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T. McGee’s 5-Round Mock NHL Draft

The Boston University Terriers celebrate a Macklin Celebrini goal during their 5-1 win over the UVM Catamounts on Friday evening at Gutterson Fieldhouse.

This was written by Die By The Blade reader T. McGee.

DBTBers – 

Hello, my fellow DBTB’ers!  As the playoff plot thickens (or thins), I took the opportunity to check out where the Draft stands.  You’ll thank me later.    

Unlike last time, we don’t have a plethora of international tournaments and glorified All-Star games to draw from.  But what we do have are leagues getting into the meat of their respective playoffs, and players stepping up in the clutch.  Other leagues are on the cusp of their playoffs, and then, we have the Frozen Four to deal with and the unusual amount of high-end prospects at that level.  

Europe always seems to lead the way when it comes to reaching the playoffs.  In Sweden, the U-20s are already smack in the middle of their playoff season.  And some of the usual suspects are leading the way at that level.  Oskar Vuollet, the dynamic, playmaking wing, has put up 7P in 2 games already.  Steady-eddie Melvin Fernstrom has 4P in 2 games (after getting 3 games in the SHL playoffs before Orebro got knocked out), and leading the defenders is Latvian Darells Uljanskis, a young, do-it-all type who’s notched 3P in 2 games.    

Russia always seems to get out of the gate early, and this year is no exception.  Their U-20 league, the MHL, already has gone deep into their playoffs.  And while you might think Ivan Demidov would be leading the way in that league, you’d be mistaken…McGee favorite Yegor Surin has dazzled with 14P in 7 games, while Top 10-consensus Demidov is on his heels, with 12P in 7 games.  Surprisingly, mountain of a defenseman Timur Kol has been the most productive blueliner thus far with 5P in 7 games.  

In Finland, their U-20 is also well into the second season.  There, another McGee favorite, Aatos Koivu, is playing some strong hockey for TPS with 3P in 2 games, while big power-forward Kasper Pikkarainen has continued his upward trajectory with 3P in 4 games.  Mitja Jokinen is leading the way from the blueline with 2P in 4 games, matching the more heralded Veeti Vaisanen on defense.  But perhaps most impressively, draft-eligible forward Konsta Helenius has managed to score 2P in 3 games in Liiga, Finland’s senior men’s league.  He’s been great all year and while many will cry ‘too small’, he could still be on the Board when the Sabres select.    

Over in North America, we’re gearing up for the CHL, USHL, and NCAA playoffs.  We’re probably still a month away from the USHL playoffs getting underway, as they are usually the last of the major junior leagues to start.  There will be a lot to watch, with a number of players threatening to secure a spot in Round 1 of the Draft: center Matvei Grinidin, who’s presently leading the entire league in scoring; diminutive forward Mac Swanson for the league’s top team, Fargo, who’s placing 2nd in scoring in the USHL at the moment; and McGee favorite power center Sasha Boisvert, who’s playing behind Grinidin at Muskegon with more than a PPG.  A lot of overagers having huge years in the U.  

At the CHL level, the 3 leagues are all prepping for their big moments in the spotlight come playoff time.  Both the OHL and the WHL get underway later this week;  the Q gets going over the weekend.  There are a ton of solid prospects from all three leagues, but the best once again come from the WHL, in particular big center Cayden Lindstrom, dazzling playmaker Berkley Catton, and two-way defender Carter Yakemchuk.   

And the NCAA Frozen Four tournament kicks off Thursday and wraps up in mid-April.  That will showcase who I believe to be the best defender in the Draft in Zeev Buium from U of Denver, another top defender in Artyom Levshunov from surprising Michigan State, and last but not least, the consensus #1 overall, Boston University centerman Macklin Celebrini.  Should be a lot of compelling hockey to watch coming down the stretch.  

The selection order coincided with when I started this Mock Draft.  Next up, a Big Board that should have my Top 100, and then we’ll follow that with a full 6- and 7-rounder before a final Big Board that should be my Top 125.  I’m thinking my Board will look a good bit different from what the majority of media are putting out.  As for the Sabres, they are going to have the luxury of drafting true BPA…they’re pretty deep at every position.  So you can’t go wrong with a scorer, a passer, or a defender.  Hope  you enjoy reading!  

Let’s go Sabres!      

ROUND ONE:       

#1: SAN JOSE: Macklin Celebrini, 5’11 C, NCAA 

#2: COLUMBUS: Cayden Lindstrom, 6’5 C, WHL 

#3: CHICAGO: Zeev Buium, 6’1 LHD, NCAA 

#4: ANAHEIM: Ivan Demidov, 5’11 RW, RUS  

#5: ARIZONA: Artyom Levshunov, 6’2 RHD, NCAA 

#6: OTTAWA: Konsta Helenius, 5’11 RW, FIN

#7: MONTREAL: Anton Silyayev, 6’7 LHD, RUS 

#8: NEW JERSEY: Zayne Parekh, 6’0 RHD, OHL 

#9: PITTSBURGH: Cole Eiserman, 6’0 RW, US NTDP 

#10: CALGARY: Tij Iginla, 6’0 LW, WHL

#11: BUFFALO: Jett Luchanko, 5’11 C, OHL 

#12: ST LOUIS: Berkly Catton, 5’11 C/LW, WHL

#13: SEATTLE: Sam Dickinson, 6’3 LHD, OHL

#14: MINNESOTA: Liam Greentree, 6’2 RW, OHL

#15: WASHINGTON: Carter Yakemchuk, 6’2 RHD, WHL 

#16: DETROIT: Sasha Boisvert, 6’2 C, USHL

#17: NY ISLANDERS: Matvei Grindin, 6’1 C, USHL

#18: CHICAGO (TAMPA BAY): Michael Braddsegg-Nygard, 6’1 RW, SWE 

#19: PHILADELPHIA: Emil Hemming, 6’2 LW, FIN 

#20: NASHVILLE: Igor Chernyshov, 6’2 LW, RUS 

#21: VEGAS: Trevor Connolly, 6’1 LW, USHL 

#22: LOS ANGELES: Charlie Elick, 6’4 RHD, WHL  

#23: TORONTO: Beckett Sennecke, 6’3 RW, OHL

#24: ANAHEIM (EDMONTON): Adam Jiricek, 6’1 RHD, CZE 

#25: CAROLINA: Nikita Artamonov, 5’11 RW, RUS

#26: COLORADO: Andrew Basha, 6’0 LW, WHL 

#27: DALLAS: Yegor Surin, 5’11 C/W, RUS 

#28: OTTAWA (BOSTON): Cole Hutson, 5’9 LHD, US NTDP 

#29: MONTREAL (WINNIPEG): Terik Paraschak, 5’11 RW, WHL 

#30: NY RANGERS: John Mustard, 6’1 C, USHL 

#31: CALGARY (VANCOUVER): Lukas Fischer, 6’4 LHD, OHL 

#32: PHILADELPHIA (FLORIDA): Matvei Shuravin, 6’3 LHD, RUS

ROUND TWO:  

#1: SAN JOSE: Alfons Freji, 6’1 LHD, SWE 

#2: CHICAGO: Michael Hage, 6’1 C, USHL 

#3: ANAHEIM: Maxim Masse, 6’2 LW, QMJHL 

#4: COLUMBUS: Will Skahan, 6’4 LHD, US NTDP 

#5: ARIZONA: Stian Solberg, 6’2 LHD, NWY 

#6: OTTAWA: Colton Roberts, 6’4 RHD, WHL 

#7: WINNIPEG (MONTREAL): Tanner Howe, 5’10 RW, WHL 

#8: NEW JERSEY: Luke Misa, 5’10 C, OHL 

#9: PITTSBURGH: Aron Kiviharju, 5’10 LHD, FIN 

#10: CALGARY: Adam Jecho, 6’3 RW, FIN 

#11: BUFFALO: Spencer Gill, 6’3 RHD, QMJHL

#12: ST LOUIS: EJ Emery, 6’5 LHD, US NTDP 

#13: SEATTLE: Ryder Ritchie, 6’0 LW, WHL 

#14: MINNESOTA: Henry Mews, 6’0 RHD, OHL 

#15: ARIZONA (WASHINGTON): Dean Letourneau, 6’6 C, OJHL 

#16: DETROIT: Lucas Pettersson, 6’0 C, SWE 

#17: NY ISLANDERS: Dominik Badinka, 6’2 RHD, FIN

#18: NASHVILLE (TAMPA BAY): Leo Sahlin-Wallenius, 6’0 LHD, SWE  

#19: CAROLINA (PHILADELPHIA): Simon Zether, 6’3 C, SWE

#20: NASHVILLE: Raoul Boillard, 6’1 C, QMJHL

#21: WASHINGTON (VEGAS): Sam O’Reilly, 6’1 RW, OHL 

#22: CHICAGO (LOS ANGELES): Karl Sterner, 6’3 RW, SWE 

#23: ST LOUIS (TORONTO): Cole Beaudoin, 6’2 C, OHL 

#24: EDMONTON: Tomas Galvas, 5’10 LHD, CZE 

#25: CAROLINA: Veeti Vasainien, 6’0 LHD, FIN

#26: MONTREAL (COLORADO): Max Curran, 6’3 C, WHL 

#27: DALLAS: Ondrej Kos, 6’1 LW, FIN

#28: ANAHEIM (BOSTON): Miguel Marques, 6’0 W, WHL 

#29: NASHVILLE (WINNIPEG): Jamiro Reber, 5’10 C, SWISS

#30: SEATTLE (NY RANGERS): Luca Marelli, 6’2 RHD, OHL 

#31: CHICAGO (VANCOUVER): Kamil Bednarek, 6’0 C, US NTDP

#32: ARIZONA (FLORIDA): Melvin Fernstrom, 6’1 C/RW, SWE

#33: PHILADELPHIA: Noel Fransen, 6’1 LHD, SWE

ROUND THREE 

#1: ANAHEIM (SAN JOSE): Tarin Smith, 6’1 LHD, WHL 

#2: CHICAGO:  Marek Vanacker, 6’0 LW, OHL 

#3: ANAHEIM: Ryerson Leenders, 6’2 G, OHL 

#4: COLUMBUS: Teddy Stiga, 5’10 RW, US 

#5: ARIZONA: Carson Wetsch, 6’3 RW, WHL

#6: CHICAGO (OTTAWA): Harrison Brunicke, 6’2 RHD, WHL 

#7: MONTREAL: Adam Kleber, 6’5 RHD, USHL 

#8: NEW JERSEY: Nathan Villeneuve, 6’0 C, OHL 

#9: ANAHEIM (PITTSBURGH): Oskar Vuollet, 5’10 C/W, SWE

#10: CALGARY: David Svozil, 6’1 LHD, FIN 

#11: BUFFALO: Markus Gidlof, 6’4 G, SWE 

#12: ST LOUIS: Eemil Vinni, 6’2 G, FIN

#13: SEATTLE: Christian Humphreys, 5’10 C, US NTDP

#14: MONTREAL (MINNESOTA): Felix Lacerte, 5’10 C, QMJHL 

#15: WASHINGTON: Andrei Krutov, 5’11 W, RUS

#16: DETROIT: Danill Ustinkov, 6’1 LHD, SWISS 

#17: WASHINGTON (NY ISLANDERS): Leon Muggli, 6’0 LHD, SWISS

#18: SAN JOSE (TAMPA BAY):  Kevin He, 6’1 LW, OHL  

#19: PHILADELPHIA: Caleb Heil, 6’3 G, USHL 

#20: NASHVILLE: Kim Saarinen, 6’4 G, FIN

#21: VEGAS: Jakub Fibigr, 6’1 LHD, OHL

#22: COLUMBUS (LOS ANGELES): Markus Kearsey, 5’11 LHD, QMJHL 

#23: SEATTLE (TORONTO): Justin Poirier, 5’8 RW, QMJHL 

#24: ARIZONA (EDMONTON): Julius Miettinen, 6’3 C, WHL

#25: CAROLINA: Will Zellers, 5’11 C, US HS 

#26: ARIZONA (COLORADO): Tomas Lavoie, 6’3 RHD, QMJHL

#27: NASHVILLE (DALLAS): Hagen Burrows, 6’2 W, US HS 

#28: WASHINGTON (BOSTON): Aatos Koivu, 6’0 C, FIN

#29: NEW JERSEY (WINNIPEG): Timur Kol, 6’3 RHD, RUS

#30: ST LOUIS (NY RANGERS): Ben Danford, 6’1 LHD, OHL 

#31: VANCOUVER: Sebastian Sioni, 6’1 LHD, FIN

#32: FLORIDA: Gabriel Eliasson, 6’6 LHD, SWE

ROUND FOUR: 

