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Sabres 2015 NHL Mock Draft

Sabres 2015 Mock Draft

 

The Buffalo Sabres have been going through an extensive rebuild for the past few years, but perhaps the light is at the end of the tunnel. After enduring consecutive last place finishes in the NHL, the accumulation of young talent through the draft is finally moving past the junior stages of their careers and moving on to either the Rochester Americans or the Sabres.

Buffalo has one of the best groups of prospects in the entire league. Combine that with some quality under 25-year-old talent that is already in the NHL and they have the makings of a formidable team. With Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart and Zemgus Girgensons, the team is very strong down the middle (so long as Girgensons is at center). Zemgus is one of the undisputed leaders of the team and will be the glue that keeps things together. Captaincy of the team is probably in his future.

The drafting of Eichel cements the strength at center. Jack becomes the most prominent draft selection by Buffalo since they took Gilbert Perreault back in the summer of 1970. Combining his elite level talents, his incredibly strong skating stride with the likes of the high IQ Sam Reinhart could end up making Buffalo the envy of the league at center in the next few years. Eichel will become the catalyst of the franchise for a decade. He and maybe Reinhart to a lesser extent will become the go-to guy in many on-ice situations. It’s a bit of a burden to carry, but Eichel definitely seems up to it. He gives off a vibe where he will work for a high level of success in the NHL, and will expect it.

The Sabres have three right wing prospects that will battle it out for spots on the team in the future, namely Nick Baptiste, Justin Bailey and Hudson Fasching. Bailey and Baptiste will be pushing themselves to land top two line spots. Baptiste brings plenty of speed and a very good shot. Bailey showed plenty of improvement this past season and will look to continue that, along with Baptiste, in Rochester this fall. Fasching could end up the puck possession big guy that hounds and agitates opponents around the opposing net.

Buffalo could use some new, young talent at left wing, albeit the acquisition of Evander Kane helped a lot there. Other youngsters at forward, who are at various stages of development, could make an impact with the team. Johan Larsson, Mikhail Grigorenko and J.T. Compher may fill roles at some point. Larsson and Compher could end up as quality third line forwards. Nic Deslauriers makes for a nice fourth line winger, and fills the role very well.

It also doesn’t hurt that young veteran Tyler Ennis may have had his best season so far in the NHL. He was very noticeable this past season… one of the few bright spots on the team. It was great to witness his maturation and his skill level show marked improvements.

On defense, bringing in Zach Bogosian looks to have been a smart move. The change of scenery trade of him and Tyler Myers will perhaps work well for both Buffalo and Winnipeg. Bogosian showed grit and aggressiveness that Myers showed maybe once every few weeks. Rasmus Ristolainen elevated his game a ton this past season. He became a more comfortable player on the right side and his future looks very bright. He’ll be a rock-solid blue liner for many years to come. Hopefully Mark Pysyk can fill out the third defense pairing on the right side. If he’s healthy and up to speed, then the Sabres are very strong there.

The left side of the defense is adequate but certainly can be improved. I think everyone will want to see Nikita Zadorov make some positive strides starting this fall. He has the talent but Dan Bylsma and the new coaching staff will need to get him to be a bit more serious. Coach him well and tell him to emulate Josh Gorges, Ristolainen and Bogosian.

Brycen Martin was a draft pick from last year and his season improved after being traded to the Saskatoon Blades of the WHL. I’m interested to see what kind of season he has starting this fall. He’s a possible candidate for a spot on the Sabres down the road. Jake McCabe played pretty well for his rookie year with the Amerks. Like any of the young players, you want to see continued improvement. McCabe could eventually work his way into the second defense pairing. It would be a slight disappointment if he wasn’t able to do that.

Goalies………goalies……………….goalies………. goalies…………

Mixed bag when it comes to the net minders. One positive was the season Cal Petersen had at Notre Dame. As a freshman, he eventually took over the reins as the starter. Petersen kicked some butt in the college playoffs and had that 70 or 80 save game that went into 30 overtimes.

Petersen’s performance was a very good sign, cause otherwise… you have to hope Linus Ullmark rebounds from a subpar season, playing on a lousy MODO team over in Sweden. This upcoming season will be very important for Ullmark, once he returns from his hip surgery.

Maybe last year’s draft pick Jonas Johansson can show some improvement. Otherwise, I think the Sabres will end up going for a tested young veteran in the NHL, and that’s probably the best approach at the moment.

 

When it comes to this mock draft, I looked for scoring talent… even beyond Jack Eichel, I’m hoping the Sabres can land some other players who can provide a bit more than just supplement scoring. It’s not going to be difficult to fill out the bottom two lines. What there will be is heavy competition to land a spot on the top two lines.

I’m certainly not opposed to the idea of moving up from 21 in the first round, but I don’t think that will be an easy task. If the Sabres have their sights set on a particular player, go for it. You’re drafting Eichel… hell the rest of the draft is pretty much icing on the cake.

I would focus on a couple spots though. Left-side defense and left wing. Each spot could certainly use at least one early pick and perhaps more than one pick at least for one of those positions. Goalies seem to be a bit weak in this draft, but it doesn’t hurt to take one in the later rounds.

