The Sabres wrapped up their 2021 Draft with 11 total selections, using every single one that they came into the draft with and only adding one via the Ristolainen trade.
With seven picks in the Top 100, Kevyn Adams and his scouting staff showed a seemingly new drafting philosophy that was a stark difference from regimes of old. Taking (4) players out of Russia was a major shift for this organization that had previously ignored players from those leagues. Vasily Glotov
In the first of this two part article, I will look into the Sabres first five draftees and give some insight on what type of player each is, what they do well, where they need improvement, and what they ultimately project to be in the NHL.
It’s easy to get excited or pessimistic about a new prospect based on their NHLe scores in their Draft Year (DY). This data can be a useful tool for evaluating a prospect’s production and how it may translate to the NHL but there’s a lot more context needed to truly project a player.
Patrick Bacon’s (@TopDownHockey) NHL Equivalency Tableau shows the chances that each Sabres draft pick becomes either an NHL player or a Star. Further detail on Patrick’s model can be found here but the general idea is to predict how successful a prospect will be given their DY-1 and DY seasons from a production standpoint.
Dave Macpherson (@Davemacp) has a great site pick224.com that gives a visual of all 2021 NHL Draft Eligibles, along with many other stats that are shown in the table above. Adjusting each player’s data set to account for the league they played in and for their total time on ice at even strength, it’s clear to see how strong this years class is at even strength.
Baselining this against others from this draft class in Dave’s chart, I highlighted only Sabres draftees to see how they fared. It’s clear that the Sabres were prioritizing players that had positive Even Strength Goals For ratio, and also high end primary point contributors.
These stats are encouraging that the Sabres staff have made a concerted effort to find high impact players with good underlying numbers. However, these stats are meaningless if the tape doesn’t correlate and show prospects with good play driving traits.
Using InStat Hockey’s statistics, I compiled a table of each drafted prospect’s transition data at even strength. This data does paint a fairly good picture of how good each player is at transition though it should be noted what TCB classifies as controlled zone exits and entries, doesn’t always align with Instat.
These stats are consistent enough over large sample sizes however to back up what the tape has shown on each of these players, with the exception of Rosén whose SHL stats were omitted due to low average TOI.
When looking at this data, it shows which players are carrying the puck more often than others in both exits and entries. While the difference in league should be taken into account, the Sabres have shown that they are prioritizing prospects who area able to carry the puck, and do it effectively.
As the year goes on, I plan to dive deeper into equalizing each of these metrics based on the league each prospect plays in as it’s much easier to complete controlled exits/entries in the MHL than the NCAA, for example.
The Draftees: Part I
1st Round (1) – Owen Power
LD | 6’5” | 214 lbs | 11/22/2002 | Shoots: Left
Michigan (NCAA): 26 GP | 3 G | 13 A | 16 PTS
TCB Reaction: “This was not shocking and while I was holding out hope for Eklund, I do believe that the Sabres got an excellent player and one who probably every NHL team would have taken at 1st overall. It’s exciting to have another mobile defenseman in our system and Power represents a prospect who has an extremely high ceiling to be a dominant impact player.” -Curtis Schwartzkopf (@CurtisNHLDraft)
There’s not much more to say about Power that hasn’t already been said at this point for Sabres fans. He was taken 1st overall as expected and solidifies the Sabres left defense group for many years. A strong year at Michigan entered him in the conversation for 1st overall and his performance at the World Championship where he earned big minutes and played very well, solidified his status as the most likely player to selected at the top of the draft. See Austin’s deep dive on Power for further details on the 1st overall pick.
Power exemplifies the ability to drive possession with his skating and puck carrying ability. Often times leading the rush from his own end, Power has great vision with the puck and understands how to distribute it to the high danger areas of the ice. His shot map below (courtesy of InStat Hockey) shows all of his even strength shot attempts and it backs up the tape that Power is very active in opponent territory. With his hockey smarts, Power is constantly moving around looking for opportunities to get open for a pass or set up a teammate.
There’s certainly some concern about Power’s overall defensive play as his lateral mobility gives him some issues against fast attackers trying to beat him wide. As these are technical aspects of his game that require adjustment, it’s not as glaring of a red flag that should warrant major concerns. He will likely be pushed to be in Buffalo’s starting lineup this season but joining a stacked Michigan team and making a run for a National Championship is best for his development.
