When I signed up to act as general manager of the Buffalo Sabres for the second annual THW mock entry draft, I knew I had my work cut out for me, but I was up to the challenge. And despite outside pressure and dozens of different prospect rankings pieces telling me otherwise, I knew the choice I had in mind to select first overall was the right one for this franchise.
As the Sabres GM, I knew I didn’t want to take a defenseman with the first-overall pick, and I knew that the right choice had to be taking a center. The 2021 NHL Draft is like no other, though, so the pressure was on to make the right pick with the first selection in the mock draft. Ultimately, I went with my gut and selected center Matthew Beniers from the University of Michigan.
Sabres Have Options at First Overall
Like I prefaced above, the Sabres have options with the first-overall pick and lots of them. Whether they think they need a center, winger, defenseman, or even a goalie, they have their pick of the litter as to who they think will bring the most to this franchise the soonest. Owen Power, the University of Michigan defenseman who is projected by many to go first overall in this year’s draft, could potentially slide into an already-skilled defense core of Rasmus Dahlin, Henri Jokiharju, and more, and bolster the Sabres’ blue line down the road. But with their blue line being a strong spot on the roster already, I feel it’s time to address a glaring hole instead: the center ice position.
Captain Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart have been rumored for months now to be as good as gone, and if those two players are ultimately traded to different teams, the Sabres will be without their number one and number two centers, and the team’s two most potent offensive threats, leaving a hole on the roster that looks almost impossible to fill, at least for now. That’s why I think taking Beniers, who ranks as the best center in this year’s draft and who many analysts have going first-overall, was a no-brainer to take in THW’s mock draft.
What Beniers Could Bring to the Sabres
When THW’s NHL Prospects Lead Writer Matthew Zator asked me for my rationale regarding my decision to take Beniers at first-overall in the mock draft, here’s what I told him: Taking Beniers with the first-overall pick was a no-brainer for me. While defenseman Power is widely expected to go first, I think the Sabres could benefit more from bolstering their center depth with a player like Beniers, both now and for the future, especially if Eichel and Reinhart are headed elsewhere. In addition to Casey Mittelstadt and Dylan Cozens, Beniers could add to the young center core, and his complete, two-way game could give the Sabres a player they haven’t had in a decade, while also adding a speedy offensive threat into the mix. He was point-per-game in the NCAA with the University of Michigan this past season, and his skill set could translate into the NHL sooner than later.
I stand by every word of that statement, and I truly feel the Sabres front office would be missing out on a gem in this year’s draft if they decided to pass on him and either take Power or one of the high-ranked wingers positioned to be taken in the first round. While there is no “generational” talent like Connor McDavid available in the 2021 draft, or even a clear-cut choice for number one like Auston Matthews or Alexis Lafrenière, Beniers comes as close to that distinction as any player in the draft, in my opinion.
Beniers is a two-way center, referred to as “dynamic” by scouts and touted for both his play with the puck, and away from the puck. He has excellent playmaking ability, is defensively responsible, and is able to thrive in different situations for his team, while playing against the opponent’s top players. This sounds exactly like the player the Sabres could use.
Beniers Is the Perfect Fit for the Sabres
The Sabres haven’t had a two-way center who could play on the team’s first line in… I’m not sure how long it’s been. While Eichel has played like a true number one center during his time with the Sabres, he has often been criticized for his play away from the puck and sometimes looks uninterested in the game when he’s not controlling the play. For Beniers, that would not be a problem the Sabres would see.
Beniers has been compared to Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews, the quiet, but effective leader who has helped his team to three Stanley Cup championships in his time with the team. Toews plays on the Blackhawks’ top line and is dependable in all situations: power play, penalty kill, even strength, and clutch situations like playoff overtimes. And while he is never expected to be the team’s top scorer, he is almost always good for 60-70 points and rarely makes costly mistakes that lose the Blackhawks games. And more importantly, his style of game is one that allows him to stay effective, even into his later playing years.
That’s what the expectation is for Beniers. If he could emulate some or all of the qualities of a player like Toews, it makes all the more sense for the Sabres to draft him, since they have not seen a player like that come through their organization in a long time. Beniers could be the stabilizing presence in the middle of the ice that the Sabres need and who helps carry them back into playoff contention in the near future.
Have any thoughts on my decision to take Matthew Beniers at first-overall in THW’s mock draft? Share it down below!
To see all 31 selections from our armchair GMs, read the full first round of the THW 2021 Mock NHL Draft!
Brandon is a Buffalo Sabres & San Jose Sharks Contributor for THW and Co-Host of THW’s ‘Sabres Scoop,’ who received his Master of Science in Sport Administration from Canisius College in Buffalo, NY, and founded his website, Seltytending, in 2017. He is an avid hockey writer and podcaster with prior work experience in the OJHL, NWHL, and NCAA. Twitter: @BSalts15