Dumpster fire, train wreck, debacle, call it what you want but the Buffalo Sabres’ season has faded away before our eyes and they have taken themselves out of playoff contention with their horrendous play in the second half of the season.
The 2018-2019 Sabres season may go down as one of the biggest collapses in Buffalo sports history. Yes, that may sound excessive but it’s just that. A complete and utter collapse.
This team at one point was first overall in the standings and they now sit in 25th with no real hope of moving up. This is a free-fall, no questions asked. They had a massive lead on teams like the Hurricanes, Flyers, Panthers, and even the Islanders but that cushion that they had has all but disappeared.
They haven’t won back to back games since mid December when they beat the L.A. Kings and the Arizona Coyotes but their struggles can go even further than that. They haven’t won back to back games in regulation since October. Even during the 10 game winning streak, they couldn’t string together two regulation wins in a row. They’re not a good team and I don’t care what their record says, they’re not better than last year, they actually might even be worse.
It’s time to focus on the draft. Yes, it’s become very tiresome to always just have the draft to look forward to but playoffs are a lost cause at this point. This is a very good draft and it might be the best draft since 2015.
The Sabres still have two first round picks this year now as one of the picks was dealt to the Anaheim Ducks in the Brandon Montour trade. I know there are some out there that want all of the first rounders traded to improve the roster for next season but Buffalo’s own first rounder should be untouchable unless a really, really good young player becomes available on the draft floor. The later first round pick should be fair game as far as a trade goes but the player has to make sense. If they’re trading the later pick that doesn’t go to the Ducks, it has to be in a similar trade to the Montour trade. The player needs to be young and under team control for more than just a couple of seasons.
Buffalo obviously is looking like they will be picking somewhere around the top 10 this year with their own pick and they’re going to get a really good prospect. At this point, Sabres fans should be rooting for the Blues pick to fall somewhere in between 11 and 20 because if it’s slotted in at 21 and on, the Ducks can have the choice to get that pick rather than the San Jose pick. So that’s something to watch out for.
Now let’s take a look at the top 50 prospects in the upcoming draft…
1. Jack Hughes, C, 5’10” 168 lbs (USNTDP)
Jack Hughes is still the consensus first overall pick in the 2019 draft. He’s dealt with a couple of injuries this season but that shouldn’t affect his draft stock at all. Hughes is a perfect player to build your team around. The only knock against him is his size and he will undoubtedly get stronger as he progresses through the NHL. Hughes is a phenomenal talent and will be in the NHL next year making an impact wherever he goes.
2. Kaapo Kakko, RW, 6’2″ 190 lbs (TPS, Liiga)
It may still be the Jack Hughes draft but Kappo Kakko is starting to catch up to Hughes. As a 17-year-old, Kakko is having a great season for TPS in the Finnish elite league. He will score over 20 goals this season and for a player his age, that is a great accomplishment that not many 17-year-old players can achieve in that league. Like Hughes, Kakko will be ready to play in the NHL next season, and he should be able to step into a top six role easily and contribute.
3. Dylan Cozens, C, 6’3″ 185 lbs (Lethbridge, WHL)
Dylan Cozens is a big power forward and he is an excellent skater, He won WHL rookie of the year last season and is having a great season putting up impressive numbers for the Hurricanes. Like Vasili Podkolzin, he also had a great showing at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup and has been in discussions to be a top five pick since. Another important thing to note with Cozens is that he can play both center and wing. Cozens is a player that I have been looking at closely as of late in regards to who the Sabres should draft. I really think they can use a versatile player like Cozens who is a great powerful skater and score. Cozens may be off the board by the time Buffalo is on the clock, but if he’s there, he’d be a great choice nonetheless.
4. Alex Turcotte, C, 5’11” 194 lbs (USNTDP)
Alex Turcotte has dealt with some injuries throughout his draft year but since returning to the NTDP’s lineup in December, he has played really well and has proven that he deserves top 10 consideration this year. Turcotte is one of my favorites in this draft and in my opinion, he would be an excellent pick for the Sabres if they continue to free fall in the standings. He’s such a dynamic skilled player that can play in both ends of the ice.
5. Vasili Podkolzin, RW, 6’1″ 190 lbs (SKA, MHL)
Vasily Podkolzin really has had a great draft year so far. After watching him at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup in the summer I was absolutely blown away watching him play for team Russia. He’s such a dynamic player with blazing speed. It was shocking to see that he was added to the Russian WJC roster because typically the Russians don’t being draft eligible players but Podkolzin had a very nice showing on a solid Russian squad. He has bounced around a bit from team to team but I wouldn’t be surprised if he is playing in the KHL by season’s end.
