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Sabres plan their picks ahead of NHL draft

Tim Murray’s draft calls are short, sweet and legendary. He totaled just 10 words while selecting Sam Reinhart and Jack Eichel, and his less-is-more strategy added to the impact.

Don’t expect anything to change just because he’ll be in his home rink Friday.

“It’s not going to be any different,” the Buffalo Sabres’ general manager said. “I’m not thanking anybody. I’m going to just make the pick.”

Host teams in the past have welcomed special guests to the stage, dedicated the draft to deceased members of the organization and congratulated the champions. Without fail, they’ve thanked the fans for their support.

“If somebody feels put out and wants to meet out in Buffalo downtown Saturday night and get a personal thank you, I will certainly do that,” Murray said.

Before he unwinds with thank yous and cold drinks on Chippewa, he’ll need to add first-round talent to the organization. Provided the Sabres don’t make a major trade, Murray will work off a short list for the No. 8 pick.

“We’ve got it narrowed down to three guys,” he said at First Niagara Center. “People think we’re targeting these three guys. It’s not. It’s just that’s who we think will be left.

“Not all three will be there, but one of the three will be there.”

Two of the three are defensemen.

“There’s five real good defensemen in the first round,” said Greg Royce, Buffalo’s director of amateur scouting. “We have two of that class of five that we’ve really targeted that we want, but we don’t know what the seven teams ahead of us − well, we know the first three are predictable − but four, five, six and seven - they could steal the two guys that we want.”

To trim the Sabres’ list of potential targets, it’s best to start at the top. Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine and Jesse Puljujarvi are the consensus choices to go in the top three. Matthew Tkachuk is the favorite to go fourth.

That leaves three teams drafting before Buffalo and seven prospects worthy of selection − forwards Pierre-Luc Dubois, Alexander Nylander and Logan Brown, plus defensemen Jakob Chychrun, Olli Juolevi, Mikhail Sergachev and Charles McAvoy.

“I know we’re going to get a good player at eight,” Murray said. “The three players that we think have a chance to be there - we’re extremely happy with that pick.”

Here’s a look at the candidates:

• Dubois is the top-ranked North American prospect, according to NHL Central Scouting. Able to play center and wing, he totaled 49 goals and 111 points in 74 games with Cape Breton in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. The 6-foot-2-inch 201-pounder has impressed with a two-way game.

“He excels at utilizing his size and strength to his advantage and can play with an edge,” said Dan Marr, director of Central Scouting.

• Nylander is the son of longtime NHLer Michael Nylander and the brother of top Toronto prospect William Nylander. The 6-foot, 180-pound winger totaled 34 goals and 81 points in 63 games with Mississauga in the Ontario Hockey League.

“Nylander is a dynamic player who is an elite skater with a creative skill set,” Marr said.

• Brown is a massive 6-foot-6-inch, 220-pound center who draws comparisons to Joe Thornton. He had 21 goals and 80 points in 64 games with Windsor in the OHL.

“When he has the confidence and assertiveness to play to his size and play a little more selfishly, then his numbers will rise and good things will begin to happen,” Marr said.

• Chychrun has an in with the Sabres as a friend of the Pegula family. He went to school with two of Terry Pegula’s children and has visited the owner’s Florida home. The 6-foot-2-inch, 205-pound Chychrun had 13 goals and 57 points in 69 games with Sarnia in the OHL.

“A complete defenseman, with the size, strength, speed and puck skills for today’s NHL,” Marr said.

• Juolevi helped London win the Memorial Cup with a 75-game season that featured 12 goals and 56 points. The 6-foot-2-inch 182-pounder also helped Finland win the world junior championship.

“He displays elite hockey sense and instincts with and without the puck and plays in every situation,” Marr said.

• Sergachev is a chiseled 6-fot-2-inch 208-pounder who was named top defenseman in the OHL after making 19 goals and 62 points in 72 games. His first interview at the NHL Scouting Combine was with the Sabres.

“His read-and-react game is fast,” Marr said. “He’s a guy you don’t catch out of position.”

• McAvoy had an impressive freshman year at Boston University, former home of Jack Eichel. The 6-foot 208-pounder made three goals and 25 points in 37 games despite being just 17 years old for half of the season.

“He has a real pro game to him,” said David Gregory of Central Scouting.

After the Sabres make their pick, the next question will be whether the prospect can play right away. Going back 10 years, five picks immediately contributed in the NHL or American Hockey League. Among them was Sabres blue-liner Rasmus Ristolainen.

If the draft falls the way the Sabres project, Buffalo may select Ristolainen’s future defense partner.

“Teams like entry-level contracts, so I think there are guys through the top 10, for sure, that can play right away,” Murray said. “It’s whether that organization needs that or not. They have that ability to.”