With the NHL draft being mere days (weeks, months… who really knows at this point) away, teams are no doubt ramping up their virtual draft prep. Although the Buffalo Sabres should really look to trade their first-round pick for help right now, it appears unlikely that teams will be trading before the draft. The Sabres currently hold two valuable picks inside the top-38 of a deep class.
The Sabres will be able to select a potential game-changer in that range. With their picks in the first and second round, they can certainly set themselves up for success a couple of years down the road.
Let’s now analyze 10 targets the Sabres should be honing in on with their first two picks, assuming they retain the 7th and 38th pick. Their needs are plenty and they can fill them quite admirably in the first two rounds of the draft.
1st-Round Targets at 7th Overall
To begin this exercise, it’s safe to assume that Alexis Lafrenière, Quinton Byfield and Jamie Drysdale will all be picked before the Sabres’ selection. That being said, there are scenarios that could see them having an elite offensive contributor fall into their laps. They can find a special player with their first-round pick.
If Tim Stützle were to fall to the Sabres at the seventh selection, Jason Botterill may pull a hamstring running up to his laptop to announce his pick. We may even get a classic Tim Murray moment and Botterill might just scream “Stützle!” into his webcam.
Stützle is a dynamic offensive driver who will be a terror in this league. He looks quite a bit like fellow countryman Leon Draisaitl in his production. Both players averaged a point per game at the World Junior Championship during their draft year. At the Under-18 level two seasons before they were drafted, Draisaitl scored at a 1.6 points-per-game pace while Stützle posted a 1.88 pace.
Boasting an elite offensive game and the ability to play either centre or wing, Stützle would be my number one with a bullet for the Sabres at pick seven. While not extremely likely, Larry Fisher mock drafted him to the Sabres on three different occasions. If the board falls just the right way, the team could find themselves taking a home a very big fish in the first round.
Spend any time in draft circles these days and you might conclude that Everybody Loves [Lucas] Raymond. Again, the likelihood of this skilled forward falling this far is unlikely but still possible.
Raymond boasts a strong offensive game and can burn you with his shot or pass. He plays both ends of the ice effectively and is poised to be a premier two-way winger in the NHL. He’s played mostly a depth role with Frolunda but once he is deployed in a top-six position with skilled players, he will really begin to blossom.
For a Sabres team that lacks so much offensively, Raymond would be a beautiful fit. As an added bonus, he was born just west of Finland which should propel him up the Sabres’ draft board. If the team could add this puck-cycling possession monster, they would absolutely be considered winners of the first round.
While Stützle and Raymond would be dream adds for the Sabres, we now enter the more realistic spectrum of draft possibilities. In The Hockey Writers’ Armchair GM Mock, I picked Marco Rossi as the newest addition to join the Sabres — and not just because he fills our turtleneck quota.
“The Sabres would be thrilled to add the skilled Austrian with the seventh pick. Rossi is a dynamic playmaker with a great shot but also plays with an edge. Don’t let his shorter stature fool you. He’s built like Sidney Crosby from the waist down. He is hard on the puck and cannot be knocked off easily. In addition to his elite offensive game, Rossi plays hard in the defensive zone and has a sound all-around presence while also playing on the edge like the much-beloved Brad Marchand.”
I still feel as though Rossi will join the rest of his Ottawa 67s teammates with the New Jersey Devils. If the Devils find themselves with the opportunity to select either Stützle or Raymond, Rossi could very well be available to the Sabres. The fact that he is arguably ready to take on the pro game and be a contributor as early as next season makes him a very attractive option.
To me, this is the player that I personally feel will be donning a Sabres sweater (or wearing a Sabres hat, or popping a balloon with Sabres-coloured confetti, or whatever they decide to do) at this year’s draft. The most common way I see the draft board falling would have Alexander Holtz as the Sabres’ pick and fans should be very happy about that.
Going into last season’s draft, I pushed the idea of the Sabres selecting Cole Caufield. The problems that plagued the team this season are the same that have troubled them for the last six seasons; they need to score more goals. Enter Holtz. He has the best shot in this draft and will be an elite scorer in this league in short order. From our own Matthew Zator:
“Holtz is an exceptional talent with a bright future in the NHL. From his speed, elite hockey sense, quick hands, and NHL-ready shot, he has all the things you want in a top-line winger. He also has the vision to create plays for his teammates as well. Basically, he’s the complete package, with very little weaknesses to his game. He has the potential to be a top-five pick and will be a top-10 pick for sure.”
Holtz would add to the Sabres’ plethora of elite Swedish contributors. The fact that he is the most likely target for them should certainly build excitement going into the draft. Watching Jack Eichel feed him the puck for the next few seasons would be an absolute treat.
