Monday, June 27, 2016

The Fit. Alexander Nylander.

Reprinted with permission from

When it came time for the Buffalo Sabres to make their selection at the 2016 NHL Draft it could be assumed that two of the prospects GM Tim Murray and his scouting staff had ranked in the top three that would be there. By all pre-draft accounts, defenseman Olli Joulevi was at the top of the list of the players they expected to be available at No. 8 and when the Arizona Coyotes went slightly off the board to select center Clayton Keller, you'd have to believe that Murray was looking at a choice between the player they took, RW Alexander Nylander and the player they didn't in defenseman Mikhail Sergachev.

With the pick in and microphones in front of him, Murray told the gathered media of the Nylander pick, “We were just going to go off our list. I’m not worried about position at all, best player available or best fit and the fit could be defense or it could be just like the player we took today."

Murray reiterated what many scouts had been saying about a player who many consider one of the most skilled in the draft. “Skill, skating, I mean he’s the whole package. I think after the Pittsburgh win you hear people talking about speed and that’s what we’ve been trying to do the past couple of years and we don’t have enough of it yet. We’ve made great strides and to get a guy like him that we think is a top six forward, just fit into our blueprint.”

So the Penguins winning the Stanley Cup had a bit to do with the selection. Although others might throw in another aspect.

It's widely perceived, at least amongst the fan-base, that Murray has an aversion to drafting Russians. And as of late, we could add 'keeping Russians' into the equation as Mikhail Grigorenko and Nikita Zadorov both were traded to the Colorado Avalanche. Another Russia, goalie prospect Andrey Makarov, will not be tendered an offer by the club and is headed home to the Motherland.

Sergachev would have fit well into one of the Sabres positions of need. He's a big, left-handed defenseman with strong skating skills and a nice pass out of the zone. An important tenet of breaking through the onslaught that was Pittsburgh's forecheck in the playoffs is having a defenseman who's skilled, but also cool under pressure. Kyle Woodlief and the boys at the Red Line Report say he has "zero panic to his game."

He's also perceived by many as the most NHL-ready of all the defensemen in the draft. And it showed. While Sabres Taco and I were discussing why he'd be an 18th round pick in Mrs. Taco's dude draft, the young prospects made their way in and around 716 and Sergachev stood out not only for his size, but he looked like a man amongst the many boyish faces we'd seen come through.

Right wing is pretty stacked in the Sabres system, so Nylander was a somewhat curious choice. There shouldn't be too much of a problem with the pick in Sabreland, however, as he's an extremely gifted player who, in my eyes, has plenty of chutzpah. There's one troubling aspect to his game is that he's perceived as a perimeter player. From today's Redline Report the boys said Nylander,  "has a knack for lurking on the edges, and then bursting through a small crack at just the right moment to emerge with a great scoring chance. Not as good a skater as older brother, but still very elusive with fine east-west moves and agility. We’d like to see more of a three-zone effort and commitment in the greasy areas — spends far too much time on the perimeter. Rarely initiates contact, and if he’s not scoring, he’s not helping. But he’s a gamebreaker; can be invisible for 57 minutes, then win the game.

It sounds like a combination of Tyler Ennis, who's on the roster in a top-six RW role and Joel Armia, a former first rounder whom Murray traded to Winnipeg. We need to keep in mind that these are 18 yr. old kids we're talking about so things can change and I believe Nylander has enough attitude to fulfill his highly-skilled promise.

As for the holes on defense, as mentioned before, Buffalo has shown the capacity to land quality defensemen outside the first round and I wouldn't be surprised if they began today by selecting one with their first pick in the second round.

And as for a truly NHL-ready defenseman, they may be plugging a hole with a likely trade for Florida's Dmitri Kulikov.

Friday, June 24, 2016

How to steal some of Toronto's thunder at the 2016 NHL Draft?

Reprinted with permission from

Make some noise.

