The Buffalo Sabres hold the second and twenty-first overall picks in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. Their second pick will more than likely be used to draft Jack Eichel while the other could be used in a variety of ways. The youngsters drafted by the Sabres this coming Friday will enter into one of the NHL’s deepest systems that has been built largely through the draft over the last few seasons.
Buffalo has no doubt endured a great deal to acquire a deep prospect pool. The Sabres are coming off of a second consecutive last place finish in the NHL standings. During this span, the club was near the bottom in numerous statistical categories. While this position in the NHL’s basement during the last few rebuilding seasons has been painful, Sabres fans can rest assured that the franchise is close to turning a corner.
Once it is official, Jack Eichel is slated to become an important part of the new Buffalo Sabres. At the moment, whether the Sabres will make the playoffs next year is anyone’s guess. However, the expectation for the club to show gradual improvement is a reasonable one. With Jack Eichel close to becoming a member of the Sabres, here is a look at the other first round talent that Buffalo has brought into the system during the last five NHL Entry Drafts.
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Mark Pysyk, Defenseman, 2010 NHL Entry Draft
Mark Pysyk was selected during the 2010 NHL Entry Draft by the Buffalo Sabres. In a year that saw forwards Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin drafted at the top of the first round, the Sabres drafted Pysyk with the 23rd overall pick. According to HockeyDB.com, other top players drafted in the first round of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft include the likes of forwards Ryan Johansen, Jeff Skinner, and Vladimir Tarasenko.
Pysyk spent his younger years playing for the Edmonton Oil Kings of the WHL. According to EliteProspects.com, Pysyk scored 25 goals and 125 points in 243 games with the Oil Kings. He refined his leadership skills with the Oil Kings where he served as captain for two seasons.
Since he was drafted by the Sabres, Pysyk spent parts of three seasons playing for the Rochester Americans. He also has appeared in a total of 70 games for the Sabres where he’s notched four goals and 15 points. Pysyk suffered a scary injury collapsing during a pick-up basketball game last season but he was given clearance to play prior to the end of the season. He has a ton of upside and may carve out a more permanent role with the Sabres this season.
Joel Armia, Right Wing, 2011 NHL Entry Draft
The 2011 NHL Entry Draft featured several highly touted prospects that included forwards Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Gabriel Landeskog, and Jonathan Huberdeau. Buffalo held the sixteenth overall pick in the first round of this draft and used it to select forward Joel Armia. Armia is no longer part of the Buffalo Sabres’ system since he was traded to the Winnipeg Jets in the deal that brought Evander Kane and Zach Bogosian to Buffalo.
Armia was a prospect that many Sabres fans were excited about due to his performance in SM-liiga of Finland. According to HockeyDB.com, as a 17-year-old, Armia scored 18 goals and 29 points for his Finland SM-liiga club Assat Pori. His career SM-liiga numbers include 55 goals and 100 points in 149 games. The youngster spent parts of two seasons with the Rochester Americans where he notched 17 goals and 52 points in 87 games.
Armia appeared in only one game for the Sabres which occurred last season. While he didn’t rise to a prominent role within the Sabres organization, Armia helped secure some strong NHL caliber talent for Buffalo in Evander Kane and Zach Bogosian. It remains to be seen if Armia will carve out a more permanent role in the NHL but his value as a prospect was utilized to complete an important trade for the Sabres’ future.
Mikhail Grigorenko & Zemgus Girgensons, Centers, 2012 NHL Entry Draft
The Buffalo Sabres had two first round picks in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. Buffalo had possession of the 12th overall pick in the draft. The Sabres also acquired the 21st overall pick in exchange for forward Paul Gaustad from the Nashville Predators. The Sabres later traded this pick along with a second round pick to the Calgary Flames to move up to the 14th spot in the first round.
The Sabres selected Mikhail Grigorenko with the 12th overall pick and Zemgus Girgensons with the 14th pick. While both players are very young, the paths that these players have taken with the Sabres has been very different.
Girgensons plays with a ton of heart that has many fans thinking of him as a candidate for the future captain of the Sabres. The native of Latvia has good size and uses it to his advantage against the opposition. He was voted to his first All Star game last season but he later missed time due to injury. Through two NHL seasons Girgensons has notched 23 goals and 52 points in 131 games.
The story of Mikhail Grigorenko is quite different. The youngster had an outstanding career in the QMJHL where he tallied 85 goals and 178 points in 115 games according to Eliteprospects.com. He has yet to translate his game at the NHL level but at 21 years old there is still time for him to right the ship.
The Sabres have been criticized for mishandling Grigorenko’s development by bringing him to the NHL too soon. Meanwhile, Grigorenko initially failed to report to the Quebec Remparts after being assigned there by the Sabres in January 2014. He did eventually report but this incident raised concerns about the forward. While he is still very young and has a ton of potential upside, Grigorenko’s production at the NHL level has been an issue with just 6 goals and 14 points in 68 career games.
[See Also: Errors of Past Regime Haunting Sabres by Chad DeDominicis]
Rasmus Ristolainen & Nikita Zadorov, Defensemen, 2013 NHL Entry Draft
The first round of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft was also an active one for the Buffalo Sabres. The club had possession of 8th overall pick and, by trading Jason Pominville, they acquired the 16th overall pick from the Minnesota Wild. The first round of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft will go down in Sabres’ history as an important one. The club solidified their blueline by drafting Rasmus Ristolainen with their 8th overall pick and Nikita Zadorov with their 16th pick.
The 2014-2015 NHL season in Buffalo was a difficult one but it afforded both of the club’s top picks from the 2013 NHL Entry Draft some valuable playing time. Rasmus Ristolainen had his ups and downs last season. He logged big minutes in many different situations helping him build confidence and he is poised to continue this trend during the 2015-2016 season. According to NHL.com, the 20-year-old has 10 goals and 24 points in 112 career NHL games.
Nikita Zadorov also was given the opportunity to play for the Sabres last season. According to NHL.com, the youngster has played in 67 career NHL games scoring four goals and 16 points. Zadorov was suspended by the Sabres at the end of January for missing practice after the All Star break and another time in February under former Head Coach Ted Nolan. However, Zadorov will have a clean slate under the new bench boss Dan Bylsma and more opportunity to develop with his young club.
Sam Reinhart, Center, 2014 NHL Entry Draft
After a last place finish, the Sabres attained the second overall pick through the draft lottery. Aaron Ekblad was the top pick in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft and Buffalo used the second overall pick to bring center Sam Reinhart into the fold. Scouts have pegged Reinhart as a strong leader with great hockey instincts and his talents will be heavily relied upon by the Sabres.
Reinhart played in nine games for Buffalo last season where he tallied one assist. The Sabres decided to assign Reinhart back to his junior club, the Kootenay Ice. He had an impressive season scoring 19 goals and 65 points in 47 games. According to Eliteprospects.com over his career with the Kootenay Ice of the WHL, Reinhart scored 120 goals and 319 points in 250 games.
Perhaps the most impressive feat that Reinhart accomplished last season was his performance for Team Canada in the World Junior Championships. Reinhart scored five goals and 11 points in the tournament helping Team Canada win gold. The Sabres are hopeful that Reinhart will take the next step by earning a more permanent role with the club this season.
Tim joined The Hockey Writers in July 2013. He began his tenure with THW by covering the Minnesota Wild and he now writes on the Buffalo Sabres. Tim completed his undergraduate and graduate work at the University at Buffalo. In addition, he is a published historian and a Baltimore Orioles Contributing Writer for LegendsOnDeck.com. Tim’s work for THW has been featured on sites such as Yahoo.com. Follow him on Twitter @TOHockeyTHW