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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.




2014 Sabres Mock Draft

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.



NHL CBA Summary of Terms

No Apologies

As ratification of a new CBA inches closer and closer, NHL players and teams are rushing to tender fans apologies for the lockout. My response to NHL teams and players is to save the apologies; they are empty, insincere public relations stunts. The NHL isn’t sorry for the lockout. The NHLPA isn’t sorry for the lockout. If either side was truly sorry, a lockout never would have happened as the sides would have negotiated well in advance of the expiration of the old CBA.

The inevitable spin is happening; assuring fans that the new CBA is a win for the fans because hockey is back! Again, something that falls flat. What was really achieved? There’s no plan for the new NHL like there was at the end of the last lockout. There are rumors refs might call more penalties but expect that to die on the altar of whining about too many penalties and the need to let the players play. There’s no economic system so the majority of NHL teams will once against struggle financially and consider themselves lucky to break even. Yes we have to wait to hear details of the new CBA but from TSN reports, fundamentally little has changed. Salaries will escalate as teams that wanted the lockout poke holes in the new CBA like they did the old CBA.

In the end the big losers, as always, are the fans. Shallow apologies and “Thank You Fans” on the ice is just more salt in the wound. It does make you wonder what would happen if the NHL and NHLPA actually cared as much about the NHL as the fans do. Because we’re fans we’ll get over the lockout. Once the playoffs start it will be a distant memory to most of us. And that simple truth is what the NHLPA and NHL bank on: fans are so devoted that no matter what is done to us we’ll still allow people to get rich off our hard earned money because watching hockey games is a pleasant diversion from the rest of our daily lives. It’s what happens when finances collide with the desire and need to be entertained.


Update on Schedule and Camps

NHL camps can not open until the CBA is ratified. However, camps are still expected to open Saturday or next Monday at the latest. Elliote Friedman reported that the NHL sent out a memo to NHL teams that the NHL season will begin on January 19th but Pierre LeBrun reported that if the CBA is ratified quickly, the season could being as early as January 15th. The NHL Board of Governors will meet on Wednesday. Schedule rumors have the NHL creating a schedule that is focused solely on division and conference play, with no inter conference play.


Drop Dead Date is January 11

The NHL has set a drop dead date of January 11. If no deal is reached with the NHLPA by the, the remainder of the 2012-13 NHL season will be canceled. The two sides continue to meet in New York, no breakthrough is believed to be imminent.


Sabres lost $10.4 million last year, Leafs worth $1 billion

Forbes has released its annual list of NHL teams’ worth. It listed the Toronto Maple Leafs’ value at $1 billion, the first NHL team to reach that mark. The Leafs also had a profit of $81.9 million last season. During CBA talks it has been claimed three NHL teams account for 83% of NHL revenues: Toronto, Montreal and the Rangers. Judging by the Forbes’ data it’s not hard to believe.

The Sabres are ranked 22nd on the list with a value of $175 million and an operating loss last season of $10.4 million. I wonder if the NHLPA is willing to take half that revenue?

Sabres 2012 Preseason Schedule

Per Sabres release:

9/24 @Habs
9/26 vs Bruins
9/28 vs. Leafs
9/29 @Leafs
10/2 @Blue Jackets
10/5 @Bruins
10/5 vs Blue Jackets

All games start at 7pm EST except for the Habs which starts at 7:30. Obviously if there’s a lockout there will be no games.


Give em enough rope…

Perhaps some level of sanity will reign across the Internet now and into the future after yesterday’s craziness that dealt with Buffalo Sports Daily and a member of the Buffalo Bills.  The story has been quickly squashed by the mainstream media, thanks in part by contacting more appropriate sources, i.e. those in law enforcement.

Some people rambling around in the blogosphere often become trigger-happy trying to “break” a story.  Whether the information they receive is fact or fiction, whether the sources they have are reputable enough, it’s becoming necessary in the minds of some to be the first to break a story.  As is being witnessed now, being the first to break a story can create some unnecessary headaches.

