2014 SABRES DRAFT REVIEW
Kris Baker from SabresProspects.com analyzes Buffalo's nine selections
The Buffalo Sabres walked away from the 2014 NHL Draft toting nine new assets. The theme of the weekend was forward depth, with seven of the nine players selected being centers and wingers. They rounded out the haul with one goaltender and a left-handed defenseman.
|Samson Reinhart (Getty Images)|
The Sabres kicked things off with the second overall selection by taking Samson Reinhart, a masterful playmaker who rang up 105 points (36+69) with the Kootenay Ice to earn the Western Hockey League’s Player of the Year award. The son of former NHL defenseman Paul, Reinhart (6’1”, 186 lbs.) has been lauded for his high-level thinking and consistent offensive effectiveness since entering the major junior ranks.
Reinhart, 18, is a natural pivot who’s also spent time playing down the right side. He’s a lethal power play distributor, and his defensive discipline adds value when shorthanded. Reinhart’s puck skills, versatility and smooth three-zone aptitude could see him step into the NHL right away, but the job will need to be earned outright as he is not eligible to skate in the American Hockey League until 2015-16.
|Brendan Lemieux (Getty Images)|
The Sabres added another high-quality asset to start day two, selecting Barrie Colts forward Brendan Lemieux with the 31st overall pick. Ranked at No. 28 by NHL Central Scouting, Lemieux’s disappointment at not being chosen in the top 30 should only add more fuel to the fire the next time he steps on the ice.
The son of former NHL pest Claude, the younger Lemieux (6’, 206 lbs.) already exudes the same peskiness and clutch scoring ability that made his father one of the greatest playoff performers of the past 20 years. Scouts tracking Aaron Ekblad this past season noticed Lemieux consistently making things happen from between the hash marks. His powerful cuts and heavy wrist shot helped him score 27 times, and his disturbing presence near the crease drew attention from both the opposition and the officials, as evidenced by his 145 PIMs. And when push came to shove, Lemieux dropped the gloves three times, taking on guys who averaged 6-foot-4 and 216 lbs.
Lemieux has the wide body, cut frame and fearless intensity to contribute rather quickly in the NHL, but for now the reasonable plan is for him to continue his development for two more years in Barrie before making a serious push for an NHL roster spot.
|Eric Cornel (Getty Images)|
After a deal with Washington that saw the Sabres trade out of the 39th spot in exchange for the 44th and 74th selections, Tim Murray and company added another skilled forward in the form of Eric Cornel from the Peterborough Petes.
Ranked as the 25th North American skater in Central Scouting’s final ranking, Cornel (6’2”, 186 lbs.) is smart, speedy and crafty, and he can succeed both at center and down the wing. He potted 25 goals and 62 points in the regular season, but really shined in the second half of the season on the Petes’ top line along with power forward Nick Ritchie (10th overall, Anaheim).
When the calendar flipped into January, Cornel took off with seven goals and 18 points in his next 12 games. The momentum kept building from there, with Cornel showing confidence and poise all the way through the playoffs (11 games; 4-3-7) to shore up his second-round projection. With many seeing a player who is scratching the surface of his potential, Cornel has the ingredients to be a very smart pick for the Sabres scouting staff following two more years of seasoning in the OHL.
The Sabres continued their run on forwards five picks later by choosing hard-working winger Vaclav Karabacek from the QMJHL’s Gatineau Olympiques. With Gatineau right over the river from Murray’s old stomping grounds in Ottawa, it's easy to think that he and his amateur scouts had a great read on what the hard-working Czech is capable of.
Karabacek (6’, 196 lbs.) goes about his business efficiently with a north-south style and strong offensive instincts. A consistent producer all season long in Gatineau (21-26-47), Karabacek stepped it up in the playoffs with 12 points (6+6) in the Olympiques’ nine games. He added more spice to his draft resume at the World Under-18’s, where he collected six points (3+3) and a team-best plus-four rating, while managing an effective two-way effort highlighted by strong work in the corners and along the boards.
