Along with pulling down his BP duties, Vance is also covering the Buffalo Sabres at his new blog Double Edged Sabres. Make sure to throw Vance your support, particularly if you are a fan of the Buffaslug bunch.
1. What direction do you expect the Sabres to go in with their draft pick? Would you prefer they drafted for a specific need? Does any prospect (who could reasonably be had at no. 13) capture your fancy?
The Sabres are stuck between a rock and a hard place; too good to make a run at a game changer, not good enough to reach playoff glory. Here's my best take a trying to discern some sense at what's going to happen between 1 and 12, and how Buffalo can take advantage.
Sitting 13th in the draft isn't the greatest position in the world, but it's not as if there isn't a number of guys who aren't worth that pick, let alone the potential for those who could fall...i.e. Cherepanov, Esposito, etc. But as for need, what exactly are the Sabres looking for? Offense? Defense? Goal? Let's answer that for y'all.
It's an interesting dilemma that faces the Sabres, as a young team, they already have a stable of prospects ready, or almost ready, to take a spot in the big time. Let's take a look at the Sabres future and see where they should draft based on need.
With only 2 regular blueliners signed through 201o-2011, it would seem thats a point of interest for the Sabres scouting office. But not necessarily, Tyler Myers (12 overall) will battle for a spot this coming season, while Mike Weber, Marc Andre Gragnani, and TJ Brennan (31st overall) will join Chris Butler and Andre Sekera up in Buffalo sooner than later. Would any 1st round pick do anything but wallow in the AHL conceivably for a number of years until breaking into the lineup? Conceivably yes. Die By The Blade does a nice piece on perhaps drafting John Moore and why that wouldn't be the best idea. With so many high round picks taken early, and a lot of depth already in the system, look for any blueliners to be later round picks, that is of course, unless a guy like Cowen, Kulikov, or maybe even Ryan Ellis falls.
Finally, the Sabres have locked up their core. Now they need to find the right depth players to fill out the roster. You can't honestly say that Vanek, Roy and Pominville don't make up a formidable top scorers, with Connolly, Stafford, and ummmmm, filling in secondary numbers. Well, I suppose I just made my point. The Sabres have some guys like 2007-2008 Hobey Baker Award Winner Nate Gerbe and Michigan State star Tim Kennedy waiting for a shot, as well as perennial AHL all-star (and hardest shot champ) Mike Mancari and Tyler Ennis (26th pick, 2008) waiting in the winds. Outside of that, the frontlines are thin. In my opinion, the Sabres need to fill out their roster in Portland, and target who's going to fill out that 2nd and 3rd line moving forward, especially with only having the 13th pick.
Between Ryan Miller, Jhonas Enroth, and Nick Eno in the system, the Sabres are set for goaltending, and certainly wouldn't "waste" a high pick on a netminder.
Targets (based on need and unfortunately, reality)
1. Zach Kassian (RW)
Honestly, this is my pick. The Central Scouting Bureau has him the 10th North American skater, while TSN's Draft Lottery Special has him ranked 15th overall, but I think he'll fall right into Buffalo's hands. Why do I think Kassian is the right fit for the Sabres? Well, a number of reasons. The Sabres are a small team, with Paul Gaustad being the only forward truly willing to throw his weight around in the corners. The 6'3'', 205 lb. Kassian would bring a dimension to the Sabres forecheck that they've been missing, a dimension that he brought to Peterborough with Style. 24 goals and 39 assists in 61 games (don't forget about those 136 PIMs), so it's not as if he doesn't have hands, the type of hands that are willing to get dirty, and the type of hands the Sabres need. I, for one, vouch heavily for Kassian.
2. Ryan Ellis (Def)
Since the departure of Brian Campbell, the Sabres haven't had a true "puck moving" blueliner. Andrej Sekera was hoped to develop into that role, and he very well still may, but he didn't last year. The 5'10'' 173 lb Ellis could be exactly what the Sabres speedy forwards need to get going. This year for those Windsor Spitfires he played 57 games, potting 22 goals and 89 points altogether. The Sabres need a PP quarterback, Ryan Ellis could be that guy.
