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Sabres face long odds to win NHL Draft Lottery; last-place team has won just six of 18

By John Vogl

The NHL has conducted 18 draft lotteries. The last-place team has won it just six times.

The Sabres hope to become No. 7.

The league will announce the result of the weighted lottery at 8 p.m. Tuesday on NBCSN. Last-place Buffalo has a 25 percent chance of winning the lottery and keeping the first overall pick.

Florida, which finished 29th, has an 18.8 percent chance. The odds for the remaining non-playoff teams are: Edmonton (14.2 percent), Calgary (10.7 percent), New York Islanders (8.1 percent), Vancouver (6.2 percent), Carolina (4.7 percent), Toronto (3.6 percent), Winnipeg (2.7 percent), Anaheim, from Ottawa (2.1 percent), New Jersey (1.5 percent), Nashville (1.1 percent), Phoenix (0.8 percent) and Washington (0.5 percent).

Though New Jersey is in the lottery, it is not eligible to select first overall as part of its discipline for giving a salary cap-circumventing contract to Ilya Kovalchuk. If the Devils win the lottery, another will be conducted.

If the Sabres fail to win the lottery, they will drop to No. 2 in the draft, which will be held June 27 in Philadelphia.

The last-place team hasn't won the lottery since 2010, when Edmonton retained the No. 1 pick. The other bottom-feeders to win were Ottawa (1996), Boston (1997), St. Louis (2006), Tampa Bay (2008) and the Islanders (2009).

The Islanders have until June 1 to decide whether to give their 2014 or 2015 first-round pick to the Sabres as part of the Thomas Vanek trade.

NHL Central Scouting keeps Sam Bennett as No. 1 draft prospect

By John Vogl

Sam Bennett remains No. 1 in the mind of NHL Central Scouting.

The league's prospect gurus released their final player rankings this morning, and Bennett topped the list. The 6-foot, 178-pound center also was No. 1 for Central Scouting's Midterm Rankings. Bennett recorded 36 goals and 91 points in 57 games with Kingston of the Ontario Hockey League, and he has five goals and nine points in seven playoff games.

"There are guys who elevate their game when it matters most, and you're looking to project which players will do that consistently at the next level," NHL Director of Central Scouting Dan Marr said. "The guys we have at the top all are in that mold, but when we look at Sam Bennett we see a guy who could potentially have a Jonathan Toews type of career."

The Sabres, who will finish last, have the best chance of winning the draft lottery next week, giving them the best shot at selecting first overall in June.

Defenseman Aaron Ekblad moved up one spot to second overall in the rankings. He had 23 goals and 53 points in 58 games with Barrie of the OHL. The Sabres are deep with defense prospects and need offense.

"I would describe Ekblad as one of the most solid NHL prospects you will find in this year's draft class," Marr said. "He is the best defenseman available and would be projected to vie for an NHL job a lot sooner than most."

Center Sam Reinhart moved from fourth in the midterm rankings to third in the final evaluations. The 6-foot, 185-pounder has 36 goals and 105 points in 60 games with Kootenay of the Western Hockey League. He's added five goals and 17 points in eight playoff appearances.

"I would compare Reinhart to Adam Oates," Central Scouting's B.J. MacDonald said. "He's a very cerebral player who takes what's given to him. He probably has the highest hockey IQ of any player in this draft, and he knows where to go with the puck even before he even gets it."

Here is the complete list.

Early notes from Calgary and awards for Sabres' second-rounders

By Mike Harrington

CALGARY, Alberta -- Good morning from the Candian Rockies, where the Sabres and Flames will meet tonight in the Saddledome for the first time since Dec. 27, 2010. The game is a 9 p.m. start Eastern time, so that means your "morning skate" reports will be later than normal.

The Flames take the ice at 10:30 local time (12:30 in Buffalo), while the Sabres go at 11:30 a.m. here and 1:30 p.m. back home. So keep it here and on Twitter (@BNHarrington) for the latest but don't forget you'll have to wait a little while longer to find out if tonight will be Nathan Lieuwen's first NHL start in goal.

