Cen­ter could be in Sabres’ sights

Loss to­day would mean 4th-best odds for No. 1

The Buffalo News - - SPORTS - By Lance Lysowski NEWS SPORTS RE­PORTER

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.

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