Awaiting the draw of a Buffalo Sabres ping-pong ball Monday, Kevyn Adams wasn’t filled with angst, as other general managers were, while watching the NHL draft lottery unfold on national television.
The Sabres weren’t in the running for the coveted first overall pick that will be used on phenom center Connor Bedard when the draft is held June 28 in Nashville. The future of Buffalo’s hockey team wouldn’t be swayed by the results of the lottery.
Buffalo News Buffalo Sabres writer Lance Lysowski examines the team's depth chart heading into the offseason and five pressing questions that …
Holding the 13th-best odds, Adams could select no higher than third overall and, unlike many teams, the Sabres’ roster and prospect pipeline are flush with talented young players.
One by one, the lottery balls revealed the order of the first round, and the Sabres’ logo was pulled by NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly to confirm Buffalo will hold the 13th pick.
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The Chicago Blackhawks won the lottery Monday night, ensuring that their general manager, Kyle Davidson, will walk to the stage at Bridgestone Arena next month to announce the selection of Bedard, who is considered the most talented draft-eligible prospect since Connor McDavid. Chicago had the third best odds for the No. 1 pick, at 11.5%.
Bedard, 17, averaged 2.51 points per game with the Western Hockey League’s Regina Pats, and his 71 goals will be the most for a No. 1 in his draft-eligible season since Eric Lindros in 1990-91.
The rest of the top five, in order, is Anaheim, Columbus, San Jose and Montreal. The Sabres, meanwhile, own at least one pick in every round and two in the second, theirs and the Philadelphia Flyers’ pick stemming from the Rasmus Ristolainen trade.
Adams and his scouting staff, led by Jerry Forton, can begin to plot which prospects might be available when they are on the clock in the first round. The Sabres plan to hold their next round of amateur scouting meetings before they interview prospects at the combine, which will be held June 4-11 in Buffalo.
Teams typically don’t draft based on positional need, but it is no secret that the Sabres need to add defensemen to a prospect depth chart that includes an embarrassment of riches at forward. Among North American skaters, the top draft-eligible prospects on defense, according to NHL Central Scouting, are Lukas Dragicevic, Etienne Morin, Oliver Bonk and Tanner Molendyk. Austria's David Reinbacher is considered the position’s best in the draft, followed by Axel Sandin Pellikka of Sweden and Russia’s Mikhail Gulyayev.
The Sabres are unlikely to trade any of their high draft choices for an NHL player because Adams is determined to strengthen an organizational depth chart that continues to produce impact players in Rochester and Buffalo. He has identified some of the franchise's pillars – Rasmus Dahlin and Owen Power are next in line for long-term contracts – but the salary cap requires teams to receive contributions from cheap, young players.
Here's a look at the Sabres' likely wish list for the NHL draft lottery.
Three of Adams’ first choices as general manager played prominent roles in Buffalo this season, most notably Power, who was selected with the top pick in 2021. Jack Quinn and JJ Peterka, both of whom were drafted in 2020, made impacts as rookie wingers. The Sabres' trio of first-round draft picks in 2022 delivered promising performances across the globe, with Jiri Kulich scoring 24 goals as an 18-year-old in Rochester, Matt Savoie leading Winnipeg to the WHL championship and Noah Ostlund showing rapid growth as a center in Sweden’s second-tier professional league.
Kulich and Savoie might be ready to join the Sabres as soon as next season, while Ostlund is weighing whether to join the Amerks or spend a year in Sweden’s top pro league. Olivier Nadeau, a fourth-round choice in 2021, joined Rochester on Monday ahead of its playoff series against Toronto. Nadeau, a 6-foot-2 power forward, had an impressive two-year stretch in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League with 57 goals and 124 points in 99 regular-season games.
Russian winger Viktor Neuchev, a third-round pick last year, signed his entry-level contract recently and will play in Rochester next season. Adams is trying to sign Russian defenseman Nikita Novikov and University of Minnesota defenseman Ryan Johnson.
The Amerks’ roster also includes two other others selected since Adams became general manager in 2020: center Tyson Kozak and winger Aleksandr Kisakov. Former general manager Jason Botterill’s drafts produced three additional promising prospects who have made an impact in Rochester this season: Lukas Rousek, Linus Weissbach and Filip Cederqvist.
Here is a snapshot of the Sabres' unsigned draft prospects, including their current team/league:
Here's a glance at some of the potential options with contract projections from Evolving-Hockey and salary-cap information from CapFriendly.
Forward: Aaron Huglen (University of Minnesota), Matteo Costantini (Western Michigan University), Jakub Konecny (Sparta Praha/Czechia), Prokhor Poltapov (CSKA/Kontinental Hockey League), Stiven Sardarian (University of New Hampshire), Viljami Marjala (TPS Turku/Liiga), William Von Barnekow (Malmo/SHL), Jake Richard (University of Connecticut), Gustav Karlsson (Orebro/SHL), Joel Ratkovic Berndtsson (Frolunda/SHL), Linus Sjodin (Rogle BK/SHL).
Defenseman: Ryan Johnson (University of Minnesota), Albert Lyckasen (AIK/HockeyAllsvenskan), Nikita Novikov (Moscow Dynamo/KHL), Mats Lindgren (Red Deer/WHL), Vsevelod Komarov (Quebec/QMJHL)
Goalie: Topias Leinonen (JYP, Liiga).