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Road to the NHL Draft: Jake Virtanen

By John Vogl

Jake Virtanen

Position: Left wing

Junior team: Calgary (WHL)

Born: New Westminster, British Columbia

Measurables: 6-foot, 208 pounds

2013-14 stats: 71 games, 45 goals, 26 assists, 71 points

Central Scouting rank: No. 6 (North America)

Lowdown: When the top prospects gather, someone has to be the fastest. At this year’s Canadian Hockey League gala, it was Virtanen. The swift-skating winger won the 30-meter sprint and the 30-meter backward skate. It’s fitting because defenders can’t tell whether he’s coming or going.

The one-time first overall pick in the Western Hockey League draft found his groove this season. His goal total exploded from 16 to 45 as he began to welcome the expectations. He already has an NHL frame, which makes it difficult for junior defenders to play the body. Plus, Virtanen isn’t shy about initiating the contact.

His fondness for physicality can result in untimely penalties. He still has to work on his defensive game. The dual citizen of Canada and Finland had major shoulder surgery this spring, and it will keep him out for up to six months. It shouldn’t impact his draft status because he wasn’t turning pro this year anyway.

He said it: “I’m a power forward that can shoot the puck. I think I’m a guy that can play physical and make big hits, make room for my teammates, try to be a leader.” – Virtanen.

The Buffalo News is profiling 30 prospects in 30 days leading up to the NHL draft, which begins June 27.

Continue reading "Road to the NHL Draft: Jake Virtanen" »

Road to the NHL Draft: Jakub Vrana

By John Vogl

Jakub Vrana

Position: Center

European team: Linkoping (Sweden)

Born: Prague, Czech Republic

Measurables: 5-foot-11, 172 pounds

2013-14 stats: 24 games, two goals, one assist, three points

Central Scouting rank: No. 4 (Europe)

Lowdown: Vrana skidded off the learning curve when he was promoted to the Swedish Elite League, as the erstwhile scorer struggled to play against the country’s best men. He got the callup after dominating at Sweden’s junior level. The creative center put up 20 goals and 32 points in 32 games with Linkoping Jr., making the promotion to the harder league a worthy one.

Vrana was a goal-scoring machine at the under-18s, leading the tournament with eight goals against competition that included No. 2 European William Nylander and 2015 U.S. super-prospect Jack Eichel. Vrana has played in the past three under-18 world championships and helped the Czechs to a silver medal this year.

Unlike many young players, Vrana takes heed of the defensive zone. He has the speed to get back quickly.

They said it: “He plays with determination and drive, has an excellent work ethic and is a very fast skater with excellent all-round skills. He is able to control the game and create a lot of scoring possibilities with his quick moves.” – Goran Stubb, European director of NHL Central Scouting.

The Buffalo News is profiling 30 prospects in 30 days leading up to the NHL draft, which begins June 27.

Continue reading "Road to the NHL Draft: Jakub Vrana" »

Road to the NHL Draft: Kevin Fiala

By John Vogl

Kevin Fiala

Position: Center

European team: HV 71 (Sweden)

Born: St. Gallen, Switzerland

Measurables: 5-foot-9, 178 pounds

2013-14 stats: 17 games, three goals, eight assists, 11 points

Central Scouting rank: No. 3 (Europe)

Lowdown: Fiala shot up the European rankings by transitioning well from the junior to professional game. He put up 10 goals and 25 points in 27 games with HV 71 Junior, and he fit right in with the big club.

Fiala is all about offense, and he’s had plenty of chances to show what he’s got. The versatile forward, who can play wing, represented the Swiss at the world championships, the world juniors and the under-18 tournament. It was the first time one player competed in all three in the same year since 2003. He’s a pure scorer who is creative on the offensive end.

Fiala’s defensive game is nearly non-existent at this stage. He will need to become more physical to transition from the European game to the North American style.

They said it: “He impressed with his explosive skating, great puck-handling skills and overall quickness and speed. He has great offensive instincts and is full of surprises in the offensive zone. He just needs a bit more muscle and strength and some work in his defensive zone." – Goran Stubb, European director of NHL Central Scouting.

The Buffalo News is profiling 30 prospects in 30 days leading up to the NHL draft, which begins June 27.

Road to the NHL Draft: Ville Husso

By John Vogl

Ville Husso

Position: Goaltender

European team: HIFK (Finland)

Born: Helsinki

Measurables: 6-foot, 180 pounds

2013-14 stats: 41 games, 1.99 GAA, .923 save pct.

Central Scouting rank: No. 1 (Europe)

Lowdown: Teams weren’t ready to draft Husso last year, but someone will likely call his name this June after he spent another year putting up solid numbers. There are only a handful of high-end prospects in the goaltending ranks.

Despite a good showing in Finland’s pro league, Husso takes a back seat to countryman Juuse Saros. The presence of Nashville’s fourth-round pick in 2013 deprives Husso of quality playing time on the international stage. Husso skated to the net twice at the world juniors but went 0-1 with an .854 save percentage and 4.68 goals-against average.

Husso displays a good glove. His butterfly technique is solid. Like most young goalies, he could still use help with the mental side of playing in net.

They said it: “He's already had success playing against older players in Europe, so I don't think it will be very long until he's ready to make the jump to the North American pro ranks.” – Brad MacCharles, goalie scout for International Scouting Services, to Yahoo.com.

The Buffalo News is profiling 30 prospects in 30 days leading up to the NHL draft, which begins June 27.

Road to the NHL Draft: Brendan Perlini

By John Vogl

Brendan Perlini

Position: Left wing

Junior team: Niagara (OHL)

Born: Guildford, England

Measurables: 6-foot-2, 205 pounds

2013-14 stats: 58 games, 34 goals, 37 assists, 71 points

Central Scouting rank: No. 8 (North America)

Lowdown: No matter how much the NHL changes, one thing that will never go out of style is a big winger with a scoring touch. That package is what makes Perlini tantalizing.

The winger began showing his potential last season after a trade to Niagara, and he was in his comfort zone this year. He brings plenty of speed, especially for a bigger player. He’s a quick thinker, too, which helps when he gets near the net. His long reach helps him with puck possession. His father was a star in England, so he’s been around the game his whole life despite the exotic hockey birthplace.

Perlini still needs to fill out his frame and add strength. He is inconsistent with his physical game. He was an assistant captain for Canada’s under-18 team. His brother, Brett, played at Michigan State and was drafted by Anaheim in 2010.

They said it: “He plays an unselfish game moving the puck around, and he gets his stick on pucks and arrives on time for chances. He's a good shooter and has a good touch finishing chances.” – Dan Marr, NHL Central Scouting director.

The Buffalo News is profiling 30 prospects in 30 days leading up to the NHL draft, which begins June 27.

Continue reading "Road to the NHL Draft: Brendan Perlini" »

Road to the NHL Draft: Dylan Larkin

By John Vogl

Dylan Larkin

Position: Center

Junior team: United States U-18 (USHL)

Born: Waterford, Mich.

Measurables: 6-foot-1, 190 pounds

2013-14 stats: 53 games, 29 goals, 20 assists, 49 points

Central Scouting rank: No. 17 (North America)

Lowdown: Some prospects are so smooth that they already play like professionals. That’s Larkin, whose polish is evident at both ends of the ice. Despite making it look easy, the center’s intensity is what carried him to this point.

Larking is an effective passer who sees the ice well. He plays the straight-line, north-south style that coaches like, and it allows him to put pressure on the defense. He opted for the U.S. National Development Program over the Erie Otters, the Connor McDavid-led Ontario Hockey League club that drafted him.

Larkin is scheduled to attend the University of Michigan, which puts his pro arrival date at least three years away. He doesn’t put up a ton of points, but he does the little things that contribute to wins.

They said it: “He skates well and has great closing speed, uses his body well. He has skill but is not afraid of using physical play for puck possession. He has good vision and playmaking.” – David Gregory, NHL Central Scouting.

The Buffalo News is profiling 30 prospects in 30 days leading up to the NHL draft, which begins June 27.