This is Buffalo's first visit here since the devastating floods last June that ruined the Saddledome's service level and put water in the first 10 rows of the seating bowl. The building's core had to be gutted and replaced entirely but it was miraculously ready to go for the preseason. I had a good chat about it with Nashville broadcaster Terry Crisp, the coach of the '89 Stanley Cup champion Flames, when he was in Buffalo last week and it will be interesting to check out the building.

As for the game, the Sabres have lost six straight overall, scoring just five goals in the process nd ll of them by either Drew Stafford or Tyler Ennis. The last time they lost seven straight in regulation was in 2003 and keep this in mind: The Sabres have NEVER lost eight straight in regulation.

The Sabres are 7-21-3 on the road as they start a five-game, 10-day trip. Their seven wins are five fewer than any NHL team and their 17 road points are 10 fewer than anyone else (Florida is 12-20-3 for 27).

The Flames are tied for 26th overall with the New York Islanders with 61 points and it will be interesting to see how that battle impacts the Sabres' draft, with Buffalo potentially getting the Islanders' No. 1 pick this year. Calgary forward Matt Stajan, who scored the overtime winner in December when the Flames won in First Niagara Center, is expected to return to the lineup tonight after missing the last two weeks following the death of his newborn son.

Continue reading "Early notes from Calgary and awards for Sabres' second-rounders" »

Bill Daly: NHL still 'seriously considering' moving Scouting Combine to Buffalo as early as next year

By John Vogl

The Sabres are still in discussions to host the NHL Scouting Combine. It appears that’s the only way draft prospects will get to work out in Buffalo.

During the past three springs, the Sabres supplemented the league’s combine with one of their own. They brought in more than 75 prospects last year for workouts, including on-ice testing. Because the draft-eligible players don’t skate at the NHL’s combine, the on-ice work was an added look.

Opposing teams, especially those without the Sabres’ funds, felt this gave Buffalo an unfair advantage. The practice was discussed at the general managers’ meetings this week, and the NHL plans to strengthen the penalties against teams that conduct their own workouts.

“The GMs overwhelmingly feel that this is an area where clubs should be put on a level playing field with a common set of rules,” NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly told The News via email today.

Rules were already in place to prohibit teams from working out prospects, but the penalty was a small fine. The board of governors will vote on bigger penalties, and they will be in place by the time the NHL Scouting Combine is held May 25-31 in Toronto.

“After the combine, you can bring a player to your city, interview him, take him out to dinner, medically test him, MRI him, whatever you need to do," Colin Campbell, the NHL's senior executive vice president of hockey operations, said at the GM meetings in Florida. “But you can't physically test him. You can't put him on the ice.”

The NHL would like to add on-ice testing to the combine, which is where Buffalo comes in.

The Sabres would like to move the league combine to Buffalo, beginning next year. HarborCenter and its dual rinks will be completed, which would give scouts a facility to test prospects on and off the ice.

“Nothing new to report on that,” Daly wrote The News, “but you know that we have been in discussions with the Sabres and are certainly seriously considering moving the league combine to Buffalo, perhaps as early as next year.”

Season-ending injury to Tavares will impact which first-round pick Islanders give Sabres

By John Vogl

This hasn't been the Islanders' season, and things are getting worse by the minute for New York. That will have an effect on the Sabres' next two drafts.

Isles captain John Tavares will miss the rest of the season with a knee injury suffered at the Olympics, Newsday reported today. The star center tore the medial collateral ligament and meniscus in his left knee during Canada's 2-1 victory over Latvia on Wednesday, according to the newspaper. The final diagnosis will come when Tavares returns to North America, but it won't take that long to calculate the Islanders' fortunes.

Without Tavares, they're done. New York is in 25th in the 30-team NHL and 12 points out of an Eastern Conference wild-card spot. Fellow point-producers Thomas Vanek and Andrew MacDonald, pending free agents, are expected to be moved prior to the March 5 trade deadline. The chances of New York making a run are nearly nil.

