Arguably the biggest day during the NHL offseason has now came and gone. July 1st marked perhaps the biggest deal GM Jason Botterill has completed during his tenure in Buffalo, when he traded star centerman Ryan O’Reilly to the St. Louis Blues in exchange for Vladimir Sobotka, Patrik Berglund, Tage Thompson, a 2019 first-round pick, and a 2021 second-round pick. Earlier in the day, Botterill also signed goaltender Carter Hutton to a 3 year deal worth $8.25 million, and added goaltender Scott Wedgewood on a one year deal worth $650,000. The Sabres also re-signed Scott Wilson to a two year deal worth $2.1m.
After having some time to digest the O’Reilly trade, I believe GMJB pulled off a move not many thought he could. Obtaining FIVE pieces from the Blues in exchange for ONE piece was nothing short of spectacular. The first and second round draft picks are a good add, now leaving the Sabres with three first round picks next season, barring San Jose missing the playoffs, and five picks in the first two rounds. Also, the additions of Berglund and Sobotka add some talent to a bottom six which it has lacked for a long time. The true centerpiece to the deal, however, is 20 year old center Tage Thompson.
A graduate of the USNTDP and University of Connecticut, Thompson is a big bodied player who can shoot the puck with great effectiveness. He was drafted 26th overall by St. Louis in 2016, and got his first taste of the NHL this season, scoring three goals and six assists in 41 games, while also adding 12 penalty minutes and being a minus-12. The scouting report on Thompson from 2016 is: “His raw skill and size should significantly impact where he goes in the upcoming draft. He can move quickly for a big guy and sees the ice as good as most project first-round picks. While he might not possess the same quality of skill as the top five picks, he has an all-around game that should make him an attractive prospect. He’ll likely develop into a top-six forward at some point and will be an impact player at the NHL level.” (Credit: Andrew Forbes, The Hockey Writers). Even though Thompson is a natural center, he should slot in perfectly on Mittelstadt’s wing early on this season.
The additions of both Carter Hutton and Scott Wedgewood provide an instant upgrade in the crease, where Buffalo has struggled since the departure of Ryan Miller. GMJB being able to sign them to team friendly deals in respect to both salary and term was a great job. Wedgewood’s one year deal will make him the certain starter in Rochester, where he will fill the shoes of Linus Ullmark, who moves up to the big club full time this season. The Sabres get a starter in Carter Hutton, who can share the net with Ullmark and help him mature and adapt to full time life in the NHL. Re-signing Scott Wilson keeps some grit and talent in house for the fourth line. Wilson won’t wow anyone with his offensive output, however he makes up for it with defensive reliability and toughness. In my opinion, he was a great addition by GMJB last season, and was a great re-signing.
In final, the Sabres have had a great start to the Free Agency period by signing some role players to team friendly deals, acquiring some bottom six talent and draft picks, as well a top prospect for Ryan O’Reilly, and most importantly, not shelling out the big bucks to top tier free agents, which could have potentially handicapped the team when it comes time for the likes of Mittelstadt, Dahlin and company to re-sign long term.
Great work so far, Jason!
P.S. Happy belated Canada Day to all our fellow Canadians,and a Happy early Fourth of July to all of our American friends! Be safe, and have fun!