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Recapping the 2021 NHL Buffalo Sabres Draft

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Analyzing the Sabres Draft, McGee/My picks, draft contest

2021 NHL Draft - Round One Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Mock Draft Contest

Perhaps I shouldn’t participate in this because it feels icky to announce that I was the winner. Full standings:

1.) BMaster: 41 points

2.) SimmionianWonder: 39

3.) 24ccha3us: 38

4.) Go Sabres Go!!!!!: 37

T5.) SwordsAndSkins/BuffaloRepresent/Jedi13: 36

6.) SwedeChristoff/Swontfan: 35

7.) Sabres of Glory: 34

8.) T McGee: 31

Sabres Draft Grade: B

I have to say I am pleasantly surprised with the Sabres draft strategy this year. Each forward pick they made was based on skill, and in the first two rounds they valued a combination of speed and skill. They drafted size in the mid-late rounds with skill, although maybe not the fleetest of foot. Owen Power was the consensus #1 pick and no one can fault the organization for the pick. I really liked the Rosén pick. I had him in the late teens in the midterm and dropped him a bit due to the longer development plan and the uncertainty I had over if he’d turn into an all-around threat which he’s demonstrated he can be but, still, leaned heavily on his shot to create a lot of his offence this year.

Draft grades are hard, especially in the NHL when these players aren’t going to see the NHL or make a significant impact for 3+ years. I admit that the Sabres probably know 100x more about this prospect business than I, but my philosophy values the transition game and there’s players that they selected and left on the board that I thought would’ve been better value. Overall though: Sabres fans should be really excited that the organization put an emphasis on skill in this draft.

Accountability

In order to make this post not be another 2,000 words and a clunky bit of Excel charts: I’ve linked the results from the 2019-2021 drafts and updated statuses to compare what the Sabres have done with my Big Board and my selections. I’ve put McGee’s Big Board in there as well.

Analyzing the Draft

Round 1, Pick #1

Buffalo Sabres Selection: Owen Power, LHD, NCAA

The Sabres stayed the course with the public consensus pick in the NHL draft at #1. Power will bring a strong offensive leaning game, and is at his best when he’s able to get up into the rush and use his very good puck skill and protection ability. Whether or not he stays in college has yet to be determined, and perhaps he’d personally like to go back to a loaded Michigan team that was eliminated from the NCAA tournament due to a COVID case. He projects conservatively as a top four, PP2 defensemen with a ceiling as a top pairing, all situations elite defensemen.

Austin Selection and Big Board Selection: Matthew Beniers, C, NCAA

When we acquired the 14th selection in the Ristolainen trade I debated long and hard about taking Eklund here and then trying to select Raty/Svechkov at 13. Ultimately, I fell in love with Beniers as a prospect this past year. He plays the center position as perfectly as I could ask a player to play it. While his offensive upside has been the debate surrounding how high Beniers should go; the impending Eichel/Reinhart trades prioritized getting a high-end center during this draft.

T McGee Big Board Selection: Brandt Clarke, RHD, Slovakia (OHL)