The Sabres are scheduled to have the Islanders' first-round pick in June's draft, but New York has the option of deferring until 2015. If the Isles finish with a top-five pick, the odds of them keeping the selection are good.

The Sabres are hoping to rebuild quicker than originally planned, so two top-five picks this year would be welcomed. However, superstar-in-the-making Connor McDavid headlines the 2015 draft class, so additional first-round selections next year -- and additional chances at winning the draft lottery -- could be a good thing.

The Sabres told The News today that New York doesn't have to decide which pick to give Buffalo until after the draft lottery.

It's unanimous: Sabres will select Reinhart, says in mock drafts

By John Vogl

The Sabres are on pace to finish last in the NHL, which will give them the best shot at picking first in the draft. All three of's draft prognosicators say they'll pick Sam Reinhart.

The center for Kootenay of the Western Hockey League is ranked fourth among draft-eligible players by NHL Central Scouting in its midseason rankings.

"The Sabres are in need of an exceptional center possessing great hockey sense with the vision and ability to maneuver through traffic with the puck," wrote Mike G. Morreale.

"Won't do anything to wow you, but combines off-the-charts hockey sense with outstanding offensive skill and strong defensive awareness," wrote Adam Kimelman.

"May have slipped in the midseason rankings but has best raw offensive talent in draft. Sabres are in dire need of goals," wrote Steven Hoffner.

The draft will be held June 27-28 in Philadelphia. Here is information about the draft lottery.

To end home futility, history provides fighting chance vs. Kings

By Mike Harrington

When I wrote today's Sabres story on their struggles in First Niagara Center, I didn't know the startling fact that I updated the Web version with early this morning: A loss tonight against the Los Angeles Kings makes the Sabres the second team in NHL history to go winless at home in their first 10 games of a season. Jeez. 

The Sabres are currently 0-8-1 and the record for worst NHL start at home was set by the 1983-84 Pittsburgh Penguins, who went 0-9-2 (that's two ties) at then-Civic Arena. They finally won a game on Nov. 23, 1983 at the Igloo by beating New Jersey, 4-1.

That Pittsburgh team finished 16-58-6 and their 38 points was last overall in the NHL. It's widely believed the club tanked its season to get the No. 1 overall pick in the 1984 draft -- which it turned into Mario Lemieux. Hmmm. Sounds like a familiar strategy, even though there's no Lemieux in the offing at next June's league meeting in Philadelphia.

Continue reading "To end home futility, history provides fighting chance vs. Kings" »

Prospect haul given huge nod by Hockey Prospectus

By Mike Harrington

Just as the Sabres' annual development camp hits the ice Wednesday in First Niagara Center comes the annual organizational ratings from Hockey Prospectus and, for once, Sabres fans have some good news: Buffalo is currently listed as the No. 3 organization for its cadre of young players. 

The rankings are for non-NHL players only -- or players who have appeared in fewer than 25 games last season or 50 in their careers.

Author Corey Pronman admits the Sabres would have been slightly lower had Mikhail Grigorenko played one more NHL game and thus lost "prospect" status by playing more than 25 games, but says the Sabres have drafted so well in 2012 and 2013 the ranking would have been high anyway. He called the 2013 draft class "exceptional." Like many hockey observers, Prospectus loved the Jason Pominville trade that brought Johan Larsson, Matt Hackett and now, Nikita Zadorov.

Now it's all about getting these players to develop at the NHL level -- and for the NHL guys to not go belly-up once they hit Buffalo. No small task.

Tampa Bay and the New York Islanders were rated ahead of Buffalo, with Anaheim and Florida right behind. The bottom five were San Jose, Los Angeles, New Jersey, Philadelphia and St. Louis.

Sabres' draft recap: Plenty of picks, minor trade and more work ahead

By John Vogl

NEW YORK -- With a hectic draft day behind them, the Sabres plan to wipe the sweat off their brows, pack their bags, fly back to Buffalo and get to work on free agency. Funny, sounds identical to my plan.