Road to the NHL Draft: Alex Tuch

By John Vogl

Alex Tuch

Position: Forward

Junior team: United States U-18 (USHL)

Born: Syracuse

Measurables: 6-foot-4, 213 pounds

2013-14 stats: 53 games, 28 goals, 32 assists, 60 points

Central Scouting rank: No. 12 (North America)

Lowdown: There were plenty of times Tuch would tie up his inline skates, stop at his neighbor’s house to chat and dream of playing for the Buffalo Sabres. The guy next door knew a thing or two about that. He was Tim Connolly.

Tuch sought the center’s advice often through the years as he burned up the youth competition in Syracuse. Tuch left Baldwinsville for Michigan after his sophomore year of high school to play in the U.S. National Team Development Program. He’s done well enough to catch the eye of perennial NCAA power Boston College, and he will dress for the Eagles this fall.

Tuch has the big shot to go with his big size, particularly when he has room to wind up. He’s able to drive the net and create traffic or bury rebounds. His forechecking is stellar. He could grow into a prototypical power forward.

They said it: “You do notice his size out there, but Alex has really good hands and vision. He's becoming more physical. He's a good scorer. He's got a real heavy shot. More important, his hockey IQ is really good. He wants to be a hockey player, but he's also aware that there's a lot of work that goes into that.'' – Danton Cole, U.S. under-18 coach, to Syracuse.com.

The Buffalo News is profiling 30 prospects in 30 days leading up to the NHL draft, which begins June 27.

Road to the NHL Draft: Ryan MacInnis

By John Vogl

Ryan MacInnis

Position: Center

Junior team: Kitchener (OHL)

Born: St. Louis

Measurables: 6-foot-3, 185 pounds

2013-14 stats: 66 games, 16 goals, 21 assists, 37 points

Central Scouting rank: No. 20 (North America)

Lowdown: There weren’t many shots more lethal than the ones that came off the stick of Al MacInnis. The defenseman spent more than two decades rifling 100-mph shots at NHL goaltenders. He’s tried showing his son the tricks, but some things just can’t be taught.

Ryan MacInnis differs from his dad in several ways. The first is obviously the position as Ryan plays forward. He’s developed a two-way game, though, thanks to the defending tips his father has passed along. Another difference between the two is the shot. Ryan doesn’t have the same cannon. He’s got enviable height.

MacInnis is still early in the learning stages. His hockey sense needs work, and he needs to add pounds to his frame. After spending the previous two years in the U.S. National Team Development Program, it took him some time to figure out the junior style of play with Kitchener.

They said it: “A responsible, two-way center with a very good hockey IQ. He sees the ice and anticipates very well to generate scoring chances. He's a good playmaker but just needs to work on his shot and shoot more often.” – Dan Marr, director of NHL Central Scouting.

The Buffalo News is profiling 30 prospects in 30 days leading up to the NHL draft, which begins June 27.

Continue reading "Road to the NHL Draft: Ryan MacInnis" »

Road to the NHL Draft: Haydn Fleury

By John Vogl

Haydn Fleury

Position: Defenseman

Junior team: Red Deer (WHL)

Born: Carlyle, Saskatchewan

Measurables: 6-foot-2, 202 pounds

2013-14 stats: 70 games, eight goals, 38 assists, 46 points

Central Scouting rank: No. 9 (North America)

Lowdown: Fleury grew up in a small town of about 1,400 where everyone knows each other, so of course he’s connected to the Carlyle’s greatest hockey export – Brendan Morrow. The St. Louis forward was Fleury’s babysitter, and Morrow recalls the kid walking around with a stick in his hand.

The early love of hockey paid off. Fleury is the second-ranked defenseman in the draft, trailing only potential first overall pick Aaron Ekblad. Fleury has quickly closed up any holes in his game. He’s a quick, agile skater who has smarts at both ends of the rink. He avoids silly penalties, which allows his coaches to use him in a shutdown role at all times of the game.

The Canadian was named top defenseman at the world under-18 tournament. This draft is thin on blue-liners with NHL talent, so Fleury won’t have to wait long to hear his name called.