#1: ARIZONA (SAN JOSE): Axel Nyman, 6’5 G, SWE 

#2: NASHVILLE (CHICAGO): Darels Uljanskis, 6’1 LHD, SWE

#3: ANAHEIM: Lucas Van Vliet, 6’1 C, US NTDP

#4: COLUMBUS: Eriks Mateiko, 6’4 LW, QMJHL

#5: ARIZONA: Kasper Pikkarainen, 6’3 RW, FIN 

#6: OTTAWA: Jacob Battaglia, 6’1 RW, OHL 

#7: MONTREAL: Alexandre Blais, 5’10 RW, QMJHL

#8: VANCOUVER (NEW JERSEY): Tuomas Suoniemi, 5’10 C, FIN 

#9: PITTSBURGH: Jakub Milota, 6’2 G, QMJHL 

#10: CALGARY: Hiroki Gojsic, 6’3 RW, BCHL  

#11: BUFFALO: Colin Ralph, 6’4 LHD, US HS 

#12: ST LOUIS: Tory Pitner, 6’1 RHD, USHL 

#13: SEATTLE: Nicholas Kempf, 6’2 G, US NTDP

#14: MINNESOTA: Artyom Shchuchinov, 5’11 LHD, RUS

#15: WASHINGTON: Max Plante, 5’10 C, US NTDP 

#16: OTTAWA (DETROIT): Riley Patterson, 6’0 C, OHL 

#17: NY ISLANDERS: Christian Kirsch, 6’4 G, SWISS

#18: OTTAWA (TAMPA BAY): Gabrial Frasca, 6’0 C, OHL

#19: BUFFALO (PHILADELPHIA): Herman Traff, 6’3 RW, SWE

#20: NASHVILLE: Will Felicio, 5’11 LHD, USHL 

#21: SAN JOSE (VEGAS):  Will McIssac, 6’4 RHD, WHL

#22: LOS ANGELES: Ollie Josephson, 6’0 C, WHL

#23: TORONTO: Nilopekka Muhonen, 6’4 LHD, FIN 

#24: NASHVILLE (EDMONTON): Linus Eriksson, 6’0 C, SWE 

#25: CAROLINA: Erik Olsson, 6’2 G, SWE

#26: COLORADO:  Javon Moore, 6’2 RW, US HS 

#27: DETROIT (DALLAS): Jack Pridham, 6’1 RW, BCHL

#28: BOSTON: Brodie Ziemer, 5’11 RW, US NTDP 

#29: WINNIPEG: Keith McInnis, 6’1 LHD, USHL

#30: NY RANGERS: Alexander Zetterberg, 5’8 C, SWE  

#31: VANCOUVER:  Matvei Babenko, 6’3 RW, RUS

#32: FLORIDA: Jonnie Morello, 6’3 C, OJHL 

ROUND FIVE:  