I have worked in the news business for several years.  I know co-workers will go through several different channels to substantiate information / rumors.  They don’t take to reporting that kind of information lightly.  The lack of substantiation that often is associated with online bloggers does more harm and disservice to online media than the perpetrators themselves will care to understand.

Online bloggers need to realize that much of their information and opinions are taken with a grain of salt by the mainstream media.  Sketchy reports and fabrications by bloggers only enhances the disdain that the mainstream media will hold for bloggers.

One of the most important things when breaking a story is that your sources be very reputable and very trustworthy.  Back in January-February 2003, I received information from two different sources that Tom Golisano was going to buy the Buffalo Sabres.  The two sources did not know each other, therefore they couldn’t have collaborated their reports.  I asked for as much information as they had, with the sources going so far as saying the purchase had already taken place and would be announced in a few days.

At that point, I decided to post on the messageboard at this site that Golisano would be purchasing the team.  Three days later the story broke in the mainstream media that Golisano had indeed bought the Sabres franchise.

That is a bit different than what is occurring right now with the Buffalo Bills.  A player’s livelihood is being brought into question.  Bad publicity is being spewed towards a professional sports franchise.  If the information and sources aren’t good, this can become quite ugly.  Why an individual would throw themselves into the fire like this without having the proper and necessary information is outlandish.

This situation is bringing negative and unnecessary attention all because someone wanted to break a story that is quickly becoming a non-story.  It does a disservice to online blogging and brings into question the credibility of online media outlets.  The online community needs to remove itself from the “free-for-all” concept it has adopted in being the first to break a story and then turn around and say “damn the consequences”.

If that childish form of “journalism” continues… well… if you give em enough rope…

Sabres vs. Soviet Wings: January 4, 1976

1976 Super SeriesIt was the height of the Cold War. The NHL and Russia had an unofficial war over bragging rights for the best hockey program in the world, the echoes of which can still be heard today. The Soviets burst onto the international scene in the mid-fifties and dominated in tournaments held on international ice surfaces using international rules. The Soviets teams were largely professionals who played together year round, most were drafted into the Red Army so they were under the control of the Soviet government.

The Soviets main adversaries, Canada and the United States,  met the Soviets in various tournaments with largely amateur teams. It was rarely the Soviet’s best against Canada’s best, America’s best or the NHL’s best. The NHL fumed at the prestige the Soviets took from the NHL without ever having faced an NHL caliber team. The first clash of the NHL’s best and the Soviets was the famed Summit Series in Moscow of 1972. Paul Henderson scored the “goal heard around the world” to lift Team Canada to victory in the last minute of the eighth and final game. Although many people, myself included, think that victory was tarnished by a delibertate act by Bobby Clarke to break Valeri Kharlamov’s ankle.  Canda’s assistant coach John Ferguson would admit to it. Regardless, it was the first time a professional team from North America had defeated the vaunted Red Machine.  In 1974 the upstart WHA decided to try their luck against the Soviet.  The NHL did not allow its players to play with WHA talent so the rematch between Canada and the Soviet Union consisted solely of WHA talent. The Soviets came out on top, again under a cloud of controversy, this time over the treatment of team Canada on and off the ice.

In 1975-76 NHL owners agreed to arrange a tournament between the Soviets’ best and various teams in the NHL. The Soviets sent the vaunted Central Red Army team and the Soviet Wings team to North America to face selected NHL opponents, a list that included the Buffalo Sabres.  The Central Red Army team went into New York and clobbered the Rangers 7-3 on December 28, the Wings went into Pittsburgh and thumped the Penguins 7-4 the next day. On New Years Eve the Red Army went into the forum of Montreal and held the Canadiens to a tie(the Habs would win the Stanley Cup that year). The Wings prepared for their next game on January 4, 1976.

