Mar 31, 2012; Toronto, ON, Canada; Buffalo Sabres defenseman Jordan Leopold (3) skates out with the puck against the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre. The Maple Leafs beat the Sabres 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-US PRESSWIRE

2012 Buffalo Sabres Draft Preview

The NHL Draft being held in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, is now upon us. In two days the Buffalo Sabres have promised, “History will be made”.

Indeed, there is a strong possibility this statement could come true. The big question everybody likes to ask is: how? Will it be through the four of the top 44 picks that they have obtained, or will it be through trade? The Sabres’ hockey operations staff have indicated that anything is possible, and therefore it is very difficult to speculate.

In addressing positions of need for the team, here is a look at the depth chart of players within the Sabres’ system.

  1. T. Vanek                             D. Roy                        J. Pominville
  2. M. Foligno                         T. Ennis                     D. Stafford
  3. V. Leino                             C. Hodgson                P. Kaleta

  4. N. Gerbe                            L. Adam                     C. Tropp
  5. C. McCormick                  M. Ellis                       E. Rankin                          FORWARDS
  6. C. Stuart                            P. Varone                   B. Flynn
  7. D. Whitmore                    D. Catenacci              J. Armia
  8. T. Turnbull                       K. Sundher                 S. Szydlowski
  9. R. Boychuk                       C. Jacobs                    J. Parker
  10. J. Lagace                           C. Isackson
  1. T. Myers                            B. McNabb
  2. R. Regehr                          A. Sekera
  3. C. Ehrhoff                         A. Sulzer
  4. J. Leopold                        M. Weber                           DEFENSE
  5. M. Pysyk                           T. Brennan
  6. J. Gauthier-Leduc          D. Schiestel
  7. J. Finley                            A. Biega
  8. M. Mckenzie                    N. Crawford
  9. A. Lepkowski
  1. R. Miller
  2. J. Enroth
  3. D. Leggio                      GOALTENDING
  4. C. Knapp
  5. N. Lieuwen
  6. B. Eidsness

In reviewing the depth chart, it is easy to conclude that the Sabres are loaded on defense. Tyler Myers, Christian Ehrhoff, Andrej Sekera, Robyn Regehr, Alex Sulzer, Brayden McNabb, Jordan Leopold, and Mike Weber round out the top eight. All are very capable NHL D-men.  To top it off, players coming up in the pipeline further add to what is already a very crowded blueline. One top prospect is Mark Pysyk, one of the most well-rounded and mature defenseman that the WHL has to offer. Or there is Jerome Gauthier-Leduc, who is drawing comparisons to the likes of Kris Letang, of the Pittsburgh Penguins. And lets not forget T. J. Brennan, who played some games last year for the Sabres. This prevents the need of going after D-men at the Draft, one that is already top-heavy in that category.

This being the case, it is time to re-stock the Sabres’ depth chart up front. Let’s focus on the options.

The top three centers, Derek Roy, Cody Hodgson, and Tyler Ennis, don’t give the Sabres’ much size down the middle. Size in the pipeline does not look all that promising either with small (but skilled) centremen such as Dan Catenacci, Phil Varone, and Kevin Sundher. The only exception being Colin Jacobs, who is not too high on the Sabres’ depth chart to begin with.

Sabres’ general manager, Darcy Regeir, and head scout, Kevin Devine, have both made it clear that it is time to go after size in the middle, and have also indicated that they believe depth in the draft takes a hit after the first twenty picks or so.

Darcy Regeir has also admitted he wants to improve the team up front right now. That means going after an 18-year old centre who is NHL-ready, or using assets to trade for a groomed, physical centre.

Taking all of this into account, there are only four NHL-ready 18-year old centres available. All are going to be hot commodities with such a dearth of high-end offensive talent available in the Draft. Mikhail Grigorenko, Alex Galchenyuk, and Filip Forsberg are all outside of the Sabres’ reach at the number twelve pick. Unless they see one of them fall to approximately nine or ten, in which case the Sabres’ hockey operations’ department will make an attempt to trade up.

The only player that may be available of those four NHL-ready 18-year old centre’s at the number 12 spot is Czech Republic’s Radek Faksa. At 6’3 and 202 pounds, Faksa plays with an interesting combination of good puck management, great compete, soft hands, a heavy release, high-end hockey sense, 2-way hockey, powerplay prowess, and a power forward type of style. This makes him a very attractive choice for teams with higher picks than the Sabres.

