It’s hard to believe that just about one year ago tonight the Buffalo Sabres were at the podium of the 2018 NHL Draft selecting Rasmus Dahlin first overall. A lot has changed for Buffalo over the last 365 days and the 2019 NHL Draft will be instrumental in deciding the future of both the Sabres and their general manager.
Jason Botterill has to be aware that he is a marked man in Western New York. After the Ryan O’Reilly trade did not even come close to living up its billing and Phil Housley’s controversial dismissal, JBotts is walking on thin ice in a heat wave. He will need to make quite the splash this summer to avoid becoming the next casualty of the Pegula regime.
Draft Day always brings an array of intrigue for each NHL team, but it will be especially so for the Sabres this year. Buffalo will enter Vancouver’s Rogers Arena tomorrow one of four teams owning two first round selections. Seventh overall is Buffalo’s pick and no.31 overall comes to the team from St. Louis as part of the O’Reilly trade, giving Botterill more options and routes than his contemporaries. So the question is therefore begged: what exactly can we expect from Buffalo tomorrow?
Projected top two picks Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko will land of opposite sides of the Battle of the Hudson (New Jersey and New York Rangers, respectively). It’s tough to picture either of those teams trading away their spots so Buffalo’s chances there are slim to none, but there is plenty available beyond that duo.
TSN released its final mock draft yesterday and slates the Sabres to take American RW Cole Caulfield at no.7. TSN‘s Director of Scouting Craig Button calls Caulfield “the best goal scorer of the draft, bar-none,” and he would be a very sensible pick for the Sabres. Buffalo’s most persistent issue throughout all of the 2018-19 campaign was getting secondary scoring behind Jack Eichel and Jeff Skinner, largely because the Sabres have a plethora of playmakers but a dearth of finishers. Getting a player who knows how to both shoot and get to the dirty areas would compliment the likes of pass-first forwards Sam Reinhart and Kyle Okposo.
Part of Buffalo’s scoring woes is the hole at no.2 center that Casey Mittelstadt proved unready to fill. You can’t blame Mittelstadt for being rushed into a big spot too quickly, but the fact of the matter is that the problem must be addressed. The best center available after Hughes is Canadian Kirby Dach of the Saskatoon Blades, a 6’4, 200 lb playmaker that tore the WHL apart last season. The 18-year-old would be a great fit behind Eichel in the future and would bring the best out of whomever is put around him. It’s also unlikely that Dach will be available by the time Buffalo gets on the clock, but the Sabres would be fools to pass him up should he somehow be. Fellow North Americans Trevor Zegras and Dylan Cozens are also possibilities.
And then there’s no. 31 overall. Most of the prime talent is gone by the time the final pick of the first round rolls in and tomorrow could prove to be no different. Button predicts that Adam Foote’s youngest son Nolan will the selection for Buffalo. That is, if the team still owns it by that point.
It’s been widely speculated that the Sabres will end up dealing no.31, perhaps to bring in someone who could fill that second line hole immediately. The name that’s come up the most frequently is Minnesota’s Jason Zucker, who is coming off a 42 point season and is signed until 2024. There’s been persistent rumors that the Sabres are in on Zucker and The Athletic confirmed this recently. I’m honestly not sure how I’d feel about Buffalo giving up a first rounder (albeit the lowest one available) for a guy who put up 22 less points this season than last, but it is undeniable that Buffalo would welcome his goal scoring. Eichel (28), Skinner (40) and Reinhart (22) combined for 90 goals last season, but no one else on the team broke 20.
I haven’t heard rumblings of the team having any other potential trade targets, so Zucker would probably be the return if that’s the route Botterill wants to go with his second pick. We’ll have to wait to see if Buffalo’s GM has an ace of some sort up his sleeve.
The Draft begins tomorrow at 8:00 PM, ET. Be sure to tune in to what is sure to be a pivotal day for the future of both the Sabres and Jason Botterill’s career as GM.