The Buffalo Sabres went in to the 2017 NHL Draft with six picks, including the #8 overall selection, and a brand new GM in Jason Botterill. They left the draft with a group of collegiate and European players that all excel at skating and offensive creativity, as well as a top goalie prospect to replenish the pipeline.
Here’s a quick rundown of the Sabres 2017 draft class, with links to each player’s draft post and analysis of the draft as a whole.
Buffalo Sabres 2017 Draft Class
|8||Casey Mittelstadt||C/LW||Speed, skill, great hands, electric offensive player. Headed to U of Minnesota next year.||@CMittelstadt||cmittelstadt|
|37||Marcus Davidsson||C/LW||Good skater, hard worker, strong two-way game with a gritty netfront presence.|
|54||Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen||G||Big body, great agility, rated #1 Euro goalie by Central Scouting, tons of potential.||@UkkoPekkaLuuko||ukkopekkaluukonen|
|89||Oskari Laaksonen||RHD||Good puck-mover with offensive instincts. Has potential, but must improve strength.||@osk_laaks||oskari_laaksonen|
|99||Jacob Bryson||LHD||Very undersized at 5'9'', but great skater, drives offense.||@jbryson_18|
|192||Linus Weissbach||LW/RW||Super skater with offensive creativity, but only 5'9'' (must be a theme.)||@weissbach68|
If there was a theme to the Sabres draft, it was speed and puck-moving ability. Every forward and defenseman taken by GMBOT has both good-to-elite skating ability and playmaking ability, and even the goalie they selected is a good puck handler. In an NHL that’s becoming more and more a league of speed, attacking on offense, and puck possession, Jason Botterill certainly focused his picks in that direction.
In an interesting twist on previous Sabres drafts, Botterill did not take any player playing in a Canadian junior league, favoring instead prospects in solid development systems that would have them competing against older players right away. Every player taken by Buffalo in this draft either playing in college or a European men’s league next season. “I trust the college route,” said the GM in his interview after the draft, noting that it was, “Highly unlikely” that #8 overall pick Casey Mittelstadt would be in college for four years.
With his first draft as GM of the Buffalo Sabres, Botterill not only put his focus on players with speed and offensive skill, he also put value on versatile forwards with a good sense for the two-way game in Mittelstadt and Davidsson, who both have good hockey sense in their own end and can each play at both center or wing.
Staying true to his style in Pittsburgh, Botterill took a strong goalie prospect in the first three rounds, selecting Luukkonen in Round Two. Whether we call him Special K or Triple Double K, Luukonen’s size and skill level gives a much needed boost of NHL potential to a group that was sorely depleted with the departure of Cal Petersen, and he gives the Sabres a legit #1 goalie prospect in the pipeline once again.
If there is a weakness in Buffalo’s draft, it would be a lack of size and strong defensive prospects. Laaksonen and Bryson are both undersized blueliners who will take a few years to reach the NHL, if at all. The one thing they have going for them is very good offensive sensibilities, but Botterill passed on much more solid defensive prospects in both the first and second rounds in order to improve in goal and down the middle. Time will tell whether or not that was a wise move.
Of course, none of us really know how this draft will pan out, but seeing as how Botterill comes from a very good drafting organization in Pittsburgh, I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt, at least for now. Personally, I think it was smart to steer the organization toward much more of a speed/possession/attacking style of player, and I think Mittelstadt and Luukkanen alone could make this a great draft, should they both reach their full potential.
The Sabres pipeline received a nice infusion of talent down the middle and in net, but they still need to improve their defensive prospect pool. Next year’s draft is supposed to be loaded with good defensive prospects, but as it stands right now, this is still the organization’s clear weakness.
As much as you may not want to hear it, this is a draft class that could take two or more years for any of these prospects to make it to the NHL, but as Botterill has demonstrated in Pittsburgh, letting these guys grow and find success at the collegiate, European, and AHL levels often pays big dividends down the road for the patient organization.
The GM himself said as much in his interview afterward. When asked how hard it was to be patient considering everything the organization has been through over the past few years, he responded by saying how rushing things lead to mistakes. (I wonder which GM he’s talking about there?) He added that the team would not be giving up prospects or picks for short-term gains, instead opting for the long-term approach to development.
As far as where the team’s newest draftees rate organizationally, Mittelstadt and Luukkanen are right at the top of the center and goalie rankings, respectively, while Davidsson becomes the second-best left wing prospect behind Nylander thanks to the departure of Will Carrier. The two defensemen would rank near the bottom, but there’s not a ton of competition above them outside of Guhle and Will Borgen, and Weissbach also slots into the lower part of the winger depth chart.
Overall, this isn’t a draft that makes the Sabres a better team in 2017 (and at pick #8, it likely was never going to be that) but it should be a draft that pays dividends down the road, with very strong prospects at forward and in net, and some good “lottery ticket” type picks in the later rounds. By focusing on players that exemplify the type of game the league is trending towards, Botterill and his staff have laid the groundwork for the organization’s future success.
Now go find some more defensemen, would ya?