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GM For a Day: Trade Deadline Edition

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The trade deadline is a week from Monday, so let’s talk trades

NHL: Philadelphia Flyers at Buffalo Sabres Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

The 4-3 overtime loss to the Flyers nearly broke me. Over the course of the past 16 years of obsessively watching the Sabres I can’t think of a loss that hurt more that didn’t involve a playoff game. A team that is still icing Skinner, Reinhart, Hall, Dahlin, and has Ullmark back in net shouldn’t be that bad, but alas, here we are. Very rarely do I feel the need to rant. My personality is one that when I see a problem I instantly want to try to fix it, but last night I had to resist every urge to just scream a rant through my computer.

Now I try to fix us. So here we go...a GMFAD for this trade deadline and the summer.

What I’d do right this second (and after the Frozen Four)

Sign Ben Meyers (C/LW, University of Minnesota) and Dryden McKay (G, Minnesota State) as college free agents (McKay after the Frozen Four)

If you follow me on Twitter the first name should be of no surprise. I’m a big Ben Meyers fan. The 22 year old sophomore is a firecracker whenever he steps on the ice. At 5’11, 201 pounds he is an extremely mobile and physical presence for the Gophers. He has a great shot, and has enough playmaking ability that he’s not just reliant on his physicality and motor to create offensive opportunities. He plays up-and-down the lineup for Minnesota. He plays in all situations, and in the last game against Minnesota State, he was the one Gopher who came to play. Above all: he is an elite competitor. He pressures pucks, is a relentless forechecker, and his motor never stops. His pace of play, skill, and compete level make him a great addition as a potential bottom six player.

Dryden McKay is a bit undersized goaltender who has done nothing but stop rubber for the past three years at Minnesota State. He’s gone 51-7-2 over the course of the past two seasons and sports a .942 and .931 save percentage as well. I’m shocked he wasn’t signed after last year, but his ability to man a crease and stop pucks can’t be understated. For the Sabres, McKay instantly slides into the AHL to give UPL some competition and to wait and see how Portillo does next year when he takes over the crease from Strauss Mann in Michigan.

Why would they sign in Buffalo? Playing time. Both players have the ability to enter the NHL lineup at least for a limited role this year, as well as compete for spots in the lineup next year.

USHL Fall Classic - Day 3
Dryden McKay
Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images

Trade Deadline Roster Moves

Trade #1: Buffalo trades: Taylor Hall (50% retained), Riley Sheahan to the St. Louis Blues for Tyler Bozak and 2021 1st Round Draft pick

Perhaps we can re-sign Hall after the season, but it’s looking more and more like he won’t be coming back and recently said he’d be open to a trade. For the salaries to work the Blues only have one contract to move and that’s Tyler Bozak. To make the cap hit work we add in Riley Sheahan who is someone I don’t see being on the Sabres next year in order to make sure that we’re able to get a 1st round pick out of the deal.

Trade #2: Buffalo trades Rasmus Ristolainen (50% retained) to the Carolina Hurricanes for Cedric Paquette, Jamieson Rees, and a 2021 2nd Round pick

In Elliotte Friedman’s 31 Thoughts this week he noted that Carolina wanted a “gritty RHD” at the trade deadline, and boy do I have one to give you. Ristolainen’s season has been notably different since he was diagnosed with COVID and he admitted to having a hard time recovering. He went from having a season where he was turning the corner to regressing back to the same bad data points that have plagued him throughout his career in Buffalo. His RAPM chart from Evolving-Hockey is dreadful.

Evolving-Hockey.com

The reality is that some of these core players need to go, and Ristolainen is the first casualty.

The Sabres get an expiring deal in Paquette, one of my favorite second round prospects in 2019 in Jamieson Rees, and a 2021 2nd round pick. Rees is a highly skilled agitator who, like Meyers, has a very high compete level who mixes it with his physicality and his knack for puck pursuit. You sensing a theme? Get players who drive the puck down the ice and who are relentless at getting it back.

3.) Waive Cody Eakin and recall Arttu Ruotsalainen

It’s time to stop giving Ruotsalainen the Pilut treatment. Send one of the worst forwards in the NHL down to the AHL and recall one of the few bright spots on the Amerks.

