While the scouting and development of NHL prospects has evolved over the last few seasons, the NHL draft still remains a crap shoot in many instances. With mid and later rounds still being very hit or miss, it isn’t unusual to see teams around .500 when it comes to selecting the right players in the draft.
Although Darcy Regier typically drafts well, the Tom Brady Effect is definitely something that can be applied to his draft history. Considering some of the successes and failures Regier has had at the draft, I’ve taken each draft between 2005 and 2010 to see the course Buffalo should have followed.
You’ll notice that I excluded 2011 and 2012 and that is simply because a vast majority of those players are still in some sort of development stage. Even the 2010 draft has a significant number of players still working their way up their respective organizations. These picks are being made independent of any other team’s agenda and simply focuses on whom the Sabres selected and who they should have selected.
The way I broke down each draft is in a similar manner to the way a team would pick. While it will weigh more on overall impact than Buffalo’s specific needs in that year, I won’t simply list seven forwards or defensemen for each draft. Ideally each revised draft class would be a well-balanced collection of a different skill sets. For each pick I’ll list Buffalo’s initial selection followed by the guy I think they should have taken with that player’s original draft position in parentheses.
1st round – 13
Sabres pick: Marek Zagrapan. Revised Pick: Keith Yandle (originally picked 105 overall) – In a draft class that includes Tuukka Rask (21), Kris Letang (62) and Jonathan Quick (72), Yandle strikes me as not only the biggest mover from where he was originally taken. Yandle is an all-around defenseman with excellent puck moving skills. He is playing at a first round level and would have been an excellent fit here.
2nd round – 48
Sabres pick: Phillip Gogulla. Revised Pick: Mason Raymond (51) – Raymond represents a player with solid offensive upside and the ability to play in a top-six role. When you consider the type of player Zagrapan was expected to be (and the flop of both he and Gogulla), Raymond fills that offensive role quite well.
3rd round – 87
Sabres pick: Marc-Andre Gragnani. Revised Pick: Niklas Hjalmarsson (108) – Hjalmarsson has evolved into a top-four defender and exhibits a strong, patient game. While Gragnani served his purpose in Buffalo, Hjalmarsson has been the much better NHLer.
4th round – 96
Sabres pick: Chris Butler. Revised Pick: Darren Helm (132) – Detroit’s speedy checking line winger has become a serviceable NHLer who can be counted on to provide a little bit of offense while filling a defensively responsible role. Butler has also carved out a career in the league but never developed into the player people saw glimpses of at Denver.
5th round – 142
Sabres pick: Nathan Gerbe. Revised Pick: Patric Hornqvist (230) – One of the final picks in the 2005 draft, Hornqvist has developed into a dynamic offensive threat. While he could probably have been justified in the fourth round as well, for sake of practice he fits just fine here. While Gerbe wouldn’t need to be replaced in this order, Hornqvist would have a much bigger impact as a three-time 20-goal scorer.
6th round – 182 & 191
Sabres picks: Adam Dennis & Slava Burachikov. Revised picks: Sergei Kostitsyn (200) & Colin Greening (204) – Considering anything beyond the fifth round is truly a crapshoot, you can’t fault any team for missing on these picks. However, Kostitsyn and Greening have NHL careers that they’re enjoying while Dennis and Burachikov never sniffed the show.
7th round – 208 & 227
Sabres picks: Matt Generous & Andrew Orpik. Revised picks: Anton Stralman (216) and Kyle Cumiskey (222) – Both of these defensemen have made their own impact on the league while Generous and Orpik just didn’t have what it took to break into the Sabres pipeline. Much like the pair from the sixth round, these are coin flip picks, it just so happens that the Sabres missed on the pair.
1st round – 24
Sabres pick: Dennis Persson. Revised Pick: Patrik Berglund (25) – Both are Swedes and they went back-to-back. It just so happens that the Sabres chose the wrong Swede. This class does include Milan Lucic, but the fact that Berglund went one pick later can’t be ignored.
2nd round – 46 & 57
Sabres picks: Jhonas Enroth & Mike Weber. Revised picks: Milan Lucic (50) & Brad Marchand (71) – This pair of picks I probably wouldn’t change. Both Weber and Enroth are solid contributors to the Sabres current roster. Considering that both Lucic and Marchand were still on the board when Buffalo picked is quite interesting. So if you were to scrap the pair Buffalo picked, Lucic and Marchand would be nice to have.
4th round – 117
Sabres pick: Felix Schutz. Revised pick: Viktor Stalberg (161) – There was a stunning lack of defensive talent in this draft (another reason I’d consider keeping Weber on my list) but a bevvy of forwards. Stalberg might just hit on a big payday this summer and the Sabres ended up with a few shots at selecting him.
5th round – 147
Sabres pick: Alex Biega. Revised Pick: Leo Komarov (180) – With Komarov going back to the KHL this becomes a less savvy trade off. However, Komarov proved that he had the ability to play effectively at the NHL level while Biega is looking more like an AHL regular.
7th round – 207
Sabres pick: Benjamin Breault. Revised Pick: Erik Condra (211) – Plain and simple: Condra is an NHL hockey player while very few Sabres fans know who Berault is.
2nd round – 33 & 59
Sabres picks: TJ Brennan & Drew Schiestel. Revised Picks: PK Subban (43) & Jamie Benn (129) – Both Subban and Benn would be first round picks in a revised version of the 07 draft. In this case they’re both on the board when Buffalo originally picked and would be a hell of a lot more effective than the two defensemen the Sabres ended up with.
3rd round – 89
Sabres pick: Corey Tropp. Revised picks: Matt Frattin (99) – This, like the second round in 2006, isn’t a pick I’d likely do over. Tropp is developing nicely and should serve as a solid middle-six forward much like Frattin has done in Toronto.
5th round – 139 & 147
Sabres picks: Brad Eidsness & JS Allard. Revised picks: Jake Muzzin (141) & Carl Hagelin (168) – Pretty easy tradeoff here. Eidsness never hit his stride at North Dakota and Allard was a bust while Muzzin and Hagelin are both highly touted parts of their organization.
6th round – 179
Sabres pick: Paul Byron Revised pick: Carl Gunnarsson (194) – Once again a simple trade off of a player who didn’t make an impact with the organization (other than as a trade chip) and a guy who has established himself as an NHL regular.
7th round – 209
Buffalo selected Drew Mackenzie with this pick as one of the last in the draft. There isn’t any alternative options to this particular selection.
Check back for my breakdown of the 2008-2010 drafts later on.