The NHL Draft has concluded and the Sabres have brought in another new crop of prospects. The Sabres only had six picks after parting ways with their 3rd and 6th round picks. They selected defenseman with five out of the six.
I’d give the Sabres an overall grade of A-, Rasmus Dahlin playing a big part in that. Getting Dahlin practically put them in the “A” grade range right off the bat and would’ve had to just not make any other picks to fall to to the “B” range. It’s not every day that a generational defender falls into your lap, but when they do, you’re setting yourself ahead of the pack. Had the Sabres not won the lottery I feel they would’ve scored a pretty average draft grade with this class, but their picks would’ve shaken out differently anyways so it doesn’t matter. It’s also important to note the Sabres didn’t have the luxury of having a ton of draft picks though like other teams who scored high in Detroit, the Islanders, etc. who were able to get multiple high end players because of their number of picks. I gave them an A- because of not having a 3rd round pick and although I feel they got a solid player with Mattias Samuelsson, there was more value available for them. They went with two unranked player’s in Worge Kreu and Kukkonen, so we can’t really say what will come of them and they found some nice value in the 4th round. Overall the Sabres had a solid draft with the ultimate prize obviously being at the top.
Pick #1 – Rasmus Dahlin
I mean what else is there to say at this point? Dahlin’s a franchise changing addition and quite possibly the best defenseman to ever enter the NHL Draft. Pick your favorite guy and try and tell me they were better at age 17 than Dahlin was. You can’t, and guys like Erik Karlsson and Nick Lidstrom will tell you that themselves. Dahlin’s mix of size, skating, hands, and hockey iq is something the Sabres, let alone most of the NHL, lack on their blue-line. He had historically exceptional numbers as a seventeen-year-old in the SHL and was a dominant force for Sweden at the World Juniors, a mostly 18-19 year old tournament. Dahlin is elite in every facet of the game and will be a cornerstone for the next decade in Buffalo with his skating, hockey iq, puck skills, and defensive game.
Pick #32 – Mattias Samuelsson
There was a lot of hype surrounding pick #32 heading into day two of the draft. After a barrage of off-the-board picks by teams in the first round, the Sabres were left sitting there at the top of the second round — likely to get a player they had ranked in the first. The likes of Akil Thomas, Serron Noel, Jonatan Berggren and Bode Wilde along with Samuelsson stood out as some of the fringe first round talent left, leaving Jason Botterill and his scouting staff with a few big decisions to make. There’s a lot of pressure picking #32 as it’s practically a first round pick and when you had a season like Buffalo had in 2017-18, it’s one they needed to get right.
Seeing as they went with defense, I imagine the decision on the pick came down to eventual draftee Mattias Samuelsson and his teammate from the U.S. NTDP program, Bode Wilde. Wilde was a guy projected in the mid first round by some, and is thought of to have a higher ceiling between the two. I think this is quite obvious when watching the two American defenders play in the same game — Wilde is the big, smooth skating, offensive threat from the back-end. He has some similarities offensively to Charlie McAvoy, but has some question marks when it comes to decision making and hockey IQ. He sometimes tries to do a little too much and although he has tons of talent, some scouts feel his decision making holds him back from reaching his ceiling. I’d say he’s similar to the likes of a Zach Bogosian or Timothy Liljegren where you watch them and their talent jumps off the page right away, but then they make a few consecutive plays where you’re shaking your head wondering why they did that.
Check out this sequence of some of the things Wilde can bring offensively.
Samuelsson on the other hand, is a very big, defensively sound player. If I had to compare him to an NHL player I’d say Marco Scandella or Jake Muzzin. He’s not going to be flashy offensively, but he does have a nice shot from the point and can make a solid first-pass.
He’ll make smart, calculated poke checks like so:
and can use his huge frame to separate guys from the puck with ease:
U.S. NTDP coach Seth Appert says of Samuelsson:
“He’s going to be a top-three defenseman on some NHL team for the next 15-plus years.”
“He’s going to eat minutes, he’s going to help you win and he’s going to be miserable to play against.”
Chris Peters of ESPN says:
“Excellent defender, physically dominant in his age group. Has more offense than his points would suggest. Spoke to a few scouts who think he has a very short NHL timeline.”
Overall thought on the pick
I’m fine with the pick of Samuelsson, although I feel like it was a safe choice. The Sabres have a recent history of taking the safe pick in the 2nd round and that’s what they have in Samuelsson. His ceiling isn’t as high as someone like Wilde, and despite his 38 points in 58 games with the NTDP, I wouldn’t project him as someone that’ll fill the scoresheet in the NHL. He’s a guy that will be able to move up and down the top 6 d-lineup and be a defensive anchor for a guy like Guhle or Dahlin to join the rush and do their thing. Although I pretty much agree with the scouts who think the timeline until Samuelsson’s arrival is much shorter than others, he needs to get a little quicker before he’s ready to take the next step. Playing in the NCHC of the NCAA against teams like North Dakota, Minnesota Duluth, and St. Cloud State will be great for his development. His defensive game is ahead of the pack and he had big responsibility as the captain of the NTDP team, I’d just like to see more development in his puck-handling and quickness before he’s ready to be a Sabre. The only real thing I dislike about this pick is that I feel the Sabres could’ve went for a player with a little more upside picking so highly in the 2nd round, especially with some of the talent both on forward and defense still available.
Pick #94 – Matej Pekar
Big fan of this pick by the Sabres in the 4th round selecting the Czech Republic’s Matej Pekar, the only forward chosen by Buffalo. Following the NHL Draft community, Pekar could be found on a few different people’s sleeper pick boards heading into day two of the draft. Pekar was the rookie of the year in the USHL, an award won last year by 2018 2nd overall pick Andrei Svechnikov. Pekar had 54 points in 56 games, but what’s most impressive about his production is that just ten of his points came on the power-play. Pekar is one of those water-bug type players that is just going to be lethal on the forecheck and an absolute puck hound. The Hockey News described him as “The best puck hound in the USHL.” He’ll be heading to the same college hockey conference as Mattias Samuelsson, and like Samuelsson, will be tested a lot against some of the premiere teams in college hockey. Pekar will need to bulk up after playing last season at around 165 lbs, but shouldn’t have a problem putting on weight at school.
Pick #117 – Linus Lindstrand Cronholm
The Sabres go with another Swedish defenseman in Lindstrand Cronholm in the 4th round. I don’t know enough about him to give any serious input on the pick, but he’s 6’1 and 16 points in 18 games in the Swedish J18 league. He’s only 17 and scouts have describe him as someone who’s offensive game is coming along more and more. He plays with snarl and isn’t shy about clearing the front of the net or blocking shots. We’ll get to see more of what he’s all about at dev camp this week.
Pick #125 – Miska Kukkonen
This year’s version of Oskari Laaksonen for the Sabres as the Finnish defenseman isn’t ranked on any notable scouting services. He’s listed as 6’0, 183lbs, and will play for Tappara’s U20 team next season, the same squad that groomed Patrik Laine.
Pick – #187 William Worge Kreu
Another pretty unknown selection as we round out the Sabres final selection in the 7th round. Not to anyone’s surprise though the Sabres pluck another defenseman out of Sweden. Worge Kreu actually got one game in the SHL this past year and had 14 points in 38 games of SuperElit action. One scouting report describes him as “Defensive defenseman. Strong in shorthanded situations. Plays a simple game with few mistakes. ” Kreu’s father was a pro player in Sweden.
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