The Buffalo Sabres are currently up to their necks in… a rebuild. After finishing with the worst record in the NHL for the 2013-14 season, Buffalo receives the payoff of a high draft pick (2nd overall). The team, if they keep their 2nd overall pick, should land a player who will become a productive asset on the team in a few years time, perhaps less. The Sabres’ options revolve around the trio of Aaron Ekblad, Sam Reinhart and Sam Bennett, with Leon Draisaitl perhaps looking from the outside in.
I’m partial to the team drafting one of the forwards but don’t have any problems with them taking Ekblad if he is available. The one thing with drafting Ekblad (not that it is a problem) means the situation with Tyler Myers becomes very questionable. Would the team actually retain three notable right-side defensemen in Ekblad, Rasmus Ristolainen and Myers?
When it comes to defense, it wouldn’t be difficult to see Ekblad (if he is drafted obviously), Ristolainen, Nikita Zadorov and Jake McCabe as four of the six defensemen on the team in 2-3 years time. If this were to be the case, where does Myers fit in? Would there be too many dollars heading in the direction of the defense? If those four young players can reach their full potential that would make for a very strong, maybe even dominating defensive unit. Add in Mark Pysyk perhaps as the right-side of a 3rd pairing, and there’s a lot of talent in that group… four 1st round selections all told.
With forwards, the Sabres have drafted a fair number of them in the last few years. Zemgus Girgensons, Joel Armia, Nick Baptiste, Mikhail Grigorenko, J.T. Compher, Connor Hurley, Justin Bailey and Gustav Possler are all forwards Buffalo drafted in the past three drafts. Add in the likes of Hudson Fasching, William Carrier, Nick Deslauriers and Johan Larsson, acquired via trades, and you have quite a collection of forwards in the system. The question will be, how many of these players are going to be first line forwards? It looks like a lot of quality depth but it’s uncertain how many or how few will end up as first line talent. Because of that, it makes it more enticing for the Sabres to draft either Sam Reinhart or Sam Bennett at 2nd overall. Seeing as though I believe that Ekblad will be taken 1st overall by either the Florida Panthers or a team trading up to the 1st overall pick, Buffalo is more likely to be looking at drafting one of the “Sams”.
Even beyond the idea of taking a forward with Buffalo’s first pick in this draft, one can focus towards the 2015 NHL draft and the prospect of drafting someone like centers Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel. The Sabres are bound to be a favorite to be picking very early in next year’s draft. The potential is there to end up building a very strong team for many years to come, one that has plenty of talent and a lot of good depth.
And with that… it begins.
Sam Reinhart – 6.1 185 / Center / Kootenay Ice (WHL) / Born – November 6, 1995
60 GP – 36 goals, 69 assists, 105 points, +24, 11 PIM / Right Shot / Final CSS Ranking – 3
My preference has been for the Sabres to draft Sam Reinhart for at least a year now. I first heard about him when he was a rookie in the WHL back in the fall of 2011. At the end of the 2011-12 season he was being touted as the probable 1st overall pick for the 2014 draft. He went 28-34-62 in 67 games that year. I think pretty much everyone following the draft knows how Reinhart plays the game. He’s a very smart player and he knows where his teammates will be 2-3 seconds in advance. He’s outthinking everyone else on the ice. I’m not comparing Reinhart to Wayne Gretzky, but #99 used to play the game in a similar fashion. It’s how Gretzky made such great use out of teammates and elevated their games. Reinhart is doing the same type of things with the likes of Kootenay Ice teammate Jaedon Descheneau.
Descheneau’s huge improvement in part is due from being Reinhart’s wingman. In 2011-12, Jaedon went 3-11-14 in 54 games. Teamed with Reinhart the past two seasons, Descheneau’s numbers (combined for two seasons) are 74 goals and 102 assists in 139 games. Even at a very young age, Reinhart has that ability to get the most out of his line mates. If you look at Kootenay’s team stats, there’s barely any depth on the roster. If Sam Reinhart isn’t on that team, they would finish a lot worse.
The one thing that the Buffalo Sabres desperately need are players with some “on-ice brains”. This past season was the most dismal and putrid Sabres season I have ever witnessed. It looked like a collection of pond hockey losers. Passes that never connected and positioning was pitiful… those among a host of other problems. They looked like a group of drunks playing night hockey after their shift at the local mill. A lot of minor league garbage on a NHL team. You could see in the team they just didn’t have the ability to play “smart” and were very limited in talent. To me, this is a large reason why, if the Sabres are going to bring about a “culture change” on the team, they’d better find some players with an on-ice IQ a bit higher than their shoe sizes.
Reinhart would be a strong selection for the Sabres. Beyond the whole “IQ” thing on the ice, he’s a talented stick handler, an excellent passer who sets up his teammates for goals. He can read the play a few seconds before it actually occurs to get a pass to a teammate, leaving the opposition wondering what happened as the puck goes in the net. He’ll slow things down skating down the wing and then put on the after burners and charge past a defenseman for a scoring chance.
He’s a 200-foot player who is very effective in the defensive end. He’ll play all in all situations… power play, penalty kill or if you need a late game faceoff, let Reinhart take it.
The Sabres have assembled a number of young forwards in recent years, through the draft or trades. What can Reinhart do with the likes of a Joel Armia, Hudson Fasching or Nick Baptiste? A talented center needs to be passing the puck to these wingers. Sam fits the bill here.
I usually don’t think of player comparisons, but the first NHL player that popped into my head when thinking of Reinhart was Adam Oates. The playing styles seemed similar, and I was going on memory with Oates from his NHL days back in the 90s. An individual at Central Scouting did make that comparison. Reinhart would end up being the guy with the gaudy assist totals, kind of like Oates.
I could elaborate further about Reinhart, but I think people have seen his game and know his style of play. I am not sure he would become an elite first line center, but if he isn’t that he would be “1B” to a “1A” center. To me, Reinhart is the guy to take at 2nd overall.
Sam Bennett – 6.1 180 / Center / Kingston Frontenacs (OHL) / Born – June 20, 1996
57 GP – 36 goals, 55 assists, 91 points, +34, 118 PIM / Left Shot / Final CSS Ranking – 1
For Sabres fans not in the Reinhart camp, they most assuredly are in the Sam Bennett camp. If Reinhart is the calm, cool and collected player, Bennett is the kid with his hair on fire. I would guess he must drink 10 cups of coffee before a game because he plays with continual energy. Bennett is a fantastic skater who has a ton of speed starting with quick acceleration, a powerful stride and the ability to stop on a dime as the opposition over pursues the play. He’s the offensive catalyst for the Kingston team and the one player on the Frontenacs that the opposing team has to be wary of more than anyone else.