I am dumbfounded how the Rieder-Eakin-Okposo line continues to be a thing despite them being one of the worst lines in hockey.

#FreeR2

The Draft

The Sabres are sitting with five picks in the first 96 picks, and it’s imperative we hit some of these out of the park. I ran Tankathon and we ended up with the third pick.

Round 1, pick #3: Matthew Beniers, C, NCAA (Michigan)

11/5/02, 6’1, 174 lbs.

24gp, 10g, 24pts

You can read a lot of what I wrote about Beniers here. I will reiterate what I said in the comment section of that article though: in the eleven years I’ve been following the draft I’ve never seen anyone play the center position as perfect as he does from what I want out of a center. Is the best offensive center to ever come out? Definitely not. What I want from a center is three things:

1.) Facilitate the puck up the ice both on your stick and through a pass.

2.) Support your teammates offensively and defensively and work tirelessly to get the puck back on defense.

3.) Create high and medium dangers shots directly from a shot or pass.

He’s amazing in transition, he’s one of the most involved players at supporting the puck that I’ve seen and relentless in getting the puck back, and he facilitates play really well in the offensive zone. If the Sabres are ever going to right this ship it’s going to be through players like Beniers. Reminds me a lot of the type of gritty presence and passion that Michael Peca brought to the Sabres in the late 90s (although I doubt Beniers will ever throw the hits to earn himself the nickname Captain Crunch) and a little Chris Drury as well. A 50-65 point center who drives play would be an ideal pick-up for the Sabres.

Russia v United States: Preliminary Round Group B - 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship
Matthew Beniers
Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images

Round 1, Pick #22 (from STL): Simon Robertsson, RW, SHL

2/5/03, 6’0, 183 lbs

22gp, 1g, 2pts

His lack of opportunity in the SHL should see him slide down the draft board longer than I’d expect him to based on his skill and how he actually plays. He’s a speedy, energy RW with enough skill to do things with the puck on his own stick and possesses a nasty shot to beat goalies clean from distance. He’s similar to Peterka in that he’s a utility prospect: someone who possesses the skill set that can translate into a top-6 scoring role while also having the same physical engagement and defensive responsibility to excel in the bottom 6.

When Robertsson is on the ice the puck is going to move into the dangerous parts of the ice. He moves himself into the high-medium dangers of the ice to take his shot and he is constantly looking to move the puck to a teammate in prime scoring areas as well.

The depth of the Sabres prospect pool is lacking on the right wing, and snagging the #11 ranked prospect on my board in the early 20s is too good of value to pass up and I’d rather not reach on a defensemen in this range.

Round 2, Pick #33: Scott Morrow, RHD, USHS-Prep (Shattuck-St. Mary’s)

11/1/02, 6’2, 192 lbs

22gp, 6g, 31pts

LET’S SWING FOR THE FENCES! Recent history would say that if the Sabres used this pick on a defenseman it would be in the archetype of a defensive defensemen like Daniil Chayka or a Stanislav Svozil this year. However, rarely does someone tweet a highlight video that makes me drop everything I’m doing and go research a player or find film on a player. Will Scouch tweeted a video last year of Morrow and I ran to my computer to put on HockeyTV. Continue that to this year and it’s almost an irrational love for Scott Morrow.

I’ll start with the risk: he’s playing high school hockey and it’s impossible to project what he’s doing against good 18U AAA players to the NHL. However, the skill on Morrow is what is jaw dropping.

He’s a fantastic puck handler, is so creative in his playmaking, and is an extremely mobile offensive defensemen. While his defensive positioning can be labeled as a question mark: I think a lot of that is due to the fact that he’s able to make up for any mistakes at this level with his talent.

I would argue that he has one of the highest, if not the highest, offensive ceiling for the defensemen in this class. His skill pops off the screen regardless of competition. However, you can’t ignore the risk taking a player that so clearly should’ve been playing at a higher level of competition during his draft year. Going to UND next year...let’s take a shot at one of the most exciting players in the draft.