They said it: “He's got good, strong mobility, great vision and has a knack for making that first good outlet pass. He's composed and calm with the puck and has an ability of knowing when to join the rush at the right moments.” – B.J. MacDonald, NHL Central Scouting.

The Buffalo News is profiling 30 prospects in 30 days leading up to the NHL draft, which begins June 27.

Continue reading "Road to the NHL Draft: Haydn Fleury" »

Road to the NHL Draft: Conner Bleackley

By John Vogl

Conner Bleackley

Position: Center

Junior team: Red Deer (WHL)

Born: High River, Alberta

Measurables: 6-foot, 197 pounds

2013-14 stats: 71 games, 29 goals, 39 assists, 78 points

Central Scouting rank: No. 35 (North America)

Lowdown: Bleackley wore the “C” on his jersey this season, putting him in elite company. How elite? The only other members of the 2014 draft class who captained their teams were Aaron Ekblad and Sam Reinhart, favorites to be selected with the first overall pick.

Bleackley doesn’t have the elite talent of those two players, but he may end up in the first round. He’s developed a solid all-around game under coach Brent Sutter. A power-play specialist, Bleackley has a hard shot and releases it quickly. His work ethic is tremendous.

Bleackley is learning to play a physical game, but there are still a few more lessons. While he’s good with plenty of room on the ice, he needs to hone his five-on-five skills. Getting faster would help.

He said it: “It was something I felt I was ready for and definitely a huge challenge. I think looking back on this year, as far as leadership goes, it was a real learning year. The stuff I learned this year about keeping guys together is only going to help me going forward." – Bleackley, to NHL.com, on being captain.

The Buffalo News is profiling 30 prospects in 30 days leading up to the NHL draft, which begins June 27.

Continue reading "Road to the NHL Draft: Conner Bleackley" »

Road to the NHL Draft: Josh Ho-Sang

By John Vogl

Josh Ho-Sang

Position: Forward

Junior team: Windsor (OHL)

Born: Toronto

Measurables: 5-foot-11, 175 pounds

2013-14 stats: 67 games, 32 goals, 53 assists, 85 points

Central Scouting rank: No. 18 (North America)

Lowdown: Ho-Sang has an offensive flair that has been recognized in Toronto rinks for years. It was unmistakable in 2011-12 when his linemate with the Toronto Marlboros was Connor McDavid, who is scheduled to be the NHL’s next great superstar. Ho-Sang put up 31 goals and 79 points in 30 games on McDavid’s wing, and he’s kept it up without the center.

Ho-Sang, who has a Jamaica-born father, Chilean mother and Chinese great-grandfather, once played with the son of Steve Larmer. The former Chicago forward told Ho-Sang he reminded him of Denis Savard, and Ho-Sang certainly has the passing skills and creativity to warrant the description.

Ho-Sang is undersized, but his mother is a nutritionist who is helping him put on weight. The winger, who can slide over to take faceoffs, has been known to take shifts off. He’ll miss the first 15 games of next season with a suspension for hitting a player from behind.

They said it: “He handles the puck very well at top speed and sees the ice well. His skating is excellent and his first step is explosive. He cuts to the middle often and can split the defense with surprising speed.” – Chris Edwards of NHL Central Scouting.

The Buffalo News is profiling 30 prospects in 30 days leading up to the NHL draft, which begins June 27.

Continue reading "Road to the NHL Draft: Josh Ho-Sang" »

Road to the NHL Draft: Roland McKeown

By John Vogl

Roland McKeown

Position: Defense

Junior team: Kingston (OHL)

Born: Windsor, Ont.

Measurables: 6-foot-1, 195 pounds

2013-14 stats: 62 games, 11 goals, 32 assists, 43 points

Central Scouting rank: No. 27 (North America)

Lowdown: Scouts traveled to Kingston to see Samuel Bennett, a possible No. 1 overall pick, and they couldn’t help but notice McKeown. The offense-minded defenseman is the sixth-best blue-line prospect, according to Central Scouting.

McKeown’s skating sets him apart from other defenders. His acceleration allows him to pull away from players in his own zone and start rush chances. His speed enables him to catch up to players and break up chances in the defensive end. His shot is hard and accurate. He can pass well but prefers to carry the puck.

