Well, it looks like we’re through another Halloween and yet I can’t help but feel like an enthusiastic Trick-or-Treater as I look at the 2023 Draft Class. And like a young McGee, empty pillow case in hand, marching up to the front door of some kindly neighbor who handed out regulation-sized candy bars, I can’t help but be a little giddy at the thought.
Trying to narrow down the class into a First Round is excruciatingly tough. There are bound to be 3-4 players who I swear are First-Round quality, whatever iteration I try, but there just isn’t room. Maybe more than 3-4...maybe 10-12. So there are some really good players who are going to spill over into the Second Round…which it turn, pushes Second Rounders into the Third! So not only a high-quality group at the top of the Draft, but it is looking deep in terms of overall class talent as well. This brings me to an interesting conundrum. Would you trade a couple/three of those Second Round picks to move up into the late First, or early Second? Or stand pat, be patient (as Kevyn Adams was last Draft) and hope your guy falls to you? Or trade down one of those Second rounders to get a couple Thirds? Remember, as of right now, the Sabres have three Second Round picks, but no Third (it went to Vegas in the Eichel trade). And there is a possibility that, if Ryan Johnson elects not to sign with BFLO, that the Sabres will be awarded ANOTHER Second Round selection, giving them FOUR! I’m inclined to be patient and let the choices come to them. Still, the prospect pipeline is bursting at the seams as it is now, so do I really need nine or ten more prospects to add to the mix? Maybe. Or should I load up one more time in a really strong Draft, really slow cook these kids, and then accept the risk that a few might bail on the organization simply because there just aren’t enough slots for them all on an NHL roster? If so, next year I will be more than willing to trade a 1st round choice and a high-ranking prospect to complete a deal for an established NHL stud. Lots of variables for BFLO still to weigh before we get to next Summer.
The race for the top spot, once thought to be guaranteed Connor Bedard, has now seen a small crack of competition in the façade. Big Adam Fantilli, a freshman center at Michigan, is putting up numbers rivaling that of one-time Sabre legend Jack Eichel’s astonishing first year in college. The 6’2 Fantilli is running at 2 PPG as a freshman in the NCAA. That’s on a team with 12 NHL draft picks (!), and he’s their leading scorer by 50% over the next guy. That’s crazy. Still, in the games I’ve watched, Fantilli has been productive but not dominant in the classic sense. More like Reinhart than Eichel…one flashes a few times a game, and at the end you see they’ve put three points on the board and think "Who knew?" The other controls the game, showing off all kinds of high-end skills, but at the end of the game, he’s got three points too. Is that enough to move Fantilli up over Bedard, Michkov, and Carlsson (a foursome who has started to separate themselves a little from the pack)? Hard to say. Will be fascinating to follow throughout the year to see if another player jumps up into that Top 4 mix.
In a month’s time, we’ll be talking about the line-ups for the World Juniors and potentially having Fantilli and Bedard playing on the same Team Canada. Should be VERY interesting.
Some others have played extremely well, moving up the rankings as the year has gone on. Will Smith of the US NTDP has absolutely exploded onto the scene, notching 30P in 15 games thus far while centering one of the most explosive lines in the Program’s history, flanked by Ryan Leonard and Gabriel Perreault, both with pretty gaudy stat lines themselves. Over in the WHL, Koehn Ziemmer scored a goal in 6 straight games for a pretty average Prince George team, riding shotgun with draft eligible Riley Heidt to notch 25P in 15 games, including 12 goals! Colby Barlow, after starting out slow with 1P in his first 4 games, now is rolling with 13P in his last 6 games…while over in Kitchener, former US NTDP defenseman Hunter Brzustewicz has put up 13P – all assists – in 12 games. Over on the East Coast, in Quebec, sniper Matthieu Cataford his piling up 19P in 14 games for Halifax. Huge tendy Michael Hrabal (6’6) came over from Czechia to Omaha in the USHL and has been stellar, with a 1.83 GAA and a .944 SV%. He’s almost certainly the front runner for first goalie taken this year. Speaking of Czechia, monster (6’5 210#) D-Man Jakub Dvorak is playing serious minutes in the senior Men’s League while chipping in 2P in 16 games. Another blue-liner, righty Axel Sandin-Pelikka has shown skill (14P in 15 games) and snarl in the U-20 league before getting promoted to the SHL for the last half-dozen games. Heading East to Russia, diminutive winger Roman Kantserov has exploded in the MHL of late, now surpassing a PPG (23P in 18 games). Heading North to Finland, big winger Rasmus Kumpulainen has been heating up at the U-20 level, with 6P in his last 5 and 18P in 19 total games. And for guys that fly under the radar, young winger Aiden Fink has been demolishing the AJHL for the Brooks Bandits (former Tier II team of Cale Makar) with a crazy 47P in 21 games! He’ll be joining Don Granato’s brother Tony at Wisconsin next season.
