Tuesday, July 11, 2017

A look at the Buffalo Sabres 2012 draft class

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 7-9-2017

On February 27, 2012 then Buffalo Sabres general manager Darcy Regier pulled off a trade at the deadline that sent Paul Gaustad and a fourth round pick to the Nashville Predators for a 2012 first round pick. After fans recovered from the utter shock of landing a first rounder for a fourth-liner in Gaustad, there was a realization that Regier's "Core" was about to be parceled off in a desperately needed rebuild for the franchise.

Over the course of the next two seasons, that group of Sabres, also known as "The Rochester Guys" as dubbed by then team president Ted Black, would be approaching free agency. It was a group of players that played together in Rochester during the 2004-05 NHL lockout and took over the reigns after the 2007 off-season when Buffalo couldn't retain their captain. "The Core" was very talented individually, something that would net the Sabres a cumulative haul when all was said and done, but they could not, as a group, get the Sabres past the first round of the playoffs. So in 2012 with Terry Pegula barely past his honeymoon phase as the new owner and the team looking the same as it had despite his injection of money and front-office freedom edict, Regier started dismantling his core.

The Sabres made two trades that 2012 deadline day. After Regier traded Gaustad, he sent forward Zack Kassian (2009, 13th-overall) and defenseman Marc-Andre Gragnani (2005, 87th) to the Vancouver Canucks in a hockey trade that brought back center Cody Hodgson and defenseman Alexander Sulzer. Although it didn't directly affect any of the Sabres drafts moving forward, moving those two Sabres picks contributed to what is now a complete overhaul of the franchise. With the trade of Tyler Ennis (2008, 26th) and Marcus Foligno (2009, 104th) to Minnesota on June 30, the Sabres have no homegrown player on their roster who was drafted by, and continuously played for, the club prior to the 2012 NHL Draft.

Buffalo went into the 2012 NHL Draft with an extra first-rounder from Nashville plus an extra second round pick in the trade for Robyn Regehr with the Calgary Flames. They entered the draft with pick Nos. 12, 21, 42 and 44 in the first two rounds. They also had an extra seventh-rounder from the Steve Montador trade to Chicago but lost a fourth-round pick when they traded for the rights to Christian Ehrhoff of the NY Islanders.

Kevin Devine, Buffalo's head amateur scout at the time, described the 2012 NHL Entry Draft as balanced but "not great up top." He said that they " having a real tough time coming up with a top-five." And to add to what he called "the most challenging" draft of his long tenure, "The Russian Factor" was coming into play as the threat of talented Russian players eventually heading to the Motherland to play in the KHL factored into most every GM's decision making process. Devine in called them "risky" picks and said, "if there's not an [Alex] Ovechink or [Ilya] Kovalchuk in the draft we're very leery of taking a player there and possibly losing that pick to the KHL."

He also discussed the possibility of moving up as the second tier stretched from No. 4 or 5 down to the  No. 12 area where the Sabres were slated to pick with their first of two first round picks. "Well, there's two views of [moving up,]" he said to the local media at the time, "first of all what's the price to move up and get that. If it's going to be your pick at 21 and you feel you're going to get a good player at 21, it's going to be hard to do...and, with all the players not distinguishing themselves, is it the year to move up? That's the question we're still asking ourselves."

The Sabres would eventually keep their 12th-overall pick but did in fact make a move up to No. 14, using their own second round pick to do so.

It's also worth mentioning that at the time, Buffalo's defense was considered a strength in the organization with their weakest area being center. Devine, like nearly every NHL GM (if not all,) had an openness to the situationally dependent, best player available approach to No. 12. "There are some defenseman in this draft who could turn out to be a #1 or #2 [defenseman,]" he said. "If there's a defenseman like that at 12, versus maybe a top-six or third line forward, then we'll definitely take the defenseman."

The Sabres watched as players started coming off the board:

RW, Nail Yakupov (EDM)
D, Ryan Murray (CLB)
C, Alex Galchenuyk (MTL)
D, Griffin Reinhart (NYI)
D, Morgan Reilly (TOR)
D, Hampus Lindholm (ANA)
D, Matthew Dumba (MIN)
D, Derrick Pouliot (PIT)
D, Jacob Trouba (WPG)
D, Slater Koekkoek (TBL)
RW, Filip Forseberg (WSH)

At No. 12 the Sabres selected center Mikhail Grigorenko.

