31 in 31 Series, July: Buffalo Sabres
The Sabres had an active draft, as expected, but the main and obvious prize was the elite Swede Rasmus Dahlin. The Sabres had a few goals coming in to the draft, lining up with their young core. Jack Eichel, Alex Nylander and Casey Mittelstadt are obvious young forwards that have locked down the future up front for the Sabres, however their defensive pool lacked some strength at the back end. Obviously Dahlin helps, but they also used most of their picks to fill out the depth of their back end.
Another goal was to add some beef to the prospect pool, and they did so through Samuelsson and Pekar, two hard-nosed players that have added a harder shell to the core. The Sabres made one trade, getting rid of their 2018 sixth for Toronto’s 2019 sixth, a move which seems lateral, if nothing backwards considering they held the worst record in the NHL this year, however the draft next year could be viewed as a deeper class, so this trade could get a pass.
Round 1 – D Rasmus Dahlin (1st Overall)
Obviously the unanimous number one choice here for the Sabres, just the complete package, and guaranteed No. 1 defenseman. From the young age of 16 we could all see his offensive prowess and skill through many international tournaments and games. Playing in the Swedish top tier of hockey with guys double his age, some even old enough to be his dad, Rasmus showed not only his ability to dominate offensively through his incredible skating, slick hands, all seeing vision, and puck rushing skills, but also his solid defensive two-way game which is an incredible asset. Having the best offensive skillset in the draft and still being known as a two-way defenseman speaks volumes to his defensive skill.
He has very few flaws in his game, if you could even call them flaws. He needs to prove his slap shot from the point and add some velocity to it. His accuracy is very good and his wrist shot is nice, but some added power could work wonders. He also needs to add some muscle and weight, but that can be said for all teenagers in the draft. Not only will Dahlin be a staple on whatever team he joins off the bat, but he’ll bring some power play prowess spraying some fantastic passes and setting up great options for his teammates. He can’t be expected to log insane minutes in his first year, he’ll need to work on his strength and muscle mass before doing so. Don’t expect some McDavid level numbers on his first season, but he should contribute well. The left handed defenseman has the potential to be one of the greatest defenders this league has seen with his insane skill set. Another impressive facet of his skating game is how well he is at moving in all directions with fluidity, adapting to the situation at hand and cutting down the angles.
Round 2 – D Mattias Samuelsson (32nd Overall)
The Sabres selected the safe American defenseman Mattias Samuelsson with the first selection of the second round. Mattias has a large 6-4 frame and an NHL ready body which he uses effectively, taking calculated risks in whatever he does. He looks a lot closer to NHL play than other and plays a very strong defensive game. Samuelsson racked up over 100 penalty minutes so his discipline could be improved, but he brings a valuable physical presence to any team he plays on and skates very well and balanced for a 220-pound big man. He utilizes his size well in defensive situations and along the boards, as well as blocking shots in front of the net. He needs to develop his offensive game and add some zest into it, as well as improve his skating some more to make him a nightmare to play against. He’s already feared by forwards, I know I wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of a 6-4, 220-pound kid skating into you at full force.
Round 3 – Traded Pick
Round 4 – LW/C Matej Pekar (94th Overall)
The Czech winger made a nice transition over to the USHL and has played well with Muskegon this year. He’s primarily a playmaker and plays a very tidy defensive game. Matej is a very hard worker who can play up and down the lineup and in multiple situations. He’s used well on the power play and penalty kill, contributing with his range of passing and vision which he uses to set up teammates for good scoring looks. He’s got a solid and clinical shot, scoring on his good chances reliably, making him a dual threat off the wing. He’s played center on occasion but will surely be a winger. He’s a strong player off of the boards, winning battles and helping his team transition, but also being very defensively responsible and mature as a hockey player. The tenacious winger has a bite to his game, something that could prove worthful to the Sabres young squad. Pekar could be ready for the NHL in two years and would most likely feature in the bottom six to start.
Round 5 – D Miska Kukkonen (125th Overall)
Kukkonen is a smooth-skating two-way Finnish defenseman who’s played out the last year in the Jr. A SM-liiga with Ilves U20. The Sabres select another defenseman, their third of four in the draft, and a good piece to add to their growing corporation. As long as one or two of the many defenseman selected over the past few years pan out to be NHL regulars, the late and mid round defense selections can pay off. One that is looking up is that of Kukkonen, somewhat of an underlooked talent on both ends of the ice. Kukkonen pairs some good vision and passing skills with his skating ability and has some good defensive abilities. Kukkonen needs to work on his strength a bit and weight to bulk up and make it to the NHL, but he’s looking like a great bet late in the draft.