Enter the Buffalo Sabres. “I don’t know what the Sabres had for a game meal, but they came out mean and tough. Jerry Korab was a man on a mission…. He took it to their big stars, once almost putting Yakushev right through the Zamboni doors. I don’t recall a penalty on the play either.” Ron Wicks NHL referee

The Aud was filled to capacity that night. In school we talked about the game quite a bit. The Sabres were a year removed from a Stanley Cup Final appearance and in the 70’s we were taught to quite literally hate the “evil commies”.  It was a big game, an important game politically and in terms of hockey prestige (most NHL players at the time were Canadian and they were out to prove the Canadian style of play and the Canadian player were the best in the world).  The air along the Niagara Frontier was electric and the Aud rocked as only that grand old building could do. The Wings uniforms were ill fitting, their equipment appeared shabby and tattered but it was a trap. The Soviets’ equipment was top notch, the Soviet government spared no expense for such a propaganda tour. The Soviets wanted to give the appearance of an ill prepared team.  Although the Wings were a step down from the Central Red Army in terms of talent they were still a powerful team (they would beat  the Pens 7-4, The ‘Hawks 4-2 and the Islanders 2-1). The Sabres themselves were at their height in terms of the mix of finesse and brute power with a hulking defensive corps. Buffalo wanted to show the world what NHL hockey, the Buffalo Sabres and the French Connection were all about. Punch Imlach wanted to beat the Soviets badly, he had the Sabres prepared and on edge, especially Jerry Korab.

“The feeling on the way down the QEW to Buffalo wasn’t good. We hadn’t fared well against the Soviets. We should have known better. With Punch Imlach in the background, it was bound to be a battle. For my money it was an outstanding game, probably the best one the Sabres ever played. It had to be a career game for Jerry Korab and for some reason Don Luce sticks out in my mind. I don’t think he was a goal scorer, but he was at his very best. Heading back up the QEW we knew we’d seen a game to remember” – Frank Selke Jr VP Hockey Night in Canada

On January 4, 1976 the Soviet Wings hit the ice in Buffalo’s Memorial Auditorium. It was a small rink and an extremely loud building.  The Sabres came out banging and hitting, a style the Soviets were not used to playing. At 6:10 of the first period the Sabres got on the board with a goal by Josh Guevremont and they never looked back. A minute later Gilbert Perreault blasted a Korab pass into the net. “I remember the Soviet Wings game as if it was yesterday. Imlach told us in no uncertain terms he wanted this game – a lot. Well, he couldn’t have wanted it any more than each and every player on the team did. We had seen the 3-3 tie in Montreal on New Year’s Eve, and it only made us more determined. Punch said we were going to intimidate them. That was the key” – Jerry Korab

The French Connection scored 4 goals and notched five assists. Danny Gare netted a pair of goals and Fred “yes the office furniture guy” Stanfield had a goal and 3 assists. The Sabres outshot the Wings 46-21. By the end of the first period the Sabres led 4-2, by the end of the second the score had ballooned to 9-4. The Sabres won the game 12-6.

The player of the night was the man nicknamed Kong. Korab punished the Soviet players anytime they came into the Sabres zone and his checks set the tone for the game. By the end of the first period the Soviets were reluctant to cross the Sabres blue line, they were that intimidated by the hard hitting Sabres. After four games against the Soviets the NHL’s record was 1-1-2.

The Soviet teams would bounce back to win against the Bruins, Islanders, Blackhawks. The final game was the Red Army against the Philadelphia Flyers. In perhaps the strangest game of my life as a hockey fan I actually cheered the broad street bullies as they manhandled the Red Army for the NHL’s second win of the tournament. The Flyers took a page from the Sabres game plan and unmercifully beat the Red Army. It led to the Soviets leaving the ice in protest of the Flyers’ style of play, although they would return when they were told they would not be paid if they did not finish the game.

The games in Buffalo and Philly made a lasting impact on how North American players viewed the Soviets. The Soviets were now stuck with the label of soft, afraid to hit and would melt in a physical game. It’s a stereotype that has largely lasted even to today as European players are now a large part of the NHL. No matter the great accomplishments of these players they still can’t distance themselves from the beatings handed to the Soviets by the Sabres that in 1976.


Brewitt, Ross.  26 Seasons in Buffalo’s Memorial Auditorium.  TFB Press, 1997.

“Canada-Soviet Hockey Series”. CBC Digital Archives. <>.

Joyce, Gare (December 28, 2007). “John Ferguson, 1938-2007”.   (ESPN).  < Retrieved May 21, 2008>.

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