Sabres Have 3 Good Options at 9th Overall

Building through the draft and developing players properly is the Buffalo Sabres’ new direction since trading away some of their big core players last summer. Gone are the days when future assets get moved when they should be getting stockpiled for draft day. Sam Reinhart was moved for the 28th overall pick in the 2022 Draft along with goaltending prospect Devon Levi. Jack Eichel was moved for Peyton Krebs, Alex Tuch, and the 16th overall pick in the 2022 Draft along with another second-round pick in 2023. Rasmus Ristolainen was traded for a pick that became Isak Rosen in the last draft, along with a 2023 second-round pick. All of this draft stock has Buffalo in a position to get a deeper roster while developing team chemistry and culture.

In this year’s draft, the Sabres have their own pick at 9th overall, the Golden Knights’ pick at 16th overall, and the Panthers’ pick at 28th overall. A number of strong players will be available at each of those slots, but there are a lot of factors that go into their first choice, as they are in need of every type of player that will improve their roster. Most of the players available at No. 9 will not be ready right away, but with a short amount of time to develop, any one of the following will play a key role in the near future.

Cutter Gauthier, Center/Left Wing

Cutter Gauthier is the player in the 2022 Draft that just screams “Buffalo Sabre”. The type of direction that general manager Kevyn Adams and coach Don Granato want to go in features a combination of work ethic, skill, speed, and teamwork. Gauthier has every one of these aspects in his game, with speed being the weakest of the bunch. He spent the 2021-22 season on the US National Under-18 team and during his time there, he managed to produce at a consistent rate.

Cutter Gauthier USNTDP
Cutter Gauthier, USNTDP (Rena Laverty / USA Hockey’s NTDP)

There are a number of things that Gauthier does well, but where he excels most is in his two-way game. While he possesses the ability to create scoring chances in the offensive zone, his NHL-sized frame also allows him to be physical and active in the defensive end. Scoring in a junior-caliber league is much easier than scoring in a men’s league, but having good two-way skills is something that translates very well to every level. He played 54 games for the US U-18 team and scored 34 goals and 65 points. He possesses a solid scoring ability and can do it anywhere in the offensive zone. Having that type of versatility will help his personal career, but for Buffalo specifically, it would make him indispensable.

Gauthier is ranked third on the NHL Central Scouting list of North American players so the chances that he falls all the way to ninth is a bit of a stretch. He has an NHL frame at 6-foot-3 and weighs over 200 pounds, which will up his draft stock just a little more. Should he be available, the Sabres need to have him at the top of their list for his all-around play and work ethic that would blend perfectly with the new culture they are trying to build.

Joakim Kemell, Right Wing

Since Thomas Vanek was traded away, the Sabres have been on the lookout for their next consistent goal-scoring winger. While Jeff Skinner was brought in to be just that, his inconsistent play over the course of his tenure has kept him out of that category for now. Should they have the opportunity, selecting Joakim Kemell at 9th overall would be a home-run pick. He is slightly undersized at 5-foot-10, but in today’s NHL, size isn’t the most important thing anymore, as smaller forwards have made great career strides and he would be another young player with the capacity to do so.

Joakim Kemell JYP
Joakim Kemell, JYP (Photo: Jiri Halttunen)

This kid can score. That’s the bottom line. He has an elite NHL-caliber shot and has the offensive creativity to score goals through determination and pure skill. He is a smooth skater and has great strength with his stick to fend off defenders and score goals in every high-danger area. Comparatively, he has a similar game to someone like Jake Guentzel, as his shot is quick and deceptive, and he still has the hands to be a playmaker if need be.

NHL Central Scouting has him listed at second for European skaters, so he has the draft pedigree of a top-five pick. He also has the tools to play in the NHL next season, but he likely will not if chosen by the Sabres. He still has some work to do on his defensive game, but his offensive prowess should continue to grow over the next few years as he develops.

Jonathan Lekkerimaki, Right Wing

The Sabres have never shied away from selecting Swedish players, so why should they stop now? Jonathan Lekkerimaki is a complete package scorer with a nose for the net, as he can score from in close, far out, and anywhere in between. Another right-handed forward that can score goals from either side of the ice is something that the Sabres could use for their top-six group. His style of play will also mesh well with any offensive scheme.

Related: Sabres Player Season Report Card: Peyton Krebs

Standing at 5-foot-11, Lekkerimaki has a solid frame for the NHL. Skating and scoring are the primary weapons that he brings to the table, but with some time and work, he could add some playmaking skills to throw defenders off more. Similar to Kemell, he can score goals at will, but his shot could still use some more deception to it. His skating is solid, but where he could use some improvement is in his speed and sideways movement. If he possessed more of an ability to throw off defenders with his movements, he would be able to rely less on his puck skills to score. Should he make the jump to the NHL, it would be one or two years from now while he works on refining his best skills and improving his edge work. Comparatively, Lekkerimaki plays a game similar to Brock Boeser. He will be able to score goals on his own, but his production will be infinitely better if he has an elite playmaker alongside him.

Brock Boeser Vancouver Canucks
Brock Boeser, Vancouver Canucks (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Buffalo has a few playmaking prospects in Peyton Krebs and JJ Peterka, so should the Sabres take him at No. 9, it would be wise to have him grow chemistry with a young playmaking forward in their system. He is ranked sixth amongst European skaters for the NHL Central Scouting list, so he has a realistic chance of being selected in the top 10, and if the prior mentioned prospects are not available, the Sabres should use their pick on Lekkerimaki.

The Buffalo Sabres Need Forwards

Goal scoring can come at a premium in the NHL, so loading up on scoring talent through the draft is exactly what the Sabres should do with their top pick this year. They have a number of top defensive prospects in development and are ready to see NHL action, but defenders take longer to grow. Forwards have a much smaller learning curve, so taking some players with high-end talent would be ideal for Buffalo before using their later first-round pick and second-round picks on defensemen.

Choosing any one of these players would improve the primary scoring core and would give some flexibility to coach Don Granato to spread out scoring options to multiple lines. The Sabres have their top line for next year in Thompson, Skinner, and Tuch but they will still need some youth injected into the lineup to continue challenging the veterans and making each game more exciting for the fans. The Sabres need goal scorers more than defenders right now, and this year’s draft has more than enough talent to select from.

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