, I would offer a few forwards for the first-round consideration as I am always in favor of taking the Best Player Available (yes, in CAPS). After all, who is here on the top club today may not be here tomorrow. Always take the best hockey player with the greatest potential for impact.

 This year, though, I'm going to play the trend. After three straight years of selecting a forward in the first round, the Sabres are likely in a spot where the BPA is indeed a defenseman.


***

There are two viable late-98 birth dates available if the Sabres look to trade back to the middle of the round.

LHD Jusso Valimaki, a sturdy two-way leader with a quality offensive game that I have ranked 15th, and RHD Callan Foote, a steady, do-it-all worker that I have rated 16th, would be both exceptional secondary targets for the Sabres to pursue if they wanted to feed their defensive desires.

***

As we head into Day 2, let's take a look at who the Sabres might like to see available at each of their picks.

2nd round, 37th overall

First and foremost, there are two specific players (along with defenseman Urho Vaakanainen - who I think will be an excellent NHLer) that I really like in this spot if they slip out of the first round.

Both were rated in my Top 31 at Sabres.com, but they need to be plugged here because look, I'm not Kriskin. I'd love to be able to nail all 31 Friday picks, but there are no guarantees.

Josh Norris - LC, U.S. NTDP (USHL)
6'0.5", 189 lbs.
DOB: 5/5/99

You're trying to tell me that a hard-nosed, two-way committed forward that plays a game similar to the successful middle line players that the Penguins have won a tons of games with wouldn't appeal to Botterill? 

OK, how about one that is committed to his alma mater, Michigan?

Norris was excellent this past season with 27 goals and 61 points in 61 games for the NTDP. He kept up his point-per-game pace with three goals and seven points at the U18s.

If Norris isn't scooped up on Friday and he is sitting there with the sixth pick on Saturday morning...well let's just say this might be Botterill's easiest decision to make on draft weekend.

You can read my Sabres.com profile on #30 Norris here.

Shane Bowers - C, Waterloo (USHL)
6'1.5", 178 lbs.
DOB: 7/30/99

Simply put, Bowers is a do-it-all forward who excels in any role handed to him. He can protect the puck and drive a possession-minded offense. He gets the most out of his teammates on every shift. He sticks to the details. He works hard and smart, and can get space to score big goals. In 60 games with Waterloo, Bowers scored 22 times and added 29 helpers.

Interviewed by the Sabres at the NHL Draft Combine, Bowers will continue his career at Boston University in the fall.

Read my Sabres.com profile on #25 Bowers here.

***

In the event that none of the Top 31 from the Sabres.com rankings slip into Saturday, let's take a peak at others who could fit the bill for the Sabres at pick #37:

Jaret Anderson-Dolan - LW, Spokane (WHL)
5'11, 191 lbs.
DOB: 9/12/99

Some will argue that Anderson-Dolan's success in 2016-17, a season that saw him take a dramatic developmental leap from 26 to 76 points including 39 goals, was a byproduct of skating on a line with the diminutive-yet-dynamic Kailer Yamamoto.

I'm not buying it. The two worked off of each other to create sweet, dominating music.

The foundation of Anderson-Dolan's game is speed - in the feet, the hands and the mind. Where Anderson-Dolan lacks in a dominating frame, he more than makes up of it with his ability to read and react. If Botterill and Housley want a player than can zip up and down the ice, applying pressure on the backcheck and quickly transitioning into a creative offensive force, JAD might be the Sabres guy,

While he didn't produce at the same rate when away from Yamamoto when serving as Canada's captain at the U18s, an impressive set of tools are in place to build upon as one of the youngest players in the draft class.

And if you are looking for character in an ultra-masculine sports environment, look no further than a player that promotes and celebrates being the son of two moms.

Henri Jokiharju - RHD, Portland (WHL)
5'10.75", 188 lbs. (previous height listed included sneakers)
DOB: 6/17/99

One of the stars of the CHL Top Prospects Game, Jokiharju catches your attention with his robust skating game and ability to advance the puck with ease.

