Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com
Conventional wisdom has the Buffalo Sabres coming out of the eighth slot in the 2016 NHL Draft with one of the top-three defenseman--Olli Joulevi, Jakob Chychrun or Mikhail Sergachev. All three are left-hand shots, which happens to be a right/left area of need in the system and all have offensive acumen based upon strong skating. Yet each bring a little something different to the table.
Most mock drafts have at least one of them there for the Sabres yet some believe that all three will be gone before Buffalo is on the clock at No. 8. The cool part about what the Sabres have been able to accomplish these last three drafts is that key roster positions look to have been filled, those being top-two centers (along with strength and depth down the middle) and a top-pairing defenseman. In 2014 they selected a top-six center in Sam Reinhart who was moved to the wing because of the 2015 Draft where they drafted Jack Eichel and traded for Ryan O'Reilly. In 2013 the Sabres drafted Rasmus Ristolainen with the 8th-overall pick and he anchored the Buffalo defense last season.
Drafting for need has never been the mantra in Buffalo and they'll almost always go best player available in the upper portions of the draft. When it comes to this draft, the best player available to them might just be wingers like Pierre-Luc Dubois or Alexander Nylander, two very different players who've shown the propensity to put the puck in the net. And the other cool part about what the Sabres have been able to accomplish at the draft recently is that they seem to be able to find a good defenseman after the first round, as evidenced by the following group of defensemen picked no higher than 44th.
This past season left-handed defenseman Jake McCabe was rock-solid on the second pairing in Buffalo. The 22 yr. old was drafted in the second round (44th overall) of the 2012 NHL Draft, spent two more seasons at the University of Wisconsin. He played one full season in Rochester and came into camp last season looking to stick. That process was delayed a bit because of an injury and after one game in Rochester he got the call to Buffalo and was a fixture in the top-four all season. He's had his fair share of rookie mistakes but still has upside and may be in the #2/3 d-man conversation should he continue to progress.
The No. 1 prospect in the Sabres system is left-handed defenseman Brendan Guhle and there are probably a lot of people who are wondering how he slipped to the 51st-overall pick in the 2015 NHL Draft. Buffalo snatched up the 17 yr. old Sherwood Park, Alberta native at that spot and he raised a lot of eyebrows last summer. His strong lower-body and overall athleticism combined with strong skating and a high hockey IQ almost had him make the Sabres out of camp. And he could very well have gotten at least a nine-game audition were he not steam-rolled by Dion Phaneuf. Guhle projects out as a top-four d-man whose skill and athleticism may get him into that top-pairing along side Ristolaienen.
Buffalo also landed another upper-level d-prospect in Will Borgen, who was taken in the 4th round (92nd) of the 2015 Draft. Kris Baker of sabresprospects.com/sabres.com has Borgen ranked 4th best prospect in the Sabres system. He's a right-handed defenseman playing college hockey for the St. Cloud State University Huskies (NCHC) who has a high compete-level yet is very poised in his own end, according to Baker. That poise could prove to be extremely valuable in light of how the Pittsburgh Penguins won the Stanley Cup this year with speed and a dogged forecheck. His is a little longer incubation period, but should his development continue a middle-pairing slot might be in his NHL future.
Another college prospect in the hopper is Providence Friar d-man Anthony Florentino. "Flo" is of a different ilk amongst the Sabres d-prospects as he has a thicker frame (6'1" 210 lbs.) and plays with much more of an edge to his game. Florentino scored the first goal in the 2015 NCAA Men's Hockey Championship game as Providence defeated Eichel and his Boston University Terriers. It looks as if Florentino will be finishing his college career next season and should he sign with the Sabres, he'll probably have another year or two in Rochester. How he develops will dictate where he ends up but there's no reason to believe he can't crack the Sabres lineup on the bottom-pair at least.
Brycen Martin was taken in 3rd round (74th) of the 2014 NHL Draft. All of the junior players that were picked by Buffalo in that draft are now signed to their entry-level contracts as GM Tim Murray signed Martin last month. He's another big body chiming in at 6'2" 200 lbs. and is also a left-handed shot who keeps the game simple. Martin, who has excellent puck-moving ability and plays a solid all-around game, is slated for duty in Rochester next season.
If the Sabres pass on drafting a defenseman at No. 8, recent history has shown there's no cause for concern as they seem to be able to find quality outside the first round. If a d-man with unequivocal top-pairing potential happens to land to them in that spot, that's even better.
Methinks the Sabres are enamored with Joulevi and they'd pluck him up in a heartbeat were he to fall to them. Their second choice might very well be Sergachev, but we're still unsure whether the rumors of Murray's aversion to Russians is fact or fiction. Having Sergachev drop to Buffalo would certainly clarify that notion as many scouts see him and Joulevi as equals.
If both are gone having Chychrun available might be a bit of a conundrum as he and the Pegula family, owners of the Sabres, have cozied up nicely down in Boca Raton, FL. As far as I know, the Pegulas are not meddlesome owners so it wouldn't surprise me to see the Sabres pass on him and go for either Dubois or Nylander if they're available. As proven in the past, they can find NHL d-men with big upside in the second round or lower.