Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com
Every year come draft time there's talk of various drop-off points in the pool of prospects.
Last year there were "the big four" of Seth Jones, Nathan MacKinnon, Jonathan Drouin and Alexsander Barkov followed closely Elias Lindholm and Sean Monahan. The next grouping stretched down to the 10/11 area.
Sabres Assistant GM Kevin Devine was has said that this year's group of prospects begin with the top-four of Aaron Ekblad, Sam Reinhart,Sam Bennett and Leon Draisaitl. He also mentioned previously that there could be a fifth player in that mix.
During an interview with Mike Morreale of NHL.com, Devine stretched that a bit saying, "Maybe the draft tapers off a little bit after the top six or seven," but came back to the top-four line of thinking. After those, he said, "The guys in the five to 20 range are probably as strong as we've seen in that range in the past."
Not all teams view players the same way, but Devine is pretty much in line with what most scouts are thinking.
That large grouping from the 5th to the 20th offers an array of players at various positions. All of them seem to be on the same level talent-wise, it's just a matter of the particulars a team is looking for.
Buffalo is looking to keep the No. 2 overall pick and move back into the first round. Lately the target area that's been thrown around is the "teens and twenties," which would be right at that No. 20 cutoff point Devine kicked around. The next grouping seems to go from there on down into the middle of the second round.
Those two large drop-off points could be huge in finding a potential dance partner, one who could conceivably trade away their 20-area first rounder and get just as good a player at around the No. 45 overall pick.
And the Sabres have all options on the table. They have three second round picks as well as roster players to deal, plus they have the ability to take on unwanted salary from a potential dance partner.
One of the options is a simple trade of draft picks. For instance a team like Pittsburgh has the 22nd pick in the draft, but no second or third round pick. Would they be interested in trading out of the first round to pick up, say, the 31st and 49th picks?
If all of those picks from No. 22 to No. 49 were in the same fourth-tier grouping then it's a workable scenario for them.
Salary considerations could also come into play as many conference contenders may need to do some financial juggling.
The Montreal Canadians are slated to pick 26th. They do not have a second round pick either.
As it stands they have some $25M in cap-space to sign six roster players. A big chunk of that, though, will end up going to restricted free agent PK Subban.
Murray has state repeatedly that he's not opposed to taking back salary in a trade scenario.
A player like Daniel Briere saw his minutes decline in the playoffs and it would seem as if the Canadians would love to rid themselves of his $4M contract for next season. Taking on Briere's contract and flipping Montreal's No. 26 for the 49th pick would benefit both clubs.
An extreme example of taking on salary would involve the Penguins.
Pittsburgh was bounced in the second round by the NY Rangers and the window for the Crosby/Evgeni Malkin era is beginning to close.
A number of high-salaried players underachieved in the playoffs, but none of those would hamper the Penguins like defenseman Kris Letang's contract will.
The mega-albatross that hangs around Pittsburgh's neck is Letang's 8yr./$58 contract that kicks in this year.
The 27 yr.old puck-moving d-man has a concussion history and suffered a stroke late in the 2013-14 season. It was also revealed that he suffered a broken hand in Game-6 and a broken foot in Game-7 of the Rangers' series.
He should fully recover from everything that happened last season, but the long-term effects are the big unknown. At the end of his contract he'll be a very old 35.
As of right now the Penguin need to sign nine players but only have $16M in cap-space.
Either D, Paul Martin or RW, James Neal (both with $5M cap-hits) could be tradeable, but Martin only has one year remaining on his contract and Neal is said to be liked by Malkin.
Letang may be their only ticket out of this situation. And there may be only one team willing or able to take on a contract like that for a player with that many question marks about his long-term future. And that would be Buffalo.
Would they be willing to do Pittsburgh a favor?
Taking on Letang, were he willing to lift his NTC to come to Buffalo, would be a monster move and would require Pittsburgh to ante up big time.
Yet another avenue for the Sabres to jump back into the first round would be trading a roster player (and maybe a second or third rounder.)
Anaheim has two picks in the first round, the second of which comes in at No. 24.
The Ducks are a Cup-caliber team with an emerging group of youngins and a second ranked prospect pool (according to Hockey's Future.)
They'll be grabbing one of the top-10 players in the draft (acquired from Ottawa) and may opt to add a roster player instead.
Buffalo has Ehrhoff and they also have big wingers like Chris Stewart and Drew Stafford that may be of interest to Anaheim.
If the Sabres want to get back into the first round, they have plenty of options. They may even end up adding two first rounders with the myriad of assets available.
GM Tim Murray is locked into that mode. In an interview with ESPN (via the Morreale piece) he said, "I'd like to get a couple of more first-round picks."
It's Murray's first rodeo at the draft as GM. He has a ton of assets to work with and doesn't seem like he'd shy away from anything.
And that means it should be a pretty fun weekend for Sabres' fans.