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
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.
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