After a completely disastrous 2011-12 regular season, that saw the Buffalo Sabres miss the postseason, the 2012 NHL entry draft became a much more important day for the Sabres organization than originally anticipated.

After Buffalo GM Darcy Regier was given the green light to go out and spend an exorbitant amount of money on free agents like Ville Leino and Christian Ehrhoff, the Sabres were expected to be among the Eastern Conference's leaders from October until April.

Instead, they were bottom feeders for the duration of the season, leaving many questioning why they spent so much money on players like Leino and Ehrhoff.

With the Sabres only having about $11.8 million in cap space this offseason, and the need to sign six players, it didn't appear as though the Sabres were going to be able to make big waves in the free agent market this year in order to make a push to become a contending team once again.

Enter the 2012 NHL entry draft.

This past weekend was Darcy Regier's chance to add a few assets to the Sabres system to help build a successful team for the future.

Entering the draft with four of the first 44 selections, Buffalo was in a great position to do just that.

Luckily for Sabres fans, Darcy Regier handled himself in superb fashion, managing to flip Nashville's first-round pick (21st overall) along with the Sabres own second rounder for Calgary's 14th overall draft choice.

 

This allowed Regier to address his need for organizational depth at the center position not once, but twice, as he was able to snag top-tier Russian prospect Mikhail Grigorenko, as well as the top Latvian prospect Zemgus Girgensons.

According to hockeysfuture.com, the Sabres were in dire need of some offensive prospects, particularly at center and left-wing.

There isn't really a grade that would suit Buffalo's first round other than an "A."

Choosing a player who was ranked as the second best prospect in the draft earlier in the season and may be able to contribute immediately, along with the addition of a top-15 pick to further improve your organization's offensive depth is exactly what Buffalo needed to do.

As for day 2 of the draft, Regier used his remaining picks to bring in three more centers, a goalie (albeit one that is likely to never see much time in the NHL), and two more defensemen to keep Buffalo's depth on the blue line intact.

If Buffalo's previous free agent signings from last year can have a rebound kind of season, and Mikhail Grigorenko can crack the Sabres' lineup this fall, the Sabres could be primed for a return to the postseason, as well as a bright future thanks in large part to Darcy Regier.

 

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The NHL draft proved to be very profitable for the Sabres. The farm system is deep, and they can afford not rushing the development of Mