Monday, June 26, 2017

Mittelstadt at No. 8 leads the 2017 Buffalo Sabres draft class

Published by 6-24-2017

The results are in and the Buffalo Sabres left the 2017 NHL draft with six prospects--two centers, two defensemen, one goalie and one left winger--using one first-rounder (No. 8-overall,) two seconds (37, 54) a third (89,) fourth (99) and seventh rounder (192) to make their selections. The huge gap between the fourth and fifth rounds were due to Buffalo trading a fifth to St. Louis for goalie Anders Nilsson and a sixth to Las Vegas to protect goalie Linus Ullmark in the expansion draft.

The extra second round pick (54) came courtesy of the Minnesota Wild in the Chris Stewart trade and the Sabres also acquired a third round pick (89) which they got from Washington in the Mike Weber trade. Buffalo traded their own third round pick (68) to Montreal for Nathan Beaulieu which was new GM Jason Botterill's first trade as Sabres GM.

Buffalo came into the draft with serious organizational needs on defense and in goal, but in true best player available fashion, the Sabres selected two centers with their first two picks then selected Central Scouting's top-rated European goalie with their extra second rounder. They plucked two smallish defenseman after that--one from Finland and one in college- and finished off the draft by taking a left winger.

This was a draft with world-wide vision for Botterill and the Sabres as Buffalo selected one American, one Canadian, two Finns and two Swedes.

Although the torches and pitchforks remained at bay in the first round, some Sabres fans worked themselves into a tizzy over on social media with the Sabres passing on defenseman Timothy Liljegren at No.8. Having Toronto select him at No. 17 added fuel to the fire as he'll become the most scrutinized first round d-man passed on since they bypassed Mikhail Sergachev who was selected one spot after Buffalo last year.

And to further fan's panic attack, Buffalo's first round pick will be headed to college with the specter of losing him ala Jimmy Vesey and Cal Petersen to free agency, which hovers like a dark cloud over their fandom.

Not to be finished with a 'woe is me/what the hell are they doing?' type approach to the draft, some were wondering why the Sabres passed on drafting a low-ranked defenseman to draft the top-rated Euro goaltending prospect as Buffalo took the first goalie off the board on Day-2 of the draft.

This was an unremarkable draft in many respects as it lacked star power with long, deep tiers offering similar talent amongst various positions. The top two picks were centers and after the top-two d-men were taken next, nine forwards in a row were taken off the board before a run on defenseman started with pick 14 and finished five picks later.

I'd hazard to guess that if former GM Tim Murray were still employed by the Sabres, the torches and pitchforks would have come out in full force over this draft even though through Buffalo's picks through the first two rounds were well-grounded to say the least.

With that said, here's what the Sabres 2017 draft class.

8--C, Casey Mittelstadt

Having a player widely considered to be a top-five draft prospect drop to the Sabres at No. 8 in the NHL Entry Draft was a pleasant surprise for first-time GM Botterill, no matter how much he tried to down play it. "Isn't that the cliche'?" Botterill deadpanned as he spoke to the media after Round-1 of the draft. "You've got to say, 'Oh, I can't believe that he was there!'"

The player they were referring to is center Casey Mittelstadt and it was a poignant response that drew laughter from the gathered press. Not very many, if any, expected the Eden Prairie High School Graduate and Minnesota's 2017 Mr. Hockey to be there when the Sabres were on the clock. Central Scouting had him as the third-best North American skater and Kris Baker of sabresprospects/ ranked him No. 3. McKeen's hockey ranked him fifth-best while International Scouting Services had him at seventh.

When Mittelstadt fell, however, he put Botterill in a bit of a tough spot although it seemed as if there was a team consensus on the pick.

The Sabres selected center Jack Eichel second-overall in 2015 and traded for Ryan O'Reilly at that draft then signed him to a long-term deal. Those two will be the Sabres one-two punch down the middle for years to come. They also drafted center Sam Reinhart second overall in 2014 but he's been moved to wing, and they drafted two centers last year--Rasmus Asplund and Cliff Pu--in the second and third rounds, respectively. If there's anything they didn't need at No. 8, it was another center.

Yet, Mittelstadt ended up in a group that Botterill said was "surprisingly [made up of] forwards," one that they were very comfortable with, which included "a couple [that] went before us and a couple [that] went after." There was no mention of defense, most notably Liljegren who took a precipitous year-over-year drop in the rankings and was available in that spot. Knowing that the Sabres are thin on defense and in goal in the system, Botterill was asked if that would be a particular focus in the second round where Buffalo has two picks (Nos. 37 and 54.) "As I've talked about before," began the first-time GM, "if there's a fit, then we are going to make that selection for a defenseman or a goaltender, but we're not going to force it."

"I don't like saying this word when talking about hockey players, but you're trying to get the best athlete. If there's another good centerman tomorrow in our early picks we're probably going to select him. If it's close then we'll probably lean towards a defenseman" (they ended up taking a center with their first pick in the second round.)

Perhaps Botterill didn't want to use the word "athlete" because Mittlestadt didn't have the greatest of NHL Combines last month in Buffalo. He admitted to being a pudgy kid in an interview after the combine while also saying has a bit of a pudge still with him. Mittelstadt has 199 lbs. on his 6'1" frame and sculpted he is not. Like 2014 fourth-overall pick Sam Bennett, couldn't do a single pull-up at the combine and he could only do one rep at 160 lbs. on the bench press. However the kid showed a little moxie saying later, "I don't work on my bench press or my pull ups."