With four new forwards acquired, the Sabres kicked off the third round with the selection of Swedish netminder Jonas Johansson at 61st overall. Johansson became the highest goaltender taken by the Sabres since fellow Swede Jhonas Enroth was tabbed 46th overall back in 2006.
Following a strong performance last April at the 2013 World Under-18 Championship, Johansson (6’4”, 198 lbs.) worked his way into a spot on Sweden’s 2014 U20 World Junior entry. Part of the voyage saw him participate at the U.S. National Junior Evaluation Camp in August, where he impressed with his great athleticism and simple positioning. Johansson is a big, wide goalie with an excellent glove who forces shooters to hunt for corners by taking away the bottom portion of the net. If he sees it he stops it, and his controlled direction of low shots sees him nullify his share of plays.
Johansson’s butterfly style and deep crease set-up are modeled after fellow countryman Henrik Lundqvist. After getting his feet wet with a .914 save% in four SHL appearances last season, Johansson can marinate for a few more years in a strong Brynas IF program and continue to gain valuable international experience before advancing to the North American ranks.
|Brycen Martin (Getty Images)|
With the second pick acquired from the Capitals, the Sabres added to their healthy stable of defenseman by grabbing Brycen Martin of the WHL’s Swift Current Broncos at pick number 74.
Thought of as a first-round pick entering the season, Martin has good size and mobility, and makes excellent passes out of the zone. He's comfortable skating with the puck, and he has the ability to produce when the play flows up ice. On top of it all, Martin (6'2", 195 lbs.) has the recovery skills and high-panic threshold against the forecheck that allows him to limit his errors. The big lefty played in all 72 games for the Broncos last season, compiling six goals and 37 points. Even if the offensive instincts do not translate, there is enough stay-at-home sense in his game to make this a great value grab in the middle of the draft.
The Sabres got a much-needed break in the fourth round. When they returned to work, their final three picks saw them stretch the pipeline with long-term, high-potential projects that could pay off years down the line.
|Maxwell Willman (Getty Images)|
After getting passed over in his first year of eligibility and nearly walking away from the game altogether, 19-year old forward Maxwell Willman finds himself with an investor as the Sabres called his name at the top of the fifth round.
Willman (6', 180 lbs.) is a tenacious, blue collar winger with good skating ability and an understated power mentality. Northeast scouts watched as Willman elevated his play in a post-graduate season with the Williston Northampton School, where he potted 21 goals and 44 points in 25 contests to earn a scholarship to attend Brown University. A skilled player noted for his character, Willman stepping his game in his first NHL development camp should only help in his preparation for the leap into NCAA action.
In round six, the Sabres once again tapped into NHL bloodlines with the selection of Christopher Brown, a prolific high school scorer committed to Boston College for 2015. Son of former Detroit Red Wings forward Doug and nephew of Greg, who was selected by Buffalo 26th overall in 1986, Brown (6’, 176 lbs.) simply torched his high school competition last season with the Cranbrook-Kingswood Upper School in Bloomfield, Michigan. Of course it came against a lower level of competition, but 26 goals and 84 points in 28 games speaks to his impressive offensive potential. Brown will play a season with the USHL’s Green Bay Gamblers before entering Hockey East in 2015.
The Sabres closed the day by turning to Swedish hockey factory MODO for the third year in a row. At 181st overall, Victor Olofsson arrives in Buffalo following a successful 2013-14 season that saw him score 32 times in 44 games at the J20 level, while also appearing in 11 contests with the program's top club. His blazing speed and accurate shooting skills are a welcome addition to a pipeline craving pure offense. Drafted in his second year of eligibility, Olofsson (5’11”, 176 lbs.) is signed with MODO through 2015-16, where he’ll continue his development alongside current Sabres prospects Gustav Possler and Linus Ullmark.
For more on all the youngsters in the Sabres pipeline, check out Kris Baker’s web site - sabresprospects.com. You can also follow him on Twitter @sabresprospects for in-game updates throughout the week on any Buffalo prospects that are in action.