Jokijarju proved to be an excellent five-on-five engine last season as a WHL rookie. The best part of his 48 points (9+39) was the way he did it, as Jokiharju has proven to be quite adept at walking the line and getting his shots through to the net. It's not a powerful blast at this point in his development, but it's accurate. Add in the fact that he's a right-handed shot and all of a sudden you have a second layer defenseman that the Sabres no doubt have their eyes on.

When scouting young defenseman, you want to see confidence, poise and a high-panic threshold. The young Finn rates high in those categories, making him a natural fit for all situations. When Caleb Jones was away with Team USA at the World Junior Championship, Jokiharju seamlessly moved into his role and steered the ship from the back end with great efficiency.

So when considering what the Sabres are needing on the blueline - size, skating, right-hand shot, transitional instincts - keep Jokiharju in mind if he makes it into Saturday.

Kole Lind - RW, Kelowna (WHL)
6'1", 185 lbs.
DOB: 10/16/98

Lind is another exceptional skater with excellent speed and shiftiness that I can easily see playing a top-six forward role at the NHL level with his intensity and all-around skill package.

Lind has the offensive game down pat. He uses his feet to get in deep on the forecheck. He loves to lay the body, sometimes going for the big hit as natural agitator. He just shows the desire to make a play and is a guy that wants the puck on his stick to use his excellent shooting and passing skills. Lind paced the Rockets with 30 goals and 87 points this season, and kept it going with 6+6 in 17 playoff contests.

You're not drafting Lind to be a shutdown forward. You're drafting him to someday pair with your elite skill players to help drive the possession game and amass even strength points.

Keith Petruzzelli - G, Muskegon (USHL)
6'5", 174 lbs.
DOB: 2/9/99

The Sabres will need to start thinking about a goalie if the run begins just ahead of them. Committed to Quinnipiac, Petruzzelli may end up being the best in the class after shooting up the draft rankings.

The Massachusetts product draws comparisons to Matt Murray due to his size and poise in the crease. Petruzzelli completed an excellent rookie campaign in Muskegon, winning 22 of his 33 starts while posting a 2.40 GAA and .918 save% under the watchful eye of Lumberjacks General Manager and former NHL netminder, John Vanbiesbrouck.

Petruzzelli is a delightful combination of a huge frame and above-average athleticism. He takes the bottom shelf away and does a good job coming out and taking away even more net than his massive upper body already covers.

An excellent puckhandler, Petruzzelli even scored a goal this year when he gloved a puck on one knee and quickly dropped it and fired it back down the ice into an empty net.

Jesper Boqvist - LW, Brynas IF (SHL)
5'11.5", 165 lbs.
DOB: 10/30/98

One of the second-tier snipers in the draft, the quick-footed Boqvist has a proven track record as a junior-level scorer who finds open space and can finish off the rush. He anticipates so well as the puck just seems to find him in space. He's one who will go to the net to jam and deflect pucks, but he really does his best work coming off the boards with a defender chasing him. He is slippery and sneaky with an understated ability to find teammates when his shot isn't there.

Still developing his 200-foot game, Boqvist entered the season as a first-round type of target. His 16 goals and 34 points paced the J20 SuperElit Norra in 2015-16. He added another 24 points (7+14) in 14 games of the SuperElit Top 10. This season provided more of the same, with Boqvist lighting the lamp 10 times in 15 J20 contests, and later amassing 12 points (3+9) in 19 games with Timra IK of the second pro division.

Boqvist is set to compete with an SHL contract over the next two seasons. While maintaining his high level of offense in Sweden's top league, Boqvist will need to balance his on-ice work with extra time in the gym as he needs to get stronger up top to keep him in more plays around the goal mouth.

***

2nd round, 54th overall

Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen - G, HPK (Finland)
6'4", 198 lbs. (previous height listed included sneakers)
DOB: 3/9/99

If Luukkonen slips by Toronto at 50, the Sabres will happily scoop up the 6-foot-4 stopper long thought to be a first-round worthy talent.

Luukkonen was a star at the 2016 IIHF Under-18 Championship, but a bout with pneumonia set him back in 2016-17. While having a solid season with his Jr. A club team (1.78 GAA, .917 save%) en route to earning the lowest GAA and backstopping them to a league championship, Luukkonen didn't perform as dominantly at the 2017 U18s on a younger Finnish squad.

