General Manager Tim Murray put his stamp on the Buffalo Sabres rebuild with a plethora of picks in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. The Sabres have stockpiled picks in this year’s and next year’s draft to add to the club’s arsenal of young talent. After a trade with the Washington Capitals in the second round, the Sabres amassed a total of six picks in the first three rounds of this year’s draft putting the club in a great spot to build towards the future.
This year’s draft was held in Philadelphia and there was no love lost between Flyers’ fans and Sabres’ fans at the top of the draft. After the City of Brotherly Love serenaded NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman with a chorus of boos, Sabres GM Tim Murray wasted no time in announcing the Sabres’ first round draft pick, which was the second overall in the draft. Many took to twitter to praise Murray’s no nonsense approach to the draft and this would set the tone for the club’s upcoming picks.
Asked for comment on selecting Sam Reinhart, Sabres GM Tim Murray said, "Word. Other word. Punctuation.", and left.
— Adam Proteau (@Proteautype) June 27, 2014
While the Sabres’ picks will likely spend the better part of next season developing, the players that GM Tim Murray brought into the system have a lot of promise. Fans may find themselves growing frustrated with the team’s performance this coming season. Be that as it may, with the club’s stockpile of talent makes the future appear to be very bright.
In addition, with three picks in the first round of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft the Sabres will continue to add to the talent pool next summer. If the cupboard of talent comes to fruition, the Sabres are poised to be perennial contenders in the NHL in the not-so-distant future. Here is a look at the players that the Sabres have added to the organizational depth charts during the 2014 NHL Entry Draft.
First Round Draft Pick: Sam Reinhart
Many analysts had a difficult time pegging the top rated prospect in this year’s NHL Entry Draft. Some decided on Barrie defenseman Aaron Ekblad while others felt it was a toss up between Kootenay forward Sam Reinhart, Kingston forward Sam Bennett, and Prince Albert forward Leon Draisaitl.
After the Florida Panthers selected Aaron Ekblad with the first overall pick in the draft, Sabres’ GM Tim Murray chose Sam Reinhart with the second selection. Reinhart was happy about being drafted by the Sabres and excited about the opportunity to earn a spot with the club.
Reinhart: I've pictured myself in this uniform quite a few times. I'm thrilled. Thankful. Looks like a bright future ahead. #Sabres2014Draft
— Buffalo Sabres (@BuffaloSabres) June 28, 2014
Reinhart is highly touted for many reasons. In sixty games with the Kootenay Ice last season, Reinhart tallied one hundred and five points scoring thirty-six goals and notching sixty-nine assists. Draft analysts thought very highly of the youngster and many felt he has the best hockey smarts among all of the available prospects. Reinhart has a knack for being in the right place at the right time on offense. He also has an uncanny playmaking ability to set up his teammates which has given him a reputation of making other players better around him.
The Sabres struggled mightily on offense last season where the club managed just 1.83 goals per game – the lowest average goal total per game in the NHL. Reinhart will be very helpful in this regard as he possesses the ability to spark a struggling offense. While the Sabres brass may want to further his development in juniors next season, the door is open for him to earn a spot in Buffalo in the near future.
Second Round Draft Pick: Brendan Lemieux
Many mock drafts had forward Brendan Lemieux being selected in the first round but this did not come to pass after the first day of the draft. While this was not to the delight of Lemieux it worked out great for the Buffalo Sabres. The Sabres selected forward Brendan Lemieux with the 31st overall selection in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft and being taken at this spot has already put a chip on Lemieux’s shoulder.
The son of former NHLer Claude Lemieux, Brendan plays with fire and brimstone that will go a long way with the fans in Buffalo. A common criticism of the Sabres in recent years is that it played with a lack of passion which translated to many quiet evenings of hockey at the First Niagara Center. Lemieux is the antidote to this criticism and he will look to make an impact with the Sabres as soon as possible. GM Tim Murray wants to remake the Sabres into a club that is difficult to play against and Lemieux looks to be a prominent figure in helping Buffalo accomplish this goal.
Sabres' Brendan Lemieux on being passed over in first round: "They gave one of the more fiery guys in the draft a lot more fire."