 

 

 

 

 

1 – 2

Jack Eichel RC – Boston University Terriers (Hockey East) – 40 GP, 26 G, 45 A, 71 PTS, +51, 28 PIM / 6.2 – 200

Jack Eichel becomes the most renowned draft pick for the Buffalo Sabres since their very first one, Gilbert Perreault. The do-everything center should establish himself as the catalyst for the Sabres for the next decade. His ability to dominate a game at each end of the ice will be a refreshing change for Sabres fans that have had to endure lackluster performances for several years. The Buffalo media that harped on the team finishing in last place will now get their own “education” as to why it happened. The Sabres took the right approach in landing in the basement, granting them the ability to draft a franchise center. There really shouldn’t be anymore discussion about it.

What can be said about Eichel that hasn’t already been mentioned? A big sized kid who is a dynamic and powerful skater, owning a skating stride that even very good NHL players can only dream of having. Eichel has an on-ice vision that is at an elite level, a variety of very strong shots, the ability to turn on a dime at a fast speed and the work ethic to be a force in the defensive zone. People talk about a “200-foot player” at times and Eichel fills that job description easily.

Eichel started his hockey career with the Boston Jr. Bruins program. He went 39-47-86 in 36 games as captain of the team in 2011-12. Jack then moved on to the US Development Program, splitting time between the U-18 and U-17 teams in the 2012-13 season. With the U-18 team in 2013-14 he put up 38-49-87 totals in 53 games. He became a consistent goal scorer and set-up player during his time prior to joining Boston University this past fall.

Once Eichel was with the Terriers, he took command of the team as a freshman. He elevated the games of his linemates Evan Rodrigues and Danny O’Regan. Eichel finished the season as the top point-getter in all of NCAA Division I hockey. His elite level skills were on display nearly every game. He’s a dominating factor in just about every aspect of the game. Eichel’s initial skating burst is quite remarkable; he can fly by the opposition like they are standing still. His great speed and edge work on his skates makes him a very difficult player to play against.

It also becomes easier to set up your teammates when you skate as well as Eichel does. His game is at a faster pace than everyone else on the ice. Therefore the opposition is usually playing catch-up and they often are at a disadvantage. Jack likes to and occasionally will skate around the offensive zone for a long period of time, owning great puck possession skills, allowing him to wait for quite some time in finding a teammate that is at an open spot for a goal scoring chance.

Eichel has great stamina and a very strong work ethic. He’s the type of player who knows he has an abundance of talent, but will also challenge himself; a player who will want to dominate at the NHL level. I think he’s level-headed enough to know he’ll have to work for it, that it won’t be handed to him. He carries himself quite confidently and with good reason. He knows he can be an elite player in the NHL and judging from his comments, he’ll work very hard to reach that status.

For the Sabres, it means landing an elite point producer who will be a huge factor on the special teams and bring fans out of their seats every time he is on the ice. There have been very few players in Sabres history who have been able to accomplish that. Rattle off the names, it isn’t a long list.

In my opinion, when it is all said and done, Jack Eichel will be one of the top two or three players in Sabres history. With the young talent that will be around him, an owner who has no concerns financially, a general manager who builds through the draft and a new coach who enjoys teaching young players, perhaps finally a number of years down the road, the Sabres will have their own Stanley Cup parade going down Main Street. If that were to happen, a huge part of it would end up being pointed in the direction of Jack Eichel.

 

 

 

1 – 21

 

Colin White RC – Team USA U-18 – 50 GP, 18 G, 30 A, 48 PTS, 28 PIM / 6 – 185 / Boston College Commit

The Sabres have drafted a fair number of forwards in recent years that may project out to being decent offensive players in the NHL. Certainly, the aforementioned Jack Eichel is at the top of that list (more like “will project out” in Eichel’s case). So, would it hurt the Sabres to draft a kid who has some qualities reminiscent of Chris Drury? Of course it wouldn’t. Does Colin White bring “intangibles” to a team? Up to this point in his career, he does. Just view his performances in the U-18 international tournament in late April.

Colin White plays at center and is a very mature, very complete player. He can be a dominating figure in the offensive or defensive zones. His energy level is outstanding as he is usually a factor every shift, whether he is setting up his teammates for goal-scoring opportunities or breaking up plays in the defensive end. There are no visible weaknesses in his game.

With the U-18 USA team this past season, and the U-17 team the year before, White is playing with the highest level of peers in American hockey. With the U-17 team in 2013-14, Colin went 33-31-64 in 47 games. He also registered 79 penalty minutes. Prior to that, he played at Noble-Greenough, a Massachusetts prep school.

In a way, Colin White is a slightly speedier version of Sam Reinhart. White is a player like Reinhart who reads the ice incredibly well and elevates the team’s offensive prowess with his excellent passing ability. Opposing teams have to be wary of him when he is on the ice. Colin doesn’t give up on plays and he is more than adept at making the opponent pay the price for any mistakes they make. He’s a very good stick handler and he will poke check pucks away to have his team take possession of the puck.

White is a sniper when in close and gets the shot off very fast, before the goalie can react. He also possesses a very strong wrist shot and gets a lot of velocity on it. He’s fooled more than one goalie with that shot this past season.

Colin brought attention to himself when he registered a hat trick against Canada in the World U-18 Junior tournament in late April. That was a semifinal victory that propelled the American team into the championship game against Finland. White was “Captain Clutch” in the game against the Finns, as he scored the overtime winner to claim the gold medal for the American team.

At the pro level, White would be another option as a second or third line center for the Sabres, or, if necessary, he can be moved to wing. I wouldn’t count him out in doing everything he can to find a way onto the second line. A player of his skill level, with no discernible weaknesses in his game makes him the type of player any NHL team would want to employ. The Sabres could certainly use a talented forward with a great work ethic and a guy who you can rely on for the power play and penalty kill. His ceiling in the NHL would be as a very prominent, very reliable two-way forward.