Still, that tournament is just one page in his book. Luukkonen offers a a club a huge, athletic netminder that, with more coaching and technique refinements, has all the signs of developing into a legitimate No. 1 NHL goaltender.

MacKenzie Entwistle, - RW/C, Hamilton (OHL)
6'2", 172 lbs.
DOB: 7/14/99

A truly complete player, I liked Entwistle quite a bit during the regular season for his energy and effort, thought he did really well at the CHL Top Prospects Game with a goal and an assist, and loved him at the season-ending Under-18s when his offense started to shine through for Canada with four goals and seven points in the tournament's six games.

Box score scouts will look at Entwistle's 12 goals and 25 total points in 54 OHL games as a deterrent. I do not. Does anyone remember Cliff Pu's 31-point campaign in his draft year? It's crazy what happens when a player is put into a more marquee role. That's what Entwistle should be looking forward to next season.

Enrwistle's game is surprisingly mature. This kid is all over pucks thanks to a really nice skating game. He can kill penalties. His shot is heavy and fast. He has the size and is still growing as a 17-year-old. By the time he completes two more years of OHL hockey in a more meaningful offensive role, this player will have middle-line NHL potential written all over him.

Kasper Kotkansalo - LHD, Sioux Falls (USHL)
6'1.5", 196 lbs. (previous height listed included sneakers)
DOB: 11/16/98

Committed to Boston University, I first noticed Kotkansalo when he performed well as part of Finland's youthful D corps at the 2016 National Junior Evaluation Camp. At that camp, Kotkansalo proved himself as a sturdy, physical two-way defender who was in command of his space.

Kotkansalo has the right traits to build out from as he continues his development into a professional. His best attribute might be his high panic threshold. He puts a lot of mustard on his pinpoint passes out of the zone. He zips them right on the tape like a pro. He is very strong on his skates with a smooth skating game in all directions, and he likes to rattle boards as he confidently tracks down forwards who come his way.

Kotkansalo hasn't wowed anyone with big offensive numbers with just one goal and 12 points in 47 games last season, but there is plenty of upside for him to grow into moving forward as a steady middle-pair rock.

Josh Brook - RHD, Moose Jaw (WHL)
6'1", 191 lbs.
DOB: 6/17/99

A smart, fluid two-way defenseman who likes to read the action and jump into the play, Brook made a mark this season as a solid second-round prospect after scoring eight goals and 40 points in 69 games. He's firmly in the mix as a poised shutdown defender who can add to the offense thanks to his noticeably high-level of skating and agility when carrying the puck into the zone.

Brook looks very solid defensively, limiting his gaps, using his body to angle the play off to the walls and smartly employing his stick jam shooting and passing lanes. He is very quick to eat up space in his own zone, be it by stepping into his man or accelerating to a 50/50 puck battle. Overall, a very likable player that will no doubt put up positive rate metrics when he becomes a professional.

Mason Shaw - LW, Medicine Hat (WHL)
5'8.5", 173 lbs.
DOB: 11/3/98

With blistering speed and acceleration, the undersized Shaw conjures up images of former Regina Pat Jordan Weal as he attacks all over the ice. His feet are always moving as he darts into space with and without the puck like an insatiable waterbug, and his ability to work his playmaking and puckhandling skills in small spaces stands out among his draft peers.

Shaw posted 27 goals and 94 points this season so all is good on the offensive front. Despite being an all-out effort player, Shaw can still be pushed aside in one-on-one battles due to his lack of size. Shaw will appeal to a team looking to patiently develop a long-range offensive prospect. If his body checks out as one that can support another 15-18 pounds of muscle mass, the Sabres may be one willing to take that chance as they look to install a slow-cook approach to prospect development.

***

3rd round, 68th overall -- TRADED TO MONTREAL FOR NATHAN BEAULIEU 6/17/17

So yes, the Sabres moved this pick but I'm still keeping these profiles active in the draft preview because...well you just never know.