Bennett will beat defensemen just from his speed. He will go wide very fast and then dart to the front of the net, leaving opposing players in the dust. Sam will pinpoint locations when taking shots. Due to his skating ability he can wait for the right opening to fire a shot at the net. He owns a very strong wrist shot and is very accurate with it. Bennett is as good a passer as a shooter, so he offers a team a lot when it comes to offense. He finds spaces or creates them due to his speed and that allows his teammates to be open for scoring opportunities. One player in particular on Kingston that has benefitted from being Bennett’s line mate is Spencer Watson. The two players formed a rather powerful duo this past season for the Frontenacs.
Bennett isn’t all flash and dash. He has a lot of grit in his game and is a tireless worker in any zone. His defensive awareness is very well noted. He works diligently on defense to break up the opposition’s momentum. Once he gets possession of the puck, he can turn it up ice very quickly for a Kingston scoring opportunity. He plays a physical game and is a hard checker. He’s strong along the boards and plays an aggressive style. Bennett is very efficient on the penalty kill and is a threat to score short-handed. He’s a smart player in every zone of the ice which makes him a big threat. Bennett reads plays and how they are developing very well… and he does it very quickly since he plays such an up-tempo game.
Sam piled up 205 penalty minutes the past two seasons. He’s a fearless player, even at 180 pounds. He will initiate contact against any opposing player. Bennett brings so many different qualities to the game. Realistically there are very few flaws to his game. People harp on his tendency to take 2-minute minors that aren’t always necessary. It’s difficult to find many people placing any negative attributes on his abilities. He received accolades from an OHL Coaches poll for his hockey IQ, playmaking abilities and as a defensive forward. Bennett is probably the most complete forward in this draft.
The Sabres have an eye on Bennett certainly as one report made mention that late in the season there were several Sabres scouts in attendance to witness a particular game that Bennett was in. I wouldn’t be surprised if after Tim Murray’s evaluation of the players in the top 4 of this draft that his gut instinct is to select Sam Bennett. It seems to be a strong match of the perceived philosophy of the general manager and desired player.
I would expect Bennett to spend one more year with the Kingston Frontenacs and let his body mature and grow. It’s one thing to play an aggressive style at 180 pounds in the OHL. It’s another to attempt that as a rookie in the NHL. Let him gain at least 10 pounds before turning pro. Bennett could make his way onto the Sabres roster in the fall of 2015 and get himself acclimated to the NHL style of play. It could be a bit of a rough ride early on, but with Bennett’s skill level and the determination he exhibits on and off the ice, I think he’d be a great selection for the Sabres.
Aaron Ekblad – 6.4 215 / Defenseman / Barrie Colts (OHL) / Born – February 7, 1996
58 GP – 23 goals, 30 assists, 53 points, +7, 91 PIM / Right Shot / Final CSS Ranking – 2
It is unlikely that the Sabres will be drafting Aaron Ekblad. It would be very surprising if he wasn’t selected 1st overall by either the Florida Panthers or another team that trades up to that spot to select him. Ekblad just finished his third season in the OHL. He received “exceptional” status that allowed him to start in that league at the age of 15. At this point he is pretty much a veteran in the OHL and it wouldn’t be surprising if he finds his way to a NHL roster this fall.
Aaron is solid in just about every aspect of the game. Rarely do you see anything in regards to any major weaknesses in his game. In the NHL he should develop into a top pairing two-way defenseman. Judging from his 23 goals this past season, he can become the trigger man on a NHL power play. He does possess a powerful shot from the point and a fantastic one-timer. For a big player he can move around very well in the offensive zone and maintains good positioning, skating to open spots along the point in an attempt to get a shot on net. Ekblad is able to get shots on net quickly and has very good accuracy on his shots.
Aaron’s skating overall is very strong from end to end. As much as he is effective in the offensive zone, his skating ability allows him to check opponents into the boards and take them out of plays in the Colts’ zone. He’s willing to take players out that are rushing down the wing with a sometimes punishing check to the wall. That’s not difficult to do considering that Ekblad is 6.4 and nearing 220 pounds. At times he does play somewhat aggressively, but he does it in a smart way. He finishes his checks, but doesn’t overextend the play to the point where he is out of position afterwards.
Ekblad, due to his size and skating ability, is able to keep the players at the wall and his improved positioning in the defensive zone over a 3-year period in the OHL has made him a very strong player in his own end. He is very efficient at just about every part of defense. Beyond keeping players to the perimeter, he disrupts the flow of the other team by blocking shots, closing up lanes, fighting to take puck possession and moving the Colts up ice in transition. At this point in his career he is a pretty polished player.
Obviously Ekblad will have much more to contend with once he hits the NHL. There hasn’t been a defenseman picked 1st overall in the draft since Erik Johnson was selected in the 2006 draft, but I have a feeling that Aaron will be taken first. To me, Buffalo’s defense depth is pretty stacked at this point, but adding Ekblad to the team would be a very good decision if he isn’t taken by Florida or another team. It does place Tyler Myers in a questionable situation. With a foursome of Ekblad, Ristolainen, McCabe and Zadorov, Myers sort of becomes expendable.
Certainly a team would be getting a high quality player in Ekblad. He’s a kid who is very strong in any zone. If things pan out for him, he should be a legit threat for any NHL team. Aaron draws comparisons to Shea Weber and a few other top of the line NHL defensemen. Buffalo is probably not in the equation when it comes to taking Ekblad, but if he is available at 2, Tim Murray would be hard pressed to pass him up.
Conner Bleackley – 6.1 195 / Center / Red Deer Rebels (WHL) / Born – February 7, 1996
71 GP – 29 goals, 39 assists, 68 points, +3, 48 PIM / Right Shot / Final CSS Ranking – 35
If there’s one player I’d like to see the Sabres land at the 31st selection in the draft it would be Conner Bleackley. Bleackley was team captain of the Red Deer Rebels this past season and elevated his game from 9-9-18 in 2012-13 to 50 points better for the 2013-14 season. The Rebels just missed the playoffs and much of that can be blamed on the lack of quality depth on the team. Besides Bleackley, only a few other players were able to provide any offense for Red Deer, with 2014 draft eligible defenseman (and certain 1st rounder) Haydn Fleury the most prominent among them.