While he has improved defensively, McKeown has a tendency to pinch often. It can result in the opposition taking advantage and going the other way on an odd-man rush. He’s not a physical blue-liner.

He said it: “I believe my game translates well at the next level. I think my skating, agility, IQ and strength to battle in the corners are all key components to making a successful pro, and I feel being able to do those things will get me to the next level." – McKeown, to NHL.com.

The Buffalo News is profiling 30 prospects in 30 days leading up to the NHL draft, which begins June 27.

Continue reading "Road to the NHL Draft: Roland McKeown" »

Road to the NHL Draft: Hunter Smith

By John Vogl

Hunter Smith

Position: Right wing

Junior team: Oshawa (OHL)

Born: Windsor, Ont.

Measurables: 6-foot-7, 208 pounds

2013-14 stats: 64 games, 16 goals, 24 assists, 40 points

Central Scouting rank: No. 39 (North America)

Lowdown: Smith’s rise has been as remarkable as his height. The forward was draft eligible last year, but teams passed him over after he missed half of the season with sliced tendons in his hand. NHL Central Scouting had him just 140th in its midterm rankings, but he skyrocketed more than 100 spots in the final evaluations.

A sudden nose for the net, featuring the ability to get close to it, lifted Smith’s stock. Though he totaled just 16 goals this season – low for top prospects – he had only one in his first 45 games over two seasons. The winger had an excellent playoff showing, too, recording eight assists and 11 points in 12 games.

As his size would suggest, Smith is quick to stick up for teammates. Like many fast-growing kids, he lacks coordination. He’ll need to improve his speed and agility to make it to the NHL. He was a baseball prospect but gave up the sport to concentrate on hockey.

He said it: “I have more to give. The coordination started to come along. I started to become a man as I played with men. I think just getting my weight up and being able to skate and compete at the level that OHL guys compete at is what has helped me the most." – Smith, to Yahoo.ca.

The Buffalo News is profiling 30 prospects in 30 days leading up to the NHL draft, which begins June 27.

Continue reading "Road to the NHL Draft: Hunter Smith" »

Aaron Ekblad: Potential No. 1 overall draft choice is impressive in multiple ways

By Mike Harrington

MISSISSAUGA, Ont. -- Aaron Ekblad tried to keep things simple when talking to reporters Saturday at the NHL Scouting Combine. The Barrie Colts defenseman is the top-rated blueliner in the draft and considered a building block on the back end. He says he's 100 percent ready to play in the NHL but just focused on trying to make a team.

"I watched some NHL games this year and realized this is a hard league to get into," Ekblad said. "The NHL Draft is just a foot in the door. It means nothing until you prove you're ready to do it."

Forget that. Ekblad is going to be a 20-minute a game defenseman next year and there's a good chance he'll be the first defenseman taken No. 1 overall since St. Louis took Erik Johnson in 2006

Ekblad is a physical specimen, listed at 6-3 1/2 and 216 pounds. He pushed his heart rate over 200 during the VO2 max test in the International Centre as scores of scouts and media watched from a few feet away. That was impressive. So is the 18-year-old's demeanor. It's like talking to a 32-year-old who has played 12 years in the NHL. Eklbad interviewed with 16 teams here this week and the Sabres, of course, were one of them.

Ekblad said he hasn't closely studied rosters of the top teams in the draft. I asked if it would be better for him to come to a team like Buffalo that already has a cachet of young defensemen rather than a club like Edmonton or Florida that has huge holes on its blueline and would rely on him to be its top young prospect. Here's his answer:

"I look at it as I want to make a team. It doesn't matter who's there. It's going to be tough to beat out a guy that's fighting for their lives. This guy could have kids and a wife. That's how you have to look at it. These guys are going to fight for their careers and their well-being. Everyone has been doing this their whole life, not just myself.

"Expectations are other people's thoughts, not mine. I simply hold high standards for myself, high goals. If I reach those goals, I'm still not happy or satisfied with what I do."

Yeah. Impressive.

