Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com
When it came time for the Buffalo Sabres to make their selection at the 2016 NHL Draft it could be assumed that two of the prospects GM Tim Murray and his scouting staff had ranked in the top three that would be there. By all pre-draft accounts, defenseman Olli Joulevi was at the top of the list of the players they expected to be available at No. 8 and when the Arizona Coyotes went slightly off the board to select center Clayton Keller, you'd have to believe that Murray was looking at a choice between the player they took, RW Alexander Nylander and the player they didn't in defenseman Mikhail Sergachev.
With the pick in and microphones in front of him, Murray told the gathered media of the Nylander pick, “We were just going to go off our list. I’m not worried about position at all, best player available or best fit and the fit could be defense or it could be just like the player we took today."
Murray reiterated what many scouts had been saying about a player who many consider one of the most skilled in the draft. “Skill, skating, I mean he’s the whole package. I think after the Pittsburgh win you hear people talking about speed and that’s what we’ve been trying to do the past couple of years and we don’t have enough of it yet. We’ve made great strides and to get a guy like him that we think is a top six forward, just fit into our blueprint.”
So the Penguins winning the Stanley Cup had a bit to do with the selection. Although others might throw in another aspect.
It's widely perceived, at least amongst the fan-base, that Murray has an aversion to drafting Russians. And as of late, we could add 'keeping Russians' into the equation as Mikhail Grigorenko and Nikita Zadorov both were traded to the Colorado Avalanche. Another Russia, goalie prospect Andrey Makarov, will not be tendered an offer by the club and is headed home to the Motherland.
Sergachev would have fit well into one of the Sabres positions of need. He's a big, left-handed defenseman with strong skating skills and a nice pass out of the zone. An important tenet of breaking through the onslaught that was Pittsburgh's forecheck in the playoffs is having a defenseman who's skilled, but also cool under pressure. Kyle Woodlief and the boys at the Red Line Report say he has "zero panic to his game."
He's also perceived by many as the most NHL-ready of all the defensemen in the draft. And it showed. While Sabres Taco and I were discussing why he'd be an 18th round pick in Mrs. Taco's dude draft, the young prospects made their way in and around 716 and Sergachev stood out not only for his size, but he looked like a man amongst the many boyish faces we'd seen come through.
Right wing is pretty stacked in the Sabres system, so Nylander was a somewhat curious choice. There shouldn't be too much of a problem with the pick in Sabreland, however, as he's an extremely gifted player who, in my eyes, has plenty of chutzpah. There's one troubling aspect to his game is that he's perceived as a perimeter player. From today's Redline Report the boys said Nylander, "has a knack for lurking on the edges, and then bursting through a small crack at just the right moment to emerge with a great scoring chance. Not as good a skater as older brother, but still very elusive with fine east-west moves and agility. We’d like to see more of a three-zone effort and commitment in the greasy areas — spends far too much time on the perimeter. Rarely initiates contact, and if he’s not scoring, he’s not helping. But he’s a gamebreaker; can be invisible for 57 minutes, then win the game.
It sounds like a combination of Tyler Ennis, who's on the roster in a top-six RW role and Joel Armia, a former first rounder whom Murray traded to Winnipeg. We need to keep in mind that these are 18 yr. old kids we're talking about so things can change and I believe Nylander has enough attitude to fulfill his highly-skilled promise.
As for the holes on defense, as mentioned before, Buffalo has shown the capacity to land quality defensemen outside the first round and I wouldn't be surprised if they began today by selecting one with their first pick in the second round.
And as for a truly NHL-ready defenseman, they may be plugging a hole with a likely trade for Florida's Dmitri Kulikov.