6. Bowen Byram, D, 6’1″ 192 lbs (Vancouver, WHL)
Bowen Byram is the best defenseman in this draft and I don’t think that any other defenseman will be surpassing him. He plays a 200-foot game and is just as good offensively as he is defensively. As a draft eligible defenseman, he is putting up solid numbers in the WHL as he has been around a point per game pace all season. Now it might be a long shot but I really wouldn’t be surprised if he gets an opportunity to start in the NHL next season. As far as defensemen go, he is the most NHL ready of them all.
7. Trevor Zegras, C, 6’0″ 168 lbs (USNTDP)
Trevor Zegras has been a steady riser in ranking this season and this month it’s no different. Zegras can play either center or wing and has even seen some time on a line with Jack Hughes this year for the NTDP. Zegras has great vision and is one of the better playmakers in the draft class. He’s really dynamic and has a lot of speed to go with that. He’s committed to Boston University for the 2019-2020 season.
8. Peyton Krebs, C, 5’11” 181 lbs (Kootenay, WHL)
Peyton Krebs is playing on one of the worst teams in junior hockey. Since Sam Reinhart left the Ice in 2015, Kootenay has been in the basement of the WHL year after year. Krebs reminds me of Sam Reinhart but I think he certainly has more speed to his game than Reinhart. Krebs is a really smart playmaking center who Buffalo should have on their radar in this draft.
9. Kirby Dach, C, 6’4″ 198 lbs (Saskatoon, WHL)
Kirby Dach has the raw talent to be a star player in the NHL. Every time I watch him I’m blown away by his offensive creativity and for a big player, he skates really well. There are times where he tries to do too much with the puck and turns it over, and I’d love to see him shoot more as he has a pretty underrated shot. Dach strikes me as kind of a boom or bust type of player. He has so much raw talent but he leaves you wanting more quite often.
10. Matthew Boldy, LW, 6’2″ 187 lbs (USNTDP)
All I can say about Matt Boldy is that this guy is just the total package that all 31 teams would be looking for in a player. Dynamic skill, speed, size, 200-foot game, vision, hockey sense, etc. He’s a game breaking player for the NTDP. Now there’s gonna be some nuts out there that are going to attribute his success to playing with a player like Jack Hughes but I’ll say this. It takes great players to play with players like Jack Hughes and Matt Boldy is just that, a great player.
11. Cam York, D, 5’11” 172 lbs (USNTDP)
Cam York is another puck rushing defenseman that’ll be available in this draft and he’s the best defenseman from the NTDP. He’s a mobile player that can help create offense and is also very solid in his own end of the ice. After Bowen Byram, it’s pretty wide open as far as the next best defenseman goes but I believe Cam York is the best after Byram.
12. Arthur Kaliyev, LW, 6’2″ 190 lbs (Hamilton, OHL)
It’s not very common to find draft eligible players who can put up a 50 goal season but Arthur Kaliyev has done just that. He’s the best goal scorer in the draft and there are some compete concerns with him but if he’s going to score 40 goals in the NHL, who really cares? Kaliyev’s draft stock is plummeting because of the effort concerns surrounding him but like I said, he’s going to be a real threat in the NHL just because of his scoring ability. At this point, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him slide into the mid to late 20s so he could realistically be an option for the Sabres with their second first round pick.
13. Moritz Seider, D, 6’4″ 198 lbs (Mannheim, DEL)
Moritz Seider is a player that the Sabres need to target. As a 17 year old, Seider is playing in the top league in Germany, logging a lot of minutes, and playing in all situations. He’s a really smart defenseman who skates really well and is a great passer. And on top of all that, he’s a right handed shot, which is highly coveted in the NHL. Seider is everything that the Sabres need and would be a perfect selection with one of those first round picks.
14. Victor Soderstrom, D, 5’11” 176 lbs (Brynas, SHL)
Victor Soderstrom is a fun player to watch and you would never know that he’s only 17 years old when you see him up against men in the Swedish elite league. He’s the prototypical modern day defenseman that every team is looking for now. Fast, smart, great skater, and a great passer. He’s another guy that the Sabres should be zeroing in on come draft time, he reminds me a lot of Moritz Seider who is slotted at 13 on this ranking.