Buffalo Sabres GM Tim Murray is not one to shy away from pulling the trigger on a trade he believes it makes his team better and as he's shown in the past, specifically at the 2015 draft, he always has irons in the fire. Last June in Florida he, got the morning started with the announcement of the trade for Robin Lehner and after doing the expected by drafting Jack Eichel second-overall, he Commish announced that the Buffalo Sabres had traded for Colorado center Ryan O'Reilly in a blockbuster that sent shockwaves all the way from Fort Lauderdale to Fort Niagara.

A year later, Murray finds himself with a much improved roster because of those moves but with less currency to work with in terms of high draft picks and highly touted prospects as well so dropping bombshells of that magnitude via trade scenarios is not likely. Yet, that doesn't mean he can't make some noise, especially with Leaf Nation headed south to Buffalo where this year's draft begins at 7:00 tonight.

This is home court for Buffalo--complete with a rejuvenated franchise and new-look downtown--and Murray, as always, is willing to do what it takes to make his team better. If it comes at the expense of the Toronto Maple Leafs and their projected selection of franchise center Auston Matthews first overall, so be it. If it comes at the expense of stealing the thunder from our neighbors to the north as they descend upon the First Niagara Center to celebrate the drafting of their own franchise center, all the better.

2016 NHL Mock Draft

Reprinted with permission from

1.  Toronto Maple Leafs--C, Auston Matthews. MLSE rejects lucrative deal for Ixtlan Peyote Company's "Join Us On the Journey" jersey patch. At a presser announcing the rejection, executives say Leaf  Nation is already deep in the throes of an alternate reality using the hallucinogenic trade-up proposals to both the 3rd and 4th spots in the draft, while also taking Matthews 1st overall, as prime examples. President Brendan Shanahan says the brain cramps have absolutely to do with head shots and provides a lengthy video explanation as to how they came to this conclusion.

2.  Winnipeg Jets--LW, Patrick Laine. Laine was said to have done an interview using face-time while lying in his bed. Some were taken aback by this casual approach to his career but it's no biggie for as Laine as he was simply expressing his individuality and it got a chuckle from most of the hockey world anyway. Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff was said to have rescinded an order for team-issued track suits after hearing of the interview and there's speculation that he has a call to immigration asking for a travel stipulation in Laine's visa. With a wisp of dejavu hanging over the Iceplex, Cheveldayoff doesn't want to take any chances and is doing everything in his power to keep Laine away from Las Vegas.

3.  Columbus Blue Jackets--RW, Jesse Puljujarvi. Despite not landing in a top-two draft slot, Jackets GM Jarmo Kekäläinen is still giddy as he gets to add an elite talent--from his homeland, no-less--to a huge stockpile of forward prospects. Word is that during their Combine interview with Puljujarvi, Kekäläinen cranked up the Jackets' goal song--complete with cannon shot--and played it every time Puljujarvi nailed one of their questions. Reports have him screaming at the top of his lungs, "varten nuo kuka aikoo rock!!!"...*BOOM!!!*..."sinä tehdä kunniaa jklle teitä!!!" right along with the song.

4.  Edmonton Oilers--LW, Matthew Tkachuk. Edmonton picking in the top-five isn't even funny anymore.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Steal of the century?

Reprinted with permission from

Stephen Harris of the Boston Herald said of the trade by the Buffalo Sabres for the rights to forward Jimmy Vesey, "It would be the steal of the century if Buffalo can sign Vesey."

The 2016 Hobey Baker winner as college's top player was a 2012 draft pick of the Nashville Predators (66th overall) and opted not to join the playoff-bound club this spring even after Preds GM David Poile kept a spot open for him in the top-nine/six through the trade deadline. The hope was that the 6'2" 201 lb. winger would bring his 80 career NCAA goals and 144 points to Nashville for an extended playoff run. It didn't work out that way, however, as Vesey informed the team he would not sign with them and was looking towards August 15 when he would become an unrestricted free agent.

By trading for Vesey, the Sabres now have exclusive negotiating rights him.