Grigorenko was an enigma who's slot was all over the board in the various mock drafts. He had NHL size and an excellent skill set that had some thinking he'd be a top-five pick. Grigorenko was coming off of a 40 goal, 45 assist season for the Quebec Remparts in 2011-12 but some still had questions about his compete-level. His time in Buffalo was tumultuous as he was too good for junior in 2012-13 but not good enough to play in the NHL and because of rules he was not allowed to play in the AHL. The NHL locked out it's players in 2012 and play resumed in January, 2013. After a five-game "audition" with the Sabres, Girgorenko was sent back to junior a move which he initially balked at. He obliged and finished his junior career with 14 points (5+9) in 11 playoff games. From there he had a choppy career in Buffalo which had him yo-yoing between the Sabres and the Rochester Americans. On June 26, 2015 he was a part of the blockbuster trade with Colorado for Ryan O'Reilly. After two years with the Avalanche, and the turmoil there, on July 7, 2017 it was announced that the unrestricted free agent signed a three year contract with CSKA Moscow of the KHL.

14th--C, Zemgus Girgensons

After selecting Grigorenko and watching center Radek Faksa go off the board to the Dallas Stars, Regier hooked up with Calgary Flames GM Jay Feaster for the second time in a year. Buffalo traded the pick they got from Nashville in the Gaustad trade (No. 21) plus their own second rounder (No. 42) to move up and select Girgensons. Where Grigorenko was about size and skill, Girgensons was about size and will. "The Latvian Locomotive" made the jump from the Dubuque Fighting Saints to the AHL as an 18 yr. old and was one of the youngest players in the league. Since his debut as a Sabre on October 2, 2013 (where he scored a goal,) Girgensons has played in 277 NHL games, is on his fourth NHL head coach and third NHL GM. Somehow the 23 yr. old has managed to keep his wits about him and is looking to rebound from two disappointing seasons. He's the longest tenured Sabres player.

44th--D, Jake McCabe

Defenseman Jake McCabe is the second-longest tenured Sabre behind Girgensons and has matured nicely. The McCabe pick came courtesy of a trade with Calgary where the Sabres received Robyn Regehr and took on the bloated contract of Ales Kotalik in exchange for defenseman Chris Butler and forward Paul Byron. McCabe had a very successful career at Wisconsin and also captained Team USA to the 2013 IIHF World Junior Championship Gold medal under Phil Housley who now coaches the Sabres. He's been a top-four d-man for Buffalo who's been used often in the top-pairing. Many feel he still has upside at both ends of the ice and may get a shot at the top left-defenseman slot at training camp.

73rd--C, Justin Kea

The 6'4" 215 lb. Woodville, Ontario native bounced between the Rochester Americans and Elmira Jackals (ECHL) during his four-year pro career never making it to the NHL.

133rd--C, Logan Nelson

The Rogers, Minnesota native has spent his entire pro career in the ECHL.

163rd--G, Linus Ullmark

Perhaps it was the influx of overseas scouts that lead Buffalo to select the 6'3" 198 lb. Ullmark. After being taken by the Sabres in the sixth round, Ullmark stayed in his native Sweden and continued to impress for three seasons before coming to play for Rochester. His transition, however, was marked by elective double-hip surgery which was to keep him out until late-fall/early winter 2015. But a strange thing happened while on that timeline. Ullmark recovered quickly and stared in goal for the Amerks to begin the 2015-16 season. After Buffalo's starting goalie Robin Lehner went down in the first game of the season, the Sabres eventually called him up. Ullmark played in 20 games for the Sabres that season compiling an 8-10-2 record with a 2.60 GAA and .913 Sv%. Most respectable for a player that just came from overseas and was thrown into the fire after recovering early from major surgery. He fare well last season as the Amerks No. 1 goalie, despite being in a shooting gallery all season, and will be back in Rochester for another year of seasoning thanks the Sabres signing of back-up Chad Johnson.

193rd--D, Brady Austin

Austin was a London Knights d-partner for future first-round pick Nikita Zadorov before he turned pro. The big 6'4" 225 lb. left-handed defenseman spent some time with Elmira in the ECHL during his first pro campaign but played the bulk of the 2014-15 season in Rochester and never returned to Elmira afterwards. Austin is surprisingly mobile for a man of his size and got a five-game taste of the NHL last season in Buffalo where he looked pretty good. The Sabres, under new GM Jason Botterill never qualified him and Austin's now an unrestricted free agent.

204th--C, Judd Peterson

After being Buffalo's final pick in 2012, Petersen spent the next two seasons in the USHL before heading to St. Cloud State in Minnesota. It made fore a very long developmental curve for him while the Sabres benefitted by retaining his rights throughout. Peterson is at his fifth Sabres Development Camp and as a soon to be 24 yr. old entering his senior season for the Huskies, he's expected to take a big leap in his development.

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