ABOVE 30,000 FEET, SOMEWHERE BETWEEN ATLANTA AND MINNEAPOLIS -- Greetings from Flight 877, which is taking me from Atlanta to Minneapolis for the NHL draft. Why Atlanta, you might ask? That was the connection from Buffalo. That's a lot of north-south-north, but it kept a couple of pennies in Uncle Warren Buffett's piggy bank.
Kind of sad to connect in Georgia, where I used to live and work. That might be my last NHL connection to the city, thanks to the horrible decision to move the Thrashers to Winnipeg.
The NHL schedule is set to be announced today, likely at noon. Odds are good I'll be picking up the rental car at that time, but we'll still have the news and analysis for you here at BuffaloNews.com.
Speaking of news and analysis, here's some ...
*Jamie Oleksiak is one of several players with Western New York ties looking forward to hearing his name called this weekend at the draft in Minnesota. Defenseman Adam Clendening of Niagara Falls is expected to go in the first two rounds. Williamsville defenseman Chris Bradley, West Seneca blue-liner Alex Lepkowski and Cheektowaga goaltender Scott Diebold may get picked in the later rounds.
In addition, the sons of two former Sabres will take the next step toward becoming a professional. Forward Alexander Ruuttu, son of Christian, is the 16th-ranked European skater. Defenseman Dillon Donnelly, son of Gord and born in Buffalo in 1993 while his father patrolled the Sabres' blue line, is expected to be a mid-round pick.
*The 2011 draft will be held Friday and Saturday, and the Sabres used a new tool to prepare for it. They hosted a four-day scouting combine two weeks ago, welcoming 35 prospects to Buffalo for testing and interviews. This draft, when it's the Sabres' turn to select, they'll have firsthand knowledge of potential picks.
*Jerry Sullivan writes prevailing wisdom says the Sabres need a top center. But they need an experienced, physical defenseman more. They were brutal in their own end in the playoffs. They're wasting Ryan Miller's prime until they address the problem. If Bieksa decides to test the waters, the Sabres should seriously consider it.
*My good friend and prospect guru Kris Baker of SabresProspects.com has plenty of predraft info.
*The New York Islanders are one step closer to getting a long-awaited new arena. Nassau County Executive Edward P. Mangano and Islanders owner Charles Wang announced a lease agreement that would keep the NHL team on Long Island if voters approve the replacement of the aging Nassau Coliseum in an Aug. 1 vote. Construction costs for the arena are estimated at $350 million.