Colin will be attending Boston College this fall, and will be playing for the Golden Eagles under the tutelage of legendary coach Jerry York.

 

 

Jakub Zboril LD – Saint John Sea Dogs (QMJHL) – 44 GP, 13 G, 20 A, 33 PTS, +2, 73 PIM / 6.2 – 185

One of the weaknesses in the Sabres system is the lack of left-side defensemen. Jakub Zboril had been thrown around in rankings all season long, from 12 to 14 all the way to the bottom of the first round. Zboril dealt with a knee injury for a portion of the middle of the season. In the process he missed the CHL Top Prospects game. When he is on the ice, Zboril plays a mature game with very few mistakes. He has a very good understanding of the game, as he made a transition from his native Czech Republic to the QMJHL this past season. Jakub adapted well to the North American game as the season progressed.

He has a somewhat basic, but effective style. Zboril is a strong, quick skater who can make very good outlet passes and get the Saint John attack going.  He’s very adept at breaking up plays in his own end, whether through stick checks or keeping the opposition along the perimeter.

Zboril’s offensive abilities were certainly better than adequate for the Sea Dogs, registering 13 goals and 20 assists in 44 games. All aspects of his game improved for Saint John as the season moved along, even though he hit a few ruts at times. Overall, Zboril is a sound defensive player, but on a few occasions he looked slightly lost. To his benefit, it wasn’t glaring and didn’t happen often. It was probably more of becoming more acclimated to the style of play in the QMJHL. He showed more aggression after coming back from his injury, throwing open-ice hits and getting more involved in the play. Zboril plays a very smart game and works well in limiting the opposition when it comes to scoring opportunities.

Jakub sort of reminds me of Mark Pysyk to some extent. He’ll play effectively but be unnoticed at times. That’s not a bad thing for a defenseman. I saw five of his games at different points in the season and I noticed the progression he had made in his overall game.

At the pro level, Zboril would project out to a reliable two-way defenseman, who will probably be a bit stronger in his own end. Jakub could end up as a first or second pairing on the left side. The Sabres need more depth beyond what they have on the left side. Maybe Jake McCabe does pan out, but it doesn’t hurt to add more to the system. Perhaps Zboril’s offensive game will develop more, but what you are looking at is a guy you can count on in the defensive zone, that will get your team’s attack going and become a player who might give you some offense on occasion. He’ll get work on the penalty kill and perhaps on the second unit of a power play.

Once again, with the Sabres in need of players who are left-side defensemen, if Zboril is available at 21, Buffalo should have sizable interest in selecting him.

 

 

Brock Boeser RRW – Waterloo Blackhawks (USHL) – 57 GP, 35 G, 33 A, 68 PTS, -1, 30 PIM / 6.1 – 195

North Dakota Commit

 

With the Sabres landing Jack Eichel with their first pick, it wouldn’t hurt to land a forward whose mentality is that of a goal-scoring threat every time he is on the ice. Brock Boeser was a consistent goal-scorer all year for the USHL’s Waterloo Blackhawks. He was tied for the league lead in goals with 35 and ended up the third leading point-getter in the USHL.

 

Brock is very strong at the cycle, but uses it to his advantage to find open areas to score goals. He’ll retain the puck to a point where he’ll leave it for a teammate to keep the cycling going. Then Boeser looks for open spots for a goal scoring opportunity. He has a “shoot first” mentality but he is a decent playmaker as well. When it comes to his shot, he’s quite the sniper. He can pick spots with a really strong wrist shot and a hard slap shot. He owns a very, very accurate shot.

 

Boeser is a better than adequate skater, but he’s not lightning fast. If he can turn it up a gear, it will make him an even bigger threat. What compensates for the better than average skating is his positioning in the offensive zone and just not allowing the opposition to get the puck from him. Because Brock is capable of long-term puck retention, it opens up spots for his teammates on Waterloo.

 

I saw three of the Blackhawks games this year, and in that short period of time, Boeser kind of reminded me of a quicker Dave Andreychuk. For a player like that, it’s all about the goal scoring. However, unlike Andreychuk, it wasn’t about standing in front of the net and getting garbage goals, but more for the strong puck possession and owning a lethal shot. Brock often found himself on the score sheet game in and game out. His offensive production was consistent.

 

People may think adding another right winger to the system is a slight bit of overkill, but drafting Boeser would place a fair amount of pressure on both Nick Baptiste and Justin Bailey to perform to the best of their abilities. It would create a real dogfight in a future training camp to see this trio fighting it out for spots on the Sabres roster.

 

Boeser should be available at the 21st spot in the draft. His goal-scoring ability and being a general threat in the offensive zone would be a great addition to the likes of centers Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart. Brock could be the trigger man during 5-on-5 situations and on the power play. His strength in cycling the puck, his excellent shot and his great puck possession ability would be fantastic assets for the Sabres to acquire.

 

 

 

 

2 – 31

Jake DeBrusk LLW – Swift Current Broncos (WHL) – 72 GP, 42 G, 39 A, 81 PTS, -9, 40 PIM / 6 – 180

Even with the acquisition of Evander Kane, the Sabres can still use more help at the left wing position. The prospect pipeline is rather weak on the left side and the team could use an infusion of new talent.

Enter Jake DeBrusk.