Lots of names to get acquainted with. The Sabres will come out of this Draft deeper, and with even more options, than they have now. Which will only be to the good.
For those of you unfamiliar with this ordering exercise, I use Tankathon.com to run a Lottery and determine the order relative to the day I fill this out. So it’s probably dated a few days, but it should be relatively close to where things stand when this finally gets published.
And now, for your reading pleasure…
#1: PITTSBURGH: Connor Bedard 5’10 C, WHL
#2: CALGARY: Matvei Michkov, 5’10 RW, RUS
#3: COLUMBUS: Adam Fantilli, 6’4 C, NCAA
#4: ST LOUIS: Leo Carlsson, 6’3 C, SWE
#5: ANAHEIM: Eduard Sale, 6’1 C/LW, CZE
#6: SAN JOSE: Dalibor Dvorsky, 6’1 C, SWE
#7: OTTAWA: Colby Barlow, 6’2 LW, OHL
#8: VANCOUVER: Mikhail Gulyayev, 5’11 LHD, RUS
#9: NASHVILLE: Zach Benson, 5’10 LW, WHL
#10: ARIZONA: Samuel Honzek, 6’3 C, WHL
#11: WASHINGTON: Will Smith, 6’0 C, US NTDP
#12: CHICAGO: Cameron Allen, 6’0 RHD, OHL
#13: NY RANGERS: Cal Ritchie, 6’1 C, OHL
#14: BUFFALO: Ethan Gauthier, 5’11 RW, QMJHL
#15: MONTREAL: Koehn Ziemmer, 6’0 RW, WHL
#16: CHICAGO (TAMPA BAY): Brayden Yager, 6’1 C/RW, WHL
#17: MINNESOTA: Matthew Wood, 6’4 C, NCAA
#18: LOS ANGELES: Axel Sandlin-Pelikka, 5’11 RHD, SWE
#19: EDMONTON: Gavin McCarthy, 6’1 RHD, USHL
#20: COLORADO: Charlie Stramel, 6’4 C/W, NCAA
#21: TORONTO: Andrew Cristall, 5’9 W, WHL
#22: MONTREAL (FLORIDA): Artuu Karki, 6’2 LHD, FIN
#23: SEATTLE: Quentin Musty, 6’3 LW, OHL
#24: NY ISLANDERS: Gabe Perreault, 5’10 C/W, US NTDP
#25: CAROLINA: Connor Levis, 6’2 C, WHL
#26: DETROIT: Daniil But, 6’4 RW, RUS
#27: DALLAS: Maxim Strbak, 6’2 RHD, USHL
#28: PHILADELPHIA: Ryan Leonard, 5’11 RW, US NTDP
#29: WINNIPEG: Nate Danielson, 6’1 C, WHL
#30: NEW JERSEY: Caden Price, 6’1 LHD, WHL
#31: VEGAS: Riley Heidt, 6’0 C/LW, WHL
#32: BOSTON: Hunter Bruzustewicz, 5’11 RHD, OHL
#1: COLUMBUS: Michael Hrabal, 6’6 G, USHL
#2: DETROIT (ST LOUIS): Otto Stenberg, 5’11 C/W, SWE
#3: ANAHEIM: Noel Nordh, 6’3 RW, SWE
#4: SAN JOSE: Lukas Dragicevic, 6’2 RHD, WHL
#5: OTTAWA: Kasper Halttunen, 6’3 RW, FIN
#6: VANCOUVER: Beau Akey, 6’0 RHD, OHL
#7: NASHVILLE: Dimitri Shimishev, 6’4 LHD, RUS
#8: ARIZONA: Theo Lindstein 6’0 LHD, SWE
#9: PITTSBURGH: Etienne Morin, 6’0 LHD, QMJHL
#10: WASHINGTON: Kalan Lind, 6’1 LW, WHL
#11: CHICAGO: Jayden Perron, 5’8 C, USHL
#12: CALGARY: Mazden Leslie, 6’1 RHD, WHL
#13: NY RANGERS: Noah Dower-Nilsson, 6’0 C, SWE
#14: BUFFALO: David Reinbacher, 6’2 RHD, SWISS
