Leading up to the draft over the next couple weeks I’m going to post a couple threads to discuss various prospects and where other draft enthusiasts see them going in relation to Buffalo’s picks. With this draft being weaker than most I imagine there will be a lot of different opinions on players, all I ask is that any argument you make for or against a prospect is well thought out.
For the first post I want to concentrate specifically on forwards. When I go through and rank prospects I rank them accordingly to if I were in charge of the draft for Buffalo so there are many factors I take into consideration. When looking at forwards I’m looking specifically looking for big skill. I’m sure there will be arguments made for Robby Fabbri and Brayden Point with the main point being Martin St. Louis can do it so they can to. But the matter of the fact is this is a bigger man’s game and the more size you can find with skill the better off you are. Maybe Fabbri and Point will be good NHL players, but to me their high risk players that are further down my board because of their size. Another consideration is organizational depth; Buffalo possesses some decent options up front that are very talented such as Grigorenko, Armia, Hurley, and Bailey but none are a for sure thing. Only Zemgus Girgensons looks to be a lock as a high end forward for Sabres going forward making it interesting to see what direction they could head come draft day.
Quick note, the number next to player is where they are ranked on my board, not where I think they might go in the draft. I based who might be available at each pick by other mocks and consensus rankings from other sites. For example Julius Honka is my 41st ranked player, but I’m nearly positive he’ll be gone well before that so I didn’t consider him for the 39th pick.
2nd Overall- The discussion of forwards really comes down to witch Sam you prefer. An argument could be made for Drasaitl(5) or Dal Colle(4) but in my opinion Bennett(3) and Reinhardt(1) have separated themselves by a wide margin. For me if Reinhardt is on the board you take him all the way. Not only is he an elite offensive talent but is also a spectacular in his own zone. All around a very safe pick that’s a main stay in your top 6 for the next 12 years.
Mid First- Theirs a good chance Buffalo could find themselves back in the mid first with all the picks they've accumulated and willingness to move almost any roster player they have. There are plenty of forwards that could be great additions that might be worth a trade up if their still available in the 14-17 range. Dylan Larkin(15), Alex Tuch(12), and Adrian Kempe(13) are 3 players I’d target if any found their way to middle of round one. All 3 I have ranked in my top 15 so I wouldn’t be shocked if all were gone but I think there’s a fair chance one can slip a few spots. All players fit the mold of being big skilled players that could be top 6 players if developed properly. Out of the three Alex Tuch would be my top choice. Already a mammoth of a man at 6’3 225, Tuch has shown he’s a good skater especially for a man with his size and power. He’s also developed an offensive touch scoring 29 goals in 61 games for the USA U-18 team. Tuch could be a thumper in your top 6 that does a little bit of everything or part of checking line if he doesn’t develop offensively.
End of first- if the Blues re-signed Miller this would have been pick 24, even without getting this pick theirs a chance Buffalo could trade back in if they don’t want to wait until 31. Theirs two different directions you could go here, one option is swing for the fences on a high risk high reward type player. At 24 a guy like Nikolay Goldobin(18) would be my choice if you choose to go that route and if he’s still available. He has decent size at 5’11 180 and is a two time 30 goal scorer in the OHL while also racking up 94 points this year for Sarnia. The risk comes with him not being a very physical player and it can affect his game if he’s played tough, and there’s always the Russian factor. He did leave Russia to compete in the OHL which is a good sign but you always have to wonder if he’ll bolt for the KHL if he doesn’t experience success early in his career. My personal preference would be go with a safer option like Connor Bleackley(16). Most mocks and rankings I’ve seen have Bleackley going much further in the draft then I would. Bleackley isn’t an elite offensive talent but is big physical player that has enough offensive ability to be a top 6 player someday. Buffalo doesn’t possess a lot of young players in their organization that you can say definitively will be a higher end forward for the team going forward even in a top 9 role. Bleackley gives you the insurance of adding a safe prospect to the system to go along with some of the high risk high reward players already in the organization.
31st and 39th Overall(From Minnesota originally Winnipeg)-At picks 31 and 40 I believe you’ll probably see roughly the same caliber of players. The same debate would also take place on whether or not you want a safer option at forward or to take a chance. If I had already added two forwards I felt were safer options early in the draft I might be more inclined to take a risk at one of these picks on either a Josh Ho Sang(32) or Ryan MacInnis(30) if available. But most likely I’d prefer to use both or one of the picks on players like Brendan Lemieux(35) or Eric Cornel(28). Both are big forwards with decent skill that can play roles in a bottom 6 if they don’t pan out as top 6 players. Cornell possibly as a player you could put on a shutdown defensive line that still provides some offense while Lemieux will be a grinder you hate to play against whether he’s a top 6 or bottom 6 guy.
48th Overall(From Minnesota) - This pick will give Buffalo a chance to take one of the top 55 players before theirs a huge drop off in my opinion. Two names I have high on my board that I think could be available here are Hunter Smith(45) and Brett Pollock(47). At this point in the draft finding guys with legit top 6 potential will be hard so the next best thing to do is find players who can multiple roles maybe help fill out a bottom 6 role. Pollock is a gritty center that could switch to a wing down the road. His versatility and physical style of play could give you a lot of flexibility for a bottom 6 player down the road. Smith is a giant winger at 6’6 215 that made major strides this year developing a competent offensive game to go along with his physicality. Smith could be very solid third liner down the road that will stick up for his teammates while also providing some offense.
61st Overall- Theirs a good chance that my above mentioned players for 48th overall could be available here if they slip a little. Another name to keep an eye on here is Shane Eiserman(56) another big forward that plays a physical game suited for a bottom 6 role. I heard jawallstar1 mention the possibility of taking Eiserman here a while back and have been a big fan of that pick ever since. He’s just outside of where I consider the drop off to be mainly because of how limited he’ll be offensively, but he could have a future in the league with his strong work effort and above average skating ability.
Round 5 & 7
121st & 181st Overall- By this point in the draft a player going in the 5th round can easily go in the 7th and all will have a very low chance of success in the NHL. Players who I see as options that I haven’t ranked yet are Tyler Bird and Anders Bjork. Bjork just finished a season for the USA U-18 National Development team while Bird played for Kimball Union High School. In later rounds my goal is to take players who you don’t have to make decisions quickly on whether or not to give them an entry level deal. Bjork and Bird will most likely both play in the NCAA going forward giving the Sabres an additional couple years to decide on whether they want to offer an entry level deal.
When it comes to forwards in this draft my goal would be to add as many safe options as possible. I’m expecting the high end talent to come from the top 5 of the draft over the next two years so I don’t feel the need to take chances on high risk players when the majority of Buffalos prospects up front are already high risk high reward players. Buffalo has also already started building towards being bigger up front after adding Deslauriers, Carrier and Fasching and can continue to do that in this draft. It may not be a very deep draft this year but there are some big bodied options in the early rounds that could contribute to the team down the road.
I’m interested to see what everyone else’s opinion, what forwards do you like at…
Trade up to Mid First 14-17
Trade up to End of First 24-30