The Swift Current left winger had a very solid season, going past 40 goals and 80 points. He’s quick on his skates and is more of an offensively geared player, as can be attested by the amount of goals he scored this year. DeBrusk’s best trait is scoring goals in close and finding open areas on the ice to quickly convert passes into goals.

Jake is another player who can read the ice very well and he uses that to his advantage when scoring goals in close, anticipating plays and finding the available areas to get goal scoring chances. I saw two of Jake’s games. I was impressed with how he played. He has a good skating stride and stays ahead of the opponent. He is particularly deadly near the net. I saw him score a goal in one of the games as he snapped a wrister into the short side. You can tell the way he plays that he is out there to frustrate the opposition, particularly opposing defenses. They have to be aware of him when he’s on the ice.

DeBrusk led the offensively challenged Broncos in goals and points this year. One thing Jake will need to work on a bit more are his abilities in the defensive zone. He could be a bit more aggressive there in creating turnovers. He’s not passive in the defensive zone, he just needs to work on improving in that zone and make himself a more well-rounded player.

Jake will most likely be selected around Buffalo’s 31st overall pick. He should be on the Sabres radar at that spot. Because he made such a big jump in goals this past season, going from 15 in 2013-14 to 42 this past season, he should be viewed as a scoring forward. As far as at the pro level, he should be viewed the same way, therefore he would need to etch out a career in the NHL on one of the top two lines. DeBrusk has the talent and good offensive skills; it’s just up to him to become a more complete player and more efficient in the defensive zone.

 

 

Jack Roslovic RC/RW – Team USA U-18 – 61 GP, 23 G, 49 A, 72 PTS, 26 PIM / 6.1 – 185 / Miami of Ohio Commit

Few players made as many strides in the second half of last season as Jack Roslovic did. His point production went through the roof and he became a much more recognized player on the USA U-18 team than he was at the beginning of the year. All the attention (and rightfully so) ended up with 2016 first overall pick to be Auston Matthews, Jeremy Bracco and Colin White. The U-18 team had plenty of talent and depth this year and Roslovic was one of the main components as the season wore on.

Roslovic is an excellent playmaker who can set up his teammates with pin-point accuracy on his passes. As his career develops more, he will most likely be an offensively-oriented center who will continue to be dishing passes and creating scoring situations.

Beyond his offensive abilities, Roslovic plays the game with a high level of intensity and possesses a great work ethic to go along with his talent. There isn’t much inconsistency in his game and he’s a valuable player to the USA U-18 team.

Roslovic could improve a bit in the defensive zone although he is pretty capable there already. He’s not the most overly physical player, but he doesn’t shy away from contact. As long as he improves certain elements of his game, and rounds out his abilities in all three zones, he could make an impact at the pro level.

As far as getting to the pro level, Roslovic would be best suited in a top-two line role. His offensive abilities and vision on the ice make him a candidate for a role on the top two lines. Whether he can reach that level is up to him. The fact that his game elevated so much as the 2014-15 season progressed makes Roslovic an intriguing candidate to select at the 31st overall spot.

 

 

Nicolas Meloche RD – Baie-Comeau Drakkar (QMJHL) – 44 GP, 10 G, 24 A, 34 PTS, -3, 99 PIM / 6.2 – 200

Meloche is a big kid who has many good attributes in his game. Nothing really stands out in a glaring fashion, positive or negative. You can tell that he is a player with a good amount of talent that just needs to have it refined.

Nicolas is a two-way defenseman who plays well in each end. Defensively he’s good at getting in the mix, tying up the opposition and breaking up plays. Although not the fastest skater in the world, he can work up enough speed to be the puck carrier, getting it out of the zone. Meloche is good at reading the ice and he makes smart decisions when getting the transition going. He’ll either make the safe play of getting the puck out along the boards, or he’ll take the lead and start up the attack into the offensive zone.

Once he is up to speed, he has a decent stride and an awareness that allows him to stay in open space. He’s always looking over the ice for an open teammate and likes to distribute the puck. Meloche tends to play a rather safe game and not make many high risk moves, either passing the puck or on clearances.

Although Nicolas isn’t an overly aggressive player, he’s diligent in checking and disrupting the opposition, especially in front of the net and along the boards. On occasion he will drop the gloves. To an extent, there is a bit of bite to his game, which is good to see for a defenseman.

Meloche mans the point for the Baie-Comeau power play. He’s a quick thinker and moves along the line quite well. He isn’t a puck hog, and will move the puck to teammates, keeping the flow of the game going to the advantage of the Drakkar. His shot from the point is good, it has power to it. I watched three of his games this past season. The second and third games seemed like a carbon copy of the previous one. I saw a player who didn’t make mistakes, who played confidently and performed quite well in the defensive zone.

One thing that will make Meloche a more dynamic player will be increasing his skating speed and initial burst. He’s a player who has good size and can move pretty well right now, but if he can find another gear, he will become that much more of a solid and refined two-way defenseman.

At the pro level, I would see Meloche as a reliable right-side defenseman. Whether he is on the second or third pairing will be determined by improvement in his skating. He looks to be the kind of player that can play in most all situations. He’s already had plenty of experience on the power play and penalty kill. Nicolas should be around and probably will be available when the Sabres pick at 31. He’s a decent option at this spot and if his game matures then he should be a good pick.

