With four picks in the top 44 of this year's draft, Buffalo Sabres GM Darcy Regier has plenty of options. But with so much uncertainty swirling around Pittsburgh for the draft, who knows what will happen.
Will the Edmonton Oilers add to their young forward ranks by selecting consensus #1 overall prospect Nail Yakupov? How will the Columbus Blue Jackets be affected by the almost certain trade of franchise forward Rick Nash? The Anaheim Ducks are ready to trade winger Bobby Ryan, where will he end up?
A couple of things we do know: this year's crop of free agents is very weak, and a potential 2013 free agent, Jordan Staal, seems to be headed to Carolina at some point in time and should be crossed off of the Sabres list as a potential free agent target.
For the most part, throwing money at a free agent isn't going to work this season so any upgrade will need to involve trades. And that seems to be the path Regier is on.
It's no secret that the Sabres organizational strength is on the blue line and that they're looking for more size down the middle. They also could use more scoring on the wings.
The dilemma they face at this year's draft is that it is defenseman-heavy past the first five or six picks. At #12 there's a possibility that a forward could fall, but more than likely they'd be looking at a choice between a potential top-pairing d-man versus a potential top-nine forward. Their M.O. in the past has been to take the best player available which would mean yet another defenseman.
It's a sound philosophy and they've been using it for the last few years. Maybe it's time to use some of their assets on defense to make a move.
In his draft preview, Kris Baker of sabresprospects.com, believes that the Sabres should go after Alex Galchenyuk via Columbus.
He ranks the 6'2" 205lb center as "A" and starts out his player preview by saying, "I've been waiting two years to say this: SabresProspects fully endorses Alex Galchenyuk as the Sabres top target in the 2012 draft."
Baker rates him high in all areas adding that he "embraces and initiates the physical side." TSN Scout Craig Button, although ranking Galchenyuk #5, says that he "doesn't take short cuts and values the plays that are important to winning."
Highly touted for his skills and strong skating, Galchenyuk also has attributes like a high hockey IQ and an outstanding understanding of puck play which scouts liken to Hall of Famer Ron Francis. Francis is a player that Baker says Regier "long coveted but could never acquire" and he calls this a "golden opportunity" for the long-time Sabres GM to get "a tenacious competitor that fits right into what [they] are building."
Head Scout Kevin Devine has been downplaying a move up to the top of the draft using the "Russian Factor," the amount of injuries to the top prospects while calling it a good draft. He went on to say recently that there's more of a probability to move up from #21 than there is to move up from #12.
But that could all be a smoke screen. And it should be.
Regier should be on the phone to Jackets GM Scott Howson with a trade in place should the Oilers select Yakupov #1 and Galchenyuk be available at #2.
Moving up from the 12th spot into the #2 will take some pain. The #12 pick, possibly the #21 and/or one of the Sabres second-rounders plus a prospect and probably another player.
The Jackets are said to be leaning towards NHL-ready defensive prospect Ryan Murray at the draft so they would probably want an NHL-ready d-man in return--Brayden McNabb or Mark Pysyk would probably be the names bantered around.
McNabb looks slated for the top-four next season. If not next season then he'll surely be there soon. The 6'5" stay at home d-man with a developing mean-streak seems to be in the mold of Robyn Regehr, the Calgary d-man the Sabres traded for last season.
There are no other d-men like McNabb in the Sabres system right now. Taken the extremes with which they went after Regehr last season, it wouldn't make sense to move a player like him even though it's for a potential #1 center.
Pysyk, on the other hand, brings a different set of assets to the table.
More of an all-around defenseman, Pysyk is very sound in his own end with strong puck moving abilities and plenty of intangibles. The right-hander would fit well next to the Jackets LHD Jack Johnson as the duo would provide some sound leadership to anchor the team.
If the Sabres could start out with the #12, one of their two second-rounders, Pysyk as a base and go from there, Galchenyuk in the blue and gold, would make for an impact in the first round. Plus, for Columbus, they still may be able to add a potential top-pairing d-man in the first round, say Olli Maatta, with the 12th pick.
This looks to be the opportunity for the Sabres to land, as Baker called Galchenyuk on WGR today, a "world class talent with a lot of intangibles."
Maybe the stars will align, with a lot of work and a certain amount of pain.
We know Owner Terry Pegula is not afraid to go all-in. Hopefully Regier can pull it off.