The Sabres held their organizational scouting meetings last week. There definitely were awkward moments.
New General Manager Jason Botterill didn’t know everyone. Five members of the scouting department have been let go, so others were wondering if they were next.
“There’s nervous people from both ends – myself trying to get to know them, scouts trying to figure out what I’m looking for – but we had some good discussions about that,” Botterill said Tuesday on “The Instigators,” the Sabres’ simulcast show. “It’s certainly going to take some time. I think it’s going to take almost up to a year to really get it all figured out.”
The Sabres’ hockey department is a hodgepodge of people brought in by former GMs Darcy Regier and Tim Murray. Botterill met with the amateur and professional scouts, and he enjoyed the gathering despite the occasional awkwardness.
“The meetings went extremely well,” Botterill said. “I knew some of the people, but you really don’t know how they operate or what their track record is until you get into the system and start reading their reports.
"I thought Jeff Crisp, who ran our amateur meetings, did a great job in that regard."
Crisp, in his first season as the Sabres’ head amateur scout, took charge after two scouting executives went out the door with Murray. The Sabres fired Rob Murphy, the director of scouting, and Greg Royce, the director of amateur scouting. Since their dismissal, Buffalo has also let go of pro scout Jim Kovachik and amateur scouts Keith Hendrickson and Brandon Jay.
Still remaining are Jerry Forton, the assistant director of scouting; Anders Forsberg, the director of European scouting; Kevin Devine, the director of player personnel; Graham Beamish, the pro scouting coordinator; Austin Dunne, the amateur scouting coordinator; plus two pro and nine amateur scouts.
Botterill wants his staff to consist of 12-15 amateur scouts and four or five pro scouts. The GM will also want his own leaders. One might be Randy Sexton.
Sexton is Pittsburgh’s director of amateur scouting and could follow Botterill to Buffalo, longtime hockey reporter Chuck Gormley reported Tuesday. Botterill has permission to bring people from the Penguins, but they must be in a higher role and can’t be a lateral move. Sexton would then be a candidate for overall director of scouting or assistant GM.
Sexton was general manager in Ottawa and Florida before joining the Penguins in 2010. The 57-year-old is in his second season as director of amateur scouting.
As Botterill said, the rebuild of the staff could take a year. The NHL Draft is June 23-24. After meeting with the holdovers, Botterill feels the organization is ready for its eight picks, including No. 8 overall.
“They’ve done the work,” the GM said. “Now it’s just making sure of getting the list right.”
Viktor Antipin has already announced he’s coming to Buffalo. Botterill couldn’t say that was true, but the general manager’s smile sure did.
“I can’t officially say anything in that regards just yet, but I think I’m excited about the possibility,” Botterill said.
Antipin told Russia’s Sport-Express over the weekend that he’ll join the Sabres on Monday. The 24-year-old defenseman should compete for a top-four role.
“He’s a type of player that this organization needs to find a way to bring more in,” Botterill said. “We’ve got to improve our defense around here. We’ve got to improve the puck-moving ability of it, and I think it was a great job by Tim Murray and his staff to look at these different things, look at whether it’s a Casey Nelson a couple years ago from college free agency, the staff looking over to Europe for different options.”
Antipin played for Russia in this month's world championships, recording four assists and plus-5 rating in 10 games. While playing for Metallurg Magnitogorsk the past five years, he has won two championships in the Kontinental Hockey League.
The Sabres are scheduled to enter 2017-18 with a defense corps of Rasmus Ristolainen, Zach Bogosian, Jake McCabe, Josh Gorges, Justin Falk and Antipin. Brendan Guhle and Nelson are the only prospects pushing for playing time in Buffalo. Since the free agent market lacks few surefire winners, finding gems in Russia and elsewhere is key.
“Who knows if it’s going to hit big, but you have to find different ways to improve your team,” Botterill said. “That’s what it is.”
Botterill knows college free agents can work. Carter Rowney and Conor Sheary have put the Penguins closer to a second straight Stanley Cup.
Pittsburgh has the highest percentage of individual games played by college alums in NHL history, according to College Hockey Inc. This season, 60 percent of the individual games played by the Penguins were by players with an NCAA background. It has jumped to 65 percent in the playoffs.
The Sabres certainly didn’t draft hooligans under the previous regimes, but Botterill wants his scouts to include character on their prospect reports.
“We’ve always stressed in Pittsburgh the importance of character and really trying to do your due diligence on guys,” Botterill said. “You’re never going to be perfect. You’re dealing with 18-, 19-year-old kids, but you have to have that element in place to try to find the best character guys.
“Maybe they’re not always going to be the most high-end guys, but you have to find the character guys who are going to be willing to put the work in, and hopefully that improves your hit rate from the draft perspective.”