— John Vogl (@BuffaloVogl) June 28, 2014
Many, including Brendan, compare the youngster’s style of play to that of Claude Lemieux, his father. Brendan is an in-your-face player who can dictate the physical play of a game. He also has a solid offensive upside to compliment his reputation of being a pest.
In sixty-five games with the Barrie Colts this season, Lemieux scored twenty-seven goals along with twenty-six helpers. His one hundred and forty-five penalty minutes rounded out his firey play. If his game can translate at the NHL level, look for Lemieux to become a fan favorite when he earns a spot with the Sabres. Buffalo fans are always hungry for a player of Lemieux’s ilk and he hopes to make an early impression with GM Tim Murray and Head Coach Ted Nolan to secure a role in the NHL.
Second Round Draft Pick: Eric Cornel
A notable weakness for the Sabres under former GM Darcy Regier had been depth at the center position. Regier tried to address this problem via trade but wasn’t able to accomplish this – quality centers in the NHL are coveted commodity. In order to address this deficiency, Regier made a deal to bring Cody Hodgson into the fold in 2012 and then drafted centers Zemgus Girgensons and Mikhail Grigorenko.
— Buffalo Sabres (@BuffaloSabres) June 28, 2014
Sam Reinhart will continue to help the Sabres improve at center and Eric Cornel will also add to the mix of young centers. Cornel was selected by the Buffalo Sabres in the third round with the forty-fourth overall pick. Not only is Cornel strong at the center position but he has experience playing on the wing. Cornel uses his size to play a physical game and he has a lot of offensive upside.
[See Also: NHL Draft War Room: Eric Cornel]
Cornel tallied just shy of a point per game with the Peterborough Petes last season where he scored twenty-five goals and thirty-seven assists in sixty-eight games. It will take some time before Cornel cracks the Sabres lineup but his coaches have said he continually improves each year. If he continues down this trajectory then he may be able to earn a spot with the Sabres sooner rather than later.
Second Round Draft Pick: Vaclav Karabacek
The Sabres went to a player from the Czech Republic with their third pick in the second round. On the first day of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, Tim Murray wanted to use his second round picks in a trade to move back into the first round but this situation never surfaced. Instead, Murray secured some strong talent in the second round so perhaps this was the best possible scenario for the club.
A native of the Czech Republic, #Sabres draft pick Vaclav Karabacek played 2 years in Austria before joining the Quebec league last season
— Rochester Americans (@AmerksHockey) June 28, 2014
Karabacek addresses another need that the Sabres had in recent years. He has a noted ability of winning battles for pucks in the corners which is a skill that is lacking with some of the Sabres’ current players. Moreover, Karabacek is a strong skater and he positions himself well in the offensive zone.
The winger spent last season in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League with the Gatineau Olympiques. In sixty-five games with the Olympiques he scored twenty-one goals and twenty-six assists. Karabacek will need more time to develop but he has an improving skill set that will be valuable if he can translate his game at the NHL level.
Third Round Draft Pick: Jonas Johansson
With the first overall selection in the third round of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, the Buffalo Sabres selected goaltender Jonas Johansson of Brynas J20 in Sweden. Some analysts pegged Johansson as the number two rated international goaltending prospects in this year’s draft. At nearly six foot four inches, Johansson’s size gives him an advantage over other goaltending prospects. His size combined with his developing skill set may help him secure a role with the Sabres in the next few years.
— Kevin Oklobzija (@kevinoROC1) June 28, 2014
Of all the areas of need for the Sabres, Tim Murray stated that goaltending is a lower priority. While this might not be as glaring of a need in comparison to other areas, it is still important to keep the cupboard stockpiled for the future. Johansson needs time to develop his game so he likely won’t find himself in Buffalo for at least a few years. However, he will be given plenty of time to refine his game within Buffalo’s system in the hopes that he will be ready to go when the time comes.
In twenty-three games with Brynas J20 last season, Johansson posted a 2.32 GAA and a .911 save percentage. Johansson put up slightly weaker numbers in the playoffs. In seven he posted a 2.36 GAA and a .892 save percentage. He will look to improve upon these numbers this coming season.