#15: MONTREAL: Alex Ciernak, 5’10 W, SWE
#16: CHICAGO (TAMPA BAY): Jakub Dvorak, 6’5 LHD, CZE
#17: MINNESOTA: Andrew Strathmann, 6’0 LHD, USHL
#18: LOS ANGELES: Carson Rehkopf, 6’2 C, OHL
#19: EDMONTON: Daniil Karpovich, 6’4 LHD, BEL
#20: ANAHEIM (COLORADO): Oliver Moore, 5’11 C, US NTDP
#21: SEATTLE (TORONTO): Brad Nadeau, 5’9 C, BCHL
#22: MONTREAL (FLORIDA): Luca Cagnoni, 5’11 LHD, WHL
#23: SEATTLE: Noa Vali, 6’1 G, FIN
#24: NY ISLANDERS: Tanner Molendyk, 5’11 LHD, WHL
#25: CAROLINA: Emil Jarventie, 5’11 LW, FIN
#26: DETROIT: Carson Bjarnason, 6’3 G, WHL
#27: DALLAS: Danny Nelson, 6’3 C, US NTDP
#28: BUFFALO (PHILADELPHIA): Gracyn Sawchyn, 5’11 C, WHL
#29: SEATTLE (WINNIPEG): Dylan McKinnon, 6’3 RHD, QMJHL
#30: NEW JERSEY: Roman Kantserov, 5’9 W, RUS
#31: BUFFALO (VEGAS): Oliver Bonk, 6’2 RHD, OHL
#32: ANAHEIM (BOSTON): Gavin Brindley, 5’10 RW, NCAA
#1: COLUMBUS: Mathieu Cataford, 5’10 RW, QMJHL
#2: ST LOUIS: William Whitelaw, 5’9 C/W, USHL
#3: ANAHEIM: Noah Erlinden, 5’10 G, SWE
#4: NASHVILLE (SAN JOSE): David Edstrom, 6’2 C, SWE
#5: TORONTO (OTTAWA): Tom Wallinder, 6’1 RHD, SWE
#6: VANCOUVER: Rasmus Kumpulainen, 6’2 W, FIN
#7: NASHVILLE: Nico Myatovic, 6’3 RW, WHL
#8: ARIZONA: Jesse Kiiskinen, 5’11 W, FIN
#9: LOS ANGELES (PITTSBURGH): Albert Vikman, 6’0 LHD, SWE
#10: ARIZONA (WASHINGTON): Scott Ratzlaff, 6’1 G, WHL
#11: CHICAGO: Jakub Stancl, 6’3 C/LW, CZE
#12: COLUMBUS (CALGARY): Donovan McCoy, 6’1 RHD, OHL
#13: PHILADELPHIA (NY RANGERS): Kalle Kangas, 6’4 LHD, FIN
#14: VEGAS (BUFFALO): Ethan Miedema, 6’3 RW, OHL
#15: MONTREAL: Tyler Peddle, 6’2 C/LW, QMJHL
#16: TAMPA BAY: Dominik Petr, 6’2 C/LW, FIN
#17: ANAHEIM (MINNESOTA): Tanner Ludtke, 6’0 C, USHL
#18: LOS ANGELES: Matteo Koci, 5’11 LHD, CZE
#19: EDMONTON: Timur Mukhanov, 5’10 C, RUS
#20: NY RANGERS (COLORADO): Yegor Zavragin, 6’3 G, RUS
#21: TORONTO: Zeb Forsfjall, 5’9 W, SWE
#22: PHILADELPHIA (FLORIDA): Kalle Carlsson, 6’0 C, SWE
#23: SEATTLE: Kaden Hammell, 6’1 RHD, WHL
#24: NY ISLANDERS: Cam Squires, 5’11 RW, QMJHL
#25: CAROLINA: Mikey Burchill, 5’11 W, USHL
#26: DETROIT: Jesse Nurmi, 5’11 W, FIN
#27: CHICAGO (DALLAS): Tomas Uronen, 5’11 W, FIN
#28: PHILADELPHIA: Lenni Hameenaho, 6’0 RW, FIN
#29: WINNIPEG: Tanner Adams, 6’0 C, USHL
#30: PITTSBURGH (NEW JERSEY): Trey Augustine, 6’2 G, US NTDP
#31: VEGAS: Alex Weiermaer, 6’1 C, US NTDP
#32: BOSTON: Jiri Felcman, 6’4 C, SWISS
