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Re-Assessing How the Buffalo Sabres Did in the 2013 NHL Draft

Nov 2, 2013; Buffalo, NY, USA; Buffalo Sabres defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen (55) against the Anaheim Ducks at First Niagara Center. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

In light of the Buffalo Sabres’ decision to send Rasmus Ristoalinen and Nikita Zadorov, their first two picks in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, down to the Rochester Americans and the London Knights, respectively, I felt it would be a good time to re-examine the strategy the team adopted in this most recent draft.

Let’s start with the obvious: it will take years for us to TRULY determine how wisely, or unwisely, the Sabres used their draft picks in 2013.   Frame of

Nov 12, 2013; Buffalo, NY, USA; Buffalo Sabres center Mikhail Grigorenko (25) during the game against the Los Angeles Kings at First Niagara Center. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

reference: Mikhail Grigorenko.  The Buffalo Sabres drafted Grigs back in 2012, and there is still no fair way to assess how good a player he is going to become.  He’s still only 19, and so far he could be considered a bust, but how much of that is due to his talent, his work ethic, the inability of Buffalo to find a coach who can bring him along properly, etc.  It will take a few more years, at least, for us to fully determine whether the Sabres made a good call when they drafted Grigorenko or not.  Obviously, the Sabres don’t have the luxury of waiting that long, but the fans do.

Having said that, my biggest concern with the Sabres’ draft this year was that they spent both of their first-round picks on defensemen.  Granted, Buffalo had some pretty significant issues to address on their blueline, but upon seeing that they used both the 8th and the 16th pick of the draft on d-men, I was incensed.  It wasn’t just defense that needed to be improved; the Sabres’ offense in 2013 was . . . how should I say this . . . terrible, too!  I was floored that they didn’t try to use at least one first-round pick to grab an offensive threat, especially since the success rates of payers drafted in the second round and beyond are not good enough for me to hold out hope for players such as Justin Bailey and J.T. Compher.

The question that needs to be asked now is, how well are the players who were drafted before Rasmus Ristolainen faring this season?

So far, of the seven players picked before Ristolainen, four are currently playing on NHL teams: Nathan MacKinnon in Colorado (3-9-12); Seth Jones in Nashville (2-6-8); Aleksander Barkov in Florida (4-5-9); and Sean Monahan in Calgary (8-6-14), who is currently the front-runner for the Calder Memorial trophy.  Honorable mention must be made for Valeri Nichushkin (2-6-8), a player whom many Sabres fans would have liked to see the team pick, simply because he COULD have been the 8th pick if Buffalo had gone in a different route (he was drafted 10th).

Initially, then, it would appear that the Sabres took a bit of a swing and a miss when they drafted Ristolainen 8th.  Nichushkin alone has only one less point than Grigorenko and Zemgus Girgensons combined, and he is still considered to be under-achieving.  Of course, the biggest reason one could argue that drafting Ristolainen was an “off the post” on the part of the Sabres is the failed attempt to swing some sort of a deal that would have allowed the Sabres to move up in the draft.  Had Buffalo been able to pull that move off, the Sabres might not be the laughingstock of the league right now, as Monahan is still getting his points even though the Flames have notched just two more wins than the Sabres.

Nov 12, 2013; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Calgary Flames center Sean Monahan (23) skates with the puck against the San Jose Sharks during the third period at Scotiabank Saddledome. San Jose Sharks won 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Yes, that’s right, Buffalo fans: you were a Darcy Regier trade away from watching Sean Monahan wear blue and gold this year.  Just one more reason to be glad that Regier is gone.

As for the other players – MacKinnon, Barkov, Jones – the Sabres never had a shot at moving that far up in the draft, so pining for those guys is as useful as using sign language in front of a blind man: don’t waste your time, folks.

At the end of the day, then, we could drown in our cries of “What could have been,” as the Sabres MIGHT have been able to draft Monahan.  Of course, we need to step back and consider what it would have taken to move up  in the draft, and whether our losses would have overshadowed a talent such as Monahan’s.   And none of this will matter much if Ristolainen and Zadorov wind up being the most fearsome paring of blueliners in the NHL a few seasons from now.   With both of Buffalo’s first-round picks being shipped out of the 716 for the time being, and with so many other picks from this year’s draft still helping their teams, it’s hard for me not to say, “I told you so,” to the guys in the Sabres’ front office, but knowing that I very well may end up eating crow down the road, I will simply repeat: only time will tell.

