Thursday, June 21, 2018

Sabres will need to be sharp to land an NHL-caliber goalie propect

Published by, 6-20-2018

The Buffalo Sabres have the No. 1 overall pick in this year's NHL Entry Draft and they have the top pick No. 32, which starts the second round. It's with almost 100% certainty that they'll select defenseman Rasmus Dahlin with the top pick and you could say that it's with nearly a 100% certainty that they'll take a skater with their second pick.

Barring any changes Buffalo will be waiting until pick No. 94 at the top of the fourth round to make their selection. The Sabres traded away their third round pick (No. 63) this year to the Minnesota Wild in a trade that also sent Marcus Foligno and Tyler Ennis to the Wild for Marco Scandella and Jason Pominville. Buffalo also received Minnesota's fourth-rounder this year (No. 117) as a part of the deal.

Being so high in the draft while not having a third-rounder means the Buffalo does not have a pick in a prime area to take one of the better goalies in the draft.

Thoughts on where to draft goaltenders has changed throughout the years. Rick DiPietro was the No. 1 pick in the 2000 NHL Draft and the only other goalie picked first was Marc-Andre Fleury (2002.) Kari Lehtonen was taken second-ovearll in 2001 and Carey Price  fifth-overall in 2005. There were four goalies taken in the first round in 2006 and after that the most selected in the first round was two which happened three times (2008, 2010, 2012.)

Jack Campbell was selected 11th overall in 2010 and represents the highest slot amongst goalies taken since 2006 when Jonathan Bernier was also selected at No. 11. From 2007-17 there have been only eight goalies taken in the first round and in the last five years it's happened only twice.

With the game changing more towards speed and offense, teams are focusing on the skaters much more in the first round while waiting until the second or third rounds to snag a goalie prospect. There have been 71 goalies taken in the second and third rounds since 2007 with the highest total being nine in 2012. The next highest number was eight in 2016 and on five other occasions, seven goalies were taken in those rounds.

The Sabres philosophy on where to draft goalies has also changed. The success of Ryan Miller, who was drafted fifth-overall (138) in 1999 gave GM Darcy Regier a reason to wait until the latter rounds to pick a goalie. Only Jonas Enroth (2006, 46th) was selected with a pick higher than the fourth round. Enroth played in 152 NHL games. Regier drafted six other goalies before he was fired in 2013 with the highest being Ghyslain Rousseau in the fourth round (2000, 111th) and of that group, only Linus Ullmark (2012, 163rd) has hit double digits in NHL games played.

Of note, the Sabres also drafted Cal Petersen in the fifth round (129th) of the 2013 draft but he signed with the LA Kings.

Tim Murray actually broke the trend of drafting goalies late in the draft for Buffalo when he selected Jonas Johansson with the 61st pick in the 2014 draft. He would not select another goalie in the following two drafts and was fired in 2017.

After taking over the reigns as GM last season, Jason Botterill selected Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen (whom the team just signed to an entry-level deal) with the 54th pick. He was the second goalie off the board and was one of seven total selected in the second and third rounds.

Right now, the Sabres prospect pool in net consists of Ullmark, who will be with the Sabres in a not yet fully defined role, Johansson who will be in Rochester in a not yet fully defined role and Luukkonen, who's expected to spend at least one year (probably two) in his native Finland playing at the pro-level there. There's nobody from the system to man the net in Cincinnati this year and no one between the 22 yr. old Johansson and the 19 yr. old Luukkonen.

The Sabres will once again be looking for outside help in net and for the foreseeable future will need to ride with a very thin prospect pool. Having them without a pick in a prime area at the draft to land a goalie prospect will extend that thin pool out another year.

Regardless of that fact, neither Buffalo nor any other team, has their goalie positions at all three levels filled by homegrown picks. Botterill will once again be in the market for an AHL goalie and will need to find two for the ECHL. And by the looks of it, he'll probably be looking to fill an open spot in Buffalo should they move on from Robin Lehner.

If the Sabres draft a goaltender and they hope that he at the very least fills the pipeline at the minor league level, they'll need to be pretty sharp. On average, seven goalies have been taken prior to round four over the last 11 years.

Kris Baker of the Athletic Buffalo, called this crop of goalies "average at best" in his draft preview. Baker has been following the draft and Sabres prospects for over a decade through his site for over a decade and was tapped by the Athletic to do the same for them.

Baker might be reaching a bit when he lists Czech goaltending prospect Jakub Skarek as a possibility for Buffalo at pick 94 this year. Skarek, who's ranked highly at a number of sites, has the size at 6'3" 192 lbs. that fits the way the NHL is trending and, according to Baker, "checks a lot of boxes for a solid goaltending prospect."

Skarek "[has the] ability to cover a lot of net when dropping to make a butterfly save," continued Baker, "[has] high goalie IQ that allows him to read and anticipate, and extremely sharp reflexes."

After that Baker sees Djurgarden IF goalie Olof Lindbom as a possibility with Buffalo's second fourth-rounder at No. 117. Lindbom also has size (6'2" 185 lbs.) and has a strong lower body that allows him to use "powerful pushes with both legs that get him post-to-post with ease."

It should be noted that the goalie rankings are pretty much all over the place this year outside of a couple of names leading the pack. QMJHL products Oliver Rodrigue and Kevin Mandolese are ranked as the top two goalies by International Scouting Services while NHL's Central Scouting has both of them atop their rankings of North American Goalies. (CSS has Skarek ranked No. 2 amongst European goalies.)

Ryan Jankowski was hired by Botterill last July to head the amateur scouting department and he'll have his work cut out for him past pick-32. The goalies in that sweet spot of the second and third rounds will be gone (barring a trade) and he'll be left with a lower graded pool of "average at best" goalie prospects to choose from.

On the flip side, however, of all the positions in the crap shoot that is the NHL Draft, goaltender is the toughest one to try and figure out. First and foremost goalies are a rare breed spending nearly all of their time alone in net with their thoughts and second, they have the longest incubation period. A lot can happen between a goalie being drafted at 18 and being ready for regular pro duty in their early 20's.

The certainty with which the Sabres will draft Dahlin at the top of the draft is the complete opposite of drafting a goalie, especially in the latter rounds. Jankowski and company will need to be pretty sharp to nail the latter.

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