Bleackley has very few deficiencies in his game. In 2012-13 he spent most of the time working on the defensive aspects of the game, and spent this past season elevating his offensive skills to become a more complete player. Conner can play in all three zones efficiently, and is relied upon immensely by the Red Deer team. He can play on both special teams units and does very well with both. Bleackley works very well on the cycle and will fight his way to the net to score goals. He’s a strong skater and a player who anticipates how plays are developing better than just about anyone else on the ice. He can weave his way around opponents, setting up great scoring chances. Conner is also a very gritty player along the boards. He fights tooth and nail to keep puck possession or to gain it. Tireless worker. He never gives up on a play and that must certainly have the eyes of scouts.
Bleackley leads by example and was a player that teammates could look up to with his style of play. His sophomore campaign in the WHL was quite remarkable, considering the offensive output he had compared to the previous year, and the leadership role he adopted and formed throughout the season.
Just reading about Conner most of this last season (and able to see a few of his games), with his skill level and the way he plays the game is that he’s like a combination of elements of Sam Reinhart and J.T. Compher. He’s thinking of how plays are going to develop, reading the ice and where to find the best spots like Reinhart, and he has the work ethic, speed and tenacity of Compher. In a way he sounds like a more offensively productive Zemgus Girgensons. And he carries the leadership qualities (and intangibles) of a Girgensons as well.
Even if Conner doesn’t pan out at as a top two line forward at the pro level, he could carve out quite a niche’ as a fantastic 3rd line player on a NHL team.
It will be somewhat difficult to believe that Bleackley will not be picked towards the end of the first round. The Sabres could trade the 31st overall pick and maybe the 49th to move up into the first round. I would envision Bleackley being selected in the mid 20’s of the first round. If that doesn’t happen, maybe Buffalo will get lucky and he will be available at the 31st spot. It would be a great acquisition.
Anton Karlsson – 6.2 195 / Wing / Frolunda J20 (Sweden) / Born – August 3, 1996
28 GP – 12 goals, 10 assists, 22 points, +3, 88 PIM / Left Shot / Final CSS Ranking – 11 European
Karlsson is a well-developed forward playing in Sweden’s SuperElit J20 league for Frolunda. He has good size at 6-2 and pushing 200 pounds. One of the best aspects of Karlsson’s game is that he is a fast skater for a big kid. He has a strong stride and it is difficult for opponents to slow him down. Although he isn’t recognized as a power forward, he does play the game in that style. Karlsson is a big winger who not only forces his way to the net on offense, but he is a strong fore-checker who can administer some mean, punishing hits along the wall and keep pressure on the opposing team’s defense.
Anton has a strong work ethic to go along with being quite a complete player. He’s solid in any zone on the ice and is a diligent worker on defense and penalty killing. He’s particularly good at creating turnovers through hard work and persistence to aggravate the opposition. Offensively he is strong in many different ways. With his power forward mentality he will drive to the net and fight through the defense to either score goals or set up teammates to score goals in close. Also, he’s a very good puck distributor and is a player who sees plays develop more quickly than his opponents.
Karlsson brings a lot of different elements to the game, which makes him an enticing pick for the Sabres. He has few weaknesses and displays a diverse arsenal of talent, whether it is rushing the puck down the wing, fighting in close near the net, passing ability, owning a hard and accurate slapshot, a sniper-like wrist shot, the physical side of the game, leadership qualities and defensive attributes, Karlsson is a kind of jack-of-all-trades type of player.
Anton will be selected somewhere in Buffalo’s range of the 31st overall pick. To me he would bring a higher skill level of a player in the mold of a Nic Deslauriers and plays a “heavy” game somewhat like Deslauriers or Hudson Fasching. Karlsson seems to fit the bill in regards to the kind of player general manager Tim Murray wants to bring into the organization.
Brendan Lemieux – 6.1 210 / Left Wing / Barrie Colts (OHL) / Born – March 15, 1996
65 GP – 27 goals, 26 assists, 53 points, -7, 145 PIM / Left Shot / Final CSS Ranking – 28
All I kept reading about when it came to Brendan Lemieux was “the apple didn’t fall far from the tree”. When I saw his games, that analogy certainly came to fruition. As much as I despised Claude Lemieux, but was happy to see Rob Ray give him a bit of a beating back in the mid 90s, son Brendan would be a great draft pick for Buffalo. They need a big time agitator and Brendan certainly fits the bill there.
Brendan chalked up 145 penalty minutes this past season. Years and years ago that wouldn’t have been a lofty total, but it is in today’s game. Obviously Lemieux’s game is kind of like his father’s… irritate the hell out of the opposition. Brendan throws his weight around, sometimes late, but that’s how he plays the game. He’s very gritty along the boards and will fight tooth and nail to get possession of the puck. He hits hard, he’ll get into scrums after the whistle and yap at the other team. He’ll do anything to piss off the opposing team, get under their skin, throw the occasional cheap shot and get them off their game. He sticks up for his teammates and will drop the gloves from time to time. Brendan’s the kind of player you want in your corner.
Beyond his aggressive, agitating style, Lemieux has legitimate hockey talent. Any team that drafts him will be getting a multi-dimensional player… an agitator, goal scorer, strong skater and at times a dominating offensive forward.
Lemieux’s offense jumped dramatically from the 2012-13 season, going from six goals to 27 this past season. Brendan’s offense jumped further in the playoffs, scoring seven goals in 11 games. He has a very quick and very accurate shot (especially a quick release wrist shot) and likes to skate in close to score goals. Perhaps because of his reputation, along with his tenacity, he is given space to make things happen on offense. That results in Brendan moving into the slot and firing shots past the goalie. Not only is he a very effective shooter, he is a dangerous passer as well. He will wait till the very last moment to feed a teammate in front of the net for scoring chances.
Brendan’s a good skater who moves quickly and sustains his speed quite well. He’s always moving in the offensive zone, either with the puck or not. He’ll stand in front of the goalie to set up a screen if he isn’t handling the puck. There doesn’t seem to be a moment where he isn’t active in the offensive end. He’s a big time threat in the offensive zone and that alone would warrant him being drafted in the 3rd round at the latest. Add in his overall aggressive style of play and it’s quite an enticing package that a team can end up drafting. The only poor aspect I read about Lemieux was his defensive awareness, or lack of it. I never took notice of it in the games I viewed, but others maybe picked up on that. If that is the case, then that’s a part of the game he will have to work on more.
I think selecting Lemieux at 31st overall would be a great pick for the Sabres. They could use a player like Brendan in the system and they could also use some more talent at left wing. Patrick Kaleta seems to have fallen out of favor to some extent. Turn over a new leaf and bring Lemieux on board. The Sabres look to be adding the higher skilled forwards in the next few drafts. What they also need is a player to disturb the opposition and throw them off their game.
Jack Glover – 6.3 195 / Defenseman / USA U-18 Development Team / Born – May 17, 1996
57 GP – 2 goals, 26 assists, 28 points, +10, 30 PIM / Right Shot / Final CSS Ranking – 38
Committed to University of Minnesota
Obviously, the Sabres can’t ignore the blue line even in a forward-heavy draft. Buffalo should focus on defense with at least one of their 2nd round selections. Even if they were to take Aaron Ekblad with the 2nd overall pick, there are some decent defensemen available in this round.
Glover is a good sized defenseman at 6.3 and 195 pounds. He’s a fantastic skater who may project more as an offensive defenseman than a player known for his work in all zones. With his speed, he is able to get the Team USA offense moving and he likes to carry the puck into the opponent’s zone. Glover’s best attribute is probably his passing ability. He makes good outlet passes from the defensive zone and is a threat with the puck, particularly when setting up teammates for scoring chances.
Glover has a strong wrist shot and works the point for the Team USA power play. Scouts say he needs to work on his slap shot more. That’s rather pertinent considering the type of player he is. His effectiveness would be limited if improving his slap shot were to never happen. It’s probably a rather big reason he scored only two goals this past season.
On defense Jack is a reasonably good defenseman. He’s not overly aggressive but he works hard along the boards and will grind it out to create turnovers. Due to his very good skating ability, he is able to limit the options the opponents have when in the offensive zone and can disrupt their flow by his strong positioning, keeping opposing forwards towards the perimeter. He usually is never out of position and he has the ability to frustrate the opposition by creating turnovers with his stick work or blocking shots. He’s a very smart player at both ends of the ice, although if he were to put on a bit more weight he could be a more punishing type player in his team’s defensive zone.
Glover will be heading to the University of Minnesota this fall. There may be an opening on the blue line of coach Don Lucia’s squad. I don’t think he will be gifted a spot, but there could be one or even two available due to the graduation of a few defensemen. The college route is a very good avenue for Glover to take. He can refine his abilities even more on defense and improve his shot over a four-year period. Glover would be a solid selection at 39th overall.
Eric Cornel – 6.2 185 / Center – Right Wing / Peterborough Petes (OHL) / Born – April 11, 1996
68 GP – 25 goals, 37 assists, 62 points, +2, 25 PIM / Right Shot / Final CSS Ranking – 25
Eric Cornel is a very effective offensive forward for the Peterborough Petes. His stat line jumped from 4-12-16 to 25-37-62 this past season. Cornel has good wheels for a big kid and always seems to be on the move with the puck. His skating opens up opportunities for teammates to get into position to score goals. He is an excellent passer and combining that with his skating he lets plays develop long enough to find an open teammate.
His puck retention skills are very good and he’s creative with the puck, frustrating opponents when Peterborough is in the offensive zone. Eric possesses a quick shot to score goals, beating goaltenders before they can react to the play. He skates well down the wing waiting for a trailer to feed the puck to in the slot. Cornel will charge to the paint to put home rebounds or take passes in close. Eric was on a line with fellow draft prospect Nick Ritchie and OHL veteran Hunter Garlent. The three line mates were a big reason the Peterborough Petes made it to the playoffs. The trio carried much of the Peterborough offense the entire season. Eric is a versatile forward as he is equally effective at center and right wing.
As a pro, Eric would project to be a top two line center or winger. His game in the defensive zone will need work. Cornel is only adequate in that regard. He’s not an overly aggressive player in the defensive end but did show some improvement in breaking up plays. It’s likely he won’t ever be referred to as a two-way forward. His game looks to be geared mostly for offense.
I believe Cornel would be a quality acquisition by Buffalo at the 39th spot due to his skills on offense and playing for a Sabres franchise that needs more offensive-oriented forwards among many other things.
John Quenneville – 6.1 190 / Center / Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL) / Born – April 16, 1996
61 GP – 25 goals, 33 assists, 58 points, +3, 71 PIM / Left Shot / Final CSS Ranking – 23
In his second season with the Brandon Wheat Kings, John Quenneville played a much more prominent role on a team that had very good scoring depth. He reads like many of the players listed in this mock. Like others, John had a surge in production in his sophomore year in the CHL. Quenneville probably won’t be a big time scorer as his hockey career progresses, but he can become a strong two-way forward who is a legitimate force in any zone of the rink.
John is a strong kid who is particularly adept at puck possession and maintaining his balance in the offensive zone. He plays the game hard and displays a good work ethic. He’s more a playmaker than a scorer, although he possesses a strong shot. Along with a good work ethic he reads the ice quite well and is a player that the opposition has to be wary of.
He plays with grit and although he doesn’t go out of his way to intimidate the opposition, because that is not his game, he is a diligent checker and plays well in the defensive zone to help out his blue line teammates. He won’t back down from opposing players and occasionally drops the gloves. There was a spike not only in his offensive numbers this past season, but also in penalty minutes.
If there is a weakness to his game, it is his skating. In order to make it at the pro level he will have to work on that the next few years.
Nothing really stands out dramatically with Quenneville. He’s a dependable lunch bucket type of player with some talent. John probably won’t be regarded as a big scoring threat at the pro level, he would project as a two-way forward, perhaps defensive forward on the third line.
I think he is ranked too high by CSS at 23. Maybe his surname has some influence in that? In any event, Quenneville should end up as a player selected in the second round. He has work to do in order to improve as he is a bit of a raw player. If he shows improvement, particularly with his skating, he could one day be a reliable player for a NHL team. The Sabres have other options certainly at 39th overall, but Quenneville would be in the mix at this spot.
Brayden Point – 5.9 165 / Center / Moose Jaw Warriors (WHL) / Born – March 12, 1996
72 GP – 36 goals, 55 assists, 91 points, -27, 53 PIM / Right Shot / Final CSS Ranking – 31
Tim Murray might divert from his comments on larger sized players on one occasion and give a good amount of consideration to diminutive center Brayden Point. Point plays the game like he is 6.2 and 225 pounds. He will charge into any situation and often he beats players in the puck possession game that are much bigger than him. Brayden is a tenacious checker and grinder along the boards. He’ll fight to get control of the puck no matter who he is going up against.
Point isn’t a checking forward obviously, but he plays that part of the game really well. His forte’ is skating and offense. He’s a smooth, quick skater and does many things well in the offensive zone. He led the Warriors with 91 points, 36 points better than the next Moose Jaw player. Brayden was the offensive catalyst of a team that didn’t have much depth. He’s equally proficient at passing the puck, setting up teammates for goals and scoring goals. If you took his entire hockey playing package and put that into a player who is 6.1 and 205 pounds, we would be talking about a top 10 pick in this draft.
Brayden has an incredibly accurate shot. He just picks spots at will and leaves the goalies wondering what happened. Even at his small size he will get in close to the net and find open spots to put one past the goalie. He’ll hang around the front of the net and bang home rebounds. He’s not shy in getting involved. Point doesn’t play a perimeter game and he will fight for real estate around the net. He’ll get in close to make passes as well and follow through, looking for rebounds as well. He basically plays the game like a power forward, even if he doesn’t fit the usual mold of one.
When you combine his talent along with his having a strong work ethic, a continual motor, Point makes for an intriguing player. He’s also a pretty smart player. On offense he is reading the ice quite well, he knows where his teammates are and anticipates where they will be. He’s also smart by being able to avoid a lot of unnecessary contact, even when he’s getting involved along the boards. Brayden is able to slip by or peel away from checks being thrown at him, which is a bit necessary for him. He’s not going to be able to endure a lot of physical punishment. Yet that doesn’t dissuade him from being involved physically along the boards fighting for pucks or sticking his nose in front of the net to score goals or put in rebounds.
Overall, I was impressed by what I saw from Point. Whether he falls to 49th overall, I don’t know. He probably will fall some due to being a small player. I usually wouldn’t think of drafting a smaller player, but Point plays the game much differently than the usual diminutive forward. He is effective in the defensive zone as well, and that is usually a red flag for smaller forwards. The fact that he is willing to be a more “complete” player raises his value as a draft selection. I wouldn’t mind if the Sabres drafted Point at 49. When you combine his offensive talents and his work ethic, I believe he’s earned consideration to be taken at this spot.
Josh Jacobs – 6.2 195 / Defenseman / Green Bay Gamblers (USHL) / Born February 15, 1996
56 GP – 5 goals, 18 assists, 23 points, +36, 46 PIM / Right Shot / Final CSS Ranking – 43
Committed to Michigan State
Jacobs was part of the Indiana Ice team that won the USHL championship this past season. The team suspended operations for 2014-15 and Jacobs was selected by the Green Bay Gamblers during a league dispersal draft in late May. Josh is a defenseman who seems to be slightly overlooked for this draft, but reading up on him I was pretty impressed by how his game is. He sounds a bit like Jack Glover, but he is more aggressive and tough with a bit less of the offensive potential of Glover.
Jacobs’ strengths are skating, positioning and toughness. He brings quite a bit to the table as far as talent goes, as there are a variety of positives in his game. Jacobs likes to play a gritty, physical game, finishing checks and clearing out the front of the net in the defensive zone. He’s good at disrupting a team’s offense either through checking or maintaining good positioning in keeping opposing players towards the wall. Jacobs is good at breaking up plays and using his speed to get the transition game going for his team.
Like Glover, Jacobs is effective in the offensive zone. He has a cannon of a slap shot and his passing ability is very good as well. He’s a bit of a threat in any zone of the rink. His offensive numbers this past season didn’t jump too much from the previous season in the USHL. Scouts feel he will end up a two-way defenseman (which he pretty much is now) at the collegiate level and beyond.
The only weakness I read about in regards to Jacobs was occasional inconsistent efforts. He certainly has the talent to be a strong defenseman and a reliable player anywhere on the ice. He just needs to step up the motivational part of things a bit and cut down on the “on again, off again” game efforts that pop up from time to time.
Where Jacobs plays next season is a bit undetermined as of now. He has at least two options… going back to the USHL with the Green Bay Gamblers or heading to East Lansing to join the Michigan State Spartans. To me, Jacobs is about as strong a selection you can end up drafting at 49th overall.
Jayce Hawryluk – 5.11 190 / Center / Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL) / Born – January 1, 1996
59 GP – 24 goals, 40 assists, 64 points, +16, 44 PIM / Right Shot / Final CSS Ranking – 37
Jayce is a center who is pretty strong in most all facets of the game. His skating ability is very strong. He’s very quick and has a good motor from one end of the rink to the other. He is more offensive-oriented and possesses a strong shot and has good playmaking abilities. Jayce likes to keep the pressure on the opposition and set up his teammates for good scoring chances. He is particularly adept at working the cycle real well. With his skating ability he is able to make quick turns to keep the cycle going and keep the opponents chasing and pinned in their own zone.
Hawryluk isn’t overly risky with passes and is really good with protecting the puck and limiting turnovers. He also doesn’t shy away from physical play despite not being the biggest player on the ice. He fights hard to get in front of the net, finishes his checks and makes his presence known.
Hawryluk is a competitive player who doesn’t take shifts off. He’s adept at breaking up an opposition’s rush in the neutral zone. He has some decent skills defensively with the ability to break up plays with stick checks but he needs to show improvement (be more physical) in the defensive zone. Jayce is a player with a very good work ethic and isn’t a detriment anywhere on the ice, offense or defense.
Hawryluk has played on teams throughout his hockey career where he is usually the best player on the team. He hasn’t had an abundance of talent around him at nearly any level. In 2012-13 he led the Wheat Kings with just 18 goals. This past season he led all Brandon players with 64 points. The Wheat Kings had a short playoff run, just eight games, but Jayce contributed very well, scoring five goals and registering seven assists.
Hawryluk is a certain 2nd round pick and a player the Sabres could have their eye on. Judging from further comments from scouts about Hawryluk, he seems like the kind of player Tim Murray would be keen on drafting. He’s sort of the “complete package” at a 2nd round level.
Alexis Vanier – 6.5 220 / Defenseman / Baie-Comeau Drakkar (QMJHL) / Born – December 21, 1995
61 GP – 15 goals, 21 assists, 36 points, +11, 52 PIM / Left Shot / Final CSS Ranking – 112
The thing that jumps out to you with Alexis Vanier is his size. He’s 6.5 and weighs 220 pounds. Vanier is the same size as Nikita Zadorov, and although there are similar aspects in terms of playing style between the two, overall they aren’t the same player.
Vanier has plenty of talent but he can be viewed as a project as well. His skating will have to improve in order for him to be a factor at the pro level. Because he is a slower skater it hinders to an extent what he can accomplish on the ice. If his skating can improve over the next few years, he’ll become a bigger threat on the blue line.
As of now, Alexis does have some good skills. He’s a very tough defenseman who uses his size to his advantage. Even with skating issues, Vanier is a smart player positionally, and with his size he can keep players towards the wall. Watching him in the CHL Top Prospects game, he isn’t the fastest skater in the world, but his good positioning helps avoid problems.
Vanier’s a punishing hitter whose game has become more aggressive and mean as his Quebec league career keeps progressing. In close and in front of the net, he’s a thorn in the sides of opponents.
In 2012-13 Vanier wasn’t much of a contributor on offense, with no goals and eight assists in 53 games. This past season he scored 15 goals and had 36 points. He possesses a powerful slapshot like Zadorov. His offensive game elevated enough that he didn’t look like a one-dimensional defenseman. With improved skating he could max out as a strong, two-way defender.
Vanier has a very good work ethic and he does a lot of the little things like breaking up plays in the defensive zone not only by checking but with his stick. He’s also very good at blocking shots. Scouts seem to think there’s upside here with this player and that he had a break out campaign this past season and again as long as his skating can improve, he could be a real fine selection in the draft. The Sabres could use a few more big defensemen in the system, especially ones who play an aggressive style in their own end and the kind of player opponents hate to go up against. Vanier would be a decent selection at 61st overall.
Hunter Smith – 6.6 215 / Right Wing / Oshawa Generals (OHL) / Born – September 11, 1995
64 GP – 16 goals, 24 assists, 40 points, +11, 100 PIM / Right Shot / Final CSS Ranking – 39
Smith is a player who came from out of nowhere this season. He played 30 games for Oshawa in the 2012-13 season and registered one assist. He was passed over for the 2013 NHL draft. Smith did a 180 degree turn this past season and put up 40 points and 100 penalty minutes. He was a strong force for the Generals in the playoffs, going 3-8-11 in 12 games.
Hunter is a huge kid, going 6 foot 6 and nearly 220 pounds. He’s tough and his best attributes are working diligently along the wall and fore-checking, although he’s probably most notable for dropping the gloves and using his opponent’s faces as punching bags. He’s a raw talent that may pan out, but it isn’t a big risk for the Sabres to take him in the 3rd round when they have four picks previous to their 3rd round selection.
Had Smith been born five days later, he never would have been eligible for the 2013 draft. He has made monumental progression in just one year’s time and became a sizable figure (literally) for the Oshawa Generals.
Like many big players, Smith’s skating ability is “adequate”, and some say it’s not even as good as adequate. That may very well prevent him from making it to the NHL, but there’s plenty of time to work on it. Smith will go back to Oshawa for another year, and take on a larger role with the team.
If things were to pan out in the best possible way, Hunter looks to be a fourth line energy winger at the NHL level. Drafting a project player at this point in the draft isn’t a bad idea, considering this draft’s concerns in regards to quality depth. Still, I think CSS has him ranked a bit too high. I think his value for this draft is at the 4th round level, but as of right now the Sabres don’t have a 4th round pick.
Matt Mistele – 6.2 190 / Left Wing / Plymouth Whalers (OHL) / Born – October 17, 1995
56 GP – 18 goals, 19 assists, 37 points, -4, 59 PIM / Left Shot / Final CSS Ranking – 88
Matt Mistele crashed big time during the 2013-14 season. Once thought of as a possible top-10 or 15 selection in the 2014 NHL draft, Mistele had a poor showing this past season. After scoring 34 goals and 60 points in the 2012-13 season, Mistele regressed to an 18-19-37 stat line. It happens every year that a player has their best junior season the year prior to their draft year, and this is the case with Mistele.
Some scouts say Mistele projects out as a power forward at the pro level. He’s aggressive at times and fights to the net. He’s tough along the boards and checks hard. Other times he finds open space on the ice and possesses a very good shot from around 20 feet out from the net. He makes room for himself by playing very physical around the net which puts him in good position to make plays.
Matt could move into the mold of a power forward at a higher level, but he’ll have to step up his efforts game-by-game. Scouts say that Mistele can be a dominating player in games and disappear in others. He’s a decent skater but that is something that needs to be worked on, along with more consistent efforts in each game if he wants to crack a lineup in the NHL. Overall Mistele has the physical tools and skill level to be a very productive, if not dominating player. It’s up to him (mentally) whether he wants to elevate his game to be a legit NHL prospect, or if he wants to ply his trade in the minors.
Even with this being the Sabres’ 5th pick in the draft, if they retain all of their selections prior to this, I see no problem with drafting Mistele. If he can get back to his 2012-13 form, this would be a very good pick at 61st overall.
Scott Savage – 6.1 185 / Defenseman / Boston College (Hockey East) / Born – April 11, 1995
35 GP – 4 goals, 14 assists, 18 points, +13, 12 PIM / Left Shot / Final CSS Ranking – 194
Scott Savage is another player in what is becoming a trend of California kids making an impact in hockey. He played with the US Development program in 2012-13, splitting time between the U-17 and U-18 teams. Last year was his draft year, and despite playing just about a full season with the U-18 squad, he wasn’t drafted.
This past fall, Scott joined Boston College as a freshman rearguard, but he certainly wasn’t going to be promised a lot of playing time on a strong Eagles team. He joined U-18 teammates Steve Santini and Thatcher Demko as freshmen at Boston College. Savage ended up beating out a couple of sophomore defensemen and ended up getting regular minutes with the likes of fellow defensive teammates Mike Matheson, Ian McCoshen and the aforementioned Santini. Scott ended up finishing out his inaugural season with the Eagles as the second-leading scorer among defensemen. He went 4-14-18 in 35 games.
Scouts view Savage as a two-way defenseman who plays well in all zones. He’s a very quick skater who likes to carry the puck and start up the Eagles offense. Although viewed as being a raw player due to his hockey experience, beginning in California, his game has progressed very well. To move from the US Development program to nightly full shifts with Boston College is quite an accomplishment. His game has become more complete and he isn’t a liability in his own zone. He will finish his checks and shows some aggression at times. Savage displays a variety of skills that has him regarded as a “well-rounded” defenseman. He should show more improvement over the next three years at Boston College as he takes on more responsibility and earns his way to a more prominent stature in the lineup.
It looks as though teams may have missed the boat in not selecting Savage last year. Where he will go in this draft is a bit unknown. I could see him being selected in the 4th or 5th rounds… maybe earlier than that. The fact he was playing regular minutes alongside the more highly regarded trio of Matheson, McCoshen and Santini speaks pretty loudly.
The Sabres also need to keep adding more depth to the defense. Savage would be a smart selection with the 5th round pick.