 

 

 

2 – 52  

Dennis Yan LLW – Shawinigan Cataractes (QMJHL) – 59 GP, 33 G, 31 A, 64 PTS, +23, 71 PIM / 6.1 – 190

Yan is a versatile left winger who can set up plays and score goals. He possesses great skating speed and has a strong stride. Dennis has a quick burst from the start that can put the opposition on their heels quickly. He has strong stick-handling abilities and pretty good puck protection skills. Yan works the cycle quite well; he’s very comfortable doing that. He provides a strong threat in the opposing defensive zone. His game, like many in this mock, is based on offensive production.

Dennis will need to improve his game somewhat in the defensive zone. He’s a bit too passive and sometimes a bit uninterested. He’ll need to show improvement there in his second season in the QMJHL this fall. Yan is more of a finesse player, so he doesn’t get overly engaged in plays and won’t be viewed as a checker. What he is capable of doing is reading the plays as they develop in the defensive zone; this is done in an effort to create a breakout from his own zone and to use his speed to get the transition game going.

Dennis has had kind of a bizarre upbringing. He was born in the USA, but moved to Russia when he was young. His parents are natives of Russia. He learned the game there before moving back to North America. He played for Team USA U-17 team in 2013-14 before joining the Cataractes in the QMJHL this past season.

Before playing for the USA U-17 team, Yan was with the Belle Tire hockey program based out of Detroit. He led that team in goals with 30 in 40 games.

With the Cataractes this year, Dennis was the third leading goal-scorer and was also third in points. His hockey career is a bit of a work in progress although his rookie season in a major junior league was pretty successful. The Cataractes only played in seven playoff games this spring, but Yan led the team with seven goals.

Dennis should be selected somewhere around Buffalo’s pick at 52. He’s an option to be taken by the Sabres due to his offensive abilities and that his overall career ceiling in juniors hasn’t been reached just yet. He would also help the organization by adding another player to the left side for forwards.

 

 

Jonas Siegenthaler LD – ZSC (NLA Switzerland) – 41 GP, 0 G, 3 A, 3 PTS, +4, 39 PIM / 6.2 – 215                          GC Kusnacht (NLB Switzerland) – 10 GP, 1 G, 7 A, 8 PTS, 10 PIM

Drafting a defenseman who doesn’t have a lot of offense to his game? That would be Jonas Siegenthaler. Siegenthaler is a big kid at 6.2 and 215. He’s a left side defenseman whose main goal on the ice is to defend and limit the opposing team’s offense. One thing about Jonas is that he’s a very smooth, quick skater. A lot of times you don’t see that in a bigger defenseman for an upcoming draft. You often see talented players on defense whose skating hasn’t reached its full potential. Siegenthaler seems to be close to it.

Siegenthaler exhibits a mature game on the ice. At a young age he ended up playing in the NLA league in Switzerland. It is the top league in that country and Jonas played in 41 games for the Zurich Lions.

Along with being a good skater, Siegenthaler is very good in the defensive zone. He keeps opponents to the outside and can cover players very well. Opposing forwards don’t get much space around him. He’s not an aggressive player, but is very smart with technique, getting the puck away from opponents and passing to a teammate to get the transition going. His positioning in the defensive zone is very strong. It’s his smarts and skating ability that are prominent in his success so far.

Offensively, there’s very little to his game. He doesn’t have a great shot and he’s not the type of player that you will see on the power play. He will however get plenty of time on the penalty kill. What Siegenthaler will need to work on is being a bit more aggressive in the defensive zone. He has a well-matured game up to this point in his hockey career when it comes to playing solid defense. People will look at his game and maybe find it boring, but it is effective.

If drafted by Buffalo, Siegenthaler could or should make a push for the third defense pairing. A sizable player who skates rather effortlessly and would be an asset to the penalty kill; that’s if everything works out in a number of years and he shows more improvement in his overall game.

I don’t mind the Sabres taking him with the 52nd overall pick. It’s more of a need to fill out the left side of the defense within the system with younger players.

 

 

Matt Spencer RD – Peterborough Petes (OHL) – 67 GP, 6 G, 24 A, 30 PTS, -15, 64 PIM / 6.2 – 205

I saw five Peterborough games this year. This was a team lacking in talent. Trading Nick Ritchie away certainly took a big chunk, literally, out of the team’s offense. Peterborough did make it to the playoffs, but they were 10 games under .500 and lost in the first round of the OHL postseason.

One player who did show a lot of effort and talent was Matt Spencer. The right-side defenseman had a strong season for the Petes. His point production doubled and his overall game improved quite a bit.

The games I witnessed with Spencer, he showed his ability to get around the defensive zone quickly and go to the hot spots and neutralize an opponent. He exhibits a fearlessness in front of the Peterborough net and checks and hounds the opposition continuously. He does a great job at times in making his opponent a non-factor in scoring situations. Spencer is a diligent player with a lot of energy. He sticks to proper defensive positioning really well. Matt is engaged in the play and just does a really good job checking opponents either along the boards or in front of the net.

I liked viewing his aggression on the ice nearly every shift he was out there. Spencer isn’t out for a leisurely skate and he does what he can to make a positive impact each time he’s on the ice.

When it comes to offense, Spencer did pretty well. He’s a quick skater and a pretty good passer. Perhaps his best attribute (as of now) offensively is in the transition game; getting Peterborough up the ice to establish an offensive presence. There’s room for improvement here when it comes to on-ice awareness in the offensive zone and to improve his shot from the point.

