This season, the Buffalo Sabres were the worst team in the NHL. Remember? They couldn't score, they couldn't pass, and half the team was made up of AHL players or waiver wire acquisitions. They fired a coach and a general manager, traded away most of their good players, and were generally all-around awful.
But the big reason why we all stuck around during this terrible, horrible, no good, very bad season is just one week away - the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, where the Buffalo Sabres hold the second overall selection, the highest they've had in the first round in over twenty-five years.
Another reason to be excited about next weekend is for the inaugural draft of the new Sabres general manager, Tim Murray. In his few months with the team, Murray has shown honesty and aggressiveness, two traits which have made him a very refreshing breath of fresh air for a once-stale organization, and that makes him someone for Sabres fans and other teams to keep an eye on throughout the draft weekend.
However excited you are about the draft right now (and oh man it better be pretty dang excited) we wanted to take a moment to breathe together and review exactly what the Sabres have - in terms of draft picks, prospects, and strategy - heading into our 2014 Draft Week Countdown(tm). So without any further ado, let's dive in headfirst.
What the Sabres have - Draft picks
Buffalo has been fortunate (?) to be able to acquire a large number of first and second round draft picks over the next few drafts, thanks to the amazing ability to trade away all their good players. This year, while the Sabres only have one pick in the first round, it's certainly a doozy, and they have three second round selections to fiddle around with in trade scenarios. Here's the full rundown:
All in all it's a pretty big war chest for the Sabres to play with, especially with those three second round picks (more on that later). Even with the absence of their fourth round pick this year,which was send to Minnesota in the Pominville deal, they have plenty of firepower to move around in the draft. One of the advantages of being the worst team in the league is that each of Buffalo's picks after round one is at the top of their particular round, something which may come in to play when talking trade, most obviously before the beginning of the second round, which will take place on Saturday.
What the Sabres have - Prospects in the system
When organizing the Sabres prospect pool, I took out a few players who have guaranteed spots in the NHL next year like Zemgus Girgensons, but kept in players who haven't yet proven themselves to be full-time NHL starters, like Rasmus Ristolainen and Johan Larsson. Players are organized by position according to a rough combination of their potential, importance to the organization, and how close they are to making an impact in the NHL.
few things jump out right away on this list: first and foremost just how large it is. This chart includes every player drafted by the Sabres in past few years who is either under contract or who still has their rights owned by the team, and there are quite a number of them - a number which will only get much bigger over the next two drafts.
As for positional quality, the team remains stacked on defense, as their top two players on each side project to be playing significant minutes in the NHL full-time by 2016 at the latest. They also have a number of promising goalies, which is good since Tim Murray likens goalies to "throwing a dart at a board", so I guess the team has a lot of darts? However, it remains to be seen if any of them will come close to a bullseye.
When we look at the forward ranks, however, things are clearly a bit thinner at the top. While the Sabres currently have a gaggle of centers in their system, they have few with any significant NHL potential. Mikhail Grigorenko still possesses top-end talent, but must learn to use it more efficiently in the AHL - same with Johan Larsson, though to a lesser extent than Grigs. On the wing, Joel Armia continues to improve ever-so-slowly, and still has the highest upside of any winger currently in the system. Most of the other wings in the system such as Compher, Fasching, and Deslauriers are all built in the two-way mold, and there's plenty of bottom-six potential, but Armia remains the only one with top-tier scoring potential.
Last draft, the Sabres made significant improvements to defense, left wing, and lower center depth. Tim Murray has long said that he'll take the best player available regardless of position, but this hopefully gives you an idea of where the team is strong and weak as they look to the future.
Keep yourself informed
Below are a list of some things you should read and watch to help get yourself ready for draft weekend. After all, nobody wants to be the guy who loses interest after pick #4 in the first round, right?
- Start with Kris Baker's excellent 2014 Draft Preview, where he covers many of the potential Sabres picks after the first round. [Sabres Prospects]
- Bakes has also been writing for Sabres.com previewing the top 30 prospects in the draft. [Sabres.com]
- Here's what other teams with three second-round picks, including the Sabres, have done with them in the past. [Sabres.com]
- Want to know exactly where all those picks came from, and what conditions were met/not met in order to get them? [Pro Sports Transactions]
- Here's the complete draft order, in case you want to mock picks #1-210 [SBNation]
Finally, here's the latest sit-down with Sabres GM Tim Murray as he and his staff prepare for the draft next weekend:
The draft - and the validation for continuing to watch Sabres hockey during this terrible season - is only seven days away. Get ready.