Before we do, here's a look back at an 11-player draft that had a stunning nine prospects in attendance:

*The Sabres figured they’d be busy. They entered the draft with the most picks and had several players on the trade market. By the time the second round was over, they’d added another selection, traded a defenseman and made a dream come true for a Buffalonian, a feat they duplicated later.

*Williamsville’s Justin Bailey was picked in the second round of Sunday’s NHL draft and West Seneca’s Sean Malone went in the sixth. Pretty much what they expected. But what was already a life-changing moment came with an incredible twist: Both players heard their name called by the Sabres, the team they grew up watching.

*A player with a big shot who should jump into the lineup next year and a big project who will add some snarl. Going defense-first with a pair of 18-year-olds, there’s your capsule scouting report on the Sabres’ first-round picks.

*The Sabres had a plan to draft six forwards, three defensemen and a goaltender. They followed it almost to the letter.

*Jerry Sullivan watched the draft and determined now, at least, the Sabres have a direction. Wearing teams down and preventing goals is more important than scoring them.

General Manager Darcy Regier

Kevin Devine, Sabres director of amateur scouting

Williamsville's Bailey on becoming a Sabre: 'It's just absolutely amazing'

By Mike Harrington

NEWARK, N.J. -- Justin Bailey waited through 51 picks -- including two in the second round by the Buffalo Sabres. Then his hometown team pulled the trigger, making the Williamsville native and Kitchener Rangers winger their third pick of the second round this evening.

Pretty heady stuff for a guy who has known Matthew Barnaby since he was a tot and played for Pat LaFontaine's Long Island Royals. If you missed John Vogl's story on the life of Bailey today, you must go to this link and check it out.

"It was amazing for my family and myself," said Bailey, who had nearly 30 family members and friends with him in the Prudential Center. "You grow up and you're playing hockey and especially for me loving the Sabres, quoting Rick Jeanneret when I was younger, knowing every guy on the team and growing up with them as well. It's just absolutely amazing."

The 6-3, 186-pound Bailey had 17 goals and 36 points in 57 games this season. He's a bit of a project, likely 2-3 years away from the NHL.  But he said it was "surreal" to don a blue Sabres jersey when he was selected Sunday.  And he's a week away from skating at First Niagara Center in an official capacity as part of the team's development camp.

"It's incredible. I love that rink and I can't wait to go out there and show them what I have," he said.

Speaking of incredible, Vogl and I had quite a talk a few minutes ago with Bailey's mother, Karen Buscaglia. She recalled a few years ago having Justin hanging around Amherst getting Sabres autographs.

"I was in the rinks at the summer skates at the Northtown Center and he'd make me wait there and I'd be like, 'We already have their autographs' and he'd get them 500 times," she said. "He had Afinogenov and all those guys. It's just amazing to see this little kid that stood out at the rinks and now he's pulling the jersey over his head for the team."

For more from Bailey, listen to the audio below:

No. 16: Zadorov, new project on blueline, says 'I really like to hit'

Nikita Zadorov dons his Sabres gear. (Getty Images)

By Mike Harrington

NEWARK, N.J. -- The numbers are all over the place on Nikita Zadorov depending on what Web site you look at, but I can vouch he's a big boy. So after he was done with his initial press conference as an NHLer, I returned to ask the 18-year-old Russian how big he was. He told me flat-out the Buffalo Sabres drafted a 6-foot-5 1/2, 225-pounder with their second pick in the first round today.

The highlight of his self-analysis: "I really like to hit."

Fair enough.

Zadorov spoke no English when he came to Canada last fall to play for London in the OHL. But he learned the language, as you can see, and made a major impact with the Knights. Zadorov led OHL rookies with a plus-33 rankings and finishing second among rookie defensemen with 25 points (6-19). The Knights won the league title with 50 wins, 105 points and Zadorov also had a game-winning goal against Saskatoon in the Memorial Cup.

A roommate of Sabres center Mikhail Grigorenko during the World Junior Championships, Zadorov said Grigorenko wished him luck before he headed to New Jersey.

"He said, 'I'll be happy if you go to the Sabres' and I'm in the Sabres shirt right now so I think he's happy."