Not knowing how far Matt’s upside will be offensively, he’s a reliable player in his own zone. He’s aggressive against opposing puck carriers and he clears out the front of the net, along with distributing some solid board checks as well. Being a good skater, he could end up having a career at the pro level as a defensively aware player who won’t necessarily hurt you in the offensive zone. Most likely he won’t be on a power play unit at the pro level, but he brings a bit of nastiness to the blue line that most teams want to see.

I’d be perfectly fine with Spencer being selected at the 52nd overall spot. I liked what I saw in my viewings of him and the Sabres must have a good background on him, being that he’s a teammate of last year’s Sabres draft pick Eric Cornel.

 

 

 

4 – 92

David Cotton LC – Cushing Academy (Mass. H.S.) – 33 GP, 27 G, 42 A, 69 PTS / 6.2 – 200 / Boston College Commit

Each year I look to see who the prominent New England area high school players are. David Cotton’s name popped up quickly. He was the offensive go-to guy for Massachusetts prep school Cushing Academy.

Cotton is a big-sized center at 6.2 and 200 pounds. He displays a lot of very good qualities when it comes to offense. First off, he’s a really good skater for a kid his size. He has strong puck retention skills and can keep possession in the offensive zone, waiting for teammates to get open to feed passes to. Cotton’s game is mostly offense and he does a very good job in just about all aspects of the offensive game; a very good passer, a strong shot, cycling ability is very good, strong I.Q. where he can find a teammate for a pass, knowing where they will be a few seconds later. Kind of sounds like Sam Reinhart a bit.

David is decent when it comes to checking but he won’t be mistaken for a power forward. He’s a player with a good work ethic. He could be more aggressive, but he seems to get the job done most shifts and because of the strengths in his offensive game, he keeps the opposing team wary of his presence when he’s on the ice.

There’s room for improvement in his overall game. When it comes to defense, he has a lot of work cut out for him to make an impact in the defensive zone. He’s not much of a factor in that part of the ice, so if he wants to leapfrog up the depth charts of the NHL team that drafts him, he will have to work on fundamentals in the defensive zone to become a more complete player.

It’s difficult to say whether Cotton would project out to a top-two line scorer or a two-way forward. As of now, he’s probably better off going the offense route. He’s established himself as a scoring center at the prep school level in any event. If his defensive game were to come around, it would make him that much more valuable a prospect for the NHL team that takes him.

I get the feeling that Cotton will be taken in the third round of the draft. If he were to fall to 92nd overall, the Sabres would have themselves a player with offensive talent, who is a bit raw and could use a higher level of competition to maybe get a little bit better gauge as to the kind of player he is.

Cotton will play one more year at Cushing Academy before enrolling at Boston College in the fall of 2016. To me, he’s an intriguing player to select in the fourth round. Nobody really knows what the ceiling is for David Cotton’s hockey career. He could really blossom on the collegiate hockey scene. I think he’s definitely worth taking here.

 

 

Loik Leveille RD – Cape Breton Screaming Eagles (QMJHL) – 68 GP, 13 G, 41 A, 54 PTS, +14, 77 PIM / 6 – 220

Loik Leveille was on most scouts radars prior to the season starting. Leveille was viewed as a defenseman on maybe the second or third tier among those being drafted this month. Once the season started, there was very little to talk about with Leveille and he became a forgotten player for quite a long time. He has a fair amount of talent and with his build at six feet tall and 220 pounds, he probably caught the attention of scouts as a physical, punishing defenseman in his own end. He was that again this year, but he’s a raw prospect that has a lot of work to do in rounding out his game.

Leveille can become a two-way defenseman in the future. He sort of is now. He put up 54 points on the season, so he certainly has some skill in the offensive zone. Leveille improved his point total by 24 from the previous season. He can play the power play and has a good shot. How much further he is going to go in his hockey career will depend on improving his skating. Leveille can be caught flat-footed at times and he’ll give the opposition scoring opportunities as a result. He’s going to need tutoring and / or skating instruction from a professional to improve that part of his game in all zones. His positioning away from the puck will need to improve as well. When engaged in the play is when he is at his best.

When Leveille plays in his own zone, he is an aggressive defenseman, a punishing hitter. He’ll bring tenacity to a defense. In front of the net he plays very tough, throwing opposing forwards off their games, or throwing them down to the ice. Along the boards he wins just about all the battles. Overall he’s a tough player and he will drop the gloves from time to time. I saw four of his games, and each one I saw he was a physically intimidating player.

Skating out of the defensive zone, Leveille is more than adequate in that regard and he does have the ability to set up the Cape Breton offense. There are elements to his game that will attract a team to take him in the middle rounds of the draft. It will all be dependent on improvement in his skating if he can become a factor at the pro level. As of now, I would envision Leveille as a bottom-pairing defenseman in the NHL. Like was said earlier, he’s a bit of a raw prospect and if the improvements that are needed can be met to some degree he could play in the NHL one day. I think he’ll take to the need of improving. Leveille already has a strong work ethic and plays with a lot of grit, so perhaps he is a coachable player.

 

 

Roope Hintz LLW/LC/LRW – Ilves (Finland) – 42 GP, 5 G, 12 A, 17 PTS, +8, 10 PIM / 6.2 – 185

Hintz is a defensive forward who played in Finland’s top league this past season (Sm-liiga). It was his first full season in the top league and he received a full complement of ice time. He likely ended up as a regular with Ilves because of his very mature game defensively. Many young forwards don’t take to defensive duties, but Hintz has. When you combine this with his good size and being a really good skater, he makes for an interesting player.

