It’s been a while, angels, but as I sat at home last night, scanning the many tweets coming from the bloggers attending the Sabres Summit, it dawned on me that school had ended, and I’ve had plenty of time to write. The Sabres have been out for a while, and a Stanley Cup has already been awarded. However, it’s not too late for me to join in the game.
Hell, with the draft coming up, it’s probably a good time for me to get into the swing of things. July 1st isn’t too far off. It’s time for me to put my mind to the word processor and assess the Sabres’ needs heading into next Friday’s draft.
First of all, our furthest need for the draft is to grab a defenseman, at least not in the first three rounds. For years, our biggest need has been center (at least the past two). For years, I’ve seen the Sabres draft a defensman or a winger in the first round, two things that this team is in absolutely no need of.
It’s time for this team to start stocking up on what they’ve been needing for a long time: a first- or second-line center.
The Sabres truly missed Derek Roy last year. Buffalo’s #1 center was having one of his most promising years as a Sabre until a terrible knee injury took him out for the rest of the regular season. After that, our center depth was Tim Connolly, Paul Gaustad, and a bunch of wingers that had significant dropoffs in their play as fill-in centers.
Bear with me, here. We all know that Jochen Hecht is a winger forced to play center. Rob Niedermayer was more or less… himself. I can’t even say a ghost of his former self because, to be quite honest, he’s been mediocre his whole career, living in the shadow of his older, much more talented brother. While Nied’s presence as a “leader” was nice, his lack of talent along with the rest of the team at the center position was just daunting.
So, the Sabres center depth as of right now is as follows: Derek Roy, Paul Gaustad, and again, wingers forced to play center because of our poor center depth.
Traveling northeast to Portland, I see that we have the ever-promising, AHL Rookie of the Year Luke Adam, who in all honesty, seems to have the potential to maybe be a third-line center until he improves upon his speed. Paul Byron gave a little bit of a spark before he was sent back to Portland. Matt Ellis is the captain of the (insert future minor league team here) and shouldn’t be moved out of Portland anymore. His efforts as a leader are more valuable when spent teaching the rooks in (insert future minor league location here).
Who else… Brian Roloff? Travis Turnbull? Mark Voakes? At least I’ve heard of the first two. Roloff had 24 points in 76 games in Portland. Turnbull had 9 points in his 20 games with the Pirates.
I just don’t trust the center depth with this team, and that is obviously the most glaring need both on the big club and in the system.
So again. Let me stress. We want CENTERS in this year’s draft.
Why no defense?
First of all, we have only three defensmen signed. However, of the five that are unsigned, four of them are restricted free agents.
Of those that are restricted, two can easily be retained with the standard, one-year qualifying offers. Butler and Grags will be the ones to do that. Say what you will about the amazing Marc-Andre Gragnani, who was named the best defensman in the AHL this year on top of leading the Sabres in scoring in the playoffs. However, I need to see him play across an entire NHL season first. If anything, he might require a $1M offer, but please, nothing more.
Of the other two, Sekera and Weber may be a bit more difficult to retain. Sekera has his ups and downs last season, but it could certainly be counted as his “break-out” year. He’ll probably get a two-year deal in the $1M-$1.5M range. God help me if it’s $2M. Weber should command about the same, maybe a bit more. His toughness was exactly what this defensive corp needed, and could fill in as at the very least, a solid 2nd pairing defender.
When I look down to Portland, I see TJ Brennan (sick name, bro), Alex Biega, Nick Crawford and Dennis Persson, who have all shown some improvement since they’ve been drafted. The jury’s still out on Persson, though. 17 points for a guy drafted to be a puck-moving offensive defensman is unacceptable at this point of his career.
When I look at the juniors, I’m thrilled with the years both Mark Pysyk and Brayden McNabb had. McNabb is coming off a career season for the WHL’s Kootenay Ice. The team’s captain, McNabb lead the team within a game of reaching the Memorial Cup Finals. He had 72 points in 59 games in 2010-11.
Pysyk improved his play tremendously for the Oil Kings. Increasing his production to 40 points in this past season, Pysyk also vastly improved his dreadful +/-, going from a -19 in 2009-10, to a +29 the year after he was drafted.
And please, Buffalo. Whatever you do, don’t draft a winger, when you know damn well that you have about 10 wingers and 2 centers in the big club. Oddly enough, the Sabres have the same problem in the minors as well.
