Earlier this month, the Buffalo Sabres won the NHL Draft Lottery for the second time in four years. Unlike the last time Buffalo had the top pick, there is no consensus on who gets selected first overall. Now, a lot of that may have to do with how difficult it’s been to scout this past season, but there’s not been a clear-cut favorite for a few years now.
NHL Central Scouting has defenseman Owen Power of Michigan University at the top of their list. Power, a left-handed shot, listed at 6’6” and 213 lbs., tallied 16 points in 26 games as a freshman defenseman. Power was also the only draft-eligible player for Team Canada in the IIHF World Championships.
After Power, there are plenty of other options for the top pick. Two more players come from Michigan in centers Matthew Berniers and Kent Johnson. From major junior hockey, Peterborough center Mason McTavish and Edmonton winger Dylan Guenther are in the conversation as well. Swedish winger William Eklund tops the list for all European skaters while McTavish is the top North American forward in NHL Central Scouting.
Hold Off on more Power
Power has been on the top of many draft rankings but may not be the best fit for Buffalo. A quote from Power suggesting that he may return to Michigan for a second season also can be seen as a potential deterrent.
The University of Michigan defenseman and projected top pick in the NHL Draft told NHL Network he would like to return to the Wolverines next season. https://t.co/nlQ4zxRV5O — WGRZ (@WGRZ) June 14, 2021
Sabres general manager Kevyn Adams has a tough decision to make with the top pick. If Power is not going to be in the NHL right away for a terrible team, Buffalo may lean elsewhere.
In addition, Buffalo is also better stocked on the blue line than at forward. Buffalo has used two first-round selections in three years on left-handed defensemen, Dahlin (2018) and Rian Johnson (2019). If Dahlin hits the massive potential he was projected with, Buffalo would get a second-pair defenseman with Power. That might not be the best asset management for a downtrodden franchise.
The Sabres also have other young defenders in Henri Jokiharju, Jacob Bryson, Mattias Samuelsson, and Will Borgen. Jokiharju looks like he will be Dahlin’s partner on the top pair for years to come. Samuelsson, Bryson, and Borgen all saw plenty of minutes in the second half of the 2021 season. Johnson and Oskari Laaksonen are still in the pipeline.
Finally, there are Buffalo’s scoring woes. Since 2015, the Sabres have ranked no higher than 23rd in goals for, with only 2.70 goals per game in that time frame. Outside of the top line anchored by center Jack Eichel, Buffalo has often had issues with scoring as of late.
A New Era in Buffalo?
Speaking of Eichel, of course, there are rumors of Buffalo and their franchise center heading for a split. It’s almost inevitable at this point… Plus, center Sam Reinhart appears unhappy with the possibility (certainty) of a rebuild and hits unrestricted free agency in 2022. The Sabres will want to acquire at least an NHL-ready player, top-flight prospect, and a high pick for Eichel and maybe look for something just short of that for Reihart.
Rumors are that the Anaheim Ducks are heavily interested in trading for Buffalo’s franchise cornerstone.
LeBrun: “Nobody said the Stanley Cup playoffs had to be over before Jack Eichel potentially gets moved.” #Sabres https://t.co/00C1qDeh1l — The Charging Buffalo (@TheChargingBUF) June 16, 2021
With Reinhart and Eichel both seemingly on their way out, it is more logical for Buffalo to take a forward during the NHL draft. Buffalo has young center depth with Dylan Cozens and Casey Mittelstadt. Adding to that position is never a bad idea, especially if a rebuild happens with Eichel and Reinhart traded away. The Sabres have some players to look forward to in the forward core, led by Cozens and Mittlestadt.
However, the youth is missing one more big-impact player. Jack Quinn (2020 first-rounder) is a player to watch, but after that, Buffalo has depth pieces. Tage Thompson, Rasmus Asplund, Anders Bjork, and Arttu Ruotsalainen are likely middle-six players at best.
Back to the 2021 NHL Draft
If the Sabres end up with Power, it is not the worst pick in the world. Having two solid left-handed shots on the blue line is always good for organizational depth for the Sabres. Power returning to college for a year should not be the deciding factor on passing on him. Buffalo could also take Power if an Eichel or Reinhart trade lands them another top-five pick this year.
Matty Beniers and Kent Johnson – making it look easy! pic.twitter.com/2CChmBp9jL — Michigan Hockey (@umichhockey) January 22, 2021
Regardless, Buffalo is still hurting for forward depth. Berniers and Johnson are both solid, two-way centers that Adams would love to add to this team. Eklund and Guenther are great options along the wing. If the Sabres are really starting over, they already have a really talented left-handed defenseman on the top pairing. It is time for them to add to their forward depth and solidify that core for the future.
Who ends up being Buffalo’s pick? No one knows. But everyone will be paying attention on July 23rd.