15. Cole Caufield, RW, 5’7″ 157 lbs (USNTDP)
Cole Caufield has continued to prove that he’s among the best goal scorers in the 2019 draft. Last season while playing for the U17 and U18 U.S. development teams, he put up 77 goals in 91 games. This year for the U18s he put up 78 goals 74 games in games against NCAA teams as well as the USHL. Caufield has also surpassed Phil Kessel’s record as the all time leading goal scorer for the NTDP. He’s the real deal, cross your fingers that he’s on the board by the time that Buffalo is on the clock with their second first round pick.
16. Alex Newhook, C, 5’11” 183 lbs (Victoria, BCHL)
Although he’s playing against inferior competition, Alex Newhook has had an exceptional draft year in the BCHL with the Victoria Grizzlies. 102 points in 53 games is fantastic regardless of the fact that he’s playing in the BCHL. If he decided to play in the QMJHL with the Halifax Mooseheads this season, he still would’ve put up above a point per game. Newhook is a high end prospect and I’m not concerned at all about the concerns surrounding him because of him playing in the BCHL. He’s a really, really talented, skilled player.
17. Connor McMichael, C, 6’0″ 170 lbs (London, OHL)
Connor McMichael is one of the most underrated players in the draft. He’s been a huge offensive presence in his first full season with the London Knights, as he is well above a point per game pace. He’s a really skilled player who is one of the better puck handlers in the draft.
18. Philip Broberg, D, 6’3″ 203 lbs (AIK, Allsvenskan
Philip Broberg has a lot of raw talent and is an offensive minded defenseman. I think he is kind of an awkward skater but he has a lot of speed. He’s a really skilled player and has good hockey sense to go with that. Production hasn’t been fantastic for him with AIK in the Allsvenskan this season, but still as a 17-year-old, playing in a men’s league and being able to hold your own is an accomplishment in itself.
19. Ryan Suzuki, C, 6’0″ 172 lbs (Barrie, OHL)
Ryan Suzuki came into the OHL with a lot of hype as he was selected by the Barrie Colts with the first overall pick in the 2017 OHL Priority Selection. Suzuki has lived up to the expectations that come with being a first overall pick in his two years in the OHL. Suzuki is a smart playmaking center with good offensive instincts. He still needs to fill out his frame but Suzuki can be a nice player in the NHL a few years down the road.
20. Raphael Lavoie, RW, 6’4″ 198 lbs (Halifax, QMJHL)
The Halifax Mooseheads continue to produce high end NHL prospects and Raphael Lavoie is another example of that. He’s a power forward who can score and offers speed as well. His production is really good this season as he’s above a point per game pace. Lavoie is one of the older players this year as if he was born 10 days earlier, he would’ve been eligible for the 2018 draft.
21. Thomas Harley, D, 6’3″ 183 lbs (Mississauga, OHL)
Thomas Harley had a great draft year and has really climbed up in rankings throughout the year. Harley had a very productive season for the Mississauga Steelheads, putting up 58 points in 68 games this season, and for a draft eligible defenseman, that’s really impressive. Harley is really good offensively but he is also very good in his own end of the ice as well. Harley also has some size too which seems to be less common when it comes to offensive minded defensemen.
22. Jakob Pelletier, LW, 5’9″ 161 lbs (Moncton, QMJHL)
Jakob Pelletier is yet another player who is going to slide in the draft just because of his size. He’s undoubtedly a very talented player and has very high hockey IQ. Pelletier also plays with a little grit. Although he has a small frame, he plays like he’s 6’3″, I’m not concerned in any way shape or form about his size. He put up an astounding 89 points in 65 QMJHL games this season, 39 of which were goals.
23. Philip Tomasino, C, 6’0″ 181 lbs (Niagara, OHL)
Philip Tomasino is a player that I started to watch more recently than most of these guys but I will admit, I have been sleeping on him for most of the season. He’s a player who has a lot of speed and is a great skater. He’s right up there as far as one of the highest engines in the draft because of his compete level.
24. Nick Robertson, LW, 5’9″ 158 lbs (Peterborough, OHL)
I’ve been a huge fan of Nick Robertson for awhile now as he was one of the biggest standouts at the Hlinka-Gretzky Cup last summer. Like Jakob Pelletier, Robertson will most likely slide down the draft board mainly because of his size but he’s good enough to be a first round pick, early second round pick at the latest. While Robertson’s production was very good this year, I anticipate that he’ll have an offensive explosion next season comparable to what Morgan Frost did the season after he was drafted. I can see him hitting 100 points in the OHL next year.
