The Buffalo Sabres have had themselves a busy weekend. Not only did they select six new prospects to add to their organization, they also made two big trades to land NHL-caliber players who will all make an immediate and profound impact on their team next season.
|Pick #||Name||Position||Read more|
|2||Jack Eichel||C||A generational talent who will lead the team for years to come.||@Jack_Eichel11|
|51||Brendan Guhle||LHD||Physical specimen, elite skater, raw talent, must improve hockey sense.||@Guhle_4|
|92||William Borgen||RHD||HS defenseman who skates well, strong in own end, needs to play against stronger competition.||@wborgen19|
|122||Devante Stephens||LHD||Won most improved, Rookie of the Year for WHL champs Kelowna.||@Devo_Stephens|
|152||Giorgio Estephan||C||Playmaker who came on strong in the second half.||@GEstephan_9|
|182||Ivan Chukarov||LHD||An older but improving puckmover.||@chuk1395|
The Sabres finished the 2015 draft adding two centers, four defensemen, and zero goalies to their prospect pool. We won't talk much about Eichel here, because the pick was a no-brainer and he's gonna be the best thing since chicken wings in Buffalo. As for the rest of the picks, the biggest takeaway was how intensely Tim Murray addressed the team's need for defensemen - particularly left handed defensemen - throughout the draft.
After sending Nikita Zadorov to Colorado (more on this in a moment) the Sabres had very little in the pipeline after Mark Pysyk and Jake McCabe, both of whom could start the season in Buffalo. By adding Guhle, Borgen, Stephens, and Chukarov to the mix, the Sabres added blueliners who all have ideal size (all are 6'1'' or 6'2'') and good to elite skating ability. The trend here was targeting guys who have all the physical tools, but who will likely need more time to mature and put all those tools to their best use.
Guhle is probably the furthest along in his road to the NHL, but even he will need another 2-3 years of junior hokey and the AHL before he's ready to make the jump. At age 20 and attending UMass in the fall, Chukarov could be a dark horse to make the jump to the NHL straight out of college a la Chad Ruhwedel, while the other two are likely 3-4 years away.
The only non-defensman picked outside the first round for the Sabres was Giorgio Estephan, whose name I will never get sick of typing. Estephan is an exciting, playmaking center who got off to a terrible start this year. But with a red-hot second half, he showed the offensive skill that will force armchair GMs to keep an eye on him next season.
Overall, the Sabres added one player who will be an immediate star for a decade or more, and restocked their defensive depth with big, physical skaters and puck movers. While those players grow and mature in juniors, Sabres fans will pass the time digging up new superlatives for Jack Eichel.
|Sabres get||Sabres send away|
C Ryan O'Reilly
LW Jamie McGinn
D Nikita Zadorov
F Mikhail Grigorenko
F JT Compher
G Robin Lehner
C David Legwand
If the Sabres weekend was just about Jack Eichel, it still would have been one of the most exciting in recent memory. But by making two major trades at the draft, Tim Murray pushed the magnitude of this weekend into all-time territory.
The first deal made on Day One was to send the 21st pick to the Ottawa Senators for goalie Robin Lehner and veteran forward David Legwand. Lehner will be the Sabres starter entering next season, and will need to improve on his average numbers from last season in order to justify his price - especially considering that other potential goalie targets Eddie Lack and Cam Talbot went for much cheaper prices later in the weekend.
The second deal, which was consummated just minutes before the Sabres drafted Eichel, was to send Zadorov, Grigorenko, Compher, and the 31st pick to the Colorado Avalanche in exchange for Ryan O'Reilly and Jamie McGinn. While losing Zadorov hurts the back end, O'Reilly and McGinn will both be impact players next season on the first and third lines, respectively.
