The Buffalo Sabres walked in to the 2013 NHL Draft with 10 picks to make, and walked out with 12 new players, thanks to a trade that sent Andrej Sekera to Carolina for defenseman Jamie McBain and the #35 pick.
Now, most of these players won't be seeing the ice next year, or even the year after that, so it's very difficult - if not impossible - to project how "good" or "un-good" this draft will end up being. However, when you look at the draft class as a whole, the Sabres seemed to come in to the draft with a clear mission.
They wanted to get bigger, meaner, and tougher to play against. They wanted intelligent, high-character, high-motor players. They wanted players who could play effectively in both ends, and showed a strong 200-foot game. And when you analyze the 11 picks they made throughout the draft, they did just that.
The draft began with the Sabres surprising most fans and pundits by going with two defensemen in Round One, but, sticking to their draft philosophy, they picked up two towering, intimidating prospects in Rasmus Ristolainen (6'3'', 220lbs) and Nikita Zadorov (6'4'', 200lbs) that are intelligent players, enjoy hitting, and they have good-to-great shots from the point.
Let's just pause here and address the whole "why did the team take two defensemen" issue. First of all, and most importantly, these two guys project to be damn good players. They've got a fantastic combination of size and sandpaper that can't be taught. Ristolainen has a cannon shot, Zadorov was the hardest hitter in the entire draft, and they can both skate and pass well to go along with their excellent hockey sense.
Good teams - championship teams - are built from the back end up, and last year (Ehrhoff aside) the Sabres defense was terrible. Guys like Sekera and Weber were OK, even good at times, but Ehrhoff was the only true rock-solid, minute eating blueliner on the team. Risto and Zadorov both project as top 3 defensemen, and along with Ehrhoff and Myers, will someday give the Sabres an extremely strong top 4 that will stand up against anyone. Pysyk, McCabe, McNabb, Weber, Ruhwedel, and Sulzer can duke it out for the three remaining spots, and the competition will only make the team better.
Defensemen aren't the sexy pick, and they don't make as big of an immediate impact as a flashy Russian forward streaking down the wing, but before you get all gloomy about that - ask yourself if you'd rather model your franchise on the Bruins or the Capitals?
In addition to the hulking defensemen, the Sabres also drafted a big LW power forward in WNY's own Justin Bailey (6'3'') in round 2 and added a 17-year old center who stands 6'1'' a few picks earlier in Connor Hurley. The selection of RW Nicholas Baptiste in the third round, another 6'1'' prospect who was described by ISS as "an ultra-gritty power forward with a never-ending motor and offensive potential to boot" satisfied the size requirement for this year's draft.
Anyone the team drafted who wasn't big and powerful came with one or more of the following qualifications - fantastic intangibles, great two-way player, or intelligent/high character kid. That would include highly touted second rounder JT Compher, a 6'0'' center/left winger who may have the best motor and intangibles in the entire draft to go along with his great two-way game. This kid rivals Girgensons in his work ethic, and projects to be a strong second or possibly future first line player if his offense continues to develop.
Other draftees included two-way forward Gustav Possler, solid d-man Anthony Florentino, and goalie Calvin Petersen in round five, another WNY native in center Sean Malone in the sixth, and the creative-but-older forward Eric Locke in the seventh.
When it was all said and done, the Sabres finished with six forwards, three defensemen, and one goalie, just like they promised. They've gotten very good grades from the national publications and such, which doesn't mean much at this point but is still nice to see, and when listening to Regier, it seems they got two guys they wanted all along in Ristolainen and Zadorov.
Terry Pegula has said that he looks to franchises like Detroit and Boston as model franchises in the NHL. With the 2013 draft, the Buffalo Sabres infusion of size, grit, and effort moves them a few steps closer to being able to compete with the big boys they model themselves after.