From T McGee’s Mock Draft where he took Clarke: There’s a lot that’s been said about Brandt Clarke in the last 18 months, but the one thing that has stuck out to me is the comparison to a taller Adam Fox. I think that’s not too far off, and although Foxy had the benefit of playing 3 years at Harvard to refine his game, Clarke has bounced around a bit in his developmental years. He has one season in the OHL under his belt, then when that league closed its doors for this past season, he and his brother (NJD draft pick Graehme) packed their bags for Slovakia (which shows his desire to play), where they both played in their senior Men’s league. Obviously, the transition was massive on multiple levels, but by the end of his time over there, he was just under a PPG in his last 10 games. He’s got really good size (6’2 195#) but where he’s going to make his money is due to his uncanny vision. Clarke is a surgeon with the puck on his stick. He doesn’t have the same kind of easy flow to his game that Rasmus Dahlin has, but the production should be similar. A one-man transition game, before the puck even hits his blade Clarke’s head is up and scanning the ice. And he’s not satisfied just making the first pass – he’s up in the play immediately and has that same ability of Dahlin to fill any lane in transition and make something happen. Incredibly creative. Has superior hands, able to settle poor or hard passes in a split second, he can dangle you, and can put the puck on your tape from the other end of the ice without it jumping once. His lateral movement is always purposeful. A sidestep here opens up a passing lane, a slide there moves the defense to create space of himself or a teammate. Really, although he’s listed as a D-man, he is really a guy who can make plays from anywhere on the ice, including spots normally reserved for centermen…which makes him very difficult to defend. Extremely smart, has a sixth sense of where guys are on the sheet and can move players around with a whole bag full of head-fakes, look-aways, and subtle movements to get them where he wants to go. Has a powerful, accurate shot, but doesn’t use it nearly enough, as he prefers to set guys up. Instead, he uses his shot strategically – will shoot from odd angles, or intentionally shoot for rebounds, just to keep defenses and goalies honest. But on odd-man rushes, or where he loves to be in transition – the center lane – he will turn guys inside out and go far shelf without even breaking a sweat. And he’s not afraid of physical play – I’ve seen him flatten guys at their own blueline, or at Clarke’s, more than a few times. Even in the Men’s League, nothing seemed to bother or intimidate him. Has infectious enthusiasm and plays with fire and a smile on his face…he clearly loves the game. Where people will take issue with his game is largely his skating. And, to be fair, it does look clunky and…like he’s not even trying. But the more you watch him, his skating resembles Eichel’s upright style without generating the same power. And that is more than enough to get around the ice and make plays on seemingly every shift. If he can add another gear, watch out. This is a good pick for the Sabres, for a couple reasons. One, because it gives them two defenders who can play on different pairings and generate a ton of offense…not just with point shots or first passes, but literally can play as well as most forwards shift-to-shift. And two, BFLO doesn’t have a lot on the right-side coming up. Clarke put up 38P in 57 games for Barrie last season, which was not far behind Top 10 selection (and a year older) Jaime Drysdale; he added a very respectable 15P in 26 games over in Slovakia, which was just outside the Top 10 in D-Man scoring per/game. And he quarterbacked the gold-medal winning Team Canada at the U-18s, with a PPG (7 in 7) for the champs.

Round 1, Pick #14

Buffalo Sabres Selection: Isak Rosén, W, SHL

Rosén was as high as 15 during my mid-season rankings because of how much growth I think he has as a prospect. He already can wheel, his shot is very good, and he’s very smart in the way he attacks the offensive zone both with and without the puck. He’s a shoot first player, but he identifies developing plays very well and can facilitate dangerous chances with his playmaking as well. A stiff wind can knock him off his feet right now as he’s very physically underdeveloped, but with more strength and physicality in board battles he projects to a great top six winger with the potential to possibly play down the middle given his transition ability.

Austin selection and Big Board selection: Fabian Lysell, W, SHL

When it comes to on-ice talent: I think Fabian Lysell is a top five player in this draft. His puck skill and pace is absurd, he’s deceptive with his playmaking and beats goalies often by changing shot angles, and is the premier offensive rush player in the draft. He does everything right now at a breakneck pace and some alternative speed rushes might diversify his game even more, but on the ice it’s hard to argue that there’s a lot of runway for Lysell given how little ice time he was given in the SHL and the tools he brings to the table.

Off the ice might be a bit of a concern. He forced himself off his Swedish club earlier in the year when they wouldn’t move him to the SHL club and he’s consistently been left off international rosters when he should be a shoe-in to be selected. Alas, I haven’t heard of anything specific that should be concerning. At the fourteenth pick I swing for the fences for someone who might end up being the best forward in this draft.

T McGee Big Board selection: Jesper Wallstedt, G, SHL

From McGee’s mock draft: Honestly, this kid could go in the Top 10. I almost had Chicago taking him. He’s that good. Has been a fixture on the international stage for years now, dominating at the U-17’s, the U-18s, Hlinka, and even more impressive, putting up crazy-good numbers in the SHL. Ideal size for a goalie, an impressive track record, plenty of medals to his name.