Markus Phillips - LHD, Owen Sound (OHL)

5'10.5", 180 lbs.
DOB: 3/21/99

A sound defender who has exuded excellent leadership qualities at every level he has played it, Phillips likens his style of play to Toronto speedster Morgan Rielly. He has a stocky frame and he can move extremely well with some really nice puck skills that he uses to make simple plays with a low margin for error.

Phillips scored 13 goals and 43 points for the Attack this past season, but I wouldn't expect him to be a consistent offensive catalyst at the next level. He is excellent with his positional game in the defensive zone and knows what to do when the puck comes to him. I can envision Phillips being a very reliable 4-5 NHL that rounds out a very strong core group after a few more developmental years that includes ample AHL time.

David Farrance - LHD, U.S. NTDP (USHL)
5'9", 195 lbs. (previous height listed included sneakers)
DOB: 6/23/99

A new school NHL defenseman that can effortlessly advance the puck into the offensive zone, Farrance is a solid two-way defender with a cannon of a shot. His instincts to support the offensive game when he doesn't have the puck are superb as he jumps up to add to a tic-tac-toe play or take a pass for a quality scoring attempt.

Farrance heads to Boston University next season to begin what is likely a three-year tour of duty before trying his hand at the pro game. The Sabres didn't interview him at the Combine, but perhaps they have garnered enough intelligence over the years from his time honing his skills in nearby Victor, NY.

Morgan Geekie - C/RW, Tri-City (WHL)
6'2", 190 lbs.
DOB: 7/20/98

Passed over the first time around, Geekie exploded in 2016-17, upping his point total from 25 to 90, including 35 goals. He did a lot of work in front on the power play with 14 markers, but the uptick is notable given his previous reputation as a "worker bee" role player who was good on draws and worked the penalty kill.

With the two-way sense as a foundation, Geekie's ability to hit the trenches and make plays makes him a solid draft target. He added nearly 25 pounds of mass to his long frame, and the pieces are starting to come together as a potential middle-line NHL player who will put in the work to produce in a team-first environment.


Lucas Elvenes - RW, Rogle (Sweden - J20)
6'0.25", 172 lbs.
DOB: 8/18/99

Elvenes has shown himself to be an ultra-speedy forward who packages soft hands with great acceleration, sneaky vision and plenty of creativity. Elvenes currently plays in all situations, mixing a grinding work ethic and very nice, sometimes flashy, offensive skill base, but he'll need to continue searching for a greater level of detail in the defensive zone when advancing to full time professional duty next season with IK Oskarshamn. That's less of a worry at this point as he all signs point to him being a rather coachable player.

A very crafty playmaker but a longer term project, Elvenes will want to get stronger and show more gumption in tough areas of ice as he carries on his development. Still, there is something about this player that makes you notice him every time he plays, making him worthy of a spot in the Sabres organization as they look to add more skilled effort players to the mix.

***

3rd round, 89th overall

Ian Mitchell - RHD, Spruce Grove Saints (AJHL)
5'11, 173 lbs.
DOB: 1/18/99

While Cale Makar gets all the attention as an AJHL defenseman, Mitchell is another that scouts have kept close tabs on all season. Mitchell is a steady, smart defender who puts forth a solid effort in all three zones. He can go on the attack with his excellent game awareness and speedy skating game. He has recovery ability when he takes it deep into the zone, but his offensive game is best described as a high-zone set-up man with great sense and vision.

In 53 AJHL games, Mitchell sparked the attack with eight goals and 37 assists.

The Sabres would love to add a mobile right-handed stick to the back line prospects. Committed to Denver, he will need to add some strength during his collegiate years but his potential is more than worth the pick if he even makes it this far.

Dylan Samberg - LHD, Hermantown (Minn HS)/Waterloo (USHL)
6'3", 190 lbs.
DOB: 1/24/99

Big, rangy and a bit on the raw side, Samberg is a superb skater with a huge shot who is set to be fast-tracked into the Minnesota-Duluth lineup coming off a high school season that saw him post a 10 goals and 28 points, highlighted by a goal in double overtime to lead Hermantown to a Class A State Championship. His efforts this season were rewarded by being named the 2017 Reed Larson Award winner as Minnesota High School Defenseman of the Year.