If the Sabres are unable to draft a centre with the 12th overall pick, look for them to target Olli Maata of the London Knights. This talented Finnish defenseman was a revelation for the Knights in their run to the Memorial Cup. The Sabres have targeted him in one-on-one interviews, and they could be an attractive option for him with fellow Finns, Ville Leino, and Assistant Coach, Teppo Numminen, having a foothold in the Buffalo organization. If this is the case, the Sabres will be forced to fast-track their need for depth at centre, and address it via trade.

According to credible source, @hockeyyinsiderr, the Sabres are front-runners in the Bobby Ryan sweepstakes, with the Leafs and Habs trailing them. Although Ryan is not a centre, he is a big power forward, who has totaled 30+ goals in each of his five seasons. One centre whom the Sabres are likely to place bids on is Penguins’ Jordan Staal, according to @hockeyyinsiderr, although they are not the front-runners. @tbnbucky has also suggested the Sabres will get in on offers for Avalanche star centre, Paul Stastny.

In Buffalo’s continued push to land big power forward type players in an offensively challenged Draft, look for them to go after Thomas Wilson from the Plymouth Whalers, one of the more rugged players in the Draft, who can fight and throw his weight around. He’s also a very competitive two-way player, with great straightaway speed, but who does not have a whole lot of offensive upside. Another player that I strongly believe the Sabres will make a play for if he is still available by the 21st pick is Tomas Hertl, a 6’2, 198 pound centre who played over in the Czech Republic last year. He is a player with good size and competitiveness, a deft playmaker with soft hands and good puck instincts, but like his fellow countryman, Radek Faksa, his skating is a question mark.

Because there is so much depth on defense and so little up front at this year’s draft (ironically similar to the Sabres situation), these offensive players could be gone earlier than expected. Teams realize that they cannot afford to wait to take a forward because the high-end ones will be gone by the end of the first round, whereas they can be more patient with the defensemen.

In assessing the Sabres’ goaltending situation, they need to begin planning for the future when the days of Ryan Miller have come to an end. Connor Knapp and Nathan Lieuwen are two solid and big goalies in the system who will graduate to the pro ranks in Rochester next year according to Matthew Coller of WGR 550 Buffalo. The problem is, although these two kids look like fairly solid prospects, the Sabres have no goalies in the junior or college ranks anymore, and it’s time to replenish the well.

The two goalies who played in Rochester this year, David Leggio, and Drew MacIntyre, are going to be pushed out of Rochester because of Knapp and Lieuwen coming in, and will not outplay Jhonas Enroth for the back-up job, so they will be gone as well, along with Brad Eidsness.

That leaves Jhonas Enroth. He has showed promise the last couple of years, filling in as a solid back-up for Miller, even though he has not won a game since November of 2011. At 5’10 he is extremely small by goalie standards, and according to Kris Baker of, the Sabres hockey operations department does not believe he can carry the load for a whole season. More importantly, their starting goalie, Ryan Miller, still has six or seven years of solid hockey left, and Enroth will not be prepared to wait that long.

It seems likely that if they have addressed their primary objectives in obtaining the forwards they want, then they will focus on landing a goaltender. The top three ranked goalies of this year’s draft, Malcolm Subban, Andrei Vasilevski, and Oscar Dansk, should still be around come picks 31-44 (of which the Sabres have two).

After Buffalo’s first four picks in the top 44, all of which I do not believe they will keep, players are too difficult to project. Not even the Sabres know who will fall and rise, and after the first two rounds the talent is too raw to project what type of a role that particular player could play within the organization.

Look for these things to happen among many others at this year’s NHL Draft in Pittsburgh. Follow @sabrenoise, and @jords82, for all of the breaking trades and picks, as I will be on hand to tweet the moment anything materializes.

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Tags: 2012 Alex Galchenyuk Alexander Sulzer Andrei Vasilevski Andrej Sekera Avalanche Bobby Ryan Brad Eidsness Brayden Mcnabb Buffalo Sabres Christian Ehrhoff Cody Hodgson Colin Jacobs Connor Knapp Czech Republic Dan Catenacci Darcy Regeir David Leggio Derek Roy Draft Drew MacIntyre Filip Forsberg Finnish Habs Jerome Gauthier-leduc Jhonas Enroth Jordan Leopold Jordan Staal Kevin Devine Kevin Sundher Kris Baker Kris Letang Leafs London Knights Malcolm Subban Mark Pysyk Matthew Coller Memorial Cup Mike Weber Mikhail Grigorenko Nathan Lieuwen NHL Olli Maata Oscar Dansk Paul Stastny Phil Varone Pittsburgh Penguins Plymouth Whalers Radek Faksa Robyn Regehr Rochester Ryan Miller Teppo Numminen Thomas Wilson Tj Brennan Tomas Hertl Tyler Ennis Tyler Myers Ville Leino WGR 550 WHL

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