Third Round Draft Pick: Brycen Martin
After swapping second round draft picks with the Washington Capitals, the Sabres found themselves with six picks in the first three rounds of the draft. With the seventy-fourth pick in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, Buffalo selected defenseman Brycen Martin of WHL.
Brycen Martin on WHL foe Sam Reinhart: "Everybody else becomes dangerous when he has the puck." #Sabres
— Mike Harrington (@ByMHarrington) June 28, 2014
Martin has elevated his game in recent years. He is noted for his offensive skills which have allowed him to contribute with his WHL club on the power play. Critics have pointed to the fact that Martin got many of his points on the power play so he will need to improve his game at even strength if he is to emerge as an offensive defenseman. Martin will also need to keep working on his defensive game as he’s struggled against other WHL club’s offensive units at times this season.
In seventy-two games with the Swift Current Broncos of the WHL last season, Martin notched thirty-seven points with six goals and thirty-one assists. It will take a few years for Martin to develop at a level where he has a shot at making the Sabres. There is always a need in the NHL for puck moving defenseman so his work is cut out for him in order to reach his goal of becoming a consistent contributor at the NHL level.
Fifth Round Draft Pick: Maxwell Willman
The Buffalo Sabres did not have a pick in the fourth round of this year’s NHL Entry Draft but they had the first pick in the fifth round. For this pick, the Sabres again selected a player that has the potential to improve the club’s struggling offense. The Sabres selected winger Maxwell Willman with the one hundred and twenty-first overall pick.
Tim Murray calls Maxwell Willman a kid you'd "want to marry your daughter."
— Bill Hoppe (@BillHoppeNHL) June 28, 2014
Willman attends Williston-North Hampton High School in Massachusetts so it will be a few years before he is ready to compete for a professional role. The youngster has worked hard to improve his game this past season. He entered the draft last year but was not selected and he did not have a team to move forward with at the college level. Through his hard work, Willman earned a spot with Brown University’s hockey team this coming fall on the heels of an improved season. The forward managed forty-four points in twenty-five games last season and is on the right path for further growth.
Sixth Round Draft Pick: Christopher Brown
As the NHL moved into the later rounds of the draft, GM Tim Murray again added to the organization’s talent pool on offense. The Sabres selected center Christopher Brown with the one hundred and fifty-first overall pick in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. Christopher is the son of former NHLer Doug Brown and he plays with a large intensity and high compete level.
No. 151 pick C Christopher Brown played for Cranbrook-Kingswood (HS, MI) in 2013-14. Had 26G 58A. Will play for @GamblersHockey next year.
— USA Hockey Magazine (@USAHMagazine) June 28, 2014
Like his new teammate Willman, Brown is also still in high school and plays for his school’s hockey club. He attends school in Michigan where he plays for Cranbrook-Kingswood Upper School. In twenty-eight games at Cranbrook-Kingswood Upper School last season, Brown scored twenty-six goals with fifty-eight helpers for a total of eighty-four points.
Brown will look to continue his strong play next season when he joins the USHL’s Green Bay Gamblers. His strong play thus far in his young career has led to Boston College recruiting him for the school’s hockey team. Brown will join Boston College’s squad for the 2015-2016 season.
Seventh Round Draft Pick: Victor Olofsson
The Buffalo Sabres closed out their selections in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft by taking winger Victor Olofsson. Murray’s first draft as GM of the Buffalo Sabres was very heavy on offense and the talent he secured should help the club as it moves forward with the rebuilding process.
Sabres keep swinging for the fences with Victor Olofsson at #181. 5'7", wheels, 32 goals in 44 games at J20. BUF goes MODO 3 yrs in a row
— Kris Baker (@SabresProspects) June 28, 2014
It will take time for Olofsson to develop his game to earn a spot with the Sabres but he has some notable talents that are coveted in the NHL. Olofsson is a strong skater with good speed and he also positions himself well to contribute on offense.
In forty-four games with MODO J20 of Sweden last season, Olofsson put up an impressive fifty-three points. Olofsson scored thirty-two goals and twenty-one assists. If he can continue his development to use his speed and positioning to his advantage, we may very well see Olofsson in a Buffalo Sabres uniform in a few years’ time.
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