On Tuesday, I took a quick look at the Sabres first round picks and the general reaction to them.
Today? It’s time for draft grades, baby. Obviously, these grades are your end all, be all because I am a draft expert. Everyone on the internet is a draft expert. Just part of your credentials when you log onto the internets.
Caveat: I know very little about anyone after the third round so just keep that in mind. Let’s do it to it.
Real quick before we get started: the Andrej Sekera trade. I’ll admit that I’m a fanboy for Sekera. I felt like he was arguably the team’s best defenseman the last few years. He’s smart in his own end, good with the puck, and capable of the occasional end-to-end rush. Moving him was never in the cards for me.
Jamie McBain, the defender who came back in return, sounds like the same kind of defenseman and I’ll never be able to see or hear his name without wanting to yell “MENDOZAAAAAA!” So there’s that. That second round pick softened the blow for me, too.
We’re going cumulative grade here so if you want to individually grade each pick, break out your pencils and scorecards and join along at home.
1st Round (8): Rasmus Ristolainen, D – Ristolainen is a big, solid, mobile defender who’s considered a top four defenseman on the low end. He’s what you call “safe”. Like bringing home the nice girl to your parents, the one you know they’ll like even if she doesn’t wow them.
Ristolainen will instantly be the second biggest guy on the blueline (Tyler Myers wins that battle foreva because he’s 6’8”) and could be the best after Christian Ehrhoff. Should be a guy who can step into the lineup right away and take his lumps on a bad team.
Admittedly, I wanted Valeri Nichushkin here because this team needs goal-scorers and Nichushkin is one of those guys you’re super excited about until he because another Alexandre Svitov (comparison because he’s Russian, you see).
1st Round (16): Nikita Zadorov, D – I would have loved this pick even more had the team opted for offense at #8. He’s bigger than Ristolainen and a helluva lot meaner, too. When you get a guy that’s “physically elite”, you know some faces are gonna get smashed and smashed real good.
Buffalo has had a bit of a soft (or hard) spot for physical players ever since Milan Lucic roadkilled Ryan Miller so a guy like Zadarov is right in their wheelhouse. He supposedly doesn’t do anything else real well, which is concerning, but supposedly has the talent to develop.
So long as he’s solid defensively and annihilating anything that moves in his zone, I love the pick.
2nd Round (35): JT Compher, C – The second rounder that came in the Sekera trade. The top player to come out of the USNTDP simply because Seth Jones left to play in the WHL, Compher is an “all-around” player. He has good speed and forechecks well with above-average puck skills.
He’s on the smaller side (5’11”) but received some first round praise. On the high end, he’s a second-liner. More realistically? He sounds like your prototypical third line forechecker; making things happen with his hustle and speed.
2nd Round (38): Connor Hurley, F – Let’s just get this out of the way: he has a fantastic bro name. Just wanted to put that out there.
A guy without a clear position means flexibility and you can never get enough of that. Just a high-schooler, there are some who feel he fell simply because his highest level of competition is high school. Understandable.
Still, he’s got high-end skating ability and a good frame. He’s committed to Notre Dame, where he’ll need to work on becoming less of a perimeter player and gain strength (the latter could be said about most draft prospects).
2nd Round (52): Justin Bailey, C – It looks like the Sabres waited until the second round to try their luck with a boom-or-bust kind of guy. I personally like to gamble big, so I would’ve used the 8th pick on that but hey, I’m a gambler.
Baily is big (6’3”) and supposedly “loaded” with talent but is very raw. A good skater for his size, he’s got all the ability to be a top-six forward in the NHL but the big question is “how likely is that to happen?” Will definitely need a couple more years of seasoning before he even gets a sniff of the big time.
3rd Round (69): Nicholas Baptiste, RW – Starting to notice a trend here with the Sabres picks. The 6’2” 200lb Baptiste is a power forward through and through. He’s physical but not “Hulk destroying a city” physical like some power forwards, using it only when the need arises.
He’s a good skater for his size and, here’s the big part if you’ve been following the Sabres the last few years, has great authority and leadership. Some believe he’s on the verge of being a force in the OHL. Hopefully not Marcus Foligno 2.0.5th Round (129): Calvin Petersen, G – Here’s your token “gotta take a goalie” pick of the draft. Big and athletic, he’s been termed “a late bloomer”. He’ll get a chance to make some noise in the NCAA as a commit to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. More on him as he develops; for right now, there isn’t a ton. Fifth round pick caveats apply.
5th Round (130): Gustav Possler, W – And here’s your token “gotta take a Swede late!” Your prototypical smart player who overcompensates for his lack of eye-popping skills with heads-up play. Good on the penalty kill. Sounds like a solid third line guy on the high-end, out of the NHL on the low.
5th Round (143): Anthony Florentino, D — This one is intriguing. He’s big and filled out already (6’1” and as heavy as 227 according to some places) and likes to hit. Noticing another trend here. High-energy guy in his own zone who uses his size to win battles and separate opponents from the puck. Here’s the part I like: physical to the point that he looks like he’s trying to hurt players when he hits them. SMASH IT ALL.
Another big upside guy, he’ll need time to develop and will get that at ProvidenceCollege. Also another potential leader down the line. Trend #2 officially noticed.
6th Round (159): Sean Malone, C – A Harvard commit, Malone is the smallest pick of the day by the Sabres. He’s quick, agile, and (surprise!) another character kid who could potentially be leadership material. Could be a quality bottom six, high-energy guy.
7th Round (189): Eric Locke, LW – The Sabres have a history with undersized skill guys and taking a flyer on one with your 7th round pick isn’t the worst thing in the world. He’s overaged, so he could end up in Rochester. Started to come into his own after finding an ideal situation in Saginaw.
Let’s face facts about this draft: the Sabres weren’t going to solve all of their needs. Even if offense was the goal with the 8th pick, they were still going to be bereft of scorers for the foreseeable future.
Getting bigger, meaner, and better on the blueline is certainly a start. They may see action out of one or both of Ristolainen and Zadorov next year in a “get your lumps in now” effort on what should be a bad team.
From there, they clearly went with potential, leadership, and size. This could be one of the best drafts the team has ever had if a few high-potential guys end up panning out. Besides, they went safe in round one; after that is when you can afford to take your risks.
Overall, the Sabres are theoretically a better team for tomorrow but still have huge holes to fill offensively.