This mock draft is not what I think will happen. It's just a little fun to see what is possible. I take into account actual insider reports as my base, just to keep things real (no McDavid or Makar to Buffalo, sorry). Here we go.
New Jersey reportedly wants to trade out of the second overall pick to trade for NHL players. There's a problem with that type of trade. I don't see many available players worth that high of a pick. Rumors are out there about trading for Alex DeBrincat and JT Miller, neither of whom are worth the second pick. Chicago and Vancouver would really have to add to make it worth Tom Fitzgerald's time. I don't see Chicago adding those types of assets, or even having them. Vancouver would need to make it a quantity-for-quality trade, and I don't see Jim Rutherford making that type of move.
Here's where Buffalo comes in. The Athletic posted a trade value chart for the draft in 2020, so we'll go to that as a basis for trades. The second pick is worth 12.7 points. The ninth pick is worth 6.7 points. The 16th pick is worth 4.7 points. So, the Sabres are within the ballpark of reality, having 11.4 points available to move up. The needed 1.3 points grades out to pick 57. So, a Sabres trade of 9, 16, and the middle 2nd round pick in 2023 probably gets this deal completed value-wise.
But what makes Fitzgerald do it? The Sabres will need to add a sweetener. Buffalo has a bit of an NCAA problem, with Ryan Johnson, Devon Levi, and Erik Portillo choosing to stay in college. Of the reasons given, I believe Levi, as he's always done something unconventional. The Devils have Mackenzie Blackwood in the NHL and Nico Daws in Utica, but don't have much else of projectable value in the organization. Offer Portillo and see if Fitzgerald bites. For this exercise, we say he does.
Buffalo trades pick 9, 16, conditional 2023 2nd round pick, and Erik Portillo to New Jersey for pick 2.
New Jersey then takes the two picks in the 2022 draft and uses them to trade for DeBrincat and Miller, achieving their goal of adding veteran help.
Why does Kevyn Adams make this trade? Center is the hidden roster hole on this team. Casey Mittelstadt has been hurt and we still don't know what he'll become. Cozens is a good center but might be better at wing. Whether Peyton Krebs is a center or winger is still undetermined. Only Tage Thompson is a proven top 6 center.
Adams can sit tight and know that Logan Cooley is going to be available with the second pick. But he aims a little higher. Shane Wright is the perfect player addition for this roster. He's a two way center projectable into the Patrice Bergeron or Ryan O'Reilly mold of top line center. A center spine of Thompson - Mittelstadt - Wright would be enviable, especially for playoff style hockey. Also imagine Krebs - Wright - Cozens as a line.
This trade is where the Sabres have to give and it'll hurt. It's also where fans need to realize that the Sabres are on the development path which will put them as a bubble playoff team, not into competition for Connor Bedard. The step down for Montreal is worth is 5.4 points, worth between the 12th and 13th pick in the draft. The Sabres will likely draft near that range in the first round of 2023. There's no way Adams trades this pick without top 10 protection, which is a fairly standard practice, and he'll likely get it. However, the Sabres will need to add a sweetener.
The Canadiens are at the cap limit now, and need to make some room. Jonathan Drouin hasn't been much of a contributor for Montreal for three seasons. Certainly he's not worth his $5.5M price tag. Kent Hughes needs to move a contract or two, and Drouin should be near the top of his list. Getting a quality contributor back on a low contract would be nice.
Buffalo trades pick #2, a 2023 1st round pick (top 10 protected), and forward Anders Bjork (50% retention) to Montreal for pick #1, forward Jonathan Drouin, and forward Luke Tuch.
Adams then buys Drouin out. He'll cost $1.833,334 for the next two seasons, a time when the Sabres can afford to eat a contract. Adams asks for Tuch to help even out the cost of taking on Drouin's full contract while giving back a cheap NHL forward.
To the draft.... here's how I see things playing out.
1. Buffalo (from Montreal): Shane Wright, forward
2. Montreal (from NJ through Buffalo): Logan Cooley, forward
3. Arizona: Juraj Slafkovsky, forward
4. Seattle: Simon Nemec, defenseman
5: Philadelphia: David Jiricek, defenseman
6: Columbus (from Chicago): Cutter Gauthier, forward
7: Ottawa: Matthew Savoie, forward
8: Detroit: Marco Kasper, forward
9: Chicago (from Buffalo through NJ): Frank Nazar, forward (anticipated DeBrincat trade)
10: Anaheim: Joakim Kemell, forward
11: San Jose: Kevin Korchinski, defenseman
12: Columbus (from Chicago): Jonathan Lekkerimaki, forward
13: NY Islanders: Connor Geekie, forward
14: Winnipeg: Pavel Mintyukov, defenseman
15: Vancouver: Liam Ohgren, forward
So, here's where the trade history will get weird. Vegas owned this pick originally, but it transferred to Buffalo as part of the Jack Eichel trade. Buffalo sent it to New Jersey as part of the trade to acquire the 2nd pick. New Jersey then sent that pick to Vancouver as part of a deal to acquire JT Miller.
Adams sees Rutger McGroarty available. If there's a player who checks all the "what it means to be a Sabre" boxes, it's McGroarty. So Adams dials up Jim Rutherford and offers pick 28 and 43, which is worth slightly more than pick 16. Rutherford is rebuilding so he takes the offer.
16: Buffalo (from Buffalo through Vegas, NJ, and Vancouver): Rutger McGroarty, forward
I won't go further into the draft, since the next Sabres' pick is 73. But coming away with Wright and McGroarty makes for a good day 1, in addition to adding a power forward in Tuch. It sets Adams up nicely to add a free agent right handed defenseman (PK Subban?) and a goaltender (Jack Campbell?). Assume the Sabres sign those two and re-sign RFAs, here's what the opening night roster could look like (purposely avoiding line combinations, because fans get lost in those):
LW: Skinner, Asplund, Krebs, Quinn, Girgensons
C: Thompson, Mittelstadt, Ruotsalainen, Wright
RW: Olofsson, Tuch, Cozens, Peterka, Okposo
LD: Power, Samuelsson, Bryson
RD: Dahlin, Jokiharju, Subban, Fitzgerald
G: Campbell, UPL
This plan does take a chunk out of both the 2022 and 2023 drafts to get things done. But this plan also takes into account the Sabres already long list of young players on the NHL roster, in Rochester, and still developing. But, unlike the Tim Murray years, it's not a rebuild acceleration. It's a rebuild completion. Wright is a high floor prospect who fills a role the Sabres really need. The Sabres need some power forwards, and adding Tuch and McGroarty to the prospect pool could really beef the team up. And the Sabres don't kill themselves with long term contracts that will hamstring negotiations once the bevy of kids come to the table with expiring contracts.
Thanks for reading and fire away in the comments!