Tim Murray walked away from the 2016 NHL draft with nine more players in his arsenal.
Although defense was targeted by many as the Sabres’ biggest position of need, Buffalo went forward-heavy early in this year’s draft. The top three and four of the top five Sabres selections were forwards. Murray targeted players who fit a specific scouting report.
“We drafted skill and speed,” Murray said. “Some of them may lack a little size. We drafted what we believe is a lot of skill. We drafted good skaters. We drafted offensive instincts.”
Buffalo added to their defensive depth with three defensemen in the last three rounds.
“Near the end we got a couple guys that were hard to play against and-or big, physical defensive guys,” Murray said.
Every parent is proud of their son when he’s selected by an NHL team, but for Sabres third-round pick Cliff Pu, the family moment had a bit of a twist. Pu’s father Jun came to Canada from China when he was 25 to build a new life.
Today, Jun got to see all his work pay off, seeing his son selected in the NHL Draft.
“Coming over from a different country isn’t easy, and he came over with a few hundred bucks in his pocket,” Pu said. “I’m really proud of him.”
Pu scored 12 goals and 31 points in 63 games last year with the Memorial Cup Champion London Knights. He’s a 6-foot-1 scoring center who has played a secondary role on a team full of first-round talent.
Brett Murray already had a tie to Sabres owner Terry Pegula. Now, he has an even stronger one.
The Penn State commit was taken by the Sabres in the fourth round of the 2016 NHL Draft with pick No. 99.
Murray, a 6-foot-5 left wing from Bolton, Ontario, scored 14 goals and 46 points in 48 games with the Carleton Place Canadiens of the Central Canada Hockey League at the Junior A level last season.
A major factor in Murray’s decision to go to Penn State was the facilities, which were built because of hefty donations from Pegula. He hadn’t met the Sabres’ owner until he was introduced on the draft floor, where the two shared a short conversation.
“He just gave me a couple words, telling me I had a long road ahead of me,” Murray said. “He’s going to be pushing me.”
With consecutive selections in the fifth round, the Sabres chose a pair of European-born defensemen.
At No. 129, Buffalo took Philip Nyberg of Sweden, a 6-foot-3, 192-pound right-shot player headed to the University of Wisconsin next year. At No. 130, the Sabres went for Vojtech Budik of the Czech Republic, who played last season for Prince Albert in the Western Hockey League.
Nyberg had four goals and 14 assists in 45 for Linkoping in Sweden’s SuperElit League. The 6-1, 185-pound Budik is a left shot. He had three goals and 13 assists for Prince Albert and played for the Czech team in the World Junior Championships. He was ranked No. 90 among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting.
Bob Woods’ resume was enough to get him back on an NHL coaching staff. His teaching skills are what led Dan Bylsma to hire him as an assistant.
“Where he’s really going to help is he’s a teacher of the game and he has a unique ability to get on the same level as the players and help them out,” Bylsma said Saturday. “Really, that’s what attracted me most about bringing Bob Woods to our team. I think he’s going to really be able to help us out in that regard.”
Woods, who has won American Hockey League titles as a player, assistant and head coach, joined Buffalo on Thursday to fill one of the two openings on Byslma’s staff. The final addition is not imminent.
“I wouldn’t say I’m super close,” Bylsma said. “I’ve spent the last 2 1/2 weeks really focused on getting Bob and bringing Bob in. Once that was done, that might give us some idea what we might look for in the third assistant.
Bylsma also has changed video coaches. While he wouldn’t say who has replaced Corey Smith, a mainstay since the Lindy Ruff era, a source says the new hire is Adam Nightingale. The 36-year-old was the director of hockey operations and video coordinator at Michigan State and is the brother of Jason Nightingale, the Sabres’ coordinator of analytic-related hockey evaluation.
In the sixth round, the Sabres took hardworking left wing Brandon Hagel out of Red Deer, Alberta. The 6-foot 17-year old scored 13 goals and 47 points in his first year in the WHL.
The Sabres completed their draft by taking Russian center Vasili Glotov with the 190th pick. Glotov scored 23 goals and 55 points with Serebryanya Lvy St. Petersburg of the MHL. He is ranked No. 58 among European skaters by NHL Central Scouting. He’s the first Russian selected by Buffalo since Nikita Zadorov in 2013.
Bylsma shared his own draft story when he talked to the media following the draft’s completion.
“I was in the car on the way to church and the phone rang,” Bylsma said. “My mother made me go back inside to answer the phone from the Winnipeg Jets. It was a little more anticlimactic than what we’re witnessing today.
Bylsma went on to play 429 NHL games between Los Angeles and Anaheim.
A record 12 American-born players were taken in the first round to 11 for Canada. The U.S. had 52 players selected by the draft’s conclusion, trailing only Canada in number.
Sixty-one players from NCAA schools were drafted, with all but one team taking at least one collegiate player.
Griffin Luce, grandson of former Sabre Don Luce, went undrafted. The U.S. Development Program defenseman scored one goal and four points in 25 USHL games last season. He’s heading to the University of Michigan to play college hockey next year.
News Sports Reporters John Vogl and Mike Harrington contributed to this story.