Round 2, Pick 60 (from Carolina): Ayrton Martino, LW, USHL

9/28/02, 5’10, 170 lbs

31gp, 17g, 49pts

One of the biggest complaints I have of the forward group with the Sabres is the lack of ability to generate offense off the rush or to enter the puck into the zone on their own stick outside of Eichel and Hall. Martino is elite at both of these things.

Despite being one of the oldest prospects in the draft, his production has been lights out. Despite only playing 31 of a possible 46 games for the Omaha Lancers his involvement percentage is north of 35%...which is absurd.

A great skater with amazing puck skill and top-6 offensive potential in the late second round is a steal in the making. Plays in all areas of the ice and contributes defensively. For a team that is desperate to generate offense he provides it in bundles. Does he fall this far in the draft? I think his hype train will see him as a mid-2nd round pick when it’s all said and done. But if FC Hockey is going to make him available here then I am JUMPING at the chance.

3rd round, Pick #83 (From Montreal): Jack Peart, LHD, USHL

5/15/03, 5’11, 181 lbs

16gp, 0g, 11pts

One of the more creative passers from the back-end in this class; Peart excels as a puck mover at getting the puck up the ice and has amazing vision from the blue line to hit teammates in scoring areas of the ice to generate offense as well.

He’s a mobile skater with good gap control defensively. He’s not afraid to take a little contact to retrieve a puck and makes very good, smart decision with the puck once it’s on his stick to move the puck up the ice. A bit undersized as a defensemen; he uses his positioning and stick well to defend against larger opponents but will have to bulk up as he moves to the NCAA to deal with the more physical play.

I value transition and he is one of the best at it in this part of the draft. Heading to St. Cloud State next year he’s going to really thrive from the backend if he’s able to translate his vision and transition skills to the NCAA level.

Round 4, Pick #97: Kirill Gerasimyuk, G, MHL

8/22/03, 6’2, 179 lbs

27gp, 2.59 GAA, .931 SV%

When I was sorting through Russian goalies that may be interesting two months ago I came across Kirill Gerasimyuk’s stat profile and it was absolutely hysterical. Gerasimyuk was facing north of 40 shots a game in the MHL and stopping almost 94% of them at the time. Here was the first five games of the season shot totals he faced: 71(!!!), 44, 54, 31, and 28. Nine of the first seventeen games he played he saw north of 40 shots with three times seeing over fifty shots in a game.

In five games in the VHL he has a .913 SV% and continues his upward trajectory in the Russian hockey leagues. As one of the youngest goalies in this class as well it would be reasonable to expect him to be drafted in this year’s class. I fully expect him to end up on the u18 Russian team, and if he plays well there I can see him moving up into the mid-rounds.

Round 5, Pick #149 (Montreal): Tyler Boucher, F, USNTDP

1/6/03, 6’1, 201 lbs

12gp, 6g, 11pts

He’s been playing on the wing in the USNTDP in a net-front, grinder type of role in the top 9. His speed jumps off the screen when you watch him play, and he’s one who will create chaos in the forecheck with his physicality and motor.

While his skill isn’t high-end he does have enough puck skill to make things happen and his wrist shot is pretty good in the medium/high danger areas of the ice. I think his speed and motor could make him a very good complimentary piece in a bottom six role. Heading to BU (spoiler: so are the next two players on this list) next year, it’ll be fun to track his progression in the NCAA.

Round 6, Pick #161: Jeremy Wilmer, W, USNTDP

8/16/03, 5’7, 141 lbs

34gp, 11g, 33pts

He’s a late August birthday, and what he can do with the puck and in transition are very impressive, and yet, I don’t think he’s getting the praise he rightly deserves. He consistently is the catalyst for making the pass that springs a teammate for a breakaway or a high danger shot. He’s super quick and processes the game at a high level.

The u18s should be a good final exam for where he belongs in the pecking order of the US forward group. His small stature should see him slide to the mid-late rounds similar to that of Sean Farrell, Zion Nybeck, and Alexander Pashin last year. Take the flier that he can put it all together despite his size and swing for the fences in the sixth round with Wilmer as he joins Boucher at BU next year in the NCAA.