#1: MONTREAL (SAN JOSE): Mac Swanson, 5’8 C, USHL

#2: CHICAGO: Carter George, 6’1 G, OHL 

#3: COLORADO (ANAHEIM): Max Vilen, 6’2 LHD, SWE 

#4: COLUMBUS: Clarke Caswell, 5’11 LW, WHL 

#5: ARIZONA: Topias Hyninnen, 5’10 C/RW, FIN 

#6: OTTAWA: Heikki Ruohonen, 6’1 C, FIN 

#7: MONTREAL: John Whipple, 6’1 LHD, US NTDP 

#8: NEW JERSEY: Parker Von Richter, 6’1 RHD, OHL

#9: SAN JOSE (PITTSBURGH): Miro Holinka, 6’2 C, CZE 

#10: CHICAGO (CALGARY): Carson Woodall, 5’11 LHD, OHL 

#11: MINNESOTA (BUFFALO): Jack Burglund, 6’3 RW, SWE 

#12: ST LOUIS: Erik Burger, 5’11 LHD, SWE 

#13: COLORADO (SEATTLE): Logan Sawyer, 6’1 C/LW, BCHL

#14: MINNESOTA: Alexander Shen, 6’0 C/RW, RUS 

#15: WASHINGTON: Mikhail Yegorov, 6’4 G, USHL 

#16: DETROIT: Nico Antenen, 6’2 C, SWISS 

#17: NY ISLANDERS: Diego Johnson, 5’11 RW, AJHL  

#18: TAMPA BAY: Alexander Siryatsky, 6’2 LHD, RUS 

#19: FLORIDA (PHILADELPHIA): Matthieu Tallifer, 6’0 RHD, AJHL 

#20: CHICAGO (NASHVILLE): Aiden Park, 6’0 C/W, US HS

#21: PHILADELPHIA (VEGAS): Anthony Cristoforo, 5’11 RHD, OHL

#22: PHILADELPHIA (LOS ANGELES):  Cooper Cleaves, 6’4 RHD, US HS 

#23: TORONTO: Luka Testa, 6’0 C, OHL 

#24: EDMONTON: Brenden McMorrow, 6’2 LW, US NTDP 

#25: CAROLINA: Gian Meier, 6’2 RHD, SWISS 

#26: NEW JERSEY (COLORADO): Dawson Cowan, 6’1 G, WHL

#27: BOSTON: Alexis Bernier, 6’1 RHD, QMJHL

#28: DALLAS: Bryce Pickford, 6’1 RHD, WHL  

#29: NY RANGERS: Josef Eichler, 6’0 RHD, OHL

#30: WINNIPEG: Charlie Hilton, 6’5 C, OHL

#31: TORONTO (VANCOUVER): Roman Shokhrin, 6’5 LHD, RUS 

#32: FLORIDA: Maxim Velikov, 6’1 RW, RUS 

SABRES’ Big Haul:  

Rd 1, #11: BUFFALO: Jett Luchanko, 5’11 C, OHL

Many of you might be asking yourself “Who?” with this choice.  Or “this is too high.”  Hang in there with me.  It’s a reach as of right now, I agree.  But he’s going to rise up the Board.  And this is a player who checks a lot of boxes for the Sabres.  First off, he’s very young for this class, missing the cut-off date for next year’s Draft by a couple of weeks.  Still, he’s the leading scorer for a team in playoff position with 4 NHL draft picks on the roster.  Not too shabby.  And he’s only going to get better.  What boxes does he check? 

First, you have to love the name, right?  Jett?  Too good.  But on the ice, he’s a coach’s dream.  His skating is through the roof.  Explosive burst, maybe the best in this class.  He just rockets out of a dead stop.  Lateral skating is exceptional.  Can change directions smoothly, without a lot of wasted motion, and accelerate right out of the turn with only a couple of cross-overs to get him going.  Will just blow past defenders and win races for the puck.  Won the skating competition at the CHL Top Prospects Game, as well as the top cumulative score in all the on-ice testing. 

Can shift gears at will, putting defenders on their heels and creating space for himself to shoot or pass the puck.  A terror in transition.  Constantly beats defenders to the net front.  His motor never runs out of gas.  A high-compete, high-energy forward who doesn’t take a shift off.  Luchanko is constantly hustling, whether racing back to backcheck, barreling into the corner to compete for pucks, or dropping to block a clapper in a 7-0 game.  Won’t quit on a loose puck anywhere on the sheet.  You can play him on any line, in any situation, and he’ll give it all for you.  Has an edge and plays with a fire that you can’t miss.  A very detail-oriented player.  Zach Benson-like in his ability to stick lift while positioning his body to win a puck battle against much bigger players.  Understands leverage on both ends of the ice.  Really smart checker – never chases, always positioned correctly with stick-on-puck. 

Gets inside bigger players to disrupt their ability to handle the puck, creates a ton of turnovers on the forecheck.  Stick positioning is typically sound, manages to get in the way of a lot of transition chances or attempts to get to the slot, and keeps his hands and stick free on the offensive end, enabling him to make plays with defenders hanging on him.  Stops on pucks.  No drive-bys for him.  Perhaps his most dangerous quality is his head for the game.  Unlike some younger players with great wheels, Luchanko isn’t just flying all over the ice every shift.  He’s calculated in how he uses his speed.  Seems to have a great feel for space and when to attack, and when to rein it in.  Doesn’t get out of position very often on either end.  Opportunistic.  And his processor is high-end.  He can recognize patterns and assess coverages at high speed, with or without the puck, and make the right play most of the time. 

Hands are very good; not elite, but the way he uses them with his feet make him a lot more of a threat with the puck than he first appears.  Particularly good in transition or in the shootout.  A strong playmaker.  This kid can make plays in transition with a variety of seeing-eye sauce to streaking forwards, drawing defenders and finding trailers going to open ice, or sending the puck across the crease.  In sets, or off the cycle, he’s a clever passer who finds ways to get pucks into high-danger areas, particularly in the low slot.  More of a passer than a shooter, his shot is not a weapon yet. 