Ekblad earned Exceptional Status into the OHL as a 15-year-old and posted career bests this season in goals (23), assists (30), points (53) and penalty minutes (91). But with the Sabres so desperate for offense, what do they do if Ekblad is available? Remember, GM Tim Murray told me point-blank during the season's wrapup news conference the team will take the best player available regardless of position and said by name he was referring to Ekblad if the label applies. Hmmm.

Be sure to check out my thoughts on the Sabres' Ekblad Dilemma in Sunday's editions of The News.

Road to the NHL Draft: Jared McCann

By John Vogl

Jared McCann

Position: Center

Junior team: Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)

Born: London, Ont.

Measurables: 6-foot, 179 pounds

2013-14 stats: 64 games, 27 goals, 35 assists, 62 points

Central Scouting rank: No. 10 (North America)

Lowdown: Two-way centers are in high demand thanks to coaches who think defense first. McCann could be special because of that. He eagerly and legitimately plays a 200-foot game, the kind that helps players reach the NHL.

McCann is one of the quicker skaters in the draft, and his ability to change speeds is impressive. His passing skills are elite. Despite suffering a concussion during his first junior season, he’s not afraid to chase the puck into the corners or go to the tough areas. He strengthened his neck in hopes of avoiding future head injuries.

While he is dependable in his own end, McCann can be inconsistent on the score sheet. He can let the slumps go to his head and creates routines to try to snap out of them, like jumping into a cold tub before games. He is a solid penalty killer who regularly faces the opposition’s top line.

They said it: “Jared is a highly skilled and creative playmaker. He has excellent hands and puckhandling ability. He sees the ice very well and can get the puck through traffic with great saucer passes. He is not a guy who will always bring you out of your seat but is dangerous every shift.” – Chris Edwards of NHL Central Scouting to NHL.com.

The Buffalo News is profiling 30 prospects in 30 days leading up to the NHL draft, which begins June 27.

Continue reading "Road to the NHL Draft: Jared McCann" »

Road to the NHL Draft: Thatcher Demko

By John Vogl

Thatcher Demko

Position: Goaltender

Junior team: Boston College (NCAA)

Born: San Diego

Measurables: 6-foot-4, 192 pounds

2013-14 stats: 16-5-3, 2.24 GAA, .919 save pct.

Central Scouting rank: No. 1 (North America)

Lowdown: Just a freshman, Demko has already put himself alongside Jimmy Howard, the Detroit and U.S. Olympic goalie. Demko recorded a goals-against average of 1.35 versus Hockey East competition this season, the lowest total since Howard’s record of 1.15 in 2003-04.

The California native helped the Eagles advance to the Frozen Four, his second major tournament of the year. Demko was also a member of the U.S. world junior team but didn’t see any action. He spent one season with the U.S. national development program and picked up 15 of the under-18 team’s 22 victories.

Demko’s size and strength set him apart. He reads plays well and has the frame to overcome positional mistakes. His rebound control could use work. Only two goalies have been taken in the first round during the last three drafts.

They said it: “He was so far ahead of the underage players last year that if he was draft-eligible in 2013 he would have probably been drafted high. He's a huge, strong goalie with excellent net coverage. He has that NHL presence in the net.” – Al Jensen, NHL Central Scouting to NHL.com.

Continue reading "Road to the NHL Draft: Thatcher Demko" »

Road to the NHL Draft: John Quenneville

By John Vogl

John Quenneville

Position: Center

Junior team: Brandon (WHL)

Born: Edmonton, Alberta

Measurables: 6-foot-1, 182 pounds

2013-14 stats: 61 games, 25 goals, 33 assists, 58 points

Central Scouting rank: No. 23 (North America)

Lowdown: The Quenneville name is recognizable to fans, and John is second cousin to Chicago coach Joel Quenneville. While the connection draws initial looks, it was John Quenneville’s rapid improvement that turned him into a potential first-round pick.

Quenneville had eight goals and 19 points during 47 games last season, but the Western Hockey League sophomore tripled those numbers this year with 25 goals, 33 assists and 58 points in 61 outings. The Wheat Kings relied on him in the playoffs, too, as Quenneville led the team with five goals and 13 points in nine games.