Zadorov is a project who's not expected to be NHL-ready next season. He said he came to London to learn the NHL game and the KHL is not on his radar.

"From playing in Russia, it's not like a physical game," he said. "Here in Canada, everybody plays physical and play against you stride for stride. You should be ready every second. I want to play in the NHL. It's my dream."

Click below for his session with reporters.

Road to the NHL Draft Recap: Catch up on our 30 prospects in 30 days series

By John Vogl

NEW YORK -- It's NHL draft day, and we've been preparing for it with a "Road to the NHL Draft" series over the past month. We profiled 30 prospects in 30 days, and here are links to all of them so fans can feel like they know they players when their names are called.

Seth Jones

Anthony Mantha

J.T. Compher

Adam Tambellini

Valentin Zykov

Zachary Fucale

Sean Monahan

Max Domi

Nathan MacKinnon

Eric Comrie

Jordan Subban

Frederick Gauthier

Valeri Nichushkin

Samuel Morin

Ryan Pulock

Aleksander Barkov

Kerby Rychel

Ryan Hartman

Rasmus Ristolainen

Bo Horvat

Juuse Saros

Hunter Shinkaruk

Elias Lindholm

Zach Nastasiuk

Mirco Mueller

Alexander Wennberg

Adam Erne

Curtis Lazar

Jonathan Drouin

Sean Malone

We also did full-length features on Darnell Nurse, Justin Bailey and the growing diversity that exists in the NHL and its draft.

Regier expects Miller, Vanek to remain with Sabres through draft weekend

By John Vogl

NEW YORK – Darcy Regier entered draft weekend ready to gauge the marketplace for Ryan Miller and Thomas Vanek. As of now, he expects to exit draft weekend with them as members of the Sabres.

“Right now, I do, yes,” Regier said this afternoon.

Miller’s agent, Mike Liut, concurs in regard to his client.

“I am not expecting anything to happen,” he said via email.

The trade market has had a number of names added to it this weekend, but Regier says that doesn’t mean transactions will occur.

“As you add names and the supply gets greater, I don’t know what that will do with the asking prices and whether teams will be able to get the asking price or whether there will be any kind of adjustment in the marketplace for players or for the acquisition of players,” Regier said. “It’s really still a bit of a moving target that hasn’t settled yet.”

Miller and Vanek are the top names on the Sabres’ shopping list because they are set to enter the final year of their contracts. Buffalo is not expected to contend for the Stanley Cup and there is no guarantee the players will re-sign, so Regier cannot let them exit the organization next summer without getting assets in return.

“I entered this weekend recognizing that they both are in the last year of their contracts, and I have a responsibility to see what that means both with those players and also within the marketplace,” Regier said. “Unless you’re a highly competitive team, it’s very difficult to have players on your roster whose contracts are going to expire if you either choose not to or don’t have the ability to re-up them.

“Just to lose those assets, you try to get a sense of what the marketplace is like, and that’s a process that’s ongoing. I expect it will continue to move through the draft into maybe free agency and maybe beyond that. We’re actively keeping our finger on the pulse of what’s going on in the league, and we’ll have to just make our decision.”

The lack of trade activity extends to the draft, which will be held Sunday in New Jersey. The Sabres are set to pick eighth and 16th overall.

“Right now I expect that we will pick where we’re picking, and I say that only because there’s nothing that’s imminent or concrete,” Regier said. “But like I said, there are a lot of conversations, and they will continue right until the draft starts and even beyond that.”

Seth Jones won't be offended if Avalanche draft a forward instead of him at No. 1

NHL Hockey Draft Pros_Naso(3)
Associated Press photo

By John Vogl

NEW YORK -- Seth Jones has been ranked No. 1 by NHL Central Scouting all year. When the Colorado Avalanche won the draft lottery, it seemed liked a no-brainer that they'd stick with the rankings and take the former Denver resident and Avs fan with the first pick.

But the Avs have indicated they're leaning toward center Nathan MacKinnon, with Jonathan Drouin also a possibility. Jones understands the logic and Colorado's outspokenness.

