Outside two picks in the first round of the draft later this week, Buffalo got a total of six picks in rounds three to seven. They may not end up using all of them on players in Vancouver, some picks can be traded, but if Jason Botterill and his staff were to use every pick they have in the bag here are some players that could or should be worth a look.
Since Botterill became general manager, he have had twelve picks in two drafts and have choosen seven defensemen and three centers during his time with Buffalo. With five of the twelve players being Swedish and three Finnish it is not far fetched that the trend of drafting players from thoose two coutries continue, which is shown in the list of candidates below.
With only one goalie drafted since 2014 in Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen last summer, the Sabres have a need for goalie prospects and I expect atleast one goaltender to be drafted by Buffalo.
Oleg Zaitsev, C, Red Deer (WHL), 2001-01-07, 6’1”, 85 lbs
66 GP, 13 G, 30 A, 43 P, 57 PIM, +4
The hard-working Russian center started off really good in his first year in WHL with 23 points in his first 24 games before cooling off with only 20 points in his last 42 games after Red Deer bolstered their core with Brett Davis. In contrary to the stereotypical Russian forward Zaitsev is accountable in all three zones and uses his frame well along the boards in combination with his possession driving skills. Great on the PK, and with Sabres lacking depth at center, Zaitsev could be an intriguing pick.
Mattias Norlinder, D, Modo Hockey (Allsvenskan) 2000-04-12, 6’0.25”, 187 lbs
14 GP, 2 G, 4 A, 6P, 4 PIM, +9
Did not get drafted last year but that seemed to have sparked a higher lever in Norlinders game last season. Had 21 points in 30 games in J20 Superelit and when he got promoted to Allsvenskan he never looked out of place. The smooth moving defenseman got paired together with Tobias Enström, which certainly helped, on the first pairing and quickly become one of the teams better guys on the blue line. Great offensively but definitely not bad in his own zone Uses his skating to keep opponents on the outside. Posseses a good wristshot and likes to join the rush. With the recent success of picks from Modo (Ullmark, Olofsson) and Sabres looking at Sweden for defensemen both in draft and UFA, Norlinder makes big sense as a pick Botterill could do. Ended up with 19:38 in TOI/GP, second to only Enström (25:24) in Modo. Won gold with Modo J20 in the playoffs.
Antti Saarela, LW/C/RW, Luukko (Liiga), 2001-06-27, 5’11”, 190 lbs
24 GP, 2 G, 8 A, 10 P, 20 PIM, +3
The offensively smart winger/center Antti Saarela have most certainly not went under the radar for Sabres who have been to Finland to scout 2018 draft pick Miska Kukkonen who plays for Lukko. Saarela scored 10 points in 24 games in Liiga for Luukko but will play for Ilves, the team that Oskari Laaksonen and Arttu Ruotsalainen played for last season. Played on the wing for Luukko but was used as a center in the U18 WJC, so Saarela is a versatile player with good hands and good speed that makes him a responsible player all over the 200 foot of ice. Not the biggest player but does not shy away from engaging in battles.
Tuukka Tieksola, RW, Kärpät U20 (Jr. A SM-liiga), 2001-06-22, 5’10”, 157lbs
51 GP, 15 G, 45 A, 60 P, 26 PIM, +19
Tieksola got speed to kill which is handy with his stature. Uses his speed to gain an advantage against opponents and it leads to controlled entries without any troubles. When in the offensive zone he uses his vision and hockey IQ to find teammates. Has a good shot but become more of a playmaker than finisher last season where his 45 assists were most in the league. In a stacked Kärpät organization Tieksola faces a tough challenge to get more cracks at Liiga hockey more than last season where he got only one game.
Ilya Konovalov, Lokomotiv Yaroslavl (KHL), 1998-07-13, 6’0”, 194 lbs
45 GP, 25W, 15 L 1.89 GAA, 930%, 10 SO
I´d be very surprised if Konovalov makes it past this draft undrafted like he´s done the past year. Born in July 1998 he has ben eligible for a three drafts now but perhaps the “Russian Factor” have come in play here, but I don´t think this will happen this week. With his 10 shutouts he was third best in KHL and won rookie of the year and were one of the best goalies in the league. Konovalov is not of the popular huge brick wall sized goalie mold but is quick and agile as good as anyone. Have two years left on his current contract, but could be a goalie well worth drafting in the fourth round if he´s still there or later if he falls like Veini Vehviläinen did. I can even make peace with a third round pick used on him.
Blake Murray, C, Sudbury (WHL), 2001-06-05, 6’3”, 185 lbs
66 GP, 30 G, 20 A, 50 P, 48 PIM, +8
Murray was 7th overall in the OHL draft in 2017 and amassed 21+23 in 57 games during his rookie season. He upped that to 30+20 in 66 games this season as a second line center behind Quinton Byfield. However, the center with good size and foot speed, good face-off rate (53%) and a quality shot with quick release did not impress enough to crack the Team Canada roster for either Ivan Hlinka or U18’s. Questions about his consistency linger which makes him frustrating to watch from game to game. But with the size and tools he already have he can turn out to a good pick in the middle rounds of the draft.
Garrett Pinoniemi, C, Holy Family Catholic (USHS), 2001-07-15, 6’0, 148 lbs
24 GP, 26 G, 40 A, 66 P, 17 PIM
Pinoniemi controls the pace in the offensive zone who likes to use his stickhandling to deke opponents out of the game before he finds a teammate with a saucer pass. Likes to use his wrister to get the puck up high when he´s in a good place to shoot. Needs to put on muscle to his frame before and during his tenure with the University of Minnesota which starts in 2020. A project for the long term.