2nd Round, Pick #33

Buffalo Sabres selection: Prokor Poltapov, RW, MHL

He can go missing in the MHL, but he does play a very North American game but it’s very, very simple: go to the net, try to run through anything in front of him, and bang home any loose puck in front of the net. His skill is there for a power forward and his skating is NHL level passable, but I don’t think he’s going to be anything more than a passenger on a middle-six line who plays in the high danger areas of the ice looking to capitalize on what his teammates can generate for him. I thought his u18 performance was very good, though. I vaulted him up about 20 spots from April because of it, but still the vast majority of the season keeps his ranking low. If he hits his ceiling he’s going to be a fan favorite with his tenacious style of hockey.

Austin Big Board Selection: Aatu Raty, C, Liiga

Perhaps the biggest faller throughout the NHL draft season is perhaps the biggest homerun/strikeout player on my board. I thought he drove play very well in the Liiga and he still has offensive skill and plays a strong 200ft game. His offensive numbers plummeted, he has struggled finding his confidence though he looked much better after being snubbed from the u20s, and his skating still has a bit of a ways to go...but if it all comes together he could be a top 6 center still.

Austin Actual Selection: Logan Stankoven, RW/C, WHL

How dare the Panthers take Samoskevich away from me. If Stankoven was two inches taller I think there’s no way he’d have gotten out of the top 10. I only tracked two of his WHL games and he was putting up numbers in transition and dangerous chances that I would’ve bet on him getting to a stretch during the WHL season where he’d have been averaging three points a game. His wrist shot is high-end and has multiple launch angles, his small area skill and vision is high-end, and he’s super quick in making the right reads to make plays happen. He’s not a blazer and can get caught trying to carry the puck end-to-end more than I’d like to see, but at the beginning of the second round and filling a void at the RW position...I’ll take a second homerun swing with Stankoven.

T McGee Big Board Selection: Dylan Duke, C/W, USNTDP

A McGee-favorite. I would argue that Duke is a great fit for what I think the Sabres are doing under Adams – looking ultra-competitive guys who love to play and still have upside. And even though he’s not a big kid (5’10, 180#) he plays like a giant. I see a more skilled Brendan Gallagher when I watch him. A true 2-way player, Duke not only plays on the top line for the Program, but also is a top PK’er and works on the top PP unit. Where the Gallagher comparison really looks good to me is around the net. Duke is always around the cage. He plays on the post, the top of the crease, and in Gretzky’s Office. A slippery player, he is superb in keeping his stick and hands free, and always keeps his feet moving to avoid defenders’ pushing him out of position. His skating helps tremendously at that. While not a burner by any means, Duke possesses excellent balance, and is very tough to move, or knock off the puck. His lateral movement is excellent and applies to what he likes to do. He can get side-to-side quickly to defend and cut off passing lanes, or to get in position at the bottom of the slot to screen the goalie, deflect pucks or find loose rebounds and put them home. Despite his size, I think he would rather go through someone than around them. But he’s not just limited to that. Duke has a nasty wrister that he likes to use in transition and it is off his blade in an instant. Hard, accurate, and deceptive, that shot is the primary weapon in his arsenal, but he’s got hands good enough to lift pucks in tight or fire a precision one-timer from the top of the circle. Scoring goals is what he does best, and that’s how he plays. Getting the puck to the net is something that is always foremost in his mind. He’ll fire pucks from anywhere. Even when he dumps the puck in, or goes for a line-change, he’ll put the puck on net. Reminds me a bit of Ryan O’Reilly with that – ROR used to clear the puck and put it on the tender or send a fluttering puck toward the net to see if he could sneak one by. Duke does the same. Has a high-revving motor, plays hard every shift, doesn’t matter if it’s in his end or the other team’s. Will outwork you on the PK, and never quits on a play, backchecking his brains out and pressuring the puck all over the ice. Also loves to engage on the walls. He’s relentless hunting the puck in the corners, happily taking on guys 6 inches bigger to win pucks and turn them into chances. And he’s not a one-note puck hog either. Duke is a pretty solid passer – he’s very good in reading the play in transition and finding his teammates with quick, accurate passes, although his work off the cycle and out of sets could use some improving. Very smart player who understands the value of movement and leverage, both tools he uses to get and stay loose around the crease. Duke put up 49P in 50 games for the US NTDP, which put him 2nd on the team, while chipping in with 4P in 5 games at the U-18s as the USA’s #2 goal scorer. While he can stand to get stronger to endure the punishment his style of game requires, and to improve his burst getting out of the blocks, I’m a big fan of this player. He’s off to Michigan next, where he’ll likely get a crack or two at the NCAA title.

