Heading into the NHL Draft and free agency, it’s no secret that one of the Buffalo Sabres biggest needs is goaltending, as Chad Johnson is the only NHL netminder currently under contract. However, the Sabres shouldn’t address this need by drafting a goalie early.
The Sabres Need Help Now
The biggest reason why this doesn’t work is because even if the Sabres draft a goalie in the first round, it still wouldn’t fill their need. The best goalie available is Ilya Samsonov, but – as is the case with almost all goaltending prospects – he’ll need some time to develop before he is NHL ready.
The opposing argument may be that he’d be a great addition to the Sabres crop of prospects and could be the goalie of the future. However, it’s likely the Sabres acquire a starting goaltender with a lot of years left in his career; someone who’d be a long-term solution and not just a stop gap (more on that in the following section).
Secondly, the Sabres are already stockpiled with raw goaltending talent. Headlining this groups is Swede Linus Ullmark. He’s coming off of a season in which he won the Honken Trophy, given out to the Swedish Hockey League’s best goaltender. Next up is Notre Dame goaltender Cal Peterson who was honored as the team’s freshman of the year. Rounding out the prospect pool are Jonas Johansson and Jason Kasdorf who was part of the Evander Kane trade.
Although they’ve battled their fair share of adversity, let’s also not forget about Rochester Americans Nathan Lieuwen and Andrey Makarov.
Lots of Other Options
Instead of drafting a goalie early, the Sabres have a lot of other options both with what they can do with those picks and with who they can acquire to fill the net.
There’s a reason why goaltenders aren’t often drafted early. It’s because they are extremely difficult to scout and evaluate correctly and that there are more good goaltenders than there are available spots in the NHL. Because of this, the first and second rounds are typically reserved for drafting talent at other positions.
This date in draft history 2001 @ Fla. Kovalchuk #1 with 4 GK in 1st rd., Pascal Leclaire, Dan Blackburn, Jason Bacashihua, Adam Munro.
— Lance Hornby (@sunhornby) June 23, 2015
When you look at statistics (specifically save percentage), there isn’t much of a discrepancy among NHL goaltenders, aside from a few outliers. It’s far more important to have the right players in front of a team’s goaltender. Hockey stats pioneer Rob Vollman told the Winnipeg Sun, “the difference between the top goalie in the league and the bottom goalie in the league is so tight.”
Getting back to the Sabres, it is far more likely they use their 21st and/or 31st overall pick to acquire a goalie via a trade. Darren Dreger has reported the Sabres have interest in Eddie Lack of the Vancouver Canucks and Cam Talbot of the New York Rangers. The Sabres have also been linked to the Ottawa Senators goaltending duo of Chris Anderson and Robin Lehner.
Acquiring NHL-ready talent with these picks appears to be Tim Murray’s preferred outcome, whether it be a goaltender or a top-six forward or top-three defensemen. However – as Murray himself has stated – it’s most likely the Sabres will end up drafting prospects with these picks. It’s in the Sabres best interest not to draft a goalie with these picks, though.