Picks: #160, 175, 177
Adam Åhman, G, IK Oskarshamn (Allsvenskan), 1999-07-31, 6’0”, 163 lbs
22 GP, 15 W, 7 L, 1.69 GAA, .938%, 5 SO
On loan from HV71 Åhman formed a formidable tandem with Christoffer Rifalk for the last seasons wonder team Oskarshamn which ended with promotion to the SHL for the first time in the clubs history. While Åhman got the role as backup in the promotion play he were the league leading in both GAA and SVS% during the regular season and had 5 shutouts. Were the third choice in the WJC for Sweden and looks destined for the role as backup in HV71 the upcoming season if he´s not sent out on loan. Like Konovalov a smaller goalie with 6’0 and 163 pounds. The twice undrafted goalie is calm in net and reads the play well. A sixth round pick? Born in July 1999.
Juuso Pärssinen, C, TPS U20 (Jr. A. SM-liiga), 2001-02-01, 6’2”, 203 lbs
36 GP, 13 G, 9 A, 22 P, 28 PIM, +11
Son to former Anaheim player Timo Pärssinen, Juuso is a big two-way center who have fetched decent numbers in the Jr A. SM-liiga and also got a taste at SM-Liiga with 7 games for TPS this season. Compared to his father, who was a small speedy winger, Juuso also got good hands but lacks the speed that Timo had. Pärssinen is strong in the face off circles and is good at using his frame, but could use it even more to in battles along the boards. Lacks high end speed but skates well. He works hard and is often a part of the PK unit. Is primary a center but have been used on the wing from time to time.
Simon Lundmark, D, Linköping (SHL), 2000-10-08, 6’1.75”, 197 lbs
28 GP, 0 G, 3 A, 3 P, 6 PIM, -9
Mixed his role as a top 4 guy for Linköping’s J20 team, where he ended up as a silver medalist, with a depth role for the SHL team last season. The latter one did not give much room for offensive play as focus was on keeping the puck out of his own net, but he is not uneven offensively with a quick release Plays a simple game with the puck in his own end and is not the flashy type. The right handed Lundmark skates well for his size and already has a good frame and have been a go to guy in all kind of situations for LHC junior teams with the clock running down in games.
Kim Nousiainen, D, KalPa U20 (Jr. A. SM-liiga), 2000-11-14, 5’9”, 170 lbs
32 GP, 8 G, 20 A, 28 P, 36 PIM, +10
Nousiainen did not make the Finnish WJC roster but did good for himself at home instead. The smallish left handed defenseman were just three points behind the second best point scorer in the team, despite plain ten games less. Nousiainen likes to join the offense when he can and uses his quick feet to open space and won´t spend any time more than necessary in his own zone with the puck before heading up the ice. Loves to pinch down on opponents which can lead to him being beaten, but his skating often gets him home in time. Gets pucks through to the net without having the hardest shot in the world. A smart player, but his size can make him outworked in board battles and in front of the net.
Albin Sundsvik, C, Skellefteå J20 (Superelit), 2001-04-27, 6’1”, 185 lbs
42 GP, 17 G, 24 A, 41 P, 32 PIM, -13
Had a better campaign for his club compared to the National Team where he left he season with zero points in 23 games, including seven in the U18’s. For the U20 club team he were almost a point per game and got a fair share off ice time in the SHL were he scored one goal in twelve games. Works hard in both ends and got good speed to help him on the backcheck. Likes to use his wrist shot when he can, and it´s a good one. A two-way center with intriguing skills.
Lassi Lehtinen, G, Luukko (Liiga), 1999-02-25, 6’0”, 176 lbs
38 GP, 16 W, 9 L, 2.21 GAA, .903%, 2 SO
Make it three in a row for the potential 6’0”overaged goalie pick here when it comes to Lassi Lehtinen. Lehtinen became Luukko’s first choice this year great numbers on every level in the Finnish system. Have been a part of the Finnish WJC roster the past two years but have been the backup or third choice behind Sabres pick Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen. Lehtinen got a quick glove and can even chip in offensively, showed here with his goal against TPS in December 2018 which made him the second goalie in Liiga to score a goal.
Lucas Feuk, LW, Södertälje U20 (J20 Superelit), 2001-02-19, 6’0”, 183 lbs
43 GP, 21 G, 22 A, 43 P, 84 PIM, +7
Feuk were a point per game player for Södertälje in J20 Superelit this season and also got five games in Allsvenskan, where he looks to be a permanent figure next season. A good playmaker with a nice stride and good speed. Has a good shot but can often get comfortable playing on the outside leading to low percentage shots. Needs to take the puck to the inside more and find more consistency in his game.
Filip Cederqvist, LW/RW, Växjö (SHL), 2000-08-23, 6’1”, 187 lbs
33 GP, 4 G, 4 A, 8 P, 27 PIM, +2
Cederqvist split time between the U20 team and the SHL team last season and took nice steps in his development, especially in his offensive game. Has a nice wrist shoot and have proven himself to not be out of depth in the SHL. Växjö is looking to bounce back from a disappointing season and have invested heavily in the free agent market, including a bunch of forwards which will lead to a hard battle for Cederqvist if he wants more time in the SHL. Possible candidate for a loan spell in Allsvenskan.
Liam Malmquist, RW, Edina High (USHS), 2000-10-18, 5’8”, 146 lbs
24 GP, 23 G, 29 A, 52 P, 4 PIM
A small winger who fills the stat sheet and works hard in all situations to make the most of his speed and goal scoring ability. The winger is hard to knock off the puck despite his size and uses a wide arsenal of tricks to score. Has committed to Wisconsin (2020) and will play for Penticton Vees in the BCHL next season.