Friday, June 17, 2016

2016 draft prospects--Fill the cupboard on defense

Reprinted with permission from

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.

In looking at the draft as it's laid out now, I am of the opinion that the Sabres are more likely to draft a forward prospect than a defenseman. Best player available would be the driving force in the matter but one should also take into consideration that Buffalo has been able to land some pretty good prospects after the first round.

As mentioned in a previous piece, recent history reveals there's no need to reach for a defenseman in the 8th slot. Twenty-two yr. old Jake McCabe--taken with the 44th overall pick in the 2012 draft--locked down a second-pairing role on the club last year in his first full NHL season and has upside to the point where he could end up being a #2/3 d-man. Top-overall prospect Brendan Guhle was taken with the 51st pick last year and he almost made the club out of camp in 2015. Will Borgen (2015, 92nd overall,) Anthony Florentino (2013, 143rd) and Brycen Martin (2014, 74th) all look to be NHL'ers with varying potential.

With that in mind, we take a look at potential d-men the Sabres could be looking at beyond the first round. Right now the Sabres own pick 38 in the second round and picks 69, 76, 86, and 89 in the third round.

Lucas Carlsson, LHD, 6'0" 189 lbs. Byrnas, Sweden

The 17 yr. old Galve, Sweden native just finished a playing against men in the SHL coming away with nine points (4+5) in 35 regular season games and a ton of experience. He also had two assists in three playoff games for Byrmas. He got the call to the big club after posting one goal and 10 assists in 15 games for their Jr. team.

Carlsson's an excellent skating, mobile defenseman who's still a work in progress in other areas, but his stickwork and on-ice vision allow go off on some pretty incredible rushes as shown here. He was also invited to the Washington Capitals Development Camp last season.

Central Scouting has him as the 15th-best European skater (up from 22 mid-term) and he should be available for the Sabres at pick 38. Keeping him in the hopper for a few years while allowing him to develop could pay huge dividends down the road should he reach his potential.

Cam Dineen, 5'11" 183 lbs, Toms River, NJ

Windsor Spitfire defenseman Mikhail Sergachev is possibly the best offensive defenseman in the 2016 draft and will go top-10. Dineen, no relation to Kevin Dineen, finished second amongst defensemen in the OHL with 59 points (13+46,) one spot ahead of Sergachev.

The only thing holding the offensive-defenseman back from being a first-rounder this year is his size, which is a bit below what some might consider NHL standards. Smallish should not be confused with leprosy and there's not a team in the league that can't use a mobile d-man with on-ice vision and top-notch hockey sense who possesses an excellent first pass out of the zone, and powerplay quarterback acumen. He'll probably be able to get by in the pros because he thinks the game so well but Dineen will need to bulk up a bit to endure the rigors of the NHL.

Dineen rocketed up from his 117th mid-term ranking to 39th pre-draft placing him well within striking distance of Buffalo.

Kale Clague, LHD, 6'0" 177 lbs. Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL)

Clague had a breakout season for the Wheat Kings with 43 points (6+37) in 71 regular season games while adding another 14 points (6+8) in 21 playoff games. He's swift and mobile with an excellent first pass and plenty of savvy to set up teammates in the offensive zone and lead all Brampton d-men in scoring on while on their way to the WHL Championship.

But probably one of the most important aspects of Clague's game, especially in light of how the Pittsburgh Penguins won the Stanley Cup this year with an intense forecheck, is that he's considered to be" a composed player who makes good choices under pressure," according to Director of Central Scouting, Dan Marr. It's an invaluable trait in any style NHL.

Clague is ranked as the 27th-best North American skater by Central Scouting. His drop from 22nd in the mid-term rankings may precipitate a fall to the early third round, just about where Buffalo is at No. 69.

Griffin Luce, LHD. 6'3" 214 lbs.  USA Hockey's Under-18 National Team Development Program

Luce is the grandson of former Sabre Don Luce, one of the best checking forwards in the league back in the 70's.

A self-described shut-down, defensive-defenseman, Griffin Luce already has NHL size, a fierce competitive nature and is ready to embark on a college career at Michgan. Any issues with his game may involve skating--and it's something he's been working on since age 10--but it's undeniable what he has in his bloodlines. Plus he's been around hockey directly as his father, Scott, was in the Florida Panthers front office for 15 years.

The scouting report on the young defenseman is that "[he's] a big boy who moves well for his size and he has good physical element to his game," NHL Central Scouting's Greg Rajanen wrote for "He offers simple puck play with a good first pass. He has good net front presence."

Central Scouting has him ranked 70th amongst North American skaters and could very well be attainable with one of the Sabres latter third-round picks.

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