3. Nazem Kadri (C)
After exploding onto the OHL scene in his 2nd year with the Kitchener Rangers, well, he proved it was no fluke during his 3rd year with London Knights. He notched 25 goals and 53 assists in just 56 games. He's not the biggest guy at 6' but I think we'll let the 18 year olds grow into themselves a little bit more. Kadri is a top flight centre, who could very well make his mark with the Sabres. Would he fall to 13? We will find out.
Others worth mentioning: Best Player Available over 6', Jared Cowen, Louis LeBlance
2. The Sabres have had to let some borderline stars leave (Briere, Drury) but have been able to retain a lot of homegrown talent (Ryan Miller, Jason Pominville). Is that the key for Buffalo to keep players: by developing them and bringing them up through their system? How important, overall, is the draft to this franchise?
Let's be honest, Darcy Regier simply does not throw money at free agents. The low ball offers cost them Drury and Briere, while the tertiary UFA's are the usual targets. Recent free agents include Craig Rivet, Jaro Spacek, Patrick Lalime and Teppo Numminen. Their core is all made up of home grown talent; Pominville, Miller, Derek Roy, Thomas Vanek, and Tim Connolly. In the 2008 season, 9 of the 10 top Sabres scorers were brought up through Rochester (now Portland), that should give you a sense of how important smart drafting is to this organization. Note: However to say that isn't necessarily true, due to a cost cutting measure, the Sabres eschew eyes and ears throughout the small arenas across the globe, and exclusively utilize video for their scouting needs.
3. Looking back, describe some of your favorite Buffalo Sabres draft memories and picks. Are there any players that stand out as true "steals"?
I'd like to say that the Nate Gerbe pick, regardless of his current standing (or lack thereof), in the middle of the 5th round will turn out to be a steal of Henrik Zetterberg proportions, but obviously it's far too soon to see if he'll turn into the next Marty St. Louis. (Editor's note: it's crazy to think that St. Louis wasn't even drafted!)
You'd have to think at this point current Chicago Blackhawk Brian Campbell was the greatest steal in Sabres history as the 156th pick in 1997, however maybe Bruins fan's would argue that Dennis Wideman at pick number 241 was a greater steal.
But in all honesty, Ryan Miller, 5th round, 138th pick in 1999 takes the cake here.
4. On the other hand, what are some of the memorable gaffes made in the entry draft? Talk about some of the "if we had only realized ..." type moments that stand out to you.
The Sabres have not had the best of luck when it comes to 1st rounders, which kills all of us fans. Obviously the draft is always a gamble, but when you've been kicked when your down for so long, it's hard to keep it together when you see this stat. Since Darcy Regier took over the GM position in 1997, only 2 1st rounders (Thomas Vanek, Drew Stafford) have made a top line impact on the Sabres, while only 2 others remain in the NHL (Dmitri Kalinin, Keith Ballard). Others are now in Russia, others I've never even heard of. Tough.
The other thing that pains me to see? How bout this kick in the gonads? Coming out of the lockout, 4 teams had 3 balls for the top spot in the 2005 draft lottery; the Pittsburgh Penguins, Columbus Blue Jackets, New York Rangers, and the Buffalo Sabres. They were going to presumably, well, to obviously, pick Sidney Crosby 1st overall. In that same 2005 draft lottery, the Sabres didn't get a top 3 pick, they didn't get a top 5 pick, they didn't even get a top 10 pick, they received the 13th, where of course, they picked Marek Zagrapan, who just recently, left the Sabres for the KHL. No Crosby, no Bobby Ryan, no Jack Johnson, no nothing. Just another notch in the belt of Buffalo heartbreak.
Soap box time
Feel free to take the floor and discuss some Sabres issues. What kind of outlook do you have for Buffalo going into next season and beyond?
Now looking forward, the Sabres aren't going to sign anyone, or make the "big move" to get them over the proverbial hump. That's why the draft is so utterly important to this organization. As I pointed out earlier, the Sabres need size and grit up front and a puck moving defensemen immediately up on the big club. Can that be addressed here and now? Doubtful, as the Sabres usually like their prospects to learn the system before being thrown into the fire, but that's definitely far more true for defensemen than forwards. If a guy like Kassian, Kadri, or Scott Glennie falls into the Sabres laps, look for them to get a look.
And as always, let's go Buffalo!