Round 6 – Traded Pick
Round 7 – D William Worge Kreu (187th Overall)
This is a seventh round pick if I’ve ever seen one, and a good one at that. A 6-6 defensive defenseman that falls at 172 pounds is an interesting concept, but the underrated Swede looks to be a fantastic pickup at this point, and someone who’s gone under the radar. Kreu played a game in the SHL already and is a late birthday, someone who can put on some muscle and grow his already strong defensive attributes. He’s a very simple defensive defenseman who takes limited risks and simply gets the job done. He plays for Linkoping HC in the SHL and will see full time action next year, a big step in the right direction for a large and young defenseman. This pick won’t be guaranteed, but could be a nice steal if correctly developed.
Development Camp Roster
LW Pascal Aquin
C Rasmus Asplund
RW Vito Bavaro
LW Brandon Biro
C Christopher Brown
C Eric Cornel
RW Cole Coskey
C Marcus Davidsson
C Vasili Glotov
C Casey Mittelstadt
LW Brett Murray
LW Alexander Nylander
C Andrew Oglevie
LW Victor Olofsson
C Matej Pekar
RW Max Patterson
RW Cliff Pu
LW Joe Snively
LW Linus Weissbach
C Maxwell Willman
D Will Borgen
D Jacob Bryson
D Ivan Chukarov
D Linus Cronholm
D Rasmus Dahlin
D Casey Fitzgerald
D Brendan Guhle
D Brandon Hickey
D Griffin Luce
D Miska Kukkonen
D Connor Mackey
D Philip Nyberg
D Tobie Paquette-Bisson
D Andrew Peski
D Lawrence Pilut
D Mattias Samuelsson
D Devante Stephens
D William Worge Kreu
G Jonas Johansson
G Jake Kielly
G Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen
G Hunter Shepard
Development Camp was very interesting this year, one of the most interesting ones in the league. Alexander Nylander was held from the majority of the camp due to a minor injury, mostly a precaution that won’t provide lingering impact. A few interesting storylines took place, mostly revolving around the camp’s heavy presence of Swedes. Two Swedes looking to make a fledgling impact are SHL aces Victor Olofsson and Rasmus Asplund. The two came in to camp looking to make an impression and hopefully try to break into the Sabres young squad this year. They both made a lasting impact and could be seeing some time with the Sabres this year.
Rasmus Dahlin sent a jolt through a scrimmage with a thundering hit on the hard-working Czech Matej Pekar who laughably acknowledged the hit and praised Dahlin, then comparing himself to Brad Marchand, proving to be an entertaining personality. He also was among some of the notable standouts who had notable tournaments. Dahlin, Mittelstadt, Will Borgen, Lawrence Pilut, Marcus Davidsson, Pekar, Jonas Johansson, Vasili Glotov, Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen and Brendan Guhle were all players who had a standout tournament.
The Buffalo Sabres made a few large splashes in the offseason, firstly acquiring former Penguin Conor Sheary along with veteran defenseman Matt Hunwick for a discounted price of a conditional fourth round pick which can upgrade to a third-rounder. That move seemed like a nice bargain to fill out their lineup, and you may think they would’ve stopped there… but no, the domino finally fell and Ryan O’Reilly was finally traded to the St. Louis Blues. The Sabres took on Vladimir Sobotka and Patrik Berglund in the deal, but grabbed young forward Tage Thompson who’s already notched nine points in 41 NHL games last year. Buffalo also picked up a first-rounder in 2019 and a second round pick not next year, or the year after that, but in 2021.
As much as the new additions of Sobotka, Berglund, Hunwick and Sheary could clog up the lineup, there’s still plenty of room for the young players to step into the lineup and players like Tage Thompson, Victor Olofsson and Rasmus Asplund have a decent chance to prove their worth during the pre-season. In free agency, the Sabres moved on from goalie Robin Lehner and moved on to Carter Hutton, signing the former Blues goalie to a three year, 8.25 million dollar deal, which can hopefully stopgap the ongoing goaltending issue until Luukkonen or Johansson come through. Scott Wedgewood was also signed as a No. 3 goalie for a 650K deal.
Image courtesy of NHL.com
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