Rd1 #14: Ethan Gauthier, 5’11 RW, QMJHL: A scrappy, skilled forward, Gauthier is the son of former NHL enforcer Denis Gauthier. He brings a number of things to the table that will make him a hot commodity during the upcoming Draft. First, he’s a fantastic skater. Gauthier’s skating reminds me a bit of Peterka, in that he has deceptive burst. He doesn’t appear to be going that fast, but suddenly, he’s behind the defense and leaves guys in his wake as he gets a step or two. The fact his feet are always moving help him lull opponents to sleep. He’s not a burner by any means, but he can blow by guys when you least expect it. Gauthier’s lateral agility is exceptional. He’s a slippery skater, can dance with or without the puck in either direction. Can step around guys and get to the net, and his balance with the puck make him really tough to separate the two. And he’s got the wheels to get up as the F1 on the forecheck (more on that in a second).
Next, Gauthier is an absolute wrecking ball. He plays every shift hard, he likes to play physical despite his size, and there isn’t a hit he won’t make. A high compete level has him sticking his nose into every scrum, hustling after all the loose pucks, and punishing guys when the opportunity presents itself. He doesn’t typically lay a hit just to hit someone – there’s a purpose to it – but especially on the forecheck, he will blow guys up if he catches them fumbling the puck or looking at their feet, which creates a turnover. A menace around the net front and the top of the crease. An agitator, Gauthier gets under players’ skins, particularly goaltenders. Completely unafraid to go to the middle of the ice, he doesn’t shy away from contact if he sees a route to the net front. Someone who likes the ‘reverse-hit’ to discourage any would-be hits, he bodies up bigger players and wins more than his share of puck battles on the boards with quick hands and an unrelenting mindset. Third, Gauthier has a ton of skill. A lethal scorer more than a pure shooter, Gauthier is deadly around the net but can be murder in transition with his superior edgework and lightning-fast hands. Scores in tight on tips, buries loose pucks and rebounds; scores on breakaways with only one move; buries one-time shots top corner from the high slot; takes pucks to the net where he uses those incredible hands in tight to fool goalies and make defenders look bad. Not to say he’s a poor shooter of the puck, because those hands allow for a hair-trigger release that makes him a threat in the bumper spot on the Power Play. The velocity lacks a bit, but he’s plenty effective. But he’s not just a scorer.