 

He is a bright kid with good hockey I.Q. He’s a good passer but not an offensive threat as of yet. Hintz is good with the transition game and using his checking and defensive coverage to get possession of the puck and start up the attack for his team.

 

As was said earlier, Hintz is a good skater, has a good stride where he can outskate opponents, creating open space for himself and his teammates. As far as having an abundance of traits for the offense, he’s somewhat basic in that regard. He’s able to put up points but his bread and butter seem to be defense and defensive coverage. Hintz can be viewed as a two-way forward, but from what I have seen from him, he’s almost like a third defenseman. In the defensive zone, he can play like one. He keeps forwards to the wall and just has very sound coverage skills that you usually don’t see in a junior-aged forward.

 

I did see a number of Roope’s games in the WJC this past winter. What he displayed were the defensive abilities that he has. He broke up plays and either started the transition or fed the puck to a teammate who could. He’s a good checker and will pin an opponent up along the boards, fighting for the puck and getting possession of it. Hintz is a diligent worker that puts in a good effort each shift. He caught my attention with his skating ability and that he can play effectively in all zones of the ice. He had some opportunities offensively and came close a couple times scoring.

 

His value would increase if his offensive game were to come around a bit. He put up 38 points in 29 games in the 2013-14 season when he was with the Ilves U20 team. It’s not like he is completely deficient offensively, as it may be just the transition to the main Ilves team and a greater focus placed on his very refined defensive skills that made him an important part of the team this past season.

 

Hintz will be playing for HIFK in the top Finn league this fall. There’s a good chance he will be selected in the third round, but if he somehow falls to 92nd overall, the Sabres should be considering him at that spot. If things pan out for Hintz, he could become a very good two-way forward in the NHL, but probably more a defensive stalwart who would be very good on the penalty kill. He looks like a prototypical defensive forward that you keep on your third line. The fact that he can play at each forward position makes him even more valuable.

 

 

 

 

5 – 122

Keegan Kolesar RRW – Seattle Thunderbirds (WHL) – 64 GP, 19 G, 19 A, 38 PTS, -7, 85 PIM / 6.2 – 215

I saw four of Kolesar’s games this season with the Seattle Thunderbirds. The one thing you notice with him is his ability to finish checks and pin the opposition up against the boards, win the battle, get the puck and do everything he can to maintain possession of it.

Kolesar is listed as 6.2 and 215 pounds, but he looked bigger than that when I saw him play and certainly played bigger.  I was intrigued watching him play, because Keegan would just use his size advantage to punish the opposition and make life hell for them.  When he checks a player into the boards, they aren’t going anywhere.  Then he uses his strength to take the puck away from an opponent and wait for teammates to get into open lanes for passes.

To me it was like watching a right wing version of Nic Deslauriers.  Kolesar fits that whole “heavy” type of player that Sabres general manager Tim Murray has talked about in the past. And like Deslauriers, Kolesar will drop the gloves without any hesitation.

Keegan is a good player both on offense and defense. A reliable player who doesn’t take shifts off and just does a good job of wearing the opposition down. He is in the role of a power winger whose numbers jumped quite a bit from his rookie season of 2013-14 where he had eight points. Kolesar was on the fourth line for much of that season, learning the junior game and not being given a lot of responsibilities.

What brought about the improvement in Kolesar’s game this past season was his skating. He’s a faster player than he was in his rookie year. And because of that he has been given an increased role on the team and is now one of the main penalty killers for Seattle. Keegan has moved from being a raw rookie to elevating his game in his second season. He finished the year with 19 goals and 19 assists, along with 85 penalty minutes.

That improvement is great to see, and hopefully there will be more of it. As a pro, Kolesar would be in a bottom two-line role, much like Deslauriers. His strengths would be in a shutdown role of the opposition, tenacious checking ability and a player who can provide a physical presence and stand up for his teammates. The Sabres could certainly use another tough player in the system. He could be available to select with Buffalo’s fifth round pick.

 

 

Jesse Gabrielle LLW – Regina Pats (WHL) – 33 GP, 10 G, 9 A, 19 PTS, -8, 43 PIM / 5.11 – 215                        Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL) – 33 GP, 13 G, 12 A, 25 PTS, +10, 69 PIM

Contrary to one person’s opinion, Jesse Gabrielle was never going to be selected third overall, although there was thought Gabrielle was a near guarantee for the second round when the 2014-15 season started. Things didn’t quite work out that way. Prior to the season starting, he was hyped up quite a bit, but a trade from the Brandon Wheat Kings to the Regina Pats kind of soured things for Gabrielle. The trade was forced by Gabrielle because he didn’t like the lack of ice time he felt he was getting with the Wheat Kings. He did receive the ice time he was looking for once he was with the Regina Pats, but his production dropped and so did the amount of attention he received in the media and perhaps with scouts.

Gabrielle maybe doesn’t have the offensive abilities that last year’s draft selection by the Sabres, Brendan Lemieux has, but like Lemieux, Jesse will irritate the hell out of the opposition and get under their skin. Gabrielle plays a physical game and can provide offense. He registered 112 penalty minutes on the season and is willing to get into a scrap; a tough kid who plays with an edge.

One drawback with Jesse’s game is his skating ability. He isn’t the fastest player on the ice, so that is an aspect of his game that he will need to improve on. Also, his sophomore season in the WHL isn’t something to look back on very fondly. That’s a major reason why he has dropped considerably in scouting rankings as the past season progressed. He will need to rebound next year to be taken more seriously and not become an afterthought.

