Sabres Director of Amateur Scouting Kevin Devine and Kris Baker of sabresprospects.com were both on WGR's Howard Simon Show this past week talking about the Sabres and the upcoming draft.
Devine called this draft "the most challenging" of his tenure as Head Scout saying that "they're having a real tough time coming up with a top-five."
As he breaks it down he mentions a number of factors contributing to that challenge including the "Russian factor." The KHL is always on the minds of NHL GM's and scouting departments because of the possible lure of Russian players to the Russian league.
Of the consensus top-five, three--Nail Yakupov, Alex Galchenyuk and Mikhail Grigorenko--are of Russian descent. Devine in his interview called them "risky" a couple of times and said, "if there's not an [Alex] Ovechink or [Ilya] Kovalchuk in the draft we're very leery of taking a player there and possibly losing that pick to the KHL."
From his perspective, Devine see this year's crop as really balanced and deep but "not great" up-top. He also, like everyone else sees it as a defenseman-heavy, which happens to be an area of strength within the organization.
In breaking down the draft, Yakupov is the clear-cut, consensus #1 pick with a drop-off after that. Baker breaks it down into a top-five or six (including Yakupov) who he calls "clear-cut, top-tier" players before a drop to the next five or six "who could possibly be a top-pair defenseman or scoring line forward, but they might have question marks. That band probably expires at 12 [where the Sabres pick] or 13."
Both Devine and Baker agree that there may not be that much of a difference between #'s 12 and 21, with both leaving the possibility of the Sabres trading up in the draft. But, according to Devine, maybe not at the expense of both picks.
"Well, there's two views of [moving up,]" he said, "first of all what's the price to move up and get that. If it's going to be your pick at 21 and you feel you're going to get a good player at 21, it's going to be hard to do...and, with all the players not distinguishing themselves, is it the year to move up? That's the question we're still asking ourselves."
It would seem as if the Sabres are willing to move one of their first-rounders, but not both, to move up which would probably mean the top-three or four spots in the draft are unattainable. And for an organization with depth on defense and an aversion to drafting Russian players, jumping up into the top four, which, as Baker puts it, is a "risky proposition" to begin with, doesn't make a lot of sense.
Plus there remains plenty of question marks as to what could happen in front of them. Edmonton has the first pick, but are stocked at forward meaning foward Yakupov isn't a lock right now. Columbus has been burned by Russians before, and should Yakupov drop to them, would, they pull the trigger? Is Canadian defenseman Ryan Murray worthy of a top-two pick?
And then there's the Brian Burke factor. The Maple Leafs GM is never afraid to jump into the spotlight. He may be looking to move up, and there's always the possibility that he may be looking to move up twice to grab Yakupov and Galchenyuk, like he did in 1999 with Vancouver to select the Sedin twins at #2 and #3.
Add it all up and it doesn't look as if the Sabres will be jumping into the fray of the top-five due to high risk and questionable reward.
That's not to say that they want to stay put at #12 either.
Nearly every mock draft has Yakupov, Galchenyuk and Murray in the top-five, with no consensus after that. Grigorenko will probably be taken with one of the top-five picks while the other should be a d-man. In looking at the sixth through nine slots, what's left of the top forwards in the draft will probably be taken in this area.
Center Filip Forseberg could be in the top-five and is sure to be taken soon after and center Radek Faksa probably won't drop past seven or eight.
After that you have one forward, winger Teuvo Teravainen, buried in a group of five or six defensemen slated to be picked in the next group.
The only area of the draft that they would seem to be targeting to move up would be picks 6, 7 and 8 with Forsberg and Faksa being the two that combine the skill and upside to strengthen the organization's forward ranks.
Staying at #12 would yield them one possibility at forward--Teravainen and if he's not there, the team would probably invoke the "best player available" principle.
"There are some defenseman in this draft who could turn out to be a #1 or #2 [defenseman,]" Devine said. "If there's a defenseman like that at 12, versus maybe a top-six or third line forward, then we'll definitely take the defenseman."
If Devine thought that this was the most challenging draft in his tenure as Head Scout, this may end up being a defining moment for GM Darcy Regier.
Regier finagled an extra second-round pick last year in the Robyn Regehr trade and somehow got another first-rounder when he sent Paul Gaustad (and a fourth) to Nashville at the trade deadline.
He has the assets to make some noise at the draft whether to trade up for a prospect or go after an NHL'er who will likely be available, like Rick Nash, or those rumored to be available, like Jordan Staal.
Baker went on to say that Regier may need to move up in the draft in a "statement move, not only to improve his team, but also to protect his standing within the organization."
And he continues by saying that Regier doesn't necessarily need to move up to improve the team, he can do it by getting an NHL'er. "They have some, I don't want to say dead weight," he said, "but they certainly have the opportunity to exchange parts of their core.
They could get some 'now' players, maybe swapping some guys out who could use a change of scenery."
Baker seems to think that the Sabres will once again be relevant at the draft this year, "I truly believe something will happen to this roster."
He seems to think that a lot of the questions about Regier and whether he would be a "viable extension of Terry Pegula's free spending business mind" have already been answered with the Regehr trade.
Further evidence can be found in the Christian Ehrhoff trade as well as the Gaustad trade and the signing of Ville Leino.
Even so, Regier could be under the gun at this draft because of his "embarrassment of riches." He obviously had the money to work with and over the past year he's had more scouts at the rink as well plus he has four picks out of the top-44.
It's doubtful that Regier will stand pat with all the resources available to him next week.
He's already been doing things out of character since Pegula took over, like trading for a players' rights (Ehrhoff,) overpaying in the free agent market (Leino,) while also trading away one of his homegrown players (Chris Butler,) one of his top prospects (Zack Kassian) and one of his core players (Gaustad.)
For the next six days information will be coming forth with most of it vague.
But we may be able to glean something from the hours of interviews.