Round 7, Pick 193: Charles-Alexis Legault, RHD, USHL

9/5/03, 6’3, 190 lbs

22gp, 3g, 5pts

I’ll be honest: it’s too early for me to really have a grip on the late round gems I really like as most of the players I like are being pegged for rounds 3-5. However, when tracking Costantini in the BCHL earlier this year Legault was an eraser to the high-flying Penticton team.

When he went out with an injury the game broke wide open, but he was a great player at defending the blue line and stopping the cycle game in the zone.

He’s been seeing a reduction in ice time since transitioning to the USHL while playing for the Lincoln Stars. He’s a big bodied, defensive defensemen who will be a long term project...especially working on his lateral agility and improving backwards mobility. I see some tools that are NHL ready, but it’ll take the full 3-4 years at BU in the NCAA for him to really see if he’s going to be an NHL player one day.

2021 Offseason

Since Evolving-Hockey hasn’t posted contract predictions I won’t waste yours or my time trying to figure out what term and money will look like as I am not an expert at it. I’ll defer to community members like TEMSON for what contracts would look like. However, this would be my plan for the 2021 offseason in a nutshell:

Trade: Buffalo trades Jack Quinn to Arizona for Conor Garland

There’s not much to say to this trade other than this will probably be the last go around of us trying to keep Jack Eichel before we have to move him. Push the chips to the center of the table and sell Quinn for a great 5v5 offensive talent in Garland.

evolving-hockey.com

Gives us a very good offensive winger to put into the top-6 immediately. Given the progression of Peterka and the 2021 drafting of Robertsson it makes Quinn expendable.

Trade: Victor Olofsson and 2022 2nd round pick to Calgary for Johnny Gaudreau

This one may be unpopular especially to those looking at the advanced analytics. Gaudreau isn’t as special of a player as he once was with Calgary:

evolving-hockey.com

But this comes with two caveats: 1.) Victor Olofsson is deadweight 5v5 and 2.) We need players who can play with pace and can transition the puck on their own stick. Gaudreau is still a positive player 5v5, but more importantly, is better than Hall at transitioning the puck on his own stick and would be able to run a second line through him as well offensively.

evolving-hockey.com

Re-Sign:

Dahlin, McCabe, Borgen, Jokiharju, Reinhart, Ullmark, Mittelstadt, Asplund

ELCs:

Peterka, Weissbach, Rousek, Kukkonen

UFA:

Mike Reilly, LHD (1.5 mil this year)

evolving-hockey.com

Reilly has 15 points in 35 games and has had an outstanding impact on an Ottawa team that has struggled to defend outside of him. Playing on the second pairing with Artem Zub I’m not sure what his UFA number will come in at but it would be a great addition in helping McCabe coming back from injury and a struggling Dahlin as well.

Derek Ryan, RW (Calgary..3.125 mil this year but coming much cheaper)

evolving-hockey.com

A defensive staple for the third line for us to allow Mittelstadt and Ruotsalainen some freedom to create on the third line.

Chris Driedger, G, Florida (700k this year)

Sitting in the top 20 for Goals Saved Above Expectation according to moneypuck.com, Driedger had at one point saved Florida’s season when Bobrovsky was struggling. Shouldn’t be a long term contract and cost should come in around what Hutton would’ve made this past year.

Opening Night Lineup (assuming McCabe can play)

Skinner- Eichel- Cozens/Reinhart

Gaudreau- Cozens/Reinhart- Garland

Ruotsalainen- Mittelstadt- Ryan

Girgensons- Lazar- Okoposo

(Thompson)

McCabe- Borgen

Reilly- Miller

Dahlin- Jokiharju

(Bryson)

Ullmark

Driedger

Prospect Depth Chart

Untitled

LW C RW
LW C RW
JJ Peterka Matthew Beniers Simon Robertsson
Ayrton Martino Jamieson Rees Lukas Rosek
Linus Weissbach Ben Meyers Tyler Boucher
Filip Cedarqvist Matteo Costantini Aaron Huglen
Jeremy Wilmer
Matej Pekar
LHD RHD
Ryan Johnson Oskari Laaksonen
Mattias Samuelsson Scott Morrow
Jack Peart Miska Kukkonen
Albert Lyckasen
Charles-Alexis Legault
G
UPL
Dryden McKay
Erik Portillo
Kirill Gerasimyuk