"That’s the first time in a long time that anyone’s came out like that, but I don’t blame them," Jones said. "I’m not taking it personally. It’s professional sports. It would have been a nice story, but at the same time they’ve got to make a decision. It’s definitely a tough one this year. Nathan’s a great player, along with Jonathan."

Jones then displayed his knowledge of draft history.

"I mean, one’s very special, but Chris Pronger’s been No. 2, Drew Doughty has been No. 2, so there’s been a lot of good defensemen and players in general that have gone on to have great careers," he said.

A goalie at No. 16? Sabres have some interest in Halifax's Fucale

Fucale media
Zach Fucale meets the media Friday with the Empire State Building as a backdrop (Getty Images).

By Mike Harrington

NEW YORK -- When the Sabres held their draft preview press conference last week, amateur scouting director Kevin Devine made it clear one of their 10 picks Sunday in the Prudential Center would be a goalie. Then Devine raised the antenna of those assembled when he said "maybe even a goaltender comes into it" when talking about the No. 16 overall pick, the Sabres' second in the first round.

That could mean only one player: Halifax 18-year-old Zach Fucale, the netminder who played behind draft superstuds Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin to lead the Mooseheads over Seth Jones-led Portland in the Memorial Cup championship game. 

Fucale attended the annual Prospects Luncheon Friday afternoon in Weehawken, N.J., on the shores of the Hudson and the Quebec native dropped a mini bombshell when I asked him what teams brought him in for their own combines. The answer? Montreal and Buffalo.

Continue reading "A goalie at No. 16? Sabres have some interest in Halifax's Fucale" »

Road to the NHL Draft: Sean Malone

By John Vogl

Sean Malone

Position: Center

Junior team: U.S. Under-18 (USHL)

Born: Buffalo

Measurables: 5-foot-11, 183 pounds

2012-13 stats: 44 games, 13 goals, 14 assists, 27 points

Central Scouting rank: No. 62 (North America)

Lowdown: Malone has toured the world since leaving Nichols School last year. He’s played home games in Michigan and pulled the USA crest over his head in Sweden and Russia. He’ll play in Boston next season as a forward for Harvard University. He’ll also get a future stop on his resume when an NHL team drafts him.

Malone’s hustle and skating should pique the interest of teams starting in the middle rounds. He has international experience after playing in the under-18 world junior tournament and the Ivan Hlinka tourney. The exposure helped him make a 38-spot jump in the eyes of NHL Central Scouting, which had him at No. 98 in the midterm rankings.

The 18-year-old struggled at times during the under-18 world juniors. He had just one assist in the seven games and was minus-2 while averaging 13:14 of ice time per game.

He said it: "You see all these guys here, all the same age, all working for the same thing. You want to make sure you’re working hard because you’ve got other competitors here. If you put in the work in the offseason, you can maybe get a step above some of these guys.” – Malone after attending the NHL Scouting Combine.

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

Two high-ranked prospects feel they made good impression on Sabres

By John Vogl

NEW YORK -- There's no telling how the NHL draft will shake out Sunday before the Sabres pick eighth -- heck, there's no telling whether they'll even stay at No. 8 -- but it’s possible Hunter Shinkaruk or Sean Monahan could hear his name called when Buffalo steps to the dais.

They attended the Sabres’ scouting combine and interview session this month and walked away feeling both sides benefitted from the experience.

“I went on the ice and I was looking up, and it was another NHL rink that I’ve skated on now,” Shinkaruk, who totaled 86 goals the past two seasons for Medicine Hat of the Western Hockey League, said today at a prospects gathering in Weehawken, N.J. "Everything went well."

Monahan was a one-man show on a poor Ottawa team, which allowed the center to learn every aspect of the game. His scoring ability and two-way awareness would fit in well with Buffalo.

“I think I had a pretty good impression with them,” he said along the Hudson River with the New York skyline in the background.

While the draft will definitely happen, there's not much market for trades at the moment, according to Sabres General Manager Darcy Regier.

