The Buffalo Sabres weren’t so lucky this year in the NHL Draft Lottery. They entered the drawing with the fifth pick and an 8.5 percent chance at winning first overall. At the end of the lottery, they dropped two spots and will pick seventh overall at the draft in Vancouver come June.
At the moment NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly flipped the card to reveal the Sabres were picking seventh overall, the clamors to trade the pick began. If a team wants to blow your doors off in a trade, of course, it should be considered. In the unlikely event of that happening, it doesn’t make sense realistically for the Sabres to trade the pick.
A lot of the concern with the pick being in the seven slot is that the player they draft will take at least three years to make an impact in the NHL. Sabres fans are out of patience (understandably so) and want a team that begins to be competitive next season. Therefore trading the pick is a quick fix to a roster that needs work.
First of all, a player being worth the value of that pick may not be available this summer. A top-10 pick in the NHL draft has only been traded straight up for a player after the lottery results twice since 2013.
The New Jersey Devils traded ninth overall to the Vancouver Canucks in exchange for Cory Schneider in 2013. The Canucks ended up selecting Bo Horvat. In 2017 the Arizona Coyotes traded the seventh overall pick and Anthony DeAngelo to the New York Rangers in exchange for Derek Stepan and Antti Raanta. The Rangers selected Lias Andersson with that pick.
Going to back to the concern about the player picked not contributing in the near future; that’s actually not the case anymore. While it’s unlikely a prospect selected seventh overall will contribute in the NHL their first season after being drafted, it’s not out of the question they’ll do so in their second season.
Since the 2015 draft, only four top seven picks have not played a game in the NHL. Olli Juolevi (2016), Cale Makar (2017), Cody Glass (2017), and Barrett Hayton (2018) are those four players. Juolevi is the only player that selected in the top seven of the draft that did not play in the NHL by their second season after being drafted.
Ivan Provorov, Clayton Keller, Lias Andersson, and Quinn Hughes are the last four players picked at seven. At least three of the four, if not all four, are either highly regarded or already an important player for their club.
It’s important to remember that the Sabres will need to have players come in on entry-level deals and contribute in a few years. Players like Casey Mittelstadt, Rasmus Dahlin, and Sam Reinhart are all due for new deals within the next year or two. So while this player selected this year may not make an immediate impact, they’ll be relied upon within two years to produce on a cheap contract.
The way the draft is set up this year, outside of the top two picks, there is a second tier of players from three to 10 that project to be decent NHL players. Luckily for the Sabres, the majority of them are forwards.
Defenseman Bowen Byram from the WHL is the only defenseman that likely be selected in the top 10 this year. The other top 10 picks will be dominated by forwards.
The US National Development program will have a nice group that has top 10 potential. Jack Hughes, Alex Turcotte, Trevor Zegras, Matthew Boldy, and Cole Caufield could all slip into the top 10. Defenseman Cam York and goaltender Spencer Knight are two more USDP prospects that could go in the top 15.
A few other top 10 prospects will come out of the WHL in Peyton Krebs, Dylan Cozens, and Kirby Dach. Lastly, Russian forward Vasili Podkolzin is the final forward in the mix for a top 10 selection.
The Sabres are in desperate need of a high-end forward in their prospect pool, especially at center. Mittelstadt and Victor Olofsson are the two best forward prospects in the system. With Mittelstadt being in the NHL already he doesn’t really even qualify as a “prospect”.
All the other forwards currently in the pool project out to be bottom-six complimentary players. The depth at center is very thin behind Rasmus Asplund. Swedish forward Marcus Davidsson plays center in the SHL but may translate to a winger in North America.
At least five of those aforementioned draft eligible forwards have the potential play the center position at the NHL level.
Like I said if a “can’t say no” trade offer comes along of course you explore it. Outside of that, the Sabres shouldn’t entertain trading the seventh overall pick. They’re not going to compete for a Stanley Cup next year and this is a way to get a potential cost-controlled impact player for the future without sacrificing a handful of assets.
That other first-round pick, however, should be available for trade to improve the roster right now.