2nd Round, Pick #52

Buffalo Sabres selection: Alexander Kisakov, F, MHL

An extremely shifty forward who plays at a breakneck pace from the MHL; the undersized Kisakov was the second leading scorer in the MHL this past year. He could be extremely disinterested in the defensive zone and his ability to survey the ice to facilitate the puck in transition or maneuver around the zone has to be developed, but Kisakov falls right into the range where he was expected to go and he probably has the highest skill level of anyone left in the draft.

Austin Selection and Big Board Selection: Simon Robertsson, RW, SHL

His lack of opportunity in the SHL saw him slide down the draft board longer than I expected 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.

T McGee Selection: Alexander Kisakov, F, MHL

I can’t find any in-depth analysis from McGee on Kisakov, but he did say “Kisakov has some Afinogenov vibes.” (which I can 100% see)

Round 3, Pick #88

Buffalo Sabres selection: Stiven Sardaryan, F, MHL

I don’t have anything really to say about Sardaryan other than I saw him play with Poltapov and thought he was alright but not NHL draft worthy. He’s going to play in the USHL this upcoming year and prepare for his NCAA season at the University of New Hampshire.

Austin selection and Big Board selection: Dylan Duke, C/W, USNTDP

See: McGee’s explanation.

T McGee selection: Jack Bar, RHD, USHL

Under normal circumstances, the Sabres would see a lot of Bar given he was projected to be a top-pair guy with the Penticton Vees, the same team on which 2020 draftee Matteo Constantini would play. Unfortunately, the BCHL is shut down until at least January and has only played basically a set of pre-season games. Like Constantini, Bar is a BCHL rookie who spent last year at St. Andrews College in Ontario but is a big (6’2 195#), mobile, smart defender who can play in all situations. Bar is not a dazzling offensive player who will weave through the Neutral Zone with the puck on a string, but he is an excellent transitional defender who can move the puck accurately out of his own end while being a threat to carry it out and dictate play in the NZ. Really strong skater for his size who has excellent transitions from front to back, lateral movement is impressive, and that lets him step up when defending the rush and isn’t afraid to lower the boom at the blueline. Also can outskate a lot of his coverage mistakes, when there’s a misread he can use that smooth skating to get back in position. Has a cannon of a shot, and his offensive instincts help him find seams in the O-zone where he can get off heavy shots from the point or the high slot. His positioning is still raw, like a lot of his game, and he can get caught puck watching/chasing too often, but in the BCHL pre-season, he played PP, PK, and 5v5 and put up 7P in 13 games. It’s coming for him, IMO. He’s committed to Harvard, which has sent a few pretty good defenders into the NHL pipeline (Adam Fox, John Marino, Jack Rathbone, Reilly Walsh, Henry Thrun, etc) in the past few years. Should get some great coaching there and refine some of the hard edges in his game in time to come up to the NHL.

Round 3, Pick #95

Buffalo Sabres select: Joshua Bloom, F, OHL

Austin selection and Big Board selection: Sean Tschigerl, LW, WHL

I always knew that Tschigerl was going to be a part of 2021 draft. After a slow start this year: Tschigerl began to put it all together and took off. He was one of the highest involved players in offensive zone transitions that I tracked. He put a ton of pucks into dangerous areas with his passes. He was relentless in his scoring efforts and was rewarded with 13 goals in 21 games. Combine that with the 200ft game that he put together for himself last year and he has started to really round out into a complete player. There are still things to improve on. He can be a bit of a “man-without-a-plan” when he gains the zone and find himself not manipulating the defense but rather running into trouble and trying to bail himself out with a low danger shot or an errant pass to a high-danger area. He has bobbled more than his fair share of pucks. I would’ve pegged him hovering around a PPG pace of 1.2-1.4 the rest of the season had the WHL gone longer than 20ish games.