Tremendous sense of timing. Great passer in transition, he understands drawing attention to move the puck at the last moment to set up a teammate. Also dangerous in tight spaces, Gauthier passes the puck extremely well in and around the net. Lastly, he’s versatile. Can play scoring wing in your Top 6, can be a forechecking fiend who chips in some timely scoring on the 3rd line, or could be an energy guy on your 4th line. Think he could play some center too, if needed. That gives him more of a path to the NHL that more limited players, and he has the high compete level that the Sabres seem to be looking for. Not only that, but he’s got the bloodlines. I’m sure Dad will help him navigate the ups and downs of the NHL life. Gauthier is having a strong start to the season; he’s posted 22P in 16 games thus far with a strong Sherbrooke team that should contend for the QMJHL title. But he made his bones leading the entire Hlinka tournament in goals (6 in 7 games) for the dominating, gold-medal winning Canadian team several months back. I think he has the potential to become a Sabres’ fan favorite.
2#14: David Reinbacher, 6’2 RHD, SWISS: Big, mobile mature D-man with a growing offensive side to his game. Reinbacher is a kid who left Austria – like the Marcos, Kasper and Rossi before him – to go play in the more challenging Swiss pro leagues. This year, he’s been promoted to the senior Men’s League, the NLA, and has shown a ton of promise.
Currently 2nd in ice time among defenders on his club. He’s shown a nice 2-way game, primarily focused on his own end, as he continues to improve with every game. At 6’2, 190# he’s already got the makings of a pro frame. And he’s not afraid to use it. Reinbacher is durable and does not avoid contact, willing to take a hit from a forechecker to ensure the puck gets out of his end. He also engages around the net, understanding leverage and inside position, and battling – be it with his body or his stick – to keep opponents to the outside.
Has a bit of a mean streak, but he’s not a big hitter. Reads the play well, and typically gets to pucks before the opposition, but can get caught staring at his own handiwork a bit too often and wind up out of position. Otherwise, a very smart player with great feel for the game. Identifies plays instantly and can get to the right spot ahead of others. Decision making is quick and usually correct. Moves the puck well, doesn’t delay getting it off his stick. A quick scan of the ice and its gone. Skating is very good in all directions. He can tend to take really wide turns, and his first couple steps aren’t explosive, so there’s room for improvement. But he transitions well, and his smarts and solid skating get him where he needs to be on, or ahead of, time. Doesn’t really press forward in the Neutral Zone. He prefers to stay on his side of the red line and force dump-ins. But when he’s in the offensive end, watch out!
His pinch and recover style would fit well with the way most of the Sabres defense are tasked with playing, and he does it effortlessly thanks to his smarts allowing him to read the play on the other end and make judicious choices on when to pinch in an instant. Has a quick, low shot that he gets to the net with regularity. Not a cannon by any means, but effective from the point and will drop down to the top of the circle to put pressure on the defense while looking for a shooting or passing lane to open up. He could stand to be a bit more patient with the puck at times, especially exiting his own zone. Occasionally he’ll have some time and space and will Risto it out of the zone off the glass rather than wait a split second for some help and break out with control. He’s a fast riser in a year without a lot of great Defense prospects. Reinbacher has put up 10P in 18 games, more evidence that his offensive game is evolving; last year, for example, he notched 11P in 27 games in a second-level league. I would expect him to be playing big minutes for Austria in the World Juniors this Christmas as one of the few draft-eligibles.
2#28: Gracyn Sawchyn, 5’11 C/LW, WHL: Dynamic, flashy playmaker who oozes puck skills. Sawchyn had a long and circuitous route to Seattle; despite being Canadian, he traveled south to play for Shattuck St Mary’s in Minnesota, then was selected to play for the US National Development team. Reportedly he was in the process of applying for citizenship but it took too long, so rather than finish out his time at the Program and go the NCAA route, he went to the WHL and joined the Seattle Thunderbirds. But now that he’s found a home, he’s crushing it. Currently posting 16P in 13 games as a WHL rookie, Sawchyn is an electric playmaker with superb vision. You can find him all over the ice – in front of the net, taking a pounding; on the weak-side circle waiting for a one-timer; behind the net looking for a passing lane; battling in the corner for a loose puck; flying up ice leading the rush. Kid does it all.
