Center could be in Sabres’ sights
Loss today would mean 4th-best odds for No. 1
The Buffalo Sabres’ historic collapse will mercifully end Saturday night in Detroit.
Their playoff drought is now the longest in the NHL, a startling statistic considering they sat atop the standings after winning their 10th consecutive game Nov. 27. Instead of a tuneup for meaningful hockey, the Sabres will either win back-to-back games for the first time since Dec. 13, or they will improve their odds for the first overall draft pick.
Though players will depart for the offseason after speaking to reporters at locker cleanout, General Manager Jason Botterill’s work is
Sabres vs. only beginning.
Red Wings First, he will travel to Toronto for the Faceoff: 7 p.m. NHL Draft Lottery, Little Caesars which will be held Arena Tuesday night at TV: MSG the CBC building. Radio: 550 AM The results will be Season series: broadcast live on Sabres, 2-1 NBC Sports Network at 8 p.m.
Once the order for June’s draft is determined, Botterill’s staff can narrow its focus on which prospects will be available. A loss to the Red Wings would give the Sabres (32-39-10) the fourth-best odds of landing the number one overall pick at the draft, which will be held June 21-22 in Vancouver.
Center Jack Hughes and winger Kaapo Kakko are regarded as the draft’s best prospects, however, there are a number of players outside the top two who could help the Sabres.
The team with the fewest points will have the best odds of winning the No. 1 pick at 18.5 percent. The odds then move to 13.5 percent for the 30th-place team, 11.5 percent for 29th, 9.5 percent for 28th and 8.5 percent for 27th.
It is no secret the Sabres are in need of depth at center. Rasmus Asplund, a 21-year-old former second-round draft pick, is their only prospect at the position who could potentially reach the NHL next season. He entered Friday’s games with
nine goals and 27 assists in 70 games for Rochester.
The organization will also likely pass on defensemen high in the draft since it has a number of promising prospects, including Oskari Laaksonen, Jacob Bryson, Mattias Samuelsson and Will Borgen. Plus, Rasmus Dahlin, Lawrence Pilut and Brandon Montour are likely to be long-term fixtures on the blue line in Buffalo.
There are a number of centermen expected to be selected in the first round, including Lethbridge’s Dylan Cozens, Trevor Zegras and Alex Turcotte of the U.S. National Development Team, Saskatoon’s Kirby Dach, and Kootenay’s Peyton Krebs.
Cozens, 18, had 34 goals and 50 assists in 68 regular-season games for Lethbridge, adding eight points in seven playoff games. At 6 feet, 3 inches, he has size the Sabres lack and was described by NHL Central Scouting as having “explosive speed with excellent acceleration and can make quick decisions on the fly.”
Zegras’ stock rose after playing alongside Hughes this season, finishing with 14 goals and 26 assists in 27 games. Turcotte, meanwhile, had 12 goals and 22 assists, and his upside as a power forward does fit a team need for the Sabres, who will look to get bigger and stronger up front this offseason.
Dach, much like Cozens, has the size and playmaking ability that would make him an intriguing addition for the Sabres. The 18-year-old had 25 goals and 48 assists in 62 games for Saskatoon. He was the secondbest North American skater, behind Hughes, on NHL Central Scouting’s midseason rankings, which were released following the World Junior Championship.
The service described Dach as a “legitimate threat when the puck is on his stick and capable of controlling pace and the outcome of games.”
Krebs presents a particular challenge for scouts since he played on a struggling team this season, which resulted in a minus-50 rating over 64 games. Still, he scored 19 goals and showed why his offensive upside had him ranked the eighth-best North American skater on the midseason rankings.
Russian right wing Vasili Podkolzin could be the wild card of the draft. The 17-year-old was ranked the second-best European skater behind Kakko but there is some concern Podkolzin won’t come to North America Buf falo Sabres next season. Scouts must also balance potential with on-ice production.
He began the season in Russia’s top junior league but appeared in only three games in the Kontinental Hockey League before spending most of the year in the country’s second-tier professional league. In total, he had eight goals and five assists in 25 regular-season games.
However, Podkolzin’s talent tantalized during seven games at the World Junior Championship and his past success on the international circuit wowed scouts.
If the Sabres do choose a winger, Matthew Boldy is among the best available. He had 30 goals and 39 assists with the U.S. National Development U18 Team and was ranked the sixthbest North American prospect in Central Scouting’s midseason rankings. A Boston College commit, Boldy also benefited from playing alongside Hughes at times but proved capable of carrying a line.
Botterill has not selected a Canadian junior player during his first two drafts with the Sabres. After selecting Rasmus Dahlin first overall last June, Botterill chose Samuelsson (U.S. National Development Program), center Matej Pekar (USHL), defenseman Linus Lindstrand Cronholm (Sweden), defenseman Miska Kukkonen (Finland) and defenseman William Worge Kreu (Sweden).
In 2017, Botterill selected center Casey Mittelstadt (Eden Prairie High School), center Marcus Davidsson (Sweden), goalie Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen (Finland), Laaksonen (Finland), Bryson (Providence College) and winger Linus Weissbach (USHL).
In addition to the lottery draft pick, the Sabres own the San Jose Sharks’ first-rounder, which could be as high as 20th overall, depending on the outcome of the Stanley Cup playoffs.