The power-play specialist is strong with the puck, but he needs to work on his speed. He is not afraid to mix it up, finishing second on Brandon with 71 penalty minutes, including five fighting majors.

They said it: “He has the pro makeup and is a hard worker. He makes good plays very quickly and is good at moving the puck. I'd like to see more consistency from him, but I like the way he finds open spaces and his ability to make any kind of pass.” – David Gregory, NHL Central Scouting to NHL.com.

The Buffalo News is profiling 30 prospects in 30 days leading up to the NHL draft June 27.

Polls: What do you think the Islanders will do? What do you want them to do?

By John Vogl

The Inside the NHL column in Sunday's paper will examine the New York Islanders' options regarding their first-round picks. They have to give either their 2014 or 2015 selection to the Sabres as part of their trade to get Thomas Vanek.

This year's pick is No. 5 overall. There's no telling what the 2015 pick could be. Given the Islanders' history, they'll miss the playoffs and it'll be another high pick with Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel available in the lottery. Given New York's roster, the club might make the postseason and the pick would be later in the first round.

The Islanders have until June 1 to decide. You get to do it now.

Sabres lose draft lottery, will select second overall; Florida gets No. 1

By John Vogl

SCARBOROUGH, Ont. – Tim Murray sat expressionless as NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly unveiled the Florida Panthers as the winners of the draft lottery. The Sabres’ general manager had played out the scenarios in his head during the drive north from Buffalo, and he figured someone would leapfrog his last-place club and draft first overall.

He was right. The Sabres lost all season on the ice, so it’s little surprise they lost a lottery, too. They’ll pick in the No. 2 slot at the NHL Draft on June 27 in Philadelphia.

“I’m not disappointed,” Murray said Tuesday night in a Canadian television studio. “It’s kind of what I was expecting.”

Despite the continuing run of bad luck, Buffalo will select in the top five for only the second time since 1987. They took Thomas Vanek fifth overall in 2003.

“We’ll get a good player, and I think there’s a great chance we could get a guy that we have No. 1 on our list,” Murray said. “I think with the way the draft sets up, we probably have a better chance of getting the guy that we have No. 1 than we had a chance today of getting the first pick.

“To me, it’ll all work out.”

There’s a chance the Sabres could have two of the top five picks. The New York Islanders own the No. 5 selection, but they have until June 1 to decide whether to give it to Buffalo or deliver their 2015 first-round pick to the Sabres as part of their October trade for Vanek.

“We haven’t made our mind up yet,” said Trent Klatt, the Islanders’ head amateur scout.

New York GM Garth Snow did not attend the lottery.

“I certainly know staying at five there’s a better possibility of us getting their pick versus if they had moved to one,” Murray said. “There’s a 50-50 chance that we’ll have two picks in the top five, and we’ll be prepared for that.

“I don’t have a preference. If it’s this year, we know where they are this year. We know it’s a top-five pick this year, so we know we’re going to get a hell of a player. There’s a lot of uncertainty about next year. I’m not a big fan of uncertainty, so we’d be quite happy with it this year.”

The NHL has been conducting a draft lottery since 1995, but it revamped the rules last year to give all teams that fail to make the playoffs a shot at the No. 1 selection. The team that finishes last has a 25 percent chance of winning the lottery and retaining the top pick. The rest of the first round is conducted in reverse order, so last-place Buffalo had a 73.5 percent chance of falling to No. 2. It did.

(New Jersey, which had a 1.5 percent chance of winning the lottery, was ineligible because of a salary cap violation. Another lottery would have been conducted had the Devils won.)

Buffalo became the 13th last-place team in 19 lotteries to lose the weighted contest. Florida finished at the bottom last year, but Colorado won the lottery to bump the Panthers to second. They’ll get the top spot this year.

“Very good day for the Panthers,” said Travis Viola, the vice president of hockey operations. “We’re still just evaluating what we really want.”