Wingers back for the 2011-12 season include Thomas Vanek, Drew Stafford, Brad Boyes, Jochen Hecht (I will forever refer to Hecht as a winger. A center, he is not), Nathan Gerbe, Tyler Ennis (at the moment. I think he has potential to be a top 2 center), Patrick Kaleta, Jason Pominville…am I done yet?
You get my point.
Taking a look at the system, we have the big, bad, bruising Zach Kassian waiting to recklessly kill somebody in the NHL, and Marcus Foligno waiting to be his tag-team buddy, and they’ve barely thrown a (insert minor league team)’s jersey on at this point.
On top of that, we’re still not sure if the Sabres are going to waste the space on yet another year for AHL All-Star (and I use that term very loosely, somewhat sarcastically) Mark Mancarri, who has proven time and again that the NHL is just not for him, but keep him in the AHL and the guy explodes.
However, on a bright note, I love what I’m seeing from guys like Derek Whitmore (47 points last season), Corey Tropp (40 points), and Dennis McCauley. There’s going to be more too, with the Sabres’ junior prospects waiting to make the jump to the AHL after their eligibility for juniors is out. All-in-all, the Sabres are solid at winger, although it seems that maybe a new draftee or two wouldn’t hurt.
Finally, I get to the goaltender’s position. Honestly, I view goalie to be the second most important need on this team. While Jhonas Enroth all but secured his spot in the NHL next season as Ryan Miller’s RELIABLE (I’m being ecstatically serious, there) backup, the Sabres should really do David Leggio the favor of resigning him back to the Pirates.
Leggio did phenomenal for the Pirates this season, posting a 22-12-3 record across 36 games, with a 2.8 GAA and a .911 save %. Those are solid numbers for a goalie who is probably going to be a career AHLer. That is, of course, if a coach like Peter Laviolette doesn’t come across him, because we all know Pete loves his mediocre Stanley Cup caliber goalies!
That leaves us short another new up-and-comer to at least give one of our goalies some trade value if and when the time comes that we’ll need to go that right (and come on, the way the Sabres draft/acquire goalies, I don’t understand why this never happens.) Take a guy with a 6th or 7th rounder a la Ryan Miller. It can’t hurt.
So… who should Buffalo take when pick #16 comes along? Well, first of all… a center.
But really, if Buffalo really wants to find a good center, what good prospects are available?
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is almost assuredly going #1 overall to the Edmonton Oilers, who are eventually going to be amazing, by the way. Stock up enough Top 10 picks, and yeah, you’re on the fast track to at least getting closer. Look at the Penguins.
Mark McNeill is the first player I see that has a chance of lasting until #16. McNeill had a nice year for the WHL’s Prince Albert Raiders, scoring 32 goals to go along with 49 assists, good for an 81 point season in 70 games. McNeill stands at a height of 6’2″ and weighs 210 pounds.
I would mention Victor Rask (does that count as a mention), but he’s European and plays in Europe, who we know the Sabres don’t go near nowadays. But, let’s humor Darcy Regier just for a second. Rask, who has no relation to the Bruins’ Tuukka, by the way, is a Swedish J20 SuperElit center from the Leksand J20 team. Rask scored 41 points in 39 games and added another 5 points in 5 playoff games. Rask is 6’2″, 194 pounds.
That leaves us with Daniel Cantenacci from the OHL’s S.S. Marie Greyhounds. Cantenacci scored 71 points across 67 games for the Greyhounds this past year. The only thing that turns me off about him is his size: 5’10”, 180 pounds. Yikes. Just what the Sabres need. Another small fry center.
All that said, the Sabres options are thin at center, and they’ll have to hope Mark McNeill falls to them. He seems like the big, powerful scoring center they’ve been looking for for a while. If not, my gut is that they’ll still at least go with a forward. One can only hope, at least.
Odds are, though, that the player the Sabres draft will be at the very least productive. The Sabres have had a very good decade of first rounders come through. Thomas Vanek and Tyler Myers lead the charge, followed closely behind by Drew Stafford and Tyler Ennis. The jury’s still out on a few, but hey! One of them just won a Stanley Cup (Dan Paille).
We can only hope the next first rounder follows suit in the beginning of this new decade.