Mittelstadt will have plenty of time to work on that at Minnesota when he joins Don Lucia and the Golden Gophers next year, but he wasn't a top-10 pick in the draft for his workouts. He was ranked high because of his speed and skill-level.

Mike Morreale of said "has elite skills and assets to consistently impact and produce results at any level" of Mittelstadt while International Scouting Services tweeted he "plays in traffic, can read and react well. Will beat opponents with speed and smarts."

Kris Baker of, in his draft preview, said Mittelstadt "has cemented his top-six forward projection at the NHL level with his vision and sense, he has also made a mark as a fierce competitor with his ability to pressure the puck, battle along the walls, and simply do what it takes to be a difference maker in all three zones for the full 60 minutes." And USA Today's Kevin Allen, who had Mittelstadt mocked at No. 6 to Vegas, wrote in his Day-1 recap, "He’s got an explosive stride with an effortless shot release. We love his competitive fire."

There's a lot to like about this kid and you can see some of it in the following video from YouTube's, The Draft Analyst.

Mittelstadt has some work to do with his frame changing his "pudge" to muscle and could top out in the 210-215 lb. range while still maintaining his speed. He's got a lethal shot too and a sweet set of hands that might remind some of Thomas Vanek, who was also selected by the Sabres and attended the University of Minnesota.

37--C, Marcus Davidsson

True to his word, Botterill once again went with best player available after the top two defensemen on Day-2 went off the board and drafted Swedish centerman Marcus Davidsson.

The 6'0" 191 lb. Davidsson spent last season with Djurgardens Swedish Hockey League scoring five goals and adding nine assists in 45 games for the top club while also six goals in nine games for their junior club.

Baker had him rated as the 31st overall prospect in the draft and wrote the 18 yr. old "is a gritty two-way worker who has the look of an opportunistic middle-line pivot. When on his game, Davidsson brings loads of speed and energy while causing chaos in front of the opposing goal." Which kind of reminds me of a faster version of Johan Larsson. Baker also noted that Davidsson played left wing last year.

G, Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen (54)

Other than the fact that Finn's name would make for a nice scrabble score, Luukkonen is a big goalie whose 6'4" 198 lb. frame takes up space and there's still room for growth. Not only does he have the size teams are looking for these days, Luukkonen is agile enough to cover the bottom half of the net well and has quick hands to cover the top corners.

From Goran Stubbs, NHL Director of European Scouting, "“Luukkonen was a key performer for Finland at the 2016 IIHF World Under-18 Championships. He plays an effective butterfly style and does an excellent job of controlling rebounds.”

Luukkonen is under contract in Finland for the next two seasons.

89--D, Oskari Laaksonen

Sabres fans finally get their d-man in the fourth round, but nobody knows much about the native of Espoo, Finland. In fact his eliteprospects page had him listed at 130 lbs. and no one may ever have noticed had he not been drafted. They eventually changed it to 165 with the final numbers having him listed at 6'1" 165 lbs.

Even with that listing, his NHL page has nothing on him save for stats which covers a year in U-18 and one in junior.

Sabres director of European Scouting Anders Forsberg must have gotten a good word from his scouts that Laaksonen is worth a fourth rounder pick on. One tidbit I did manage to unearth came from a Finnish Junior hockey tweet:  "Sabres pick Oskari Laaksonen 89th overall. Played for Ilves U18/U20. Gifted puck mover with great vision, good long-term upside.

Laaksonen the 'mystery pick' will be fun to follow just to see where he ends up.

99--D, Jacob Bryson

Botterill continued on defense with the 99th pick in the draft taking Providence Friars defenseman Jacob Bryson (no relation to Peabo.)

The 19 yr. old Bryson came to Providence after a year with Omaha of the USHL. While with the Lancers, the London, Ontario native had 31 points (3+28) in 56 games but was a minus-8 while in his freshman season with the Friars Bryson finished with 20 points (3+17) in 39 games and an even plus/minus.

In a College Hockey News interview from 2014 after making a commitment to Providence, Bryson described himself as one who "strives to be a fast, smart, offensive defenseman."

"I love setting up plays," he continued, "especially on the power play. I’m undersized so it’s critical I continue to work hard at getting bigger and stronger while utilizing my strengths. I’m inspired by players like Ryan Ellis and Torey Krug who despite their smaller stature have proven they can compete and be very successful at the next level."

Bryson would've caught the ear of new Sabres head coach Phil Housley with the mention of Ellis. Housley coached Ellis when he was in charge of the Western Conference Champion Nashville Predators.

Bryson is listed as 5'9" 179 lbs.

192--LW, Linus Weissbach

It was a long wait for Buffalo to make their final selection as they last selected at No. 99, but when it finally did come to them they once again went with a Swede in selecting left winger, Linus Weissbach.

The 5'9" 161 lb. left-handed shot played for the USHL's Tri City Storm last year and is committed to the University of Wisconsin. Weissbach lead the Storm in scoring last season with 47 points (19+28) in 49 games.

A Wisconsin newspaper called the new Badger "a highly sought recruit known for his speed and scoring ability." Todd D. Milewski, who penned the article for the Wisconsin State Journal, quoted Tri City coach Bill Muckalt as saying Weissbach's "an explosive skater that every school in the country would have an interest in."

Muckalt went on to say that even at Weissbach's size, he adapted very well to the more physical North American game after coming over from Sweden. "He's got a really good base and strength in his legs," said the coach in the Milewski piece. "I think as the strength and conditioning (increases) and as he matures, that'll continue to go in the right direction for him."

Weissbach is from Gothenburg, Sweden, same hometown as Buffalo goalie Robin Lehner.

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