T McGee Big Board Selects: Jack Matier, RHD, OHL

Could not find anything from McGee on Matier so just quoting the Draft Guide: Played a very defensive-defenseman role in the u18s, he has good off puck positioning to defend against potential rushes, and with time can move the puck effectively up the ice. He’s static in the offensive zone and prefers to go d-to-d or take low percentage shots in the offensive zone, but I liked his mental awareness in how he defended against the rush and with some refinement to skating technique the big defender could match up well as a bottom pair defenseman.

Round 3, Pick #97

Buffalo Sabres selection: Oliver Nadeau, RW, QMJHL

Nadeau is someone that forced the scouting world to take a look at him as he turned heads putting up 45 points in 34 games as a draft eligible this past year. He played primarily with 2020 standout Mavrik Bourque and 2021 1st round pick Xavier Bourgault this year, and while he definitely benefited from his linemate he was able to put together some impressive film himself. He’s a power forward who has very speedy reaction time and can one-touch pass around the ice and read plays very well. He’s definitely a below-average skater and is very heavy footed coming out of the blocks, but some skating refinements and he could be a very good power forward.

Austin selection and Big Board selection: Jake Martin, RHD, USNTDP

I love my first six picks in this draft, but after the Tschigerl pick everyone I pick from here on out went undrafted in the 2021 draft. I really, really like Jake Martin’s game. He’s a fantastic defender of the defensive blue line and very good at breakout passes and controlling the puck to jump start the offense. He’s not offering much in the offensive zone, but he was one of the better players at defending and erasing rushes that I saw this year. Heading to play at Wisconsin next year it will be interesting to see him play against the high octane Michigan team.

T McGee selection: Ethan Del Mastro, LHD, OHL

Can’t find anything from McGee so just going with the Final Draft Rankings: A big, physical defender who does a good job separating players from the puck in the defensive zone and has some offensive talent as well. He’s going to have to improve his play under pressure and he’s also going to have to improve his outlets in transition if he’s going to hit a ceiling other than a possible bottom pairing defensemen who might excel in breaking up cycles.

Round 4, Pick #159

Buffalo Sabres Select: Virjami Marjala, LW, QMJHL

Marjala excelled as a perimeter player in the QMJHL this past year and facilitated play from the outside to the tune of 5 goals, 27 points in 30 games. He has a bit of Linus Weissbach to his game and I think with time could develop to a similar deal in the AHL that could see an NHL shot.

Austin selection and Big Board selection: Kalle Ervasti, RHD, U20 SM-sarja

I really like the creativity that Ervasti has in his ability to move the puck up the ice and when he activates from the blue line. He’s fantastic in defending the defensive blue line and stonewalls defenders with his fantastic gap control. If a forward puts the puck anywhere near Ervasti you can be rest assured it’s about to be poked away.

T McGee Big Board selection: Eric Alarie, LW, WHL

From McGee’s GMFAD: Calm Before the Storm: big, power winger who is a load around the net.

Round 5, Pick #161

Buffalo Sabres selection: William von Barnekow, W, HockeyEttan

William von Barnekow brings size (6’4, 190 lbs), speed, and good skill to play a power forward type of game. He produced at over a point a game in the J20 and then put up very good numbers in HockeyEttan. I was surprised to see him fall into the fifth round and thought the Sabres got great value here as I think he’s even more projectable with his skating and skill than Nadeau at the moment.

Austin selection and Big Board selection: Lorenzo Canonica, C, QMJHL

Canonica is a player that isn’t going to pop off the screen when you watch him play, nor is he going to put up gaudy numbers as a draft eligible player. However, when you dig into the positive sequences of plays that happen when he’s on the ice he’s often the catalyst behind it. Coming into the year the biggest question mark often referenced was his skating and lack of pace. While still not an above average skater; I find that he’s able to control the play on the ice with his ability to drive position and win small-area battles to keep plays alive.

