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Defensemen dominate early picks by Sabres; Forwards added in later rounds

The Buffalo Sabres just couldn't help it. They'd head toward their picks in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft intent on picking forwards. When it was time to call out the names, though, they'd examine their rankings and switch gears.

It's made for a crowded prospect list on the blue line.

The Sabres selected defensemen with three of their first four picks, finishing the draft Saturday with three blue-liners, two centers, two right wingers and two left wingers.

"Of course we came in looking for some forwards, but we're real happy with what we got," Kevin Devine, Sabres director of amateur scouting, said in Staples Center. "When I went to bed last night, if somebody would have told me we got those three guys I would've been pretty happy. We had them higher than they went, so it was a good day."

The Sabres had eight defensemen with their minor-league team in Portland last year, and it figures to be crowded again despite the decision this weekend not to deliver qualifying offers to restricted free agents Matt Generous and Mike Kostka.

"I told [General Manager] Darcy [Regier] we might have to end up getting another American League team to hold all our defensemen," said Devine, who took Edmonton's Mark Pysyk in the first round and Rimouski's Jerome Gauthier-Leduc and Calgary's Matt MacKenzie in the third. "After that I told those [other scouts] not to come back with any more defensemen. All I wanted to see was forwards for the rest of the draft."

The draft was a prospect-filled affair the previous two years in Ottawa and Montreal, with applause and hugs accompanying selections in every round. Only a handful of players made the journey to Los Angeles, which made Staples Center a quiet place on Day Two.

Gauthier-Leduc, 17, was one prospect who did make the trip, traveling with his family from Quebec City. He is as French Canadian as they come, talking with a home-grown accent and somewhat limited English.

But after what he felt was a solid interview with the Sabres at the draft combine, he knew enough English to pay attention whenever the announcers said the Sabres were on the clock.

"When they did draft, I listened well," Gauthier-Leduc said. "It's an amazing feeling for me just to have a jersey for an NHL team. I cannot describe this feeling."

Gauthier-Leduc experienced an offensive boom in his second junior season, vaulting from one goal and 17 points to 20 goals and 46 points. The goal total for Rouyn-Noranda was second among defensemen in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

"It was a good season for me, for sure," said Gauthier-Leduc, who recently was traded to Rimouski, Quebec, for a first- and second-round pick. "Next year will be a big season with a new team, and I hope things go well."

The 6-foot-1, 176-pounder has a reputation for thinking offense, offense and more offense.

"This kid has offensive skills," said Chris Bordeleau of NHL Central Scouting. "He's got size and he'll have to work on the defensive aspects of the game. Sometimes he throws caution to the wind and forgets what position he plays. But sometimes that's what you want to see from a hockey player -- take the puck and go."

The Sabres' most intriguing story came in the fifth round when they picked Mississauga's Gregg Sutch. The Newmarket, Ont., native was born with severe to profound hearing loss.

"I've learned to be a better hockey player," he told the Toronto Star. "To play this game you have to keep your head up and know what's going on at all times. Because of my hearing impairment, I'm not able to rely on the people who are around me. I've got to know myself where they are."

Sutch isn't deaf but reportedly uses two hearing aids and can read lips.

"I've been told so many times that I'm not going to be able to do this or that, but I always take it as a challenge," Sutch told Canada's National Post. "All my life I have been proving people wrong."

He was one of the Sabres' six forwards, joining Chilliwack's Kevin Sundher (third round), Owen Sound's Steven Shipley (fourth), Val d'Or's Cedrick Henley (sixth), Minnesota high schooler Christian Isackson (seventh) and Portland's Riley Boychuk (seventh).

Sundher had 25 goals and 61 points with Chilliwack, British Columbia, of the Western Hockey League. The 6-foot, 192-pounder claims to pattern his game after Detroit's Henrik Zetterberg.

MacKenzie had 34 assists and 40 points with Calgary of the WHL, then improved in the playoffs with two goals and 11 points in 15 games.

Shipley, who has size at 6-2, 205, became Owen Sound's top center in his second season and responded with 23 goals and 40 assists in 68 games.

Henley, 6-5 and 195 pounds, had an injury-plagued season, finishing with eight points in 44 games.

Isackson, 5-11 and 174, will head to the University of Minnesota in two years after recording 24 goals and 57 points in 25 games with St. Thomas High.

Boychuk, another big body at 6-4, 210, had 14 goals and 157 penalty minutes in the WHL.

"We got a little bit of everything," Devine said. "I think it's all over the place. I really do."