First thing you notice is his offensive skill level. Through the roof. Hands are pillowy soft, but extremely quick. Murder in the shootout. He’ll dangle you for days, but he doesn’t waste a lot of time stickhandling (although he could). He’s typically quick, efficient, and effective in receiving the puck and then making a play. Can shoot it or pass it equally well. At times, the PP runs through him on the half-wall, rather than the point, thanks to his exceptional passing and vision. Those hands are able to settle a puck on its edge, lay it flat and send sauce through a crowd of sticks and bodies all in one motion. And he can do this while stationary or streaking down the wing. But Sawchyn is no slouch when it comes to shooting the puck either. Now, no one will mistake him for a sniper – his shot doesn’t generate enough velocity at this point – but his quick hands let him turn pucks over and get them up and under the bar in a snap. He’s got a dangerous wrister that he can pick corners with on the rush or one-timing the puck off the power play, and he understands that he has to be a shooting threat in order to execute some of his slick passes. His skating plays into all of this.
Sawchyn is a high-end skater, with good burst, excellent lateral movement and balance. Really light feet. A slippery skater with or without the puck, he weaves through checks and sticks with his high-end agility to find the most efficient route to the puck or to the net. But can catch a defender flat-footed and blow by him with the puck on his stick. What surprised me most about watching him more closely is the fact that he is a pot stirrer even at his waif-like size (160#). He sticks his nose into every scrap around the net, isn’t afraid to get his elbows up in the corners, and chirps away after the whistle. I like the attitude quite a bit, and as he fills out, Sawchyn could become a really valuable offensive weapon with an edge. Interestingly, he’s grown a couple inches and put on 15# in the last year or so. It’s not impossible he could continue to grow. While not the same forechecker, his game reminds me a lot of a Matty Savoie. The kid has put up 16P in 13 games on a loaded Seattle team (with 6 NHL draftees, and after this year, easily could have 10) as a rookie, no small feat in the stacked WHL. I think he’s a riser, and someone who, if he can get a little stronger, could really have a platform to get into 1st round consideration.
2#31: Oliver Bonk, 6’2 RHD, OHL: When a defender for the London Knights becomes a legitimate prospect, you can be sure they are well-coached and well-prepared for the higher levels. When that player is also the son of a former NHL player, you can double down on that. Now, Bonk was hardly on the radar going into the spring. But after only a handful of games in London, he made the Canadian Hlinka team and represented himself very well…now he’s taken off in London as part of their Top 4, sometimes on their top pair. Bonk’s game revolves around his responsible play on the blueline. Not a physical presence despite having good size, positioning and smarts are his calling cards. Savvy in puck retrieval, Bonk seems unusually poised with or without the puck. Smooth, graceful stride and his transitions are easy – pivots from forward to backward and vice versa without any hiccups. He’s not a burner, and really not that explosive when changing direction or starting/stopping, but eats up a lot of ice and capable of playing a ton of minutes thanks in part to that stride…it looks like he’s not even trying some of the time and still outpacing the opposition, getting to loose pucks first and moving them out of trouble.
He’s efficient on moving recovered pucks up to the forwards, although as the season wears on, he’s gotten more creative in his zone exits. Unfortunately, that has also led to a few ugly turnovers as his creativity puts pucks into more contested areas. When it works, its brilliant. When it doesn’t… So that’s an area he needs to clean up. His on-puck defense is excellent. Consistently stick-on-puck, gapped up, feet plenty good enough to stay in front of most puck handlers. Stick really active. Deflects a lot of pucks to the middle of the ice, tips passes and disrupts rushes frequently. Good in space, gravitates toward the slot, shoulder checks to ensure players are not getting behind him. Bonk doesn’t really get engaged physically – he’ll fight stick battles, and uses positioning to get inside opposing forwards around the net – rarely delivering a hit or even leaning on a player unless it’s to tangle them up. That said, he’s extremely effective as a defenseman thanks to his skating, quick stick, and smarts. The puck rarely stays in his end for very long. Where Bonk has surprised is his offense.
