Yesterday the final Central Scouting rankings were released, with Sam Bennett finishing on top. However, who the best overall player in this year's draft isn't certain and can vary depending who you ask. It tends to come down to three names, Bennett, Aaron Ekblad, and Sam Reinhart.
Ekblad has had a very impressive season with the Barrie Colts, scoring 23 goals and 30 assists in 58 games. A real two-way defenseman, he was voted the OHL's top defensive and offensive defenseman in the coaches poll. He also serves as Barrie's captain. He's certainly an impressive NHL prospect. In fact, he may even be the best player available.
The draft has been the focus ever since the deadline passed, and now that the Sabres are locked into 30th place they will be picking either first or second. So who is the guy? Which player would be the best bet? Is it a matter of Sam vs. Sam, or is Ekblad a serious contender for Buffalo?
When Tim Murray and the gang get together to discuss the top young players in the world, they should keep in mind the mistakes that other teams have made before them.
When discussing the tank, people against it tend to point towards the Edmonton Oilers, who have top picks like Taylor Hall, Nail Yakupov, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Despite all these top picks, the Oilers are still the third worst team in the league, showing that drafting high doesn't always mean that you see the success that teams like the Chicago Blackhawks or Pittsburgh Penguins have experienced.
Yakupov has been a bit of a disappointment this season, but Hall and Nugent-Hopkins certainly haven't been. Hall has 27 goals and 50 assists, while Nugent-Hopkins has 18 goals and 36 assists. Tyler Ennis, who leads the Sabres in points, has 12 less than Nugent-Hopkins. So why are the Oilers so woeful?
The Oilers went the best player available route, which led to them drafting the top young forwards of each draft class. The problem is that they didn't address the defense, which is why they are last in the league in goals given up per game. Yet the Oilers continued to draft forwards, until they finally broke their six year streak of drafting forwards in the first round by selecting Darnell Nurse seventh overall this season.
The Sabres can't fall into the same trap, drafting players in a position they already have a surplus in. Having an unbalanced roster leads to the problems the Oilers are facing currently.
It goes without saying that the Sabres defensemen are promising. Rasmus Ristolainen has looked very poised in his second stint in Buffalo, being among the team leaders in ice time and possession numbers. He's playing in critical scenarios, the power play, and while shorthanded.
Tyler Myers has had a bounce back season of sorts, especially towards the second half. He may not be the Myers that won the Calder, but he isn't the tire fire that he has been at points of his career. He once again is leading rushes and has cleaned up his puck-moving.
Mark Pysyk has been working on his offensive game and contributing to the playoff run down in Rochester, but while up in Buffalo has been one of the team's top defensemen. Jake McCabe just finished a successful career at Wisconsin and has looked composed in his first few games with the Sabres.
Nikita Zadorov has had a stellar season with the London Knights, scoring 11 goals and 19 assists in 36 games. In the Memorial Cup playoffs he has scored nine points in seven games.
The Sabres also have Christian Ehrhoff, who despite being a part of many rumors doesn't have to be traded. He's got a reasonable cap hit and could serve as a strong veteran presence on a defense filled with youngsters. Chad Ruhwedel is another name that could be brought up, as he has started to prove his NHL-worthiness this season.
The Sabres have enough defensive prospects.
On offense the cupboard is rather empty. Zemgus Girgensons has impressed many in his rookie season, but most don't project him as a top-line center. Johan Larsson, JT Compher, and Hudson Fasching are all intriguing prospects but they aren't usually projected as top six forwards. Compher and Fasching likely are also a few years down the road as well.
Mikhail Grigorenko is trying to find his game at a professional level down in Rochester, and has looked good so far. He's notched four assists in three games, but is anything but a sure bet.
Sure, the Sabres have other top picks. They could even have another top five pick in this year's draft thanks to the Islanders, and likely will have one of the top two selections in next year's draft as well. However, they are going to need more than one top six forward. Arguably the Sabres have two top six forwards currently in Ennis and Hodgson. They are going to need to find four more if they want to compete for a Stanley Cup again any time soon.
If the Sabres do receive the Islanders pick this year, odds are they would be slotted in right around fourth overall. You can still get a strong offensive talent, but it would be difficult for Leon Draisaitl or Michael Dal Colle to turn this team's offensive around by themselves. Even if you put Connor McDavid on the future depth chart, which is still a huge maybe, the team still lacks offensive depth.
Offense should be the Sabres main priority right now, but with the excess of draft picks the team has right now it doesn't mean they couldn't get reinforcements on the blueline either. If Murray isn't sold with the crop, he has plenty of second round picks and possibly another first this season if the Blues make it to the Western Conference Finals or Ryan Miller re-signs in St. Louis. They could even trade some of their second round picks for an older defenseman, which could be more beneficial with the young group they've already put together.
The Sabres are on pace to be one of the worst scoring teams ever.They need forwards, and they need top forwards desperately. Ekblad could be great, but he's simply not what the Sabres need right now. Fans don't need to worry about building from the back-out, because in a way the Sabres have already done that. If you want to make Chicago references, Ristolainen and Zadorov are showing some strong signs that they could be this team's Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith, and they aren't alone when it comes to strong prospects either. Now it is time for the Sabres to find their Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.