There are three players considered worthy of being drafted at the top: defenseman Aaron Ekblad and forwards Sam Bennett and Sam Reinart. Viola said the Panthers boast their best depth up front. That might lead them to take Ekblad. The Sabres were far and away the worst offensive team in the NHL and have a good corps of defense prospects, so forward might be their desired selection.

Buffalo’s scouting staff will meet in May to rank the prospects.

“We have a forward that we have somewhat of a consensus in the group that is at the top of the forward list,” Murray said. “We’ve got a lot of needs. We’re just going to take the best player available, whether we feel that’s a forward or a defenseman.”

The rebuilding Sabres are expected to be a lottery team again next year. The NHL is discussing whether to make changes to the process.

“I still believe in that concept that the worst overall team should have a chance to get better, so that’s not going to change,” Daly said. “What the managers have asked us to do is take a look at it and see if further tweaks might be appropriate. Having said that, we’re satisfied with the way the draft lottery system works now.”

Panthers win NHL Draft Lottery; Sabres will select second overall

By John Vogl

SCARBOROUGH, Ont. – The Sabres lost all season on the ice, so it’s little surprise they lost a lottery, too.

Last-place Buffalo will not pick first overall pick in the NHL Draft after the Florida Panthers won the draft lottery tonight. There were 13 non-playoff teams eligible of earning the No. 1 selection, and the 29th-place Panthers won while having an 18.8 percent chance.

The Sabres had the best chance at 25 percent.

The draft will be held June 27-28 in Philadelphia, and Buffalo will select in the top five for only the second time since 1987. They took Thomas Vanek fifth overall in 2003.

The NHL has been conducting a draft lottery since 1995, but it revamped the rules last year to give all teams that fail to make the playoffs a shot at the No. 1 selection. The rest of the first round is conducted in reverse order, so Buffalo had a 73.5 percent chance of falling to No. 2. It did.

(New Jersey, which had a 1.5 percent chance of winning the lottery, was ineligible because of a salary cap violation.)

Buffalo became the 13th last-place team in 19 lotteries to lose the weighted contest. Florida finished at the bottom last year, but Colorado won the lottery to leapfrog the Panthers and bump them to second.

There are four players considered worthy of being drafted at the top: defenseman Aaron Ekblad and forwards Sam Bennett, Sam Reinart and Leon Draisaitl. The Sabres were far and away the worst offensive team in the NHL and have a good corps of defense prospects, but General Manager Tim Murray wouldn’t rule out taking Ekblad, if he’s available.

“We could if he’s the best player,” Murray said. “I’m not saying he’s the best player, but he’s in the group of three or four guys when we get together in May that will be discussed as the No. 1 pick. He’s in the group. I’m not going to say he for sure is the No. 1 player on our list, be he will be in the discussion. There’s no question.”

The Sabres could end up with two picks in the top five. The New York Islanders own the No. 5 selection, but they have until June 1 to decide whether to give it to Buffalo or deliver their 2015 first-round pick to the Sabres as part of the Thomas Vanek trade.

Isles GM Garth Snow did not attend the draft lottery, so his thoughts will have to wait.

“He’s got to say yes or he’s got to say no. It’s not maybe,” Murray said. “Next year in a really good draft, if he decides to keep it this year, then you have an extra pick. It’s a win-win situation.”

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John Vogl

John Vogl

John Vogl has been covering the Sabres since 2002-03, an era that has included playoff runs, last-place finishes and three ownership changes. The award-winning writer is the Buffalo chapter chairman for the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association.

@BuffNewsVogl | jvogl@buffnews.com

About Sabres Edge


Mike Harrington

Mike Harrington

Mike Harrington, a Canisius College graduate who began his career as a News reporter in 1987, has been covering the Buffalo Sabres since 2007. He is a member of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association and can vouch that exposed flesh freezes instantly when walking in downtown Winnipeg in January.

@BNHarrington | mharrington@buffnews.com


Amy Moritz

Amy Moritz

Amy Moritz, a native of Lockport, has a bachelor’s degree in journalism/mass communication from St. Bonaventure University and a master’s degree in humanities from the University at Buffalo. An endurance athlete, she has completed several triathlons, half marathons and marathons.

@amymoritz | amoritz@buffnews.com

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