Edgars Kulda – 6 180 / Left Wing / Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL) / Born – November 13, 1994
66 GP – 30 goals, 30 assists, 60 points, +34, 57 PIM / Left Shot / Final CSS Ranking – 145
This spot was reserved for Edmonton Oil Kings forward Brett Pollock (at an earlier draft position), but then the WHL playoffs and Memorial Cup happened. Edgars Kulda became, arguably, the most talked about player in the CHL as the league playoffs were winding down and the Memorial Cup began. Kulda kept the momentum going the entire tournament, scoring four goals in five games. He was named tournament MVP of the CHL champion Oil Kings. Watching him play in the tournament and what he accomplished was enough to bump Pollock off of the mock draft. Pollock’s game was very lethargic as he was peeling off of checks and not getting involved unless someone fed him the puck. He was completely unimpressive. I usually wouldn’t think of throwing a player into the mock based on one tournament or playoff, but Kulda had 30 goals and 30 assists during the regular season, so it’s not like he showed up to play for just the last couple of weeks of the season.
When Kulda started to receive recognition was in the 2013 playoffs, where he generated 12 assists in 22 games. He played the 2012-13 season on the 4th line and worked mostly on his defensive awareness / checking and getting acclimated to the North American game. This past season he received more playing time and on higher lines as his offensive production increased. His production most likely showed an increase due to his game’s maturation and playing on a very talented team. The question is would he be scoring 30 goals on an average WHL team?
Kulda makes his presence known most shifts you see him play. He’s not a big kid, only 180 pounds. He looks smaller on the ice than he is, but he doesn’t play “small”. Kulda is very aggressive anywhere on the ice. He’s a fast skater and works hard along the boards, fighting for puck possession against bigger players. I notice he finds the open spots in the offensive zone for scoring chances and to set up teammates. Kulda checks well, finishing his checks whenever the opportunity is there and doesn’t shirk away from that responsibility. He’s a gritty kid and that should have the attention of NHL teams.
Edgars will most likely be a two-way forward moving into the future. Despite putting up 30 goals and 30 assists, CSS gave him a final ranking at 145. He seems to be a classic “boom or bust” case. Taking him at the beginning of the 5th round would be a good selection for Buffalo. One does wonder if his game is going to translate to the pro level, but at this spot in the draft, it’s worth the very slight gamble.
Colby Cave – 6 190 / Center / Swift Current Broncos (WHL) / Born – December 26, 1994
72 GP – 33 goals, 37 assists, 70 points, +20, 30 PIM / Left Shot / Final CSS Ranking – 103
Colby was passed over for the 2013 draft and this year he ends up as one of the more coveted players not taken last year. Cave was the captain of a pretty strong Swift Current Broncos squad this past season. He was the third leading scorer on the team, registering 33 goals and 70 points. The previous season he went 21-20-41.
Cave is regarded as a two-way center who is a strong skater. He likes to maintain the cycle in the offensive zone and keep the opponents chasing the play. He works strongly along the boards in the offensive zone to continue the play in the opponent’s territory. Cave is said to have good vision on the ice and can see when plays are developing. He is a very good passer and likes to rush the puck up the ice in anticipation of feeding a trailer for a good scoring opportunity.
Colby’s numbers really jumped this past season and it could be just a “maturity” thing, where his game didn’t improve until a year after his draft year. Many facets of his game showed a lot of improvement this past season beyond the point totals. His game was elevated by becoming a very effective player in all three zones of the ice. He also cut down on turnovers which were a bit of a drawback to his 2012-13 season. Colby Cave would be a strong selection for Buffalo in the 5th round.
Joe Wegwerth – 6.3 230 / Right Wing / USA U-18 Development Team / Born – June 16, 1996
59 GP – 3 goals, 6 assists, 9 points, +2, 125 PIM / Left Shot / Final CSS Ranking – 139
Committed to University of Notre Dame
Joe Wegwerth would be another of those “heavy” players that Tim Murray has referred to in recent months. Wegwerth has spent the past two seasons in the USA Development program. He’s a huge kid and would project out as a power forward, but his offensive abilities are going to have to catch up to his size if he’s going to be a greater factor at the collegiate and pro levels.
Wegwerth is a good skater for his size, so it makes it difficult for the opposing players to stop him once he gets momentum. He works hard along the wall and can be a punishing player. He checks hard and plays a physical game, as his 125 penalty minutes can attest to that.
Joe played for his hometown team, the Brewster (NY) Bulldogs (a Junior “B” team) during the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons. As captain of the team he put up 14 goals and 46 points in his second season, and then moved on to the USA Development program and played for the U-17 team in 2012-13. Wegwerth scored seven goals in 27 games. This past season he moved up to the U-18 team and played a full schedule, although his offensive totals dropped. Playing on a talented team of scorers, Wegwerth was given a checking role on the team. He was also a member of the USA team at the World U-18 championships this past spring.
Wegwerth caught the attention of several college hockey programs while with the USA team and will be heading to Notre Dame in the fall. He will be joining Sabres draft picks Connor Hurley and Cal Petersen in South Bend. The Fighting Irish are known for having a defensive oriented game plan for the hockey team. This may fit Wegwerth’s style quite well. Perhaps his offensive abilities won’t reach the ceiling that they could, but with four years in the Notre Dame program he should become a strong defensive / checking forward who can chip in on offense from time to time. Even if his offensive game never develops as well as it could, he has made a lot of progress as a hockey player. He has gone from a Junior “B” league to now reaching the NCAA.
Wegwerth would be a strong selection for Buffalo at this point in the draft. The Sabres can have another player with great size and a strong work ethic in the system. Joe is projected to be drafted in the 5th or 6th rounds.
Zach Nagelvoort – 6.2 205 / Goaltender / University of Michigan (Big Ten) / Born January 30, 1994
24 GP – 12 wins, 9 losses, 3 ties, 2.20 GAA, .929 Save %, 1 SO / Left Glove /
Final CSS Ranking – 20 (North American Goalies)
The Sabres are starting to make it a tradition of drafting a goalie in the later rounds. Will general manager Tim Murray keep the trend going? If they don’t select a goalie in the second round, then I think they would wait till late in the draft.
Nagelvoort was a freshman with the Wolverines this past season. He entered the season as a backup goalie to Williamsville native Steve Racine. It didn’t take too long for Zach to move past Racine and become the Michigan starter. All told, Nagelvoort’s rookie season in the Big Ten produced a 2.20 goals-against-average and a .929 save percentage.
Zach played for two years in the NAHL (2011-12 and 2012-13) on four different teams. The eye-opening thing is that he was very consistently good minding the net for each of the four teams.