Samberg, a long and athletic defender with excellent mobility, was poised to head to Waterloo of the USHL for a ramp-up season, but has been summoned to college right away after Neal Pionk left to sign an NHL contract. It's going to be a steep learning curve for Samberg next season as he adjusts to making quicker decisions as bigger,faster forwards close in on him, but all of the tools are in place to see him succeed as a higher-end collegian before his days at Duluth are completed.

Ostap Safin - LW/RW, HC Sparta Praha (Czech)
6'4.5", 192 lbs. (previous height listed included sneakers)
DOB: 2/11/99

A massive power forward, Safin firmly placed himself among the top European prospects when he lit the lamp three times in five games at the Ivan Hlinka. He continued to assert himself with his Czech club, scoring six goals and 18 points in 24 games with Sparta's junior entry and amassing another two points (1+1) in limited top club duty. In six junior level playoff tilts, Safin scored four goals and five assists in dominating fashion.

Safin could serve the Sabres as a hard-nosed, middle-line puck possession winger who will drive with power, own his space on the boards, and be a net front presence. He has nice speed to him and has the passing and vision to be an effective playmaker, but most of his work will be done in straight lines. He projects nicely as a better skating, better shooting Hudson Fasching-type of player with some nice two-way tendencies. Even if he's not piling up the points, he's working hard to create space and plays to his size.

MacAuley Carson - LW/C, Sudbury (OHL)
6'1", 205 lbs.
DOB: 3/12/99

Carson is a big, powerful forward with good hands down low. He's different than most kids listed here because skating is an area he clearly needs to work on, but overall you're looking at a 30-goal scorer who does the majority of his damage at even strength. Of his 30 markers, three were on the power play while four arrived when shorthanded.

In this draft class, character becomes an area to consider at the midway point. Carson has plenty. He's always working. Always competing. He's hard-nosed and can be a guy who helps create space for his quicker, shiftier linemates. If a skating coach can help him become more explosive out of the blocks, Carson could be a nice club to have in the bag a few years down the line.

Cayden Primeau - G, Lincoln (USHL)
6'2", 186 lbs. 
DOB: 8/11/99

If the Sabres don't act on goaltending with an earlier pick, Primeau could be a target in this spot.

Quick and athletic with great reflexes, Primeau is just the right size. Bigger goalies have bigger holes, and any that Primeau offers are quickly closed. He's really good on his skates as he travels to the majority of shots on his feet before dropping. He's mentally composed as well, not getting too down after allowing a goal. He hits reboot and keeps battling.

Primeau didn't light the USHL on fire this past season with a 3.16 GAA and .895 save%. It's a tough league to excel in as a rookie goaltender, and as one of the younger goalies in the class, he would ideally wait a year before exercising his scholarship to Northeastern University (a la Cal Petersen). Regardless you see a very good technical goaltender that should have little issue adjusting to the college game once he develops more lower-body strength.


***

4th round, 99th overall

Santeri Virtanen - LW/C
6'2", 194 lbs.
DOB: 5/11/99

Virtanen book-ended his season with an encouraging Ivan Hlinka Memorial and excellent finale in April's U18s, where the physical, hard driving winger powered his way to a pair of game-winning goals and six total points in the tourney's seven games.

Virtanen didn't play much in between, missing all but five of his clubs games, including the USHL Top Prospects Game while on Dubuque's roster, due to a serious shoulder injury. Still, the limited work and past reputation reveals an intriguing north/south player who likes to battle and can finish plays. The size is there. The skating looks good. You may be playing with fire a bit if concerned about the injury, but this pick has sleeper potential if you can get him at this point of a thinner draft class.

Noah Ganske - RHD, Bloomington Jefferson High School (Minn HS)
6'5", 198 lbs.
DOB: 4/21/99

A skilled forward who recently converted to defense, Ganske has collegiate and pro scouts salivating at the raw potential in play with this tantalizing package. He's a precise skater with great athleticism, a long reach that can eat up defensive zone space, an edgy physical dimension, and a cannon of a slap shot from the blue line. In 25 games with Bloomington Jefferson, Ganske potted seven goals as part of a 25-point campaign.