Luchanko understands this and rarely tries to rip a puck from beyond the dots.  Some of that will improve as he gets stronger.  He’s grown about 2.5 inches since the Summer and is still only about 165#.  The good news is the Sabres can be patient with him, let him work on getting stronger and more powerful.  But this is a kid who’s going to wear a C in the OHL, and if he continues along the development arc he’s on, he would be a perfect middle-6 center for the Sabres in a few years.  Has put up 69P in 62 games, including 50A.  That’s quite a jump from 14P in 43 games last season.       

 

Rd 2, #11: BUFFALO: Spencer Gill, 6’4 RHD, QMJHL

Another youngster in this Draft class, Gill missed the cut-off for next year’s Draft by about a month.  Still, he’s a tower on the back-end (6’4 185#), and his stock continues to rise in a class full of talented blueliners.  Gill’s game is predominantly as a two-way puck transporter.  He’s responsible in his own end and is very measured in when and how he takes his chances.  Excellent anticipation.  Knows where he wants to go with the puck before it winds up on his stick.  Super first pass.  Recovers pucks quickly and gets them going the other way in the blink of an eye.  His breakout passes are always on time, and accurate, triggering transition.  Head always up, always surveying the ice looking for lanes.  His vision is high-end, and his smarts for understanding defensive structure and using it to get pucks to open teammates heading up ice is high level. 

For a big man, Gill’s puck skills are surprisingly good.  Passes are delivered hard and accurately, easy to handle.  He can navigate the Neutral Zone with strong puck handling and has the skill to beat defenders one-on-one at the blue line and create breakdowns in the O-zone.  That puck handling skill also helps in transition.  If an obvious zone exit pass is not there, he’s more than capable of carrying the puck out of his end, getting the rush started that way.  His game continues to evolve and improve.  With it, Gill has a growing poise in handling forecheckers and managing the puck.  Rarely makes a mistake with the puck.  Even those rare mistakes are becoming fewer and farther between.  That also extends to his judgment on when and where to pinch down.  Seeing him get caught up ice and behind the play happens far less frequently that it did earlier in the year. 

Really slick operator in the O-zone.  Runs the PP for Rimouski with a great deal of command.  Walks the blue line and has a bomb of a clapper from the point.  A heavy shot.  Passing isn’t especially creative in the O-zone, but he makes the smart, effective play that keeps the PP moving.  Now let’s get to the important part for a defenseman: the D-Zone.  Gill’s struggled in the past to defend in space, especially off-the-puck, but he’s improved dramatically in those areas over the course of the season.  He’s much better on-puck, where he uses his long stick and clever footwork to gap up tightly and shrink the options that the puck handler has.  Not to mention a good awareness of how to use his size when fighting for leverage. 

He does well around the net, not always clearing the crease, but at least tying up his opponent and putting his size and his bulk to good use in protecting the net.  Speaking of his stick, that’s another strong point in his game.  A longer stick, it snaps out like a whip to knock pucks away from opposing forwards or deflecting shots away from the net.  That, coupled with his reach, makes him a tough defender to get around while possessing the puck.  Continuing to improve his awareness away from the puck will do wonders for his game. 

On the improvement front, Gill could also use an upgrade in his skating.  He’s not a bad skater per se, but he’s a little slow changing direction and his linear speed isn’t the best.  So adding some explosion to his skating should be at the top of his list.  If he can do that and get stronger to better handle smaller forwards trying to bull to the net, he’ll be an excellent jack-of-all-trades sort of defender.  Gill’s already put up 41P in 63 games, making him the #2 scoring draft-eligible D-Man in the Q.  There’s a lot of raw ability here to work with, and the Sabres can be patient with his development.  Another big, skilled RHD in the pipeline.    

Rd 3, #11: BUFFALO: Markus Gidlof, 6’6 G, SWE

A goalie?  In this economy?  It’s true.  Yes, the Sabres have two of the most promising young goaltenders in hockey with Levi and UPL.  They also have a couple of prospect goalies in Leinonen and Ratzlaff.  But imagine if one of the two young goalies outright wins the job…maybe the other one gets traded.  And one of the prospects gets promoted.  Think the Noronen – Biron – Miller situation from back in the day.  Now things are looking thin between the pipes.  Enter Gidlof.  Another massive tendy like UPL and Leinonen, Gidlof is a kid who has made a name for himself with a stellar season for Leksands in the U-20 league over in Sweden. 