It's been quite the soap opera lately when it comes to Vesey. His decision to spurn Nashville and opt for free agency has him being pulled in three different directions. There's the natural pull from Boston as the North Reading, MA native hunkered down in the area while playing college hockey at Harvard. His father Jim was drafted and played briefly in the NHL for Boston and is now a scout for the Toronto Maple Leafs. And Vesey is also a "longtime buddy," according to Harris, of Sabres center and fellow Hobey Baker winner Jack Eichel who grew up in North Chelmsford, MA (also in the Boston area) and was the second-overall pick in the 2015 NHL Draft.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Buffalo fans should take the Cavaliers win to heart

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I was in downtown Cleveland last night with my son, smack-dab in the middle of tens of thousands of people witnessing history as the hometown Cavaliers broke a 52-year championship drought. We stood between The Quicken Loans Arena and a parking garage watching two large screen TV's without audible sound. The fans were numerous, the fans were young and when Kyrie Irving schooled "Golden Boy" Steph Curry with a three to put the Cavs up by three, the fans went crazy sending a roar that shot to Baltimore, South Florida and Denver, three cities primarily responsible for the agony that has been Cleveland sports.

The Drought was over.

Most of the fans within my view were too young to witness Earnest Byner, "The Drive" and barely old enough to remember the Indians losing Game-7 of the World Series. They never felt the heartache of losing an entire franchise to another city, but they were out there howling as the last second ticked off.

I've been in Cleveland for just about 12 years now, a Western New Yorker who left the area in 1987, returned for a brief stint in 2002 only to arrive here in Northeast Ohio in 2004. Even though I was away from home, the sharp pangs of "Wide Right" and "No Goal" were no-less brutal and are still embedded deep within my psyche. I am a Bills and Sabres fan at heart but from 2004 to present I've lived in Cleveland enduring a double-dose of heartache as both cities' sports teams just couldn't get it right.

Friday, June 17, 2016

The Oilers choices with No. 4 (hello Buffalo) and Girgensons rumors gone wild

Reprinted with permission from

If the Edmonton Oilers are looking to trade back in the draft to land one of the top-three defensemen in the league moving down to the eighth slot, where the Buffalo Sabres happen to be, is about as good a spot as any dependent upon how they view the top d-prospects.

Chances are that one of Olli Joulevi, Mikhail Sergachev or Jakob Chychrun will be there at No. 8. If all three are gone by then, one of Matthew Tkachuk or Pierre-Luc Dubois--the two best forwards outside the top-three, and two forwards they would probably have drafted at No. 4 anyway--will be there for the taking

But if they think they'll be getting kings ransom in a trade-down scenario, they might want to strongly consider a pilgrimage to Mount Maple Leaf where hallucinogenic trade proposals are part of the morning ritual. It begins with a blue and white robed Leaf Nation turned towards the Hockey Hall of Fame as a Cistercian Monks overdub pounds chants of hummmmmm...Shanahan, Babcock, Lou; hummmmmm...Shanahan, Babcock, Lou; hummmmmm...Shanahan, Babcock, Lou throughout the city.

2016 draft prospects--Fill the cupboard on defense

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The Buffalo Sabres don't need to take a defenseman in the first round of the 2016 NHL Draft. Many draftniks and fans see a weak prospect pool on defense, especially on the left side, and believe that GM Tim Murray will end up with one of the top three defensemen in the draft--all of whom who happen to be left-handed.

Yet the Sabres could also be looking to add prospect depth on the left side up-front as well, which is probably why there've been some that the Sabres are looking to trade up. The gist of it is that Murray, who isn't afraid to make a trade if there's a player he wants, will try to move up to No. 4 in a trade with Edmonton, then make one more jump to land in the three-spot which is presently where the Columbus Blue Jackets are. Left-wing Jesse Puljujarvi is the consenseus third-overall pick while either Matthew Tkachuk or Pierre-Luc Duboois are considered at the top of the next tier on the left side.

The higher probability is that Buffalo will remain at No. 8 and there's also a strong possibility that  two--or even all three--d-men get chosen before they take the stage. If the best player available in their mind is a forward, Murray won't hesitate to make the pick. The least likely scenario is that Murray will trade down from No. 8 unless it's some sort of package to fill a roster hole.