T McGee Big Board selection: Kalle Ervasti, RHD, U20 SM-sarja

See above.

6th Round, Pick #188

Buffalo Sabres selection: Nikita Novakov, LHD, MHL

Going back to the MHL and grabbing yet another teammate of an earlier draft pick; Novakov is a 6’4 defensive defensemen who played on the same team as Kisakov. He uses his long reach and size to defend the blue lines, and despite having 5 assists in 7 games in the u18s, he’s a stay at home type of player.

Austin selection and Big Board selection: Dmitri Katelevsky, F, MHL

Katelevsky is an energetic, physical power forward who tries to create chaos whenever he’s on the ice that Dylan Griffing put on my radar this year. He’s ideal as a hard-hitting F1 in the forecheck who parks in front of the net and has enough skill in the offensive zone with his vision and his around-the-net finishing ability.

T McGee: Dovar Tinling, C/LW, NCAA

Played for a horrendous University of Vermont hockey team in the NCAA, but he did flash some high end skill and had some nice pace to him as well. He didn’t make my board because he didn’t put together enough consistency for my liking, but given the quality of his team he could be a great sleeper pick IMO.

7th Round, Pick #193

Buffalo Sabres selection: Tyson Kozak, C, WHL

Kozak is an energy and defensive center who has a little bit of offensive projectability but most likely will be an AHL player if I were projecting him right now.

Austin Selection: David Gucciardi, LHD, USHL

Going a bit off the board here as I’ve yet to take a LHD in this draft: Gucciardi is one of the best gap control defenders in the USHL this year. Gucciardi excels at stopping rushes before they even start using his mobility and active stick to break up plays at the blue line and becoming an eraser of opposing teams controlled entries and exits. He does very well using his mobility for carry-in/out transitions as well. He hits the first read in transition, and while I’m not sure if he’ll ever be an offensive threat in the NHL, he’ll have ample time at Michigan State to develop his creativity in the offensive zone.

Austin Big Board selection: Pavel Tyutnev*, C, MHL

Last year when I was picking for the Sabres in my article I seriously debated with that last pick between taking Tyutnev or Mancini, ultimately going with Mancini because up until that point I had only taken forwards. While I don’t regret the decision for the last pick in the 7th round; Tyutnev has continued to just wow me this year in his DY+1. His skill is popping more with more ice time, he’s moved up to play in higher levels in Russian hockey and looks to be doing well, and I’m shocked he went another year without being drafted.

T McGee Big Board selection: Stuart Rolofs, LW, OHL

Rolofs didn’t make my watch list last year during the OHL and I don’t have any notes on him. I’ll defer to McGee on him!

Quick Hitting Free Agency Thoughts

  • I’m not upset about anything we let go or didn’t sign. It’s a surprise after all the lip service of Ullmark being a priority that he wasn’t given term to re-sign here. However, given the current state of the forward group I don’t think we’ll be contending until the end of the contract for Ullmark anyways.
  • Good for McCabe to get term and that AAV. Thought he’d have been a great captain for us going into this rebuild but I am happy for him that he’s coming off his injury well rewarded for his strong play the last two seasons.
  • I loved the defensive signings and trades. I like the low cost, quality additions in Butcher and Pysyk. Robert Hagg brings some grit and toughness as possible 7th defensemen. It allows Bryson and Samuelsson to get quality looks in the NHL but not be forced into the NHL as well. Perhaps, it will also allow Power a year in Michigan as well.
  • I have no idea who is going to play goalie for the Sabres next year, but it should be interesting seeing how the carousel of goalies shifting across the league lands with Buffalo.
  • The Eichel trade: I’m tired of hearing about it. Tired of talking about it. Just give me a prospect in the vein of Krebs/Rossi/Zegras and whatever else is in the trade I don’t really care about. Just, please, don’t trade him to the Rangers for an ROR type of deal for their 6th best prospect, Strome, a 2022 protected 1st, and a mid-round pick.