An attacking style goalie, Gidlof is especially aggressive in challenging shooters, living at the top of his crease and using his giant frame to shrink shooting angles.  He uses that size to great effect when the puck is in his own end, remaining upright for far longer than a lot of pure butterfly goalies.  He also possesses very good athleticism.  Moves well laterally, can get out of the crease to handle pucks, and is very quick coming out of his net to get to the edges of the crease.  Sometimes that quickness can be used against him.  His mindset is to challenge, and he can get out of position quickly, which opens up all kinds of scoring opportunities for his opponents.  Perhaps Gidlof’s best ability involves the way he handles rebounds. 

Has excellent puck tracking.  Again, uses his size to see over or around smaller forwards and locate pucks.  Will set himself up in position to be a blocker of the puck, (rather than ‘making a save’) but he just gobbles up shots.  Rebounds are either non-existent, or they are directed precisely where this kid wants them to go.  Rarely does a rebound wind up back in the slot or laying around the top of the crease.  His anticipation isn’t always the best, and while he can track the puck well, he doesn’t always see plays developing ahead of time. 

Quick strike plays – like a diagonal back-door pass – can beat him more than it should.  But when he can identify a shooter, can get his pads flat to the ice and staying upright, there is precious little to shoot at for oncoming forwards.  Could get a better glove hand, as he drops many and he can be slow to cover pucks around the net, but his basics are solid and his size is exceptional.  A little coaching could go a long way with this kid.  Right now, Gidlof has posted a stellar 2.22 GAA in Sweden’s U-20 league, and an even more impressive .923 SV%. 

He’s even seen one game of action up in the SHL, Sweden’s top Men’s League.  Still work to do on his game, but they can leave him over in Sweden to develop for a few years before he comes over to North America.  We know the Sabres love their Swedes.  This could be a nice match to improve goalie depth for years to come.    

Rd 4, #11: BUFFALO: Colin Ralph, 6’4 LHD, US HS 

Lanky monster of a kid who loves to play physical and grind players down but has the puck skills and vision to be a contributor on the offensive end as well.  Still raw, Ralph is off to St. Cloud State next season, but currently suits up for the legendary Shattuck – St. Mary’s prep team.  A monstrous high-schooler (6’4 230#), the kid skates well for his size, has some offensive upside to his game, and owns a nice mean streak. 

The first thing you notice about him is his sheer size.  He’s huge, and coupled with his mobility, makes him an absolute bear to try and beat in the O-zone.  Has a long reach, an active stick, and lateral agility so he can keep gaps fairly tight, but when you try to escape him, you can’t.  He just engulfs smaller players.  Some players his size do not play to their size, but Ralph is a power-defender.  Once he pins a forward on the wall, they aren’t going anywhere.  He clears the crease easily.  And when he puts a hit on you, you’re rattled.  He anticipates well, which makes him even more effective, and his surprisingly quick feet allow him to close out on opponents before they can make a play. 

So this is a kid who, even at this level of experience, understands how to employ his size and strength to defend and make it difficult on the other team.  A menace in the Neutral Zone, he maintains good gaps on the opposition, and uses his size to disrupt zone entries.  Can shut transition down with his stickwork and quick feet.  Not afraid to give a little shove after the whistle, or hold his check against the boards a couple beats too long.  A pain to play against.  But where he really catches you by surprise is his slick play in the offensive zone.  As if a switch turns on when the puck hits his blade. 

Ralph can shake a forward up with a hit in the corner, recover the puck, and put a crisp, accurate pass on a teammate’s tape exiting the zone all in a flash.  Skates very smoothly.  Not explosive, but his movement up ice and ability to slide laterally are remarkable.  When you see a kid with his size moving in either direction along the blue line looking for a shooting lane, it’s a little jarring.  Has a heavy, hard shot that he uses intelligently.  Keeps pucks low and tries to create rebounds.  Doesn’t usually shoot to score.  Snaps off hard, quick passes all over the O-zone. 

He is the top scoring defender on Shattuck, runs both the PP and the PK.  Put up 55P in 49 games thus far.  I would expect him to be a riser as more scouts get a look at the kid, but for now, the Sabres get themselves a steal in the 4th round.  Could become a MacKenzie Weegar-type of blueliner in the future if all goes well.       