Pick Grade: A
My Pick: William Eklund (7th – San Jose)
Projection – Owen Power is a sure fire NHL defenseman who at worst will end up as a very good 2nd pair defenseman. The sky is the limit with Power though as his skating and offensive instinct have the potential to make him a 1st pair play driver. Time to NHL: 2022-23
1st Round (14) – Isak Rosén
W | 5’11” | 161 lbs | 3/15/2003 | Shoots: Left
Leksands IF J20 (J20 Nationell): 12 GP | 7 G | 5 A | 12 PTS
Leksands IF (SHL): 22 GP | 0 G | 1 A | 1 PTS
Sweden U18 (WJC-18): 8 GP | 7 G | 2 A | 9 PTS
TCB Reaction: “The Rosen pick was my favourite pick in the Sabres’ draft class. Although it was a bit higher than I expected him to go, the Sabres got a highly skilled offensive winger with tons of upside and he immediately slots in as their most gifted offensive prospect.” –Austin Broad (@Austin_Broad)
Isak Rosén was taken with the pick from Philadelphia acquired in the Ristolainen trade. The Swedish winger is known for his tremendous speed and skating ability. Using quick acceleration, Rosén can separate himself from opponents and get up ice quickly where he is able to beat defenders wide by keeping his feet moving.
While NHLe models are not bullish on the young Swede, it’s important to note that this is due to very low average time on ice (< 6 min) in the 22 games he played for Leksands. Rosén’s production at the SHL level was not impressive, but his skill set and tape are what should make Sabres fans optimistic. Rosen has the ability to take over games with his speed and high compete level at both ends of the ice.
Rosén’s shot is up near the top of this draft class as he possesses goal scoring ability, especially in tight. He definitely needs to get stronger as he is still a bit physically immature and struggled at times against players in the SHL though he was more than willing to engage in puck battles which is a great sign.
Pick Grade: B+
My Pick: Fyodor Svechkov (19th – Nashville)
Projection – Rosén will need at least another year in Sweden before thinking about coming over to North America. Seeing how well he does in his DY+1 will help indicate just how much potential he has at the NHL level. Targeting 0.4-0.5 points per game next year is a fair goal for Rosén who is likely to represent Sweden at the upcoming World Junior Tournament. At this point in time, Rosén looks like a 2nd line winger at the NHL level but will require some patience to develop. Time to NHL: 2023-24
2nd Round (33) – Prokhor Poltapov
RW | 5’11” | 174 lbs | 2/1/2003 | Shoots: Left
Krasnaya Armiya Moskva (MHL): 61 GP | 25 G | 27 A | 52 PTS
Russia U18 (WJC-18): 7 GP | 2 G | 5 A | 7 PTS
TCB Reaction: “A Russian? In the 2nd round? Talk about a pick that signals a change in the Sabres drafting strategy. He’s a prospect that loves driving the net and possesses a sneaky amount of skill, two traits that were desperately needed in the prospect pool.” –Walt Zurowski (@Sabremetrix)
Poltapov is a high skilled Russian who can be a dynamic winger with goal scoring and play making abilities. He can play a high energy style, especially in the offensive zone as he’s constantly swarming around the middle of the ice both with and without the puck.
It’s easy to see where Poltapov likes to take the puck and his insatiable desire to reach the high danger areas allowed him to score 52 points (25 goals, 27 assists) in 61 games at the MHL level this past year. Poltapov doesn’t have the high end speed of a Rosén but he makes up for it with his strong offensive instincts and ability to control the play and slow the game down when he has control of the puck. Poltapov is also arguably the best Sabres player drafted in 2021 at driving transition at both ends of the ice from both a quantity and success perspective.
There’s a lot to like about Poltapov and he represents a very talented forward who has a ton of potential based on his offensive skill set alone. There’s definitely a need for Poltapov to continue to get strong and also develop his defensive game as he was inconsistent in that ara at times. It’s Poltapov’s hockey smarts that should allow him to have an even greater impact in the defensive zone though as he becomes a more mature player and develops the finer points of his game.