Topics: Buffalo Sabres

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  • Jes

    I was hoping for Nichuskin or Monahan in that draft. I was stunned they took 2 defensemen in the first round. Didn’t like that move. But we selected two forwards in the first the year before so it offsets IMO. Regier should have traded Sekera and that 8th overall to the Canes for that 5th overall would have been awesome. If it was up to me I would’ve take Monahan at the 5th spot and if we had to settle for the 8th overall I would’ve taken a look at NIchuskin hard since we are very weak at wing. Nevertheless what are we gonna do?

  • Justin Tosczak

    You know that I wanted Monahan. I was the first one to start with the negative comments following the Draft, and frankly, I still do not feel THAT different about it… Zadorov looks more promising than Ristolainen if you ask me. I think everyone knows how much I like Zemgus, but do I ever wish Monahan or Nichushkin got drafted instead of either of our D? Absolutely. Zemgus-Grigorenko-Nich could have been a sweet line I think

    • http://SabreNoise.com/ Richard Spalding

      Yeah, I remember. I was surprised by how many fans disagreed with me when I said the draft was a step backwards. I like Zadorov – think he’ll be the better of the two blueliners – but I felt the Sabres passed up on some good offense, the type of offense you don’t see every draft.

  • Justin Tosczak

    And I think you meant the Hart Trophy!

    • http://SabreNoise.com/ Richard Spalding

      No, I meant the Calder – got the “C” part right at work, and glad you pointed this out so I could fix it!!!

  • Dano

    Should have.. could have.. ( Yet again they spread the cheeks..)

    Monahan, Hodgson and Vanek.. Imagine that line..

    • http://SabreNoise.com/ Richard Spalding

      I try not too spend TOO much time thinking about that! :)

  • wolfdoctor

    Hindsight is 20-20. And who’s to say Monahan or Nichushkin wouldn’t have come to Buffalo’s disfunctional team and played poorly here? What would the Sabres have had to give up to move up? Their 2nd first round pick? Will Monahan be a better choice than both Risto and Zadorov? In all actuality I don’t think the Sabres ever considered Monahan.

    Only time will tell how things work out. How’s it working out for Edmonton and their 3 1st overall forwards? Buffalo took a different route, and we won’t know the outcome for another 4-5 years.

    • http://SabreNoise.com/ Richard Spalding

      I agree – hindsight is 20/20, which is why I opted not to go back too far and focus solely on my initial feelings after the draft.

      Having said that, at no point did I ever predict the Sabres would use two first-round picks on defense. In that respect, it’s not hindsight – I always felt the Sabres should grab at least one forward. It’s not worth arguing over any more – what’s done is done – but given the fact that neither of the Sabres’ first round picks are currently on the team, I thought it was time to see how some of the Sabres’ other options are faring.

      And if the Sabres never even considered Monahan . . . goodness, how clueless WAS the front office? :)

      • wolfdoctor

        I mostly agree. My hope was that Buffalo would take Zadorov with their first pick and a forward at #16. I, like many others, had Zadorov ranked higher than Risto. My draft would have us taking Zadorov at #8 and the juniors only 50 goal scorer, Mantha at #16. Detroit really scored with Mantha who is tearing it up again (24 goals in 23 games) with Val-d’Or Foreurs.

        I can’t speak for the Sabres but IMO they probably thought they had a lot of centers in their system already so focused on the player they really wanted (Risto). I think the Sabres overrated Risto. If you watch “Beyond Blue and Gold” episode #2, the Sabres were terrified that Risto was going to be taken 4th overall and they were relieved when Seth Jones was taken. This leads me to believe that they were thinking of trading up to #5 (with Carolina) so they could be guaranteed they could get Risto. At least they didn’t make that mistake.

  • Gordon Sands

    You have to be the worst, most uninformed hockey writer on the internet! Yikes :(

    • http://SabreNoise.com/ Richard Spalding

      You caught me! Good grief.