25. Ville Heinola, D, 5’11” 176 lbs (Lukko, Liiga)
Ville Heinola has had an impressive draft year to say the least. He started out playing in the Jr. A SM Liiga but that was very short lived as he earned a spot on the men’s Lukko roster . Since then, Heinola has fit in very well playing against men and hasn’t looked out of place at all. He also won a gold medal playing with Team Finland at the World Junior Championship in Vancouver as well. And for a very young player, his production in the Liiga has been good, putting up 14 points this season.
26. Spencer Knight, G, 6’3″ 198 lbs (USNTDP)
Spencer Knight has a very good chance to be the first goaltender to be selected in the first round since Jake Oettinger in 2017. Knight has had an outstanding year playing for the loaded U.S. development team and he even made the U.S. World Junior roster. He didn’t play in any games, but making the team was a huge accomplishment and he should be their starting goalie for next year’s tournament. Knight is set to go to Boston College for next season as well and could possibly be the starter as I think there’s a decent chance that Toronto Maple Leafs prospect, Joe Woll will turn pro and go to the AHL.
27. Bobby Brink, RW, 5’10” 178 lbs (Sioux City, USHL)
Bobby Brink took the USHL by storm this season putting up 50 points in just 34 games. Brink was top five in the USHL in points per game, right up there with Matt Boldy who plays for the NTDP. Brink is an offensive weapon and I personally would’ve liked to see him play with the NTDP so he’d get to play against better competition. It looks like he could be playing in the USHL again next season as according to Elite Prospects, Brink is committed to the University of Denver for the 2020-2021 season.
28. Matthew Robertson, D, 6’4″ 201 lbs (Edmonton, WHL)
Matt Robertson is a big smart defenseman that has logged a lot of minutes for the Edmonton Oil Kings. He’s not exactly a flashy defenseman like most other first round level prospects the past few years but he is very solid defensively. He’s a two-way guy that won’t really blow you away. His skating is pretty average.
29. Brett Leason, C, 6’5″ 198 lbs (Prince Albert, WHL)
Brett Leason is a pure goal scorer that for whatever reason has been passed on in back to back drafts. He represented Team Canada at the WJC in Vancouver this year and was really good and put points up for them. The question here is will a team want to invest a first round pick on a 20-year-old come draft time?
30. Nils Hoglander, LW, 5’9″ 185 lbs (Rogle BK, SHL)
Nils Hoglander spent his entire draft year playing with Rogle, and he put up a very respectable 14 points considering he’s an 18-year-old playing against men, and at the same time, Rogle isn’t a very good team. Hoglander also represented Sweden at the World Junior Championship and put up seven points in eight games. Hoglander is a good skater who is very solid defensively.
31. Pavel Dorofeyev, LW, 6’0″ 163 lbs (Stalnye Lisy, MHL)
32. Albin Grewe, RW, 6’0″ 176 lbs (Djurgardens IF, SuperElit)
33. Anttoni Honka, D, 5’10” 176 lbs (Jukurit, Liiga)
34. Samuel Poulin, LW, 6’1″ 207 lbs (Sherbrooke, QMJHL)
35. Nathan Legare, RW, 6’0″ 196 lbs (Baie-Comeau, QMJHL)
36. Mikko Kokkonen, D, 5’11” 190 lbs (Jukurit, Liiga)
37. John Beecher, C, 6’3″ 203 lbs (USNTDP)
38. Jamieson Rees, C, 5’10” 172 lbs (Sarnia, OHL)
39. Nolan Foote, LW, 6’3″ 207 lbs (Kelowna, WHL)
40. Vladislav Kolyachonok, D, 6’2″ 181 lbs (Flint, OHL)
41. Lassi Thompson, D, 6’0″ 187 lbs (Kelowna, WHL)
42. Ryan Johnson, D, 6’0″ 161 lbs (Sioux Falls, USHL)
43. Alex Vlasic, D, 6’6″ 192 lbs (USNTDP)
44. Kaedan Korczak, D, 6’3″ 192 lbs (Kelowna, WHL)
45. Tobias Bjornfot, D, 6’0″ 187 lbs (Djurgardens IF, SuperElit)
46. Josh Williams, RW, 6’1″ 185 lbs (Edmonton, WHL)
47. Artemi Knyazev, D, 5’11” 176 lbs (Chicoutimi, QMJHL)
48. Sasha Mutala, RW, 6’1″ 196 lbs (Tri-City, WHL)
49. Valentin Nussbaumer, LW, 6’0″ 168 lbs, Shawinigan, QMJHL)
50. Maxim Cajkovic, RW, 5’11” 187 lbs (Saint John, QMJHL)
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