While there are other players the Sabres could potentially pick, Anton Lundell is the one I least want them to target. Although generally considered among the safest picks in the top-10, safe is the last thing the Sabres should be pursuing.
Lundell has a sound all-around game and plays well defensively. Because he is often positionally sound, he doesn’t find himself taking chances to get into the most high-danger scoring areas. Lundell will most assuredly be a middle-six contributor in the NHL but lacks that oomph to make him a tantalizing prospect.
Botterill has followed the mantra of drafting the safest pick with the likes of Mattias Samuelsson and Ryan Johnson. Having a top-10 pick in a loaded draft means you need to leverage that into a difference-maker. Lundell has all the markings of a Botterill pick, and that should be a cause for concern.
2nd-Round Targets at 38th Overall
The Sabres have an excellent opportunity to add an offensive dynamo with their first pick. In the second round, there are a few different directions they can go. Here are five targets that would make a lot of sense for them.
John-Jason Peterka was a star for the German squad at the World Junior Championship tallying four goals and two assists in just seven games. He boasts elite hands with a good shot but has struggled playing in the DEL with men. He projects as more of a long-term prospect and will require some patience.
If the Sabres were to realize the dream scenario in adding Stützle early, uniting the dynamic German pair could be a nice combination in just a couple seasons. Even if it takes a little longer, Peterka projects to be a nice contributor in the top-six.
If Rossi projects as Marchand 2.0, Zion Nybeck has the look of Rossi’s little brother. Although smaller in stature, Nybeck is a beast in puck pursuit. He won’t shy away from a battle along the boards and is probably the only person around who doesn’t realize he’s 5-foot-8.
Adding Nybeck would give the Sabres added speed and skill in their prospect ranks. He would also provide yet another Swedish prospect for the organization to stockpile. If he could be paired with Rossi in the first round, the Sabres could be much more annoying to play against in the next three seasons.
The first defenseman we have considered, Ryan O’Rourke brings a mature game and possesses what you want in a defenseman today. Our own Mark Scheig called him the steal of the draft and said, “Whoever drafts O’Rourke is going to get a dependable defenseman who will have no trouble causing headaches for the opposition. But then if his team has the puck, there’s a good chance he’s involved in the scoring. He’s a two-way defenseman that in my mind is not getting nearly enough attention.”
Although the Sabres have depth on defence, adding a player of O’Rourke’s ability with a second-round pick feels like a strong move to make. This team needs leaders and his steadying presence would be welcomed on the Sabres’ blue line for years to come. He would also be in the conversation for top-two ROR to ever play for the team.
Here is the first risky pick we have considered. Stranges is a skilled winger with the “10-2” skating style used by Jeff Skinner. His hands are without a doubt the strongest part of his game. He’s a good playmaker with a good shot, but needs to develop more of a complete game. Again, what truly stands out about him is his unique skating and exceptional skill as seen below.
Now obviously, these situations will rarely occur in an NHL game. Still, it’s interesting to see a player with the ability to create something different coupled with the drive to do so. His deficiencies without the puck make him a risk and I’d find it very difficult to believe that this scouting staff would be willing to take a chance on a boom-or-bust player at this point. In any event, Stranges would make their prospect pool much more entertaining to follow.
The last player we will look at will be Tyson Foerster. A late riser in the draft rankings, Foerster bounced back in a big way after a disappointing rookie campaign with the Barrie Colts. He possesses a great shot and creative offensive game, but like many teenagers needs to work on his defensive game.
Foerster reminds me a lot of another late-rising Barrie Colt: Tanner Pearson. He gained more popularity late in his draft year and went early in the second round. Foerster could have a similar impact if his team takes their time in developing him. Down the line, he could be a solid 40-50 point contributor on the wing.
A Draft That Can Change the Franchise
The 2020 draft has been lauded as one of the strongest in recent memory. For the Sabres, having two picks inside the top-38 can only mean good things.
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With their first pick, the Sabres have the opportunity to bring in a real difference-maker. There are so many dynamic talents available, it would be really hard to go wrong. The worst thing they can do with that pick is play it safe. Now is the time to jolt the offence.
The second pick affords them many different opportunities. Depending who they draft first, they may be able to build a formidable duo up front by pairing offensive ability with nasty. They can add stability and leadership on their back-end. Or they can really break character and go a little more off the board with a pick that’s a little riskier but much more interesting.
Whatever they do, they have the opportunity to really build up the prospect cupboard and begin to build some depth in the ranks. When the draft finally comes, whenever that may be, let’s hope they go for impact over security and finally make this organization relevant again.