This is the perfect draft to take a player of Ganske's profile as a budding two-way contributor with a great deal of upside, Ganske will still need to prove himself as a solid defender when he steps into the USHL next season with Madison, but his raw skill base and instinctual offense from his forward days will be a regular stop on the scouting trail with several high-profile D1 programs looking to gain his commitment.

Denis Smirnov, LW - Penn State (B1G)
5'10", 185 lbs.
DOB: 8/12/97

H'es not the biggest at 5-feet-10, nor is he the fastest, but Smirnov has shown an ability to pile up the points at every level he's played at. Smirnov enters his third year of draft eligibility coming off a year that saw him lead Penn State in scoring as a freshman, snatching 19 goals and 47 points in 39 games to fuel the Nittany Lions to their first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance.

Botterill is very familiar with Smirnov as he kept tabs on Pens' prospect and current Penn State Nikita Pavlychev. Smirnov and Pavlychen won a Bantam National title together in Wilkes-Barre on a team that continued Pens prospect, Daniel Sprong. I really don't need to remind you who funded the Penn State program.

Ben Mirageas - LHD, Chicago (USHL)
6'1", 171 lbs.
DOB: 5/8/99

A smooth skater with a strong yet still emerging defensive foundation, Mirageas served notice that he was a real-deal NHL prospect following his trade from Bloomington, where he scored 10 points (1+9) in 45 games, to Chicago (14GP 1-8-9) at the USHL deadline.

Mirageas, who grew up playing forward, did at all for the Steel during their run to the Clark Cup Championship. He has a good first step, showing confidence and command of the puck when starting the transition game, and simply displayed his excellent two-way instincts en route to racking up 10 assists in 14 playoff games. He doesn't score a bunch of goals, but he has a quick, sneaky release on his wrist shot when he uses it coming down the wing.

Mirageas, whose pedigree includes time in the Avon Old Farms prep program, will enroll at Providence College in the fall where he'll be expected to be an immediate top-four contributor in a highly competitive conference.

Jack Rathbone - LHD, Dexter School (NE Prep)
5'10.5", 172 lbs.
DOB: 5/20/99

The Harvard commit for 2018 is an excellent skater and puck mover with an all-around skill set that borders on elite, but just as important is the character that Rathbone oozes.

Rathbone has several high-profile options to exercise next year, mainly in the USHL, but he has elected to remain at Dexter for his senior year for a huge reason -- his eight-year-old brother, Teddy, who is autistic. Taking care and being there for Teddy is a big part of Rathbone's life away from the rink, and staying at Dexter allows him to stay closer - for now.

A team isn't drafting Rathbone for his story, though. They're drafting him because he does everything well. His game just flows. His mobility in all four directions is superior, he is an excellent playmaker from the back end, and he understands the angles needed to excel as a defender. It all added up to 16 goals and 35 points in 22 high school games this past season while naturally serving as Dexter's captain.

***

6th round, 161st overall

Fabian Zetterlund - RW, Farjestad BK (SWE - SuperElit)
5'11", 196 lbs.
DOB: 8/25/99

Offensively wired in his 5-feet-11, 196-pound frame, Zetterlund has quick feet and an opportunistic mindset that results in a high shot output. He can peel away from defenders and protect the puck quite well for an average-sized forward, but he'll want to do less free-lancing moving forward and work towards becoming a better player off the puck.

In 40 games this season with FBK's J20 squad, Zetterlund scored 16 goals and 20 assists.

Still, taking a player like this in the later rounds makes a ton of sense if he lasts. You patiently groom his talents while holding his signing rights for up to four years. Zetterlund will continue to grow his all-around game as part of the well-regarded Farjestads BK program, where he could work his way into playing time with current Sabres prospect Rasmus Asplund.

Johnathan Kovacevic - RHD, Merrimack (HE)
6'4", 215 lbs.
DOB: 7/12/97

Kovacevic was a standout freshman this past season, comfortable locking down the right side on the Warriors top defensive pair en route to collecting 19 points (3+16) in 36 games.

The Grimsby, Ontario product is a typical two-way defenseman whose primary concerns are cleaning up in his own zone. He sticks to his checks and has nice awareness reading the play. If you watched him in October and then again in February, you saw a player more engaged and more confident in the physical game.