If you've only heard of O'Reilly's name in trade rumors and are wondering what the big deal is, this guy is a big-time, first line forward. To start, he has the ability to score 25+ goals and crack 60 points as he did in the 2013-14 season with Colorado. He's got a great work ethic and plays hard in both ends of the ice. He drives possession numbers better than anyone on Buffalo's roster last year, and was second in the league in even strength points/60 minutes. And at age 24, he'll still be in the prime of his career for the next few years as the Sabres grow into Cup contenders. Yes, he'll need a big contract extension after this season, but he's the real deal on the ice, and Sabres coach Dan Bylsma already named him #1 center for next season.
As for McGinn, he's more than just a throw-in with this deal. While the 26-year old left-winger missed much of last season after undergoing back surgery, he had 19 goals and 19 assists the year before. he plays a strong two-way game, and uses his 6'1'', 210lb body effectively along the walls. Think of him as Drew Stafford with a slightly less offensive ceiling but a much better defensive game. He'll slot in very well on the third line alongside Zemgus Girgensons and Brian Gionta to form a line that can shut down opponents but still score 50 combined goals.
As for what the Sabres gave up to get Lehner, Legwand, O'Reilly, and McGinn? Potential. Nikita Zadorov was projected to be a very nice player and potentially a top pairing defenseman, and certainly has the talent to get there, but as we saw last year he still has a ways to go. Mikhail Grigorenko has yet to figure out how to use his offensive gifts effectively in the NHL, and JT Compher is still probably two years away from the NHL, and with the Sabres now absolutely stacked at center, he was quickly losing a spot to play in the top nine. Picks 21 and 31 would have absolutely been nice prospects to have, but the Sabres still have many promising prospects in their pipeline including Sam Reinhart, Justin Bailey, Nick Baptiste, Hudson Fasching, and Linus Ullmark, to name a few. The prices were on the high side, but Buffalo didn't give up anything that will leave gaping holes on their team down the road.
Their prospect pool isn't as ridiculously stacked as it was a year ago, but in Eichel, O'Reilly, McGinn, and Lehner, they added four promising-to-excellent NHL players who will impact this team not only next year, but for many years to come. And with eleven picks in the 2016 draft, the Sabres will be able to restock and reload that pool in the very near future.
Next year and the future
The biggest thing to take away from next season is that the Sabres will be good. Like, an actual, good hockey team. They will barely resemble the team that finished in 30th place, and have added an incredible amount of high-end talent while losing very little in the process.
Gone are Zac Dalpe, Tyson Strachan, Andrej Meszaros, Andre Benoit, Jerry D'Amigo, Anders Lindback, Tim Schaller, and Matt Ellis. They'll be replaced with Evander Kane, Ryan O'Reilly, Jack Eichel, Jamie McGinn, Robin Lehner, and David Legwand, and we haven't even hit free agency yet. Factor in Dan Bylsma taking over for Ted Nolan and the simple expectation that the team is ready to win versus rooting for the tank, and you could very well be looking at an exciting, high octane, playoff-bound team in Buffalo next season.
As for future seasons, the Sabres should be fairly stable for a few more years. The only major contracts to worry about in the 2016 offseason will be O'Reilly, Ristolainen (RFA), McGinn, and Foligno (RFA), and with plenty of cap room still to work with, the Sabres should be in good shape. At that point, the development of players like Justin Bailey, Nick Baptiste, and Hudson Fasching should have them ready to at least challenge for a spot on the big club, but it could be tough to crack with the Sabres top 8 forwards set for the next few years.
Whatever your feelings on the trades and draft picks this weekend, it's undeniable that this is the most exciting time to be Sabres fans since the magic of 2005-06, and the team looks to be set up to develop into a serious contender more quickly than anyone thought at the beginning of this season. There's still a few important decisions for Tim Murray with buyouts, qualifying offers, and free agency right around the corner, but thanks to bold moves and the addition of their cornerstone player in Jack Eichel, Murray and his staff have already managed to make this weekend one of the most monumental in franchise history.
Important upcoming dates
6/29 - Qualifying offers due
6/30 - Last day to buy out contracts, RFAs can meet with teams
7/1 - Free agency opens