The NHL Scouting Combine is the first big event of the offseason. For about a week, the majority of the hockey world decends upon Buffalo for the event. The city is consumed by NHL draft prospects, scouts, agents, and general managers.
Teams spend the week getting to know the prospects for the upcoming draft at the end of the month. The players also go through medical and fitness testing at the end of the week.
With all of the league in one place, a lot of interesting rumors and news can come out of this week to set up the offseason. Below I put together a list of news and notes that I picked up this throughout the week.
1. If you didn’t hear, only one of the two projected top picks made the trip to the combine. Kaapo Kakko was celebrating his World Championship victory in Finland. The expected top pick Jack Hughes was in Buffalo to meet with teams, but did not participate in the fitness testing. He ended up meeting with 10 clubs and one of them was the Buffalo Sabres.
He obviously won’t be available for them to select, therefore, the conversation centered around other top US National Development players like Alex Turcotte, Cole Caufield, Trevor Zegras, and Matt Boldy.
2. The draft begins at third overall this year with the Chicago Blackhawks. There are a handful of players that could go at that spot and determine the dominos that will after their pick. Mark Lazerus of The Athletic tweeted that the Blackhawks are down to six players for third overall. He mentioned Bowen Byram, Turcotte, Caufield, and Zegras as four of those six.
Another player I heard that is in the mix for the pick is Lethbridge center Dylan Cozens. The Hawks expressed some serious interest in Cozens, including taking him out to dinner this past week.
3. The Cozens interest brings us to this next tidbit of news. The Sabres made it clear this week that they have a lot of interest in USDP center Alex Turcotte. They took him out for dinner on Thursday night to get to know him a little more.
It’s unlikely he makes it seventh overall, but if by some chance he makes it five would the Sabres explore trading up? The Los Angeles Kings have expressed some interest in potentially moving down. Turcotte impressed a lot of teams in interviews this week.
4. German-born defender Moritz Seider is one of the more interesting players in this draft. He was one of three underage players (Hughes and Kakko) to participate in the World Championships in Slovakia. He may have been the only player to meet with all 31 teams this past week.
5. Teams have different approaches to how they go about their interview sessions with prospects. The Arizona Coyotes had one of the more interesting interview strategies. They held video reviews during their meetings showing prospects game film from their season and breaking it down.
6. Jason Botterill hasn’t drafted a Canadian-junior player in the two years as general manager. Will this year be the one that breaks that trend? Kirby Dach, Peyton Krebs, and Cozens could all be available for the Sabres at seven. All three met with the Sabres this week. They also met with CHL players Philip Tomasino, Raphael Lavoie, and Vladimir Kolyachonok.
7. The Sabres may look to add to their goaltending depth in the draft this season. They’re pretty thin at the position with only Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen as a legitimate young prospect. They met with a handful of goaltending prospects this week including: Mads Sogaard, Hugo Alnefelt, Hunter Jones, and Colten Ellis. They could be targeting a goalie with that late first-round pick or perhaps in round three.
8. Other players the Sabres met with include Jakob Pelletier, Ville Heinola, Cade Webber, Drew Helleson, Boldy, Caufield and Zegras.
9. An interesting player the Sabres did not meet with is scoring forward Arthur Kaliyev.
10. Zegras was one of the more interesting media interviews this week. He has a good personality and comes off as very knowledgeable of the game. He gave some insight on what it was like to play with such a load to team for the US National Development program. “Being around so many great players you kinda just take what you think is great in their game and maybe try to add it to your game,” said Zegras.
He stated he spoke with the Sabres a few times this week and enjoyed his interview with them.
11. Caufield officially measured in at 5’7.25” and 163 pounds. He also was able to do 16 pull-ups during that session, which we know is key in hockey. All joking aside, Caufield doesn’t believe his height is an issue. “I don’t think size is a factor, I don’t think it’s a risk anymore,” he said during his time with the media. The scoring winger met with 27 teams this week, including the Sabres.
He’s an interesting player that can go as soon as third overall or perhaps in the back half of the top 10. He’s a confident kid that wants to prove he can play at the NHL level and loves to compete.
12. Vasili Podkolzin is another fascinating player in this draft. The Russian forward has a lot of skill, but also a lot of other areas in his game he needs to work on. He met with the Sabres this week as well and is another one of those players that could go anywhere between third and perhaps even out of the top 10.
The first round of the NHL Draft is less than three weeks away. It’ll be interesting to see how the board breaks down leading up to the Sabres selection at seventh overall. The draft also begins the time of year when we start to see some major trades occur.