Outside of the first pick, the 2019 NHL draft for the Buffalo Sabres was very underwhelming for me, more so based on the talent that was available at our other selections. After viewing how everything panned out, there were players with high upside in the 3rd and 4th round that we passed in favor of a goalie and a guy who projects more as a bottom 6 player. At this point in the draft I would prefer to take a swing on a player that projects as having a higher ceiling. The trade ups in the later rounds also didn’t really make much sense to me, especially for the fact that the players chosen didn’t have a profile that fit a player with high potential as a prospect when looking at their NHLe and pNHLe scores. I would have been more okay with a trade up had we gone after a guy with a great point production potential like Alex Beaucage (Colorado, 78th overall). Understanding that it’s difficult to project prospects in the later rounds, I think it’s important to use the data and trends available to help make a selection, especially when trading up for a guy. The fact that we traded up for Huglen over other guys is slightly concerning to me as Botterill has clearly shown a tendency to pick players that are safer picks and further developed, especially regarding taking overagers and players whose rights you retain longer (NCAA and European Leagues). Not having a 2nd this year hurt them a bit but that was the cost of doing business in getting Jeff Skinner so I can live with that.
The first pick was Dylan Cozens (7th overall) and I was very happy with that pick as Botterill took his first and only player out of the CHL. For a more detailed analysis from me on Cozens, here is a link to my final draft rankings. Cozens is a 2 way center with a lot of skill, regardless of what you’ve seen on Twitter recently, and a guy who projects to be a top 6 player after posting 84 points in 68 games in the WHL. It’s likely he will play big minutes for Team Canada at the World Juniors this upcoming season and I would expect Cozens to build off his last season and eclipse the 100 point mark in Lethbridge. This would be a good indicator that his game is still developing and he’s on the path to a top 6 role as his current pNHLe is 56 points. For a more detailed description of what pNHLe is, click here. It’s a tool that I really like to use for an at a glance view of how a prospect projects at the NHL level and how they’re performing/developing in relation to their age and level of competition.
Botterill again decided to play it safe for the 2nd year in a row with his early 30s pick, taking the left handed defenseman Ryan Johnson (31st overall) out of the USHL. Not known to be an overly physical player, Johnson relies on his speed and excellent positioning to defend. He also has great vision that helps him break out of the zone with ease though he’s also not a defender that will light up the score sheet. Johnson definitely projects as a very solid defender, most likely 2nd pair but one that seems like a lock to crack the NHL in a few years. With the pipeline full of left handed D, I was a bit confused why Botterill decided to take Johnson here, especially considering the glaring need at forward. Guys like Kaliyev, Fagemo, Brink, Hoglander, Leason, and Robertson just to name a few, were all still available and I find it hard to believe he couldn’t find a trade partner to move back and collect another 2nd or 3rd round pick. I think Johnson is a fine prospect but for what was still available here, we could’ve done much better at taking a high upside forward. All this does is make some of our defensemen currently in the pipeline more expendable in a trade.
The goalie out of Sweden Eric Portillo (67th overall) I did not know much about but Kris Baker had a great analysis of him before the draft. Historically we know that goalies can be taken anywhere in the draft and succeed which is why I didn’t like taking a goalie here, especially with how much forward potential was still available here (Misyul, Pistola, Beaucage, Dorofeyev, Schwindt, Cajkovic, not to mention Kokkonen on defense). In the limited highlights available of him, I see a goalie with a huge frame that appears to have some technical flaws that need to be cleaned up. He displays some hesitance leaving the net to play the puck and his side to side movement could use some work. From what I’ve read, Portillo is very calm and relaxed in net which is always a good trait for a goaltender to have. It’s nice to add to the goalie pipeline though, I just wish Botterill would go after one of the college goaltending free agents this upcoming year and further strengthen the competition at the position. Two guys I’m keeping an eye on for this are Cale Morris (Notre Dame) and Hunter Shepard (UMD).
Aaron Huglen (102nd overall) is best known for his impressive goal at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup Tournament. Having the confidence to make a move like that is a good sign for a young prospect. He’s a smaller guy with good speed that I felt would go a bit lower in the draft but he has potential to develop into a skilled player. He dominated in high school this past year and performed well in a partial USHL season where he will still play next year before joining the Gophers in Minnesota for 20-21. Tenacious and quick, building his strength will be a major factor in ensuring his development stays on track.
Filip Cederqvist (143rd overall) joins the ever growing list of Swedes in the Sabres system. As a 2nd year eligible player, Cederqvist got some action in the SHL and performed adequately for his age. I’d really like to see him take a big jump this year and at least double his production as that will be a big indicator that his potential is much higher than it is right now with a 23 point pNHLe. Known for being a goal scorer and having an excellent shot, he’s a dark horse in this draft class for Buffalo that if given the time to develop in the SHL, would ideally turn into a 3rd line scorer in the NHL.
With their last selection, the Sabres took Czech center Lukas Rousek (160th overall) who was a 3rd year eligible player. It’s tough to knock a pick in the later rounds with so much uncertainty in player development but I just felt there were still players on the board here with good pNHLe profiles that I would’ve preferred, especially considering our lack of high upside forwards in the system. Rousek had a very solid season playing in the Czech pro league though and posed a good NHLe number, my concern is his growth has become stagnant year over year so I question why not take a swing on someone else. He’s small in stature and needs to add strength still especially for someone his age but the offensive skill set is enough to warrant him being a player to be cognizant of in the next year or 2. He has great acceleration/speed and his feet are constantly moving but his stride is very erratic and in need of some coaching to help make it more efficient. Effort is not a question with this player though.
Overall, Botterill still has a lot of work to do as the prospect pipeline is lacking top 6 upside in the forward group and the NHL club is in need of a few more middle 6 players to complete the “roster surgery”. I find it interesting to note that Botterill is now up to 5 overagers selected out of his 18 total picks so he does seem to have a bias towards taking players that are late bloomers and more developed but these types of players also tend to have lower ceilings, particularly in the later rounds. I do wonder if his plan this whole time was to just fill the system with a ton of bottom 6 NHLers and use those as future pieces in trades to get top 6 talent because he has done a good job of identifying talent that while their potential may not be very great, they are players that look like they are at the last NHL caliber.
Article image by Jordan Santalucia. Follow him @BuffaWallpapers for more of his great work!