His scoring numbers this past season didn’t improve much at all from his rookie campaign in the WHL. I believe he’s worthy of a selection in the fifth round, because if Gabrielle rights the wrongs of 2014-15, he could be back to his second round value. It’s all up to him and to put the past season behind him. There’s a decent chance his offensive numbers will rise in his third year in the WHL, and that will be helped partially with improved skating. What will remain consistent is his ability to agitate the opposition and to throw the best players on other teams off their games. It doesn’t hurt the Sabres to add that kind of element into the system.

 

 

Kevin Stenlund RC – HV71 J20 (Sweden) – 36 GP, 14 G, 22 A, 36 PTS, +4, 16 PIM / 6.3 – 205

Stenlund grabbed more attention as this past season progressed. He started off ranked 57 for European players at the mid-term CSS and moved up to 21 for the final rankings. His production blossomed this season when comparing it to the 2013-14 season, where Stenlund was playing for the J20 team but registered just nine points.

All season long Stenlund was producing points at a consistent pace but just wasn’t getting much publicity for it. Scouts in Sweden do like his game though. They mention he’s a player who uses his size to his advantage and his game is geared towards offense. Stenlund is a player who reads the ice well, can set up his teammates with good passes and has a strong shot as well. As his career progresses he will probably be more of a playmaker than a scorer. His biggest asset is his passing ability.

There is room for improvement for Stenlund. His skating is decent, but he needs some coaching / tutoring in that part of the game.  Stenlund needs to increase his speed and show better burst from the start. At times, his play is inconsistent. He needs to provide better effort game in and game out.  The talent is there to make an impact at the pro level; it’s just whether Stenlund wants it enough.  I figure with his size and his offensive ability, Stenlund is a worthy pick in the fifth round.  If he is able to improve his skating and game-to-game efforts, he could be a late bloomer.

 

 

 

6 – 152

Sam Wenner F – LeSueur-Henderson / St. Peter / Tri-City / Cleveland high schools (Minn) – 25 GP, 55 G, 39 A, 94 PTS, 59 PIM /

Wenner played for a high school team that was made up of a combination of four different high schools in rural Minnesota. The team plays at a location about 60 miles southwest of Minneapolis.

The level of competition isn’t going to be very strong. The Big South league in Minnesota isn’t exactly one of the Minneapolis-St. Paul suburban high school hockey leagues. In this situation, there’s a very good chance that a kid will put up some really big numbers in a rural league. That’s the case with Sam Wenner.

Wenner has gone completely unrecognized by scouting staffs. He isn’t ranked on any lists for the upcoming draft. Despite that, Sam led the state of Minnesota in goals with 55 and points with 94. What needs to happen is Wenner will have to play in a league with better competition, to get a better gauge as to what kind of player he is.

Beyond having some very good offensive tools, he’s a physical player who finishes checks and has a very good work ethic.

There’s plenty of room for improvement that Wenner will need to accomplish. His skating is average and he has to work on puck control. You could chalk it up to Sam being a raw, talented player who could use tutoring in some aspects of the game. The talent is there, it just needs to become more refined and complete.

Next year, Sam won’t be playing collegiate hockey, but will be joining the NAHL with the Coulee Region Chill franchise. Joining the NAHL for next season is a smart transition from small-school Minnesota hockey. Eventually, Wenner would like to make it to NCAA Division I hockey, so he gets his one-year apprenticeship with the Coulee Region team and will try and make as strong an impression as possible to land a spot on a college team for the fall of 2016.

 

 

Christopher Mastomaki LC – Vasteras J20 (Sweden) – 38 GP, 16 G, 25 A, 41 PTS, +8, 43 PIM / 6.3 – 195

Mastomaki is almost a carbon copy of Kevin Stenlund. They are both from Sweden and play in the J20 league. Both are centers of about the same size and both went relatively unrecognized this past season.

I’m not sure why Mastomaki didn’t get much recognition, but he was a good point producer for the Vasteras J20 team and was an assistant captain. He led the team in goals and assists. There wasn’t a lot of scoring depth on the team, so he certainly shouldered the load offensively for Vasteras.

This late in the draft, it’s worth taking a player who could be a late bloomer of sorts. Mastomaki has good size and offensive tools. He’s probably going to be taken in the last two rounds. I like the idea that he is a bigger player that is a point producer. Maybe the Sabres dial him up in the sixth round.

Christopher will be moving on to the Lulea franchise in the Swedish league for the 2015-16 season.

 

 

Connor Ingram LG – Kamloops Blazers (WHL) – 52 GP, 21 W, 21 L, 2 OTL, 3 SOL, 2.96 GAA, .904 Save%, 3 SO / 6.1 – 215

Ingram took over the reins as the starting goalie for the Blazers in 2014-15. He backstopped 75% of the team’s victories. Kamloops finished with a 28-37-4-3 record. Connor joined the Blazers this past season after playing in Saskatchewan Midget AAA hockey.

In the 2013-14 season, Ingram had a 16-4-3 record with the Prince Albert Mintos. He also had a 1.98 GAA and a .928 save percentage; along with two shutouts. During the TELUS Cup tournament of that season, the championship game went into triple overtime and Ingram made 60 saves, helping tremendously in providing the victory for Prince Albert.

He looks like he adjusted pretty well moving up to the WHL. Ingram should be a late round pick in this draft. He has decent size for a goalie. Connor is a netminder where you just wait out the next two seasons and then make a determination as to whether or not he has earned himself an entry-level contract.

 

 

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