Kovacevic really relies on his offensive abilities to impact the game, though. He is a big guy who patiently sees the ice with a strong passing game. He has no panic when the puck on is on his stick. He can lug the puck over three lines and likes to be active in the offensive zone both with and without the puck. I really like where this player is going with his game. One more year of Hockey East will do wonders for a player of his ilk.

Jack Ahcan - LHD - St. Cloud State (NCHC)
5'8", 184 lbs.
DOB: 5/18/97

A lightning quick puck mover, Ahcan admirably served on SCSU's top defensive pair this past season alongside current Sabres prospect Will Borgen. Ahcan is on the smaller side, but just might be among the best skating defenseman in the class. He contradicts Botterill's drafting philosophy, but he's the type of sparkplug player that you'll want to take a chance on if you're looking for speed on the back end and aren't overly concerned by his lack of size at this stage of the draft.

Ahcan, who was the 2015-16 USHL Defenseman of the Year prior to enrolling at SCSU, is already 20 years old. He may not get much stronger, and may not be a long-reach player who can shutdown a quadrant in the defensive zone by himself, but being picked would be a nice feather in his cap following a year that saw him score five goals and 21 points while earning a World Junior gold medal and a spot on the NCHC All-Rookie Team.

Noah Cates - LW, Stillwater HS (Minnesota HS)
6'1", 175 lbs,
DOB: 2/5/99

Committed to Minnesota-Duluth for 2018, Cates shredded the Minnesota high school ranks last season with 20 goals and 65 points in 25 games. The lanky forward is known as a hard worker who can play in a traffic with a passion for scoring goals, one of which was a highlight reel, spin-o-rama against Hill in 2016 that propelled Stillwater into the state tournament and landed the forward at the top spot of ESPN's SportsCenter's Top 10.

Cates, who finished the year with two goals and seven points in 11 USHL games with Omaha, will return to the Lancers next season before enrolling in school. He'll want to work on his acceleration and all-around quickness in order to firm up his professional potential.

Otto Latvala - RHD, HPK U20 (Finland)
6'5", 190 lbs.
DOB: 7/14/99

A hulking defender, Latvala is a disruptive space eater with his ability to use his long stick to clog lanes and jab at pucks. He's not shy about playing the body either, as his resume has him regularly using his huge frame to reel in the opposition for the big hit.

In 41 games last season, Latvala impressed with six goals, 21 points, 61 penalty minutes and a plus-10 rating.

While being surprisingly agile for a man of his size, Latvala doesn't match the Sabres' greatest organizational need as a pure puck mover. Botterill's staff can address those desires with other picks, though, and still take a stabilizing stay-at-home player who can have greater NHL upside if he develops a more consistent offensive element to his game. Latvala is basically a blank canvas.

***

7th round, 192nd overall


Ryan O'Connell - LHD, St. Andrews (Canadian Prep)
6'1", 170 lbs.
DOB: 6/15/99

A motoring, sometimes flashy two-way defender, O'Connell is one of the lesser-known puck movers in the draft, but I have a feeling more people will become aware of his game when he heads to the BCHL's Penticton Vees next season for a ramp-up year prior to enrolling at Boston University.

O'Connell was a dominant force on the back end this past season, amassing six goals and 33 points in 47 contests.

Growing up in Ontario with hockey as his clear passion, it takes character to choose a Canadian private school ahead of Canadian Jr. A and the OHL. That's exactly what O'Connell did, putting his aspirations to achieve an Engineering degree ahead, or at least on the same level, as his desire to become a professional hockey player.

O'Connell is a great skater with excellent puck skills. He regularly jumps into the rush and really fits the profile for what the Sabres should be looking for late in the draft. Landing with the Terriers in 2018 will only increase his next-level readiness with a schedule that always features quality competition.

Tyce Thompson - RW/C, Salisbury School (NE Prep)
6'0", 150 lbs.
DOB: 7/12/99 

The speedy brother of 2016 first-round Tage (STL), Thompson is a high-flying disruption on every shift as his feet and stick are always on the move in an effort to force defensemen into uncomfortable situations. Thompson was over a point-per-game at Salisbury this year, potting seven goals and 18 helpers in 20 games.

