The Buffalo Sabres recently cleaned house on, well, the entire organization, really. They fired general manager Jason Botterill and both assistant GMs, Randy Sexton and Steve Greeley, as well as the Director of Amateur Scouting Ryan Jankowski and most of his staff. While it’s hard to see the future as bright until the ownership group changes, a huge key in progress will be drafting well and developing talent, something Buffalo has struggled with significantly.
Botterill and Jankowski’s drafting record with Buffalo is suspect at best. In 3 years (2 for Jankowski), the Sabres made 18 selections. Only one of them is a regular NHLer – 2018 no-brainer No. 1 overall Rasmus Dahlin. Tim Murray, Botterill’s predecessor, had a similar lack of success in the draft, and he was gifted Jack Eichel at No. 2 overall in 2015. The only way Buffalo climbs out of this hole is through drafting and developing. Luckily for them, the perfect man to help fix the organization is looking for a job: former Vancouver Canucks’ Director of Amateur Scouting Judd Brackett.
Buffalo’s Draft Struggles
Since drafting Jack Eichel in 2015, the Sabres have gotten a grand total of 162 games and 48 points from their 27 players drafted not named Rasmus Dahlin. 114 of those games and 39 of those points come from Casey Mittelstadt alone. Alex Nylander, drafted eighth overall in 2016, was traded away. Mittelstadt, eighth overall in 2017, was rushed to the NHL, only to struggle with the pace and physicality of the league and get tossed all over the lineup. He spent much of last season back in the AHL, where he should have been all along.
Early signs are promising for 2019 seventh-overall pick Dylan Cozens, but the Sabres MUST let him develop at his own pace. They may have already stunted Mittelstadt’s growth and development long-term. They can’t afford to do the same with Cozens.
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It’s not just early-round picks they’ve struggled with, either. Since 2014, they’ve selected 28 players in the third round or later. Only 2014 seventh-rounder Victor Olofsson has become an NHL player, putting up an impressive rookie campaign this past season. The only other players who have suited up in the blue and gold have been Jonas Johansson, William Borgen and Brandon Hagel, who combined have 11 games and 0 points.
Buffalo can’t afford to miss on any more drafts. They’ve been rebuilding for a decade and have a promising young core with Eichel and Dahlin that they cannot waste. Recently hired Kevyn Adams is a first-time GM with no scouting or drafting experience, so he’ll need a particularly strong support staff and amateur scouting group to rely upon. That’s why the Sabres should go all-out to hire Judd Brackett.
Brackett’s Impressive Track Record
Brackett is leaving the Vancouver Canucks after 12 years, having served as their Director of Amateur Scouting since 2015. Coincidentally, since 2015, Vancouver has consistently been one of the best scouting and drafting organizations in the league, and it’s the single biggest reason why they’re back in the playoffs again.
In 2017, Brackett pushed hard for Elias Pettersson as Vancouver’s pick at fifth overall, when it was widely believed GM Jim Benning wanted Cody Glass. One scout told The Hockey News that “my understanding is that Pettersson was never a guy Benning wanted.” Pettersson, of course, won the Calder Trophy in 2018-19, is already one of the top players in the NHL and the catalyst for the Canucks’ resurgence.
Brackett also oversaw the selection of Calder Trophy favorite Quinn Hughes at seventh overall in 2018, and again pushed hard for Vasili Podkolzin at 10th overall this past draft. Time will tell, but all signs point towards Podkolzin becoming a top-six NHL player. The only high pick during Brackett’s tenure that hasn’t panned out? 2016 fifth overall pick Olli Juolevi, a player GM Jim Benning loved, pushed for and picked – against Brackett’s recommendation. Wonder if there’s anything to that.
Brackett hasn’t only found success with high draft picks either. Vancouver also looks like they hit on depth selections Jack Rathbone at 95th overall in 2017, Tyler Madden at 68th overall in 2018 (subsequently traded to LA for Tyler Toffoli) and Nils Hoglander, picked 40th overall in 2019. Aidan McDonagh (195th in 2018), Jett Woo (37th in 2018) and Michael DiPietro (64th in 2017) are also all on promising tracks towards the NHL. All were depth selections.
Hiring Brackett as Assistant General Manager and Director of Amateur Scouting would provide MUCH needed pedigree in the Sabres’ scouting department, and it would give him the promotion and control he’s seeking. His departure is Vancouver’s loss, and it will be interesting to see if their drafting success continues into the future. Brackett will be a hot commodity, but this could be Buffalo’s gain and provide the franchise and fanbase with a huge win that is desperately needed.