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Sabres' drafts under Jason Botterill show glaring need for help at forward

Sabres' drafts under Jason Botterill show glaring need for help at forward

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Cozens

Sabres prospect Dylan Cozens will compete for an NHL roster spot in training camp.

With former General Manager Jason Botterill and his amateur scouting director Ryan Jankowski gone, not much is publicly known about what the Buffalo Sabres are looking for in the NHL draft on Oct. 6-7.

And while teams rarely base their early selections off current organizational depth, the Sabres’ needs are glaring entering Kevyn Adams’ first draft. Across Botterill’s three drafts in Buffalo, he selected three centers, four left wings, one right wing, six left-shot defensemen, two right-shot defensemen and two goalies.

Though some of those defensemen hit a snag in their development last season, the Sabres’ priority should be to add at center or wing, especially with the No. 8 overall pick in the first round.

We won’t be able to properly evaluate Botterill’s drafts for five to seven years, but here’s a look at each prospect selected by the previous regime:

2017 draft

Casey Mittelstadt, center, first round: Despite having played 114 games with the Sabres, it’s unclear where Mittelstadt fits in the organization. The 21-year-old spent most of last season in Rochester, where he showed refined play away from the puck and recorded 25 points in 36 games. But Mittelstadt’s skills didn’t pop at that level the way Tage Thompson’s did. Perhaps Adams and coach Ralph Krueger will experiment with Mittelstadt on the wing, which would free him of the responsibilities required of a center.

Marcus Davidsson, center, second round: The effects of a concussion limited Davidsson to only 31 games last season with Vaxjo of the Swedish Hockey League, but he should need only one full, healthy year overseas before he comes to North America. The 21-year-old was expected to return to Vaxjo in time for its season opener, but he has yet to appear in a game. He has totaled 32 goals with 39 assists for 71 points across 168 games in the SHL.

Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, goalie, second round: Regarded as one of the Sabres’ top prospects, Luukkonen is expected to return to Rochester after appearing in 10 games with the Amerks last season. A gold medalist at the IIHF World Junior Championship in January 2019, Luukkonen is currently on loan with TPS in Liiga and his development is expected to trend upward after returning from double-hip surgery last November. He’ll likely need one or two years in Rochester before he is ready for a full-time job in the NHL.

Oskari Laaksonen, defenseman, third round: Laaksonen took a step backward last season after an outstanding 2018-19. The 21-year-old saw his role diminish with Ilves as he learned how to become a better player in his own zone. Laaksonen has added approximately 28 pounds over the past three years and will transition to Rochester this season.

Jacob Bryson, defenseman, fourth round: Listed at only 5 feet, 9 inches, Bryson had a strong debut season with Rochester in 2019-20, totaling four goals with 23 assists in 61 games. He is currently the third best left-shot defenseman on the organization’s depth chart behind Rasmus Dahlin and Jake McCabe.

Linus Weissbach, left wing, seventh round: Weissbach is coming off a disappointing season in which he was demoted to the fourth line and lost his role on the top power play for the University of Wisconsin. He played only 1:34 in the third period of a 3-2 loss to No. 9 Penn State in February. This is Weissbach’s final year to show the Sabres he’s worth an entry-level contract.

2018 draft

Rasmus Dahlin, defenseman, first round: Dahlin doesn’t need an introduction. The 20-year-old was one of the most productive teenage defensemen in NHL history and his evolution without the puck should allow him to take on a bigger role next season.

Mattias Samuelsson, defenseman, second round: The Sabres’ new regime remains high on Samuelsson’s ability to develop into a first- or second-pairing defenseman. He will make the transition to Rochester, where he’ll again play for Seth Appert, whom he knows from their time with the USA Hockey National Team Development Program.

Matej Pekar, left wing, fourth round: A fan favorite stemming from his physical play at previous Prospect Challenge camps, Pekar should graduate from the Ontario Hockey League after totaling 42 goals with 57 assists for 99 points in 84 games across two seasons. He’ll need to improve his shot, refine his skating and gain strength to adapt to his projected NHL role as a bottom-six winger.

Linus Cronholm, defenseman, fourth round: The 20-year-old has an opportunity to earn playing time in the Swedish Hockey League after appearing in 10 games for Malmo last season. Carving out a role at that level is an important next step in his development.

Miska Kukkonen, defenseman, fifth round: Kukkonen has become a prospect to watch for the Sabres over the past year, and he’s currently in line to play alongside Ville Heinola, a first-round pick of the Winnipeg Jets in 2019, on the top defense pairing for Lukko of Liiga.

William Worge-Kreu, defenseman, seventh round: The 20-year-old won’t wow you with his left-handed shot, but his savvy play away from the puck allowed him to spend most of last season with Linkoping of the Swedish Hockey League. Worge-Kreu recorded an assist in the season opener after having three points in 25 games last year.

2019 draft

Dylan Cozens, center, first round: Cozens, 19, plans to train in Buffalo until NHL camps open or he reports to Hockey Canada’s camp ahead of the IIHF World Junior Championship. He has the speed and awareness to contribute with the puck, but the question is whether he’s ready to shoulder the defensive responsibilities required of a center in the NHL. The more direct path to production could be a temporary move to right wing, where he could hypothetically play on a line with Eric Staal and Jeff Skinner.

Ryan Johnson, defenseman, first round: Early returns on the Johnson draft pick left fans wondering if the Sabres should have selected a forward with a shorter timeline to reach the NHL. The left-shot defenseman had zero goals with eight assists in 37 games for the University of Minnesota, but he was playing on a young team against older, stronger competition as a freshman.

Erik Portillo, goalie, third round: Portillo will play college hockey at the University of Michigan after earning United States Hockey League goaltender of the year honors last season. Portillo posted a 2.11 goals-against average and a .915 save percentage, though a minor back injury limited him to only 27 games with Dubuque.

Aaron Huglen, right wing, fourth round: Huglen did not play at all last season because of a back injury suffered while lifting weights the previous summer. He has resumed skating after undergoing surgery this offseason and is expected to spend the year with the Fargo Force of the USHL before enrolling at the University of Minnesota.

Filip Cederqvist, left wing, fifth round: The Sabres traded up 34 spots to select Cederqvist, who was only 18 years old when he played 39 games, including six in the playoffs, for Vaxjo of the Swedish Hockey League in 2018-19. Cederqvist’s development hit a snag last season when his playing time was cut, and he couldn’t latch on with a team in the country’s second-tier pro league.

Lukas Rousek, left wing, sixth round: Rousek is a late-round prospect to watch. The Sabres’ previous regime thought so highly of Rousek’s game that they expressed interest in signing him to an entry-level contract this past spring. Rousek, though, opted for one more season in Czech Republic’s top pro league, where he’ll have a top-six role.

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News Sports Reporter

I've covered the Sabres and National Hockey League for The Buffalo News since November 2018. My previous work included coverage of the Pittsburgh Pirates and University of Pittsburgh athletics for DKPittsburghSports.com.

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