The 2019 NHL Draft has come and gone. Overall, the Sabres didn’t make that much of a splash. No roster players were traded from Buffalo, and the only deals the team made during the draft weekend involved picks.
With that said, Sabres GM Jason Botterill picked up six new prospects for his team over the course of the two days. From the seventh-overall pick in Dylan Cozens, to the Sabres’ final pick of Lukas Rousek, GMJB and staff selected some interesting names.
Here are my thoughts on the Sabres’ newest additions:
Round 1, Pick 7 - Dylan Cozens (C, WHL - Lethbridge)
Alright, hear me out. First and foremost: Cole Caufield was RIGHT THERE!
Okay, now that we got that out of the way. Cozens isn’t a name that I had high up on my list, and he wasn’t one of the players that I had expected the Sabres to look at at that point in the draft. Among the players who hadn’t been selected yet, I was anticipating either Cole Caufield or Trevor Zegras to go with this pick. At any rate, unlike some of the Sabres’ recent first-round picks (Rasmus Dahlin, Jack Eichel), Cozens won’t make the jump to the NHL or AHL right away. Instead, he’ll head back to the Hurricanes in the WHL for at least one more season, possibly two - and that’s okay. Not every first-round pick is going to make that jump immediately. Heck, not every first-round pick ever even pans out for an NHL team. Let the kid develop for a few more years, let the Sabres keep an eye on him, and circle back later to see if he’s ready to step up.
Round 1, Pick 31 - Ryan Johnson (D, USHL - Sioux Falls)
With the final pick of the first round, the Sabres picked up defenseman Ryan Johnson out of Sioux Falls. He’s set to join the University of Minnesota in fall. This, of course, was the pick that the Sabres got as part of the Ryan O’Reilly trade, so Sabres fans might be a little salty about it. Johnson is a defensive defenseman and won’t likely provide the offensive edge some others might. He’s also only 17 and is one of the younger players in this year’s draft. Overall, this pick was pretty much on point, as Johnson was ranked #33 by NHL Central Scouting among North American skaters. Overall, I think it’s an okay pick, even if some thought the Sabres should focus on forwards instead.
Round 3, Pick 67 - Erik Portillo (G, Sweden-Jr. - Frolunda Jr)
Portillo went undrafted in 2018, and it was a bit of a surprise to see him picked up at this point by the Sabres. He was ranked #126 by Future Considerations and #89 by McKeen’s Hockey but stepped up his game this past season. He was also ranked very low by NHL Network. Also: he’s a big boy for a goalie, coming in at 6-6. Portillo is committed to Michigan. The verdict isn’t quite in on this one yet; some says he’s got great composure, is calm and knows how to let his size work to his advantage, while others say he has poor technique and tracking. To me, this pick is a way of adding depth in net for the Sabres, and that’s not a bad idea, especially with guys like Adam Wilcox and Scott Wedgewood both becoming UFAs next month.
Round 4, Pick 102 - Aaron Huglen (R, High School - Roseau, MN)
Let’s all just take a moment to salivate over this goal by Huglen last summer at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup, shall we?
The Sabres obviously knew they wanted this kid, enough to trade up for him so they could secure the pick. Huglen is still in high school and ended up getting picked a little lower than most of the rankings suggested. He’s got room to grow - as all draft picks do, really - and is set to join the Fargo Force of the USHL this fall. Huglen played half of this past season with Fargo and will play another year with the squad before joining the University of Minnesota in the 2020-2021 season.
Just look at that goal he scored last summer. Sure, it’s only one goal, but man, if he can make that move... let’s see what else he can do.
Round 5, Pick 143 - Filip Cederqvist (L, Sweden - Vaxjo)
Another Swede, eh? Again, another pick where the Sabres traded up to make the selection. Here’s what a Swedish regional scout has to say about Cederqvist:
#143 Filip Cederqvist #Sabres— Christoffer Hedlund (@ChrHedlund) June 22, 2019
Decent goal scorer with some size, can also make a play in the offensive zone to set up a goal. Has above-average puck skills, good hands and can protect the puck well. Works hard in the offensive zone and got decent hockey sense.
Cederqvist played most of the year in the SHL as an 18-year-old, which is... pretty good. According to some, he’s more likely to be a bottom-six prospect at the NHL level. He’s got good puck skills and will be a teammate of fellow Sabres prospect Marcus Davidsson next year, so expect the two to bond and then hopefully make the transition to North America with some chemistry and friendship.
Also, props to Alexander Nilsson, who had Cederqvist as a possible late-round target for the Sabres in his piece here.
Round 6, Pick 160 - Lukas Rousek (R, Czech Republic - Sparta)
Rousek is one of the overagers in the draft, as he turned 20 back in April. (Quick, someone tell me: when was the last time the Sabres drafted a 20-year-old?) With that said, Rousek was ranked 39th overall by NHL Central Scouting among European skaters.
He spent this past season mainly with HC Sparta Praha and put up nine points in 34 games playing against some big players. If he makes the jump to North America at some point, it won’t be for a while. Rousek is under contract with Sparta through 2021, so his North American debut is at the very least a few years away.
It’s a deep pick, but one the Sabres clearly had in mind, as evidenced by this Tweet, which indicates the Rousek was invited by the team to their pre-draft testing combine on June 3:
Overall, at first glance, the 2019 NHL Draft appears to be a little underwhelming for the Sabres. Then again, with any draft pick, there’s never a guarantee one way or another how a player will pan out. Just look at the 2000 NHL Draft, where none of the Sabres’ first five picks ever played an NHL game, or think about Marek Zagrapan or Philipp Gogulla. Then again, look at Linus Ullmark (drafted 163rd overall in 2012) or other team’s selections including Henrik Zetterberg (210th overall), Pavel Datsyuk (171st overall) or even undrafted success stories like Martin St. Louis or Mark Giordano.