Thompson hasn't delivered eye-popping offensive numbers to date even though the tools and potential are present, but you see a player who might be a able to fill a worker bee role (much like a few players the Penguins developed with the help of Botterill) after his time with Providence College. He'll need to beef up, but he's an eye-catching player with that has always played bigger than his size suggests as he buzzes around the full sheet.

Jack Adams - RW, Fargo (USHL)
6'5", 190 lbs.
DOB: 2/5/97

Heading to Union College in the fall, Adams broke through in 2016-17 with a huge season that saw him score 37 goals in 56 games to set a Fargo Force single season record. I'm not really sure how Adams gets left off virtually every single scouting bureau list, but perhaps that is good news for teams that are well versed in what the 6-foot-5-1/2 scorer brings to the table with his nice set of hands down low.

Already 20 years old, Adams endured a six-inch growth spurt over the course of two years. So yes,  he's a "late riser" in more ways than one. Growing was first. Learning to play to that size and create chaos in front of the opposing goal is another. It's a continued work in progress, but this kid is off to a good start as one of the most improved players the USHL has seen in recent years. Getting drafted in his final year of eligibility could serve as the motivation that helps fuel his next-level development.

Jack Dugan - LW, Northwood Prep (USHS - NY)
6'2", 186 lbs.
DOB: 3/24/98

The Rochester, NY area product cut his teeth at prestigious Northwood Prep the past two seasons playing for former Rochester Americans coach Chadd Cassidy. In this past season as post-graduate prep player, Dugan amassed 32 goals and 93 points in 47 games.

Dugan's game is built on speed and toughness. He's a bull who moves really well in open ice. Another in the long line of prospects who were previously passed over at the draft, Dugan is committed to a Providence program where head coach Nate Leaman will work to develop his raw and rugged skill set as part of a program that should contend for the Hockey East title every season. At this point, a season in the USHL may happen before his arrival. Regardless, his body of work offers a long range projection as an aggressive professional forward.

Jakub Lacka - LW, HC Trinec U20 (Czech)
5'10", 174 lbs.
DOB: 11/20/98

I need to throw a lottery ticket into the mix that goes against the grain of the established trends.

A high flyer left-winger, Lacka is a highly offensive player with a commitment to the full 200-foot game. The backchecking is appreciated, but Lacka is on the list in this spot due to his ability to pile up goals at every level he's played at, including 20 in 37 games last season at the Czech U20 level.

It was Lacka's goal scoring punch that saw him chosen third overall at the 2015 KHL draft. He has great speed that sees him finish plays off the rush, and he has a big one-timer that he regularly opens up for on the power play. If you're looking for an opportunistic speedster, the slashing Slovakian may be worth a late-round look.

***

You may not draft him, but you should lock him into a Development Camp invite:

Ryan Larkin - G, Miami University (NCHC)
6'1", 194 lbs.
DOB: 6/9/97

An immediate difference maker for the RedHawks this past season, Larkin enters his final year of draft eligibility as a bona fide sleeper coming off a season that saw him earn Miami's MVP award this season as a freshman. Larkin played in 33 games for the young, rebuilding RedHawks, posting a 2.77 GAA and .910 save%.

With hip surgeries behind him, the sixth-rated North American goalie on Central Scouting's 2015 draft rankings is back on the rise. A Sabres team looking to create organization competition in the crease would be wise to keep close tabs on his talent.


Sami Moilanen - RW, Seattle (WHL)
5'9", 174 lbs.
DOB: 1/22/99

The diminutive left-shot winger followed up his excellent Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament (4GP 4-2-6) with a smooth transition to North American hockey this past season, scoring 21 goals and 43 points. He was equally effective in the playoffs, potting another seven goals and 16 points in 20 games for the WHL champions.

Size is not on his side, and I'm still not completely sold on him being an impact NHLer, but if he goes undrafted I'd like to see how he competes in a d-camp environment.
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twigzentor
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Monday, June 19, 2017 ×

Thanks for the in depth analysis!!

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puddy
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Wednesday, June 21, 2017 ×

Thanks Bakes. Another must-read for Sabres fans.

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