Pick Grade: B–
My Pick: Logan Stankoven (47th – Dallas)
Projection – Poltapov looks like a middle 6 winger at the NHL level but closer to a higher end 2nd line player. Provided he continues to get stronger and continues to drive possession, Poltapov has a skill set that translates well to the NHL. Getting some time in the VHL and even KHL next season would be excellent for Poltapov’s development. Time to NHL: 2023-24
2nd Round (53) – Alexander Kisakov
F | 5’10” | 141 lbs | 11/1/2002 | Shoots: Left
Dynamo Moskva (MHL): 61 GP | 36 G | 37 A | 73 PTS
TCB Reaction: “After taking Poltapov at 33, I was extremely surprised to see the Sabres take another Russian in Kisakov. I was genuinely curious if this was an attempt at trying to find the next Kaprizov but excited about taking a swing on some higher upside talent. Pastujov would have been my target here but Kisakov has good puck skills and a great shot that make me believe he could have higher ceiling than Poltapov.” -Curtis Schwartzkopf (@CurtisNHLDraft)
Continuing to go against the grain of past draft trends, the Sabres selected Russian Alexander Kisakov with their second 2nd round pick. The slight of frame Kisakov is gifted witht he puck and has very high offensive abilities that make him a good puck handler. As a skater, Kisakov has very good agility and uses it to carry the puck into opponent territory with ease at times.
Kisakov is a shooter at heart and has a very good release that make him dangerous from anywhere but especially in the high danger areas of the ice. With how versatile Kisakov is as both a playmaker and shooter, he forces opponents to respect him which in turn buys him open ice. Kisakov has exhibited very good even strength play early on in his career.
With Kisakov, he is arguably the Sabres prospect in this class who needs to build up his strength the most. Because of his overall lack of muscle, Kisakov has shown some tendencies to avoid contact but this may be in part due to his understanding at how ineffective he can be playing this style. He likely won’t make the jump to the KHL this year but should be able to hone his game at the MHL/VHL level and further develop his high end offensive skills.
Pick Grade: B
My Pick: Sasha Pastujov (66th Anaheim)
Projection – With how highly talented Kisakov is, I could see his top potential being that of a 1st line winger but he is more likely to be a 3rd line winger who is able to score at even strength. Given how solid he is at driving transition, I would also project him to be a good positive impact player in the NHL provided he is able to gain more strength. Time to NHL: 2024-25
3rd Round (88) – Stiven Sardarian
F | 6’1” | 154 lbs | 2/7/2003 | Shoots: Left
Krasnaya Armiya Moskva (MHL): 50 GP | 9 G | 21 A | 30 PTS
TCB Reaction: “Sardarian is just a pure talent bet and while it may have been a little early to select him, I respect the boldness. He may be the most fun prospect of the Sabres’ draft due to his skill level.” -Walt Zurowski (@Sabremetrix)
The Sabres went a bit off the board taking Russian Stiven Sardarian (or Sardaryan) who was unranked by most outlets, sans Central Scouting’s European list where he came in at 73rd. He’s a lanky forward that needs to put on some more weight but does have some transition qualities that make him an intriguing prospect.
Sardarian has some nice puck handling ability that he uses to create space for himself. There’s a lot to like about how good of a playmaker Sardarian is, especially at even strength as he is very accurate passer with good vision. His confidence distributing the puck stands out as a trait that will help him succeed in the USHL next year. Sardarian’s top end speed is not the greatest however, and thus limits some of his potential upside of being a play driver. Having said that, Sardarian appears to be a forward who prefers to dictate the pace with his smarts.
Given how likely it was that Sardarian would have fallen to the later rounds, this feels like a reach by the Sabres and why I grade the selection so poorly. The grade is simply a reflection of the quality of players available at this point in the draft and not a reflection of Sardarian’s talent or potential. He’s a long term project who is headed over to North America to play for Youngstown of the USHL next season prior to jioning the University of New Hampshire in the 2022-23 season.
Pick Grade: D
My Pick: Peter Reynolds (Undrafted)
Projection – Sardarian is tough to project as he’s a high risk, moderate reward forward. With his development path bringing him to North America next year, Sardarian will get a chance to get more exposure and highlight his skills. At the moment, Sardarian looks to be at most a bottom 6 forward at the NHL level. Time to NHL: 2025-26