"It’s a pretty quiet area right now," Regier told the Sabres' website this afternoon while answering a question about Thomas Vanek and Ryan Miller.

Audio: NHL scouting director and top prospects Jones, MacKinnon get ready for draft

NHL Hockey Draft Pros_Naso
Associated Press photo --
From left, Nathan MacKinnon, Aleksander Barkov, Hunter Shinkaruk, Sean Monahan, Jonathan Drouin, Zach Fucale, Seth Jones, Darnell Nurse.

By John Vogl

WEEHAWKEN, N.J. -- With the New York skyline as a backdrop, some of the NHL's top prospects summed up their feelings as they head toward the draft Sunday.

Seth Jones, a former Denver resident, knows it would be a great story if Colorado picks him first. The Avalanche, though, are looking toward Nathan MacKinnon. He's trying not to think about it.

To hear from them and Dan Marr, the NHL's director of Central Scouting, click the audio files below.

Dan Marr

Seth Jones

Nathan MacKinnon

Road to the NHL Draft: Jonathan Drouin

By John Vogl

Jonathan Drouin

Position: Left wing

Junior team: Halifax (QMJHL)

Born: St. Agathe, Quebec

Measurables: 5-foot-10, 186 pounds

2012-13 stats: 49 games, 41 goals, 64 assists, 105 points

Central Scouting rank: No. 3 (North America)

Lowdown: Drouin’s dream season included a Memorial Cup championship and nearly every award handed out, including Canadian Major Junior Player of the Year and MVP of both the regular season and playoffs in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. He can store the honors alongside his highlight packages, which include jaw-dropping goals and pinpoint passes. Many came during a 29-game points streak that featured 26 goals and 39 assists. He had 35 points in 17 playoff appearances, including a five-assist outing in the championship game.

Though skating alongside fellow top prospect Nathan MacKinnon certainly helped Drouin stand out, he played just as well without the superb center and made MacKinnon look good, too. Drouin is outstanding at reading plays, which allows him to intercept passes and start lethal transitions. The words “magical” and “magician” have been used often.

Drouin lacks the adult strength of MacKinnon and Seth Jones, so he may not be as ready to compete in the NHL as his draft mates. He’ll have to reach the top level and show why Quebec voted him as its top draft prospect.

They said it: "He had that swagger and inner confidence that he wanted to be a difference-maker every time he was on the ice. His skill set, hands and vision really are at an elite level, so he's going to be a prime-time NHL scorer." – Steve Spott, head coach of Canada’s world junior team, to

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

Road to the NHL Draft: Curtis Lazar

By John Vogl

Curtis Lazar

Position: Forward

Junior team: Edmonton (WHL)

Born: Salmon Arm, British Columbia

Measurables: 6-foot, 190 pounds

2012-13 stats: 72 games, 38 goals, 23 assists, 61 points

Central Scouting rank: No. 20 (North America)

Lowdown: Lazar blew past Steven Stamkos. He left Sidney Crosby behind. That has a tendency to draw attention. The looks at Lazar began at the 2011 Canada Games, a biennial event that is the country’s largest competition for young athletes. Lazar led British Columbia to the gold, scoring 12 goals to break Stamkos’ record and 17 points to eclipse Crosby’s mark in only six games.

The Oil Kings’ assistant captain combines a hard-working mentality with offensive ability. A former teammate of Sabres defenseman Mark Pysyk, Lazar led Edmonton with eight goals and 19 points in 20 playoff games en route to the Western Hockey League title in 2011-12. The speedy forward continued the goal scoring this season, pacing the team with 38. Lazar scored nine times in 22 playoff games but added just two assists.

Lazar doesn’t have the dazzling creativity many would like and has been knocked for taking the safe play. That is good decision-making for the NHL level, but scouts hope for a higher showing of skill at the junior level.

They said it: "He had a dry spell for a while, but when he was on he was around the puck and creating stuff all game. He can certainly take advantage of his opportunities. He's got real good puck-handling ability, is a smart offensive guy and skates well.” – Chris Edwards of NHL Central Scouting.

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

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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 |

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 |

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 |