Ed Note: This FanPost has been edited slightly for front page posting.
A big part of drafting, I would assert, is not just in hitting on the players you take, but in predicting what kind of league they will be playing in, and on what kind of team they will be playing.
For instance, most people would consider a guy like Maxim Afinogenov a hit, because he had a few really productive offensive seasons--but his real value to the club was that he came into his prime just as the league was changing to allow more free flowing skilled players to thrive. Indeed, you saw just how important that was to his game as the clutching and grabbing returned and he fell off the face of the earth. The point being, aside from the truly elite hockey players who could thrive in any era or any system, a lot of guys' success or failure will depend on league and team trends.
To me it's clear that Darcy believes that the league is trending in the following directions:
1) Size/ Intangibles over Skill
This is perhaps the biggest departure from the way Darcy operated in the early part of the 2000s. Where as a lot of the players who came up through the system in the first decade of the 2000s were primarily skilled players first (Stafford, Ennis, Afinegonov, Gragnani, TJ Brennan) or close analogues to the skilled player--the puck moving defender with no offensive game and no physical game (Butler, Sekera come to mind). Of course there are some exceptions, like Kaleta, Paille, Weber, but by and large these were not players that were high investment players. The strategy of from 2000-2010 seemed to be to invest primarily in skilled players and to find a few grinder types to help fill out a lineup and add some intangibles.
Boy has that changed. Of course none of the guys the Sabres have invested in heavily are unskilled, per se (Grigorenko, Risto and Zadorov all appear to have quite a bit of skill to their game) but they are all also gigantic, and at least in the case of Risto and Zadorov, have a reputation for beign extremely gritty. Perhaps nobody fits the mold of what the Sabres are looking for better than Girgensons--a two way player first and foremost, who has a high compete level first and foremost, and who has questionable upside in the skill department. Compher, same deal. And out the window are these finesse, puck moving defenders; in are guys that are big, and physical and like to join the rush and have great shots from the point. Where we have indulged in skilled players, they have come with a lot of size (see Grigo, Bailey, Hurley, and even Myers).
Of course there have been some exceptions to this trend: Cody Hodgson comes to mind, and Ennis seems to be going nowhere. But the overall model has changed. Instead of investing heavily in skill and looking for intangibles and size on the cheap; it appears the team is ready to invest heavily in young players who are big and strong and who play with grit and character and have upside in the skill department; and sprinkle in a little bit of skill here and there.
2) Right Handed Defenders paired with Left Handed Defenders
Darcy said in two interviews that he believes this is a necessity in this league nowadays. If you look at the Blackhawks roster--three of their top six defenders were right handed, so there is some validity to this notion. I'm not going to pretend to be an X's and O's enough to know whether it's absolutely essential, but it's clearly something the Darcy is thinking about, and was one of his stated reasons for moving Sekera. It does make a fair amount of sense just thinking about it practically. Any little advantage is an advantage.
3) Mix of College and AHL developmental paths to ease strain on resigning prospects
It's also pretty clear that the Sabres are conscious of the fact that they are going to have a heck of a lot of prospects and want to avoid a situation where they are all having to be resigned at once. Instead, Darcy seemed very comfortable taking college players, allowing them to develop in college while you get a look at the guys in AHL. This makes a whole lot of sense, and really, it allows you to take some fliers on some guys with a lot of upside who just aren't there yet. It also conserves valuable coaching resources in developing the players who are in the AHL. It just makes a lot of sense and I hope this trend continues.
4) Defenders with a shot
If you look at all three defenders that were added--all three are thought to have above average shots from the point. The defenders who have been dealt--Leopold and Sekera, both have weak shots from the point. Clearly, this is an area that Darcy feels is important in today's game.
Darcy sees the winning formula as having size, intangibles and mobility needed to maintain puck possession. Goal scoring is slightly devalued although if a scorer of the right size and make up became available I don't think we would pass on him. We just aren't going to go out of our way to add goal scoring that is one dimensional, and comes in the under 6 foot variety.
Structurally, we are looking to have a relatively even mix of right and left handed defenders, and a mix of college and AHL prospects.
For this strategy to work, we have to:
1) Stick to it, and not start thinking we are "set" in the size and intangible strategy and revert back to old ways. It has to be a continual re-stocking of the shelves in terms of size and character. Because there will be busts; there will be guys who we can't sign for financial reasons, etc. If we have three first rounders next year and take three players like Tyler Ennis--I have to start questioning Darcy.
2) Hope that enough of our skill upside hits, like it did in Boston, so that instead of having any truly elite scorer, you have a deep roster of two way players and power forwards who all have some scoring ability as well. Again, if you stick to the model, the odds are that this will be the case.
3) Coaching to me, becomes key with this kind of team. It's not going to be about throwing the puck out there and having the skill take over. It's going to be about accountability, and playing together. You'd hope that drafting high character guys helps in that regard but especially given how many young players we are going to have--coaching is supremely important.
4) Hope that the NHL does not do things that seriously promote a more open, free flowing game with less clutching and grabbing because this is how a team full of skilled, fast finesse players can thrive and prevail over grittier opponents, and how things like size become less important.