Nagelvoort is a quick goalie from post to post. He’s good with rebound control and doesn’t give up easy goals. He’s a strong positional goalie in the butterfly style. His athleticism allows him to stay in the play and thwart shooters. Scouts say he is very difficult to beat on low shots and has a strong glove hand.
Catching some of J.T. Compher’s games this past season, I had never heard of Nagelvoort previously. I thought he played well in the games I saw. I don’t remember anything overly positive or overly negative. He looked to be a positionally sound goalie who liked to smother the puck to stop an attack from the opposition. Zach liked to slow the game down and attempt to have the opposing team lose some momentum, even if temporarily.
For a freshman goalie, he played pretty well. Nagelvoort jumped from a lower level junior league like the NAHL, had put up very good numbers in that league with four different teams and had nothing left to prove there. He beat out the incumbent Michigan starter in Racine and ended up finishing the season in the Big Ten playoffs.
Michigan lost to Penn State in the first round of the Big Ten playoffs by a 2-1 score. But Nagelvoort was outstanding in the game, a game that went to two overtimes. He made 63 saves (a Michigan school record) on 65 shots. Despite the loss, it was a very promising game and season for the rookie goalie.
The Sabres must have a pretty good background on Zach, especially when viewing J.T. Compher this past season. Nagelvoort may be bypassed in the draft again, but he looks to be good value as a 6th round selection.
Matthew Weis – 5.10 185 / Center / Green Bay Gamblers (USHL) / Born – May 23, 1995
52 GP – 23 goals, 34 assists, 57 points, -2, 20 PIM / Left Shot / Final CSS Ranking – Not Ranked
Committed to Ohio State
When it comes to the late rounds of the draft, I am looking for players who show some potential on offense. Weis was the second leading scorer on the Gamblers and led the team with 23 goals. He finished just behind 2014 draft-eligible Nick Schmaltz and just ahead of Buffalo’s 2013 draft pick Connor Hurley. Matthew was passed over in the 2013 draft (the pattern continues) but looks to be a worthy selection in the late rounds this year.
Sabres scouts would have noticed him in games when they were checking up on Hurley. Weis is a playmaker more than a shooter, even though he led Green Bay in goals. He’s an important part of the team’s power play unit and is adept at penalty killing as well. Despite his size, Weis plays a chippy game and isn’t intimidated by the opposition. He likes to get under the skin of the opposing team’s players.
Matthew is regarded as an average skater who needs to find ways to improve his speed. His defensive coverage is lackadaisical at times but he is a player who provides a consistently good effort in most all games. Weis heads to Ohio State this fall and will be able to play four years in the Big Ten conference. He has an opportunity to round out his game a bit more, improve his skating and become a better back checker as well. I think he’s a bit of an intriguing player and worth a selection in the late rounds.
Dexter Dancs – 6.2 205 / Left Wing – Center / Vernon Vipers (BCHL) / Born – February 1, 1995
56 GP – 26 goals, 41 assists, 67 points, 58 PIM / Left Shot / Final CSS Ranking – Not Ranked
Committed to University of Michigan
Dexter Dancs showed great improvement in his third season in the BCHL. The left winger was the 2nd leading scorer on the Vernon Vipers, a team that reached the BCHL finals. His game is mostly offense in the role of a power forward. He beat his previous year’s point total by 46. He’s a big kid, a good checker and will drop the gloves as well. Dancs is a pretty good skater who has a nose for the net.
Dancs was draft eligible in 2013 but was passed over. His game this past season pretty much skyrocketed compared to his previous time in the BCHL. Dexter was also a pretty big factor for the Vipers in the playoffs, going 4-7-11 in 16 games. He will play for the University of Michigan this fall. This would be a good pick in the last round, selecting a kid whose game elevated a ton this past season, albeit in a slightly lower level junior league. It’s a worthy selection because you can stash Dancs away with the Wolverine program for four years, let him mature and improve and see what kind of player you get when he graduates from college.
Kevin Spinozzi – 6.2 200 / Defenseman / Sarnia Sting (OHL) / Born – May 23, 1996
69 GP – 5 goals, 17 assists, 22 points, -4, 60 PIM / Left Shot / Final CSS Ranking – Not Ranked
Spinozzi is a rugged defenseman who played for both the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds and the Sarnia Sting last season. Scouts say he has a “mean streak” and likes to play the game tough. He’s a very physical defenseman who plays a punishing game in the defensive end, excelling as a rugged, stay at home defenseman. Spinozzi sometimes goes a bit overboard with the intensity, but that’s an important aspect to have if you are a player who would be drafted in the late rounds. You have to show scouts more than just the basic fundamentals. I didn’t see anything about any drawbacks or deficiencies to Spinozzi’s overall game.
To start the season he played for a very good Greyhounds team and was part of the defense’s second pairing. He ended up being traded at the OHL deadline to the last place Sarnia Sting. Obviously Sarnia sees Spinozzi as someone reliable who they can build their blue line with and brings a veteran presence at the OHL level. Kevin is a hard worker and is a player that a team can count on to stick up for his teammates.
Spinozzi can certainly handle himself when it comes to fights. He’s punched out several opponents over the past two years in the OHL. Not a bad selection for Buffalo in the final round if they’re looking for blue line toughness in the system.
J.J. Piccinich – 6 190 / Right Wing / Youngstown Phantoms (USHL) / Born – June 12, 1996
60 GP – 27 goals, 31 assists, 58 points, -12, 31 PIM / Right Shot / Final CSS Ranking – 135
Committed to Boston University
Piccinich was the second best scorer on the Phantoms in 2013-14. He’s yet another player in this mock draft that excelled in his sophomore campaign. After only netting three goals in 2012-13, J.J. tallied 27 times this past season. He led the entire USHL in power play goals in the regular season with 13.
Piccinich has become a strong player for Youngstown, not only with his goal-scoring abilities but how his game has evolved where he is a positive factor in all three zones of the ice. He’s an aggressive player who finishes checks and displays a good work ethic. His positioning on the ice is very good and he’s usually in the play and makes himself noticed. Not only has his offense picked up dramatically but he’s very aware of what needs to be done in the defensive zone. He can be a thorn in the side of the opposition, leading to creating turnovers and getting the Phantoms offense moving up ice.
One detriment about Piccinich is his inconsistency from game-to-game. He can be a very strong player for Youngstown one night, and the next night he’s somewhat invisible. That is one aspect he will need to work on as he heads to Boston University this fall. For a 7th round pick, Piccinich would be a pretty good addition. He would be yet another player the Sabres organization can observe improvement in his overall game over a four-year period in a collegiate program.