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Murray, scouts focus on taking high-end talents

PHILADELPHIA – Tim Murray spent two decades as a scout, so he knows how easy it is to fall in love with solid but unspectacular prospects. Someone who projects as a third-line guy is a viable draft candidate because he can help a little and not turn into a wasted pick with unfilled potential.

Murray also knows the Buffalo Sabres are loaded with those kinds of players. The organization needs top-end talent to turn things around, not another crop of third-liners who will keep the Stanley Cup as a pipe dream.

With that in mind, Murray and the Sabres went after high-end potential instead of reliable cogs with their eight picks in the NHL Draft this weekend.

“I put an emphasis on not hearing my scouts say his upside is third line,” Murray said Saturday in Wells Fargo Center. “We do that all the time. I did it as a scout. We love players like that, and they’re good players. We have players like that, guys in our organization that have the potential to be third- and fourth-line guys.

“What we did was not try to hit a home run, but I think we put a little more emphasis on skill and hockey sense, guys that if they do hit, they do have an opportunity to play higher than your fourth line.”

The list of four centers, three wingers, one defenseman and one goaltender starts with Sam Reinhart, selected second overall Friday night. Their three second-round picks Saturday – Brendan Lemieux, Eric Cornel and Vaclav Karabacek – plus third-rounder Brycen Martin all ranked in the top 41 of the draft, according to NHL Central Scouting.

“Our guys are happy,” Murray said of the scouting staff. “We went after potential. They’re certainly not ready-made players, and like every other team in this draft, we liked what we got.”

The draft, Murray’s first as GM, was obviously important as the team tries to climb from last place in the NHL.

The new prospects received that impression during their Scouting Combine interviews with the club.

“They seemed like they were really serious about this draft,” said Cornel, a center from Peterborough of the Ontario Hockey League. “I think they’ve got a really good opportunity with all the picks they have here, a high pick in the first and a bunch of picks in the second. I think they’re really going to benefit from this draft.”

The Sabres really tested players during their interviews, which left many walking away feeling bad about themselves. That included Lemieux, who was selected by Buffalo with the opening pick of the second round.

“I thought it was my worst interview,” said the son of longtime NHLer Claude Lemieux. “They weren’t easy on me, but I guess they liked the way I reacted.”

The answers were important for Murray and his scouting staff. They asked pointed questions, with Reinhart being quizzed on leadership and Lemieux getting grilled on his relationship with teammates.

The question for Murray is how does he think the draft went for Buffalo?

“The original plan, you guys all know, was to get an extra pick in the first round, and we weren’t able to do that,” he said. “Other than that, I think it went pretty well.”

The Sabres certainly added depth to the organization, and they likely improved the team immediately with the selection of Reinhart.

“We have a potential top-two center that can play for us next year,” Murray said. “We added a lot of assets. The way I’ve spoken about that in the past, we’re going to do the best we can to make them better. They’re either going to be Buffalo Sabres, or they’re going to allow us to get other Buffalo Sabres.”

Murray talked extensively about trades during the past few weeks, but the Sabres made only one. They sent the No. 39 overall pick to Washington in exchange for Nos. 44 and 74. Murray received about 10 inquiries on the No. 31 pick, but nothing panned out.

The weekend was hardly the splash he hoped to make, but the potential for top-six talent will do for now.

“When you draft a lot of players early,” Murray said, “it automatically helps the organization.”