While he came into the year with low expectations in terms of numbers, he’s been increasingly effective, with 6P in his last 5 games. Very dangerous first pass out of his end, whether a stretch pass or quick sauce up to a forward leaving the zone. He’s a good enough skater to get up ice with or without the puck, and as his confidence has grown, Bonk’s even been leading the rush at times. When down in the O-Zone, he’s cognizant of defending when he’s roaming high in the zone, and rarely allows an opponent to sneak out behind him. But he’s got a good shot that he uses smartly. Pucks almost always get through to the net. He’s patient enough to wait for lanes to open, but he doesn’t hold onto the puck too long or over-handle it. Quality lateral skating opens up more holes in the coverages, giving Bonk options. Of late, he’s been creeping up to the tops of the circles or into the high slot more often and generating better chances, resulting in more points. Posted 11P in 16 games thus far for the Knights. If he can add a bit of toughness to his game, and continue to gain confidence on the offensive end, he has all the tools to become one of the best defenders in the Draft.
4#14: Alex Pharand, 6’3 C, OHL: The Sabres go back to Ontario to add a big, physical power forward with a ton of natural ability. A big, but raw, power center who can skate and play a heavy game, Pharand is still putting all the pieces together. But the pieces are impressive. Pharand plays big. He’s heavy on the puck, strong on his skates, and drives to the net with regularity – either with or without the puck. Takes a hit to make a play, eagerly jumps into board battles, and crashes the crease or the man when he’s on the forecheck. Understands lanes, plays within them, and typically takes the straight line to his spot – even if someone is in the way, or already there, he’ll go right through them. A surprisingly nimble skater for his size. He’s not a burner, but his mechanics are good and he can get out of the blocks rather quickly. Balance is good. Smooth. Hard to knock off the puck, or off his feet.
Not especially agile, nor does his lateral movement sparkle, but it’s not poor. Feet can be a little heavy moving side to side, but since he so rarely tries to avoid contact, just a small improvement could be plenty. Gets up the ice with a speed that catches defenders off guard, making him a very dangerous forechecker when it comes to turning pucks over and applying pressure to the other team’s defense corps. Considering how much ground he covers with his long, efficient strides, only a few small tweaks might be needed before he becomes a strong skater. He’s also a goal scorer. Pharand is presently the top goal scorer on his Sudbury club, with 8G in 14 games. And when you have guys like draftee David Goyette and draft eligible Quentin Musty, that’s not too shabby. While he can score his share of garbage goals from pucks just laying around the crease, he’s got a good nose for the puck and can simply outmuscle defenders to recover loose pucks in a crowd and get them to the crease…or into the net. But that’s not the only way he can put up points.
Pharand possesses a heavy, hard shot that he can get off with immediacy. With that rocket he can beat a goalie clean from the tops of the circles on in. So he’s got a number of qualities that could translate into scorer at higher levels. But Pharand still has some things to improve. His defense is a work in progress to say the least. He’s a willing defender, engaged in the play, but his reads leave something to be desired and defending in space can be an adventure. Additionally, his vision is limited. Pharand is not a playmaker at this point; he gets the puck and attacks the net, and there isn’t much nuance to his game yet. This calls into question whether he can be a center at higher levels, where distribution of the puck is critical, which would lower his value. This choice reminds me a lot of the Josh Bloom selection a couple years ago – a big, talented kid whose game needs a good amount of refining. Pharand has put up 12P in 15 games for a young but skilled Sudbury team that could have 4-5 kids drafted this year. A worthy gamble to take for the Sabres when you have the kind of depth in the pipeline that, if you miss, its OK due to all that depth.