Rd 4, #19: BUFFALO (PHILADELPHIA): Herman Traff, 6’3 RW, SWE

Speaking of Swedes, here’s a big, fluid wing from Sweden who likes to play a heavy game.  At 6’3 205# already, he’s a beast coming down the wing in transition or on the forecheck.  Traff is a highly athletic player with a ton of natural talent.  He’s got size, he can really skate, and he plays a fearless kind of hockey.  The question marks revolve around his skill level and his head for the game.  First off, for a kid at his size, Traff plays with a ton of pace.  He’s always going full speed, and he has a lot of it.  An excellent skater especially at his size, Traff has awesome linear speed and can get up and down the ice with ease, winning races for loose pucks and getting in on the forecheck quickly and effectively.  His lateral skating is good, enabling him to move side-to-side when in full flight, but could use some improvement in small areas where footwork and core strength are so important. 

Gives full effort on every shift and never quits on a play.  Will chase down forwards on the back check, create turnovers with his quickness and length, and attack puck carriers with his body and his stick.  Is a shooter first, and has a formidable snapper and heavy wrist shot he can get off with power to beat goalies clean from the top of the circles on in. 

Traff is a solid defender for a wing as well.  Moves his feet, uses his length to disrupt puck carriers and forces them to give up the puck rather than make a play.  Not afraid to throw his body around.  Maintains stick-on-puck and seems to understand the details of defending in space.  At his best when playing a simple, linear game.  This is due to one of the main question marks around his game: how quickly does he process situations?  Traff is methodical with the puck in the O-zone, often hanging on to it for too long.  Not a creative passer, often relies on simple, even obvious plays rather than attempt to make a more dynamic play that could lead to a scoring chance. 

Can he put all the pieces together consistently and become a legit middle-6 forward?  It’s possible, particularly due to the injuries he’s suffered this season that have impacted his consistency, and his surprisingly long stay in the SHL (Sweden’s top Men’s League) where he got ten games for a struggling HV71 club.  Traff did put up 21P in 26 games (including 13G) at the U-20 level.  He could become a Girgensons-type of player down the road (although bigger and faster)…but if he tops out, you could be looking at a Ivan Barbashev sort of player.  

Rd 6, #11: BUFFALO:  David Green, 6’2 LHD, OJHL 

Adding another defender to their growing wealth of blueliners, the Sabres select a player who they can take the long view with.  Green is a very young player for his draft class and playing Tier II junior hockey for Saint Mike’s in Toronto.  But he’s part of a very good recruiting class at Merrimack and will likely be 3-4-5 years away from seeing the NHL if he ever does.  That said, Green has a lot of talent on both sides of the red line.  A puck dominant defenseman, he has a knack for taking pucks away from opposing forwards and either skating or passing the puck up ice all in the same motion. 

The speed in which he can turn attacks around and get the puck moving the other way is impressive.  Always in an attacking mindset.  Stands up at the blueline, tries to disrupt zone entries and force opponents to give up pucks before they can create something in the zone.  Does not play it safe defensively.  Very smart.  Has a habit of being in the right spot and the right time in all three zones.  Reads are usually right, and even if he gets there a step late, he’s usually in position to recover without giving up a dangerous chance. 

Not a big hitter, Green does use his size to interrupt cycles or get leverage on opposing forwards.  His first pass is sharp and on-time.  Manages to get the puck to his exiting forward however he needs to – bank passes off the wall, threading the needle between forecheckers, or a quick lead pass into space.  And that attacking style follows the puck up the ice.  He’s often the trailer on odd-man rushes or transition chances, where he can collect a drop pass and either distribute it to the open guy or fire a rocket into the top corner. 

Out of sets, Green can execute a laser of a cross-ice diagonal pass, look off a defender and find a teammate below the dots, or sauce him a pass on the tape from across the slot.  He also has a wide arsenal of shots.  Each of them he can get off quickly, with a hair-trigger release, and create opportunities to score with any of them.  Where Green needs to improve is his skating.  He’s not slow, nor is he unbalanced, but he doesn’t have much of a burst and he could use some work on the smoothness of his transitions from forward to backward and vice versa.  This will help him maximize his hockey smarts and get to spots ahead of his opponents.  Both on offense and defense.  That, and getting stronger. 

He will likely play in a tougher league next season, and then in the NCAA the following year, so he needs to prepare to play against tougher, heavier, stronger competition.  Green finished as a top goal scoring D-Man in his league, and the top offensive blueliner.  But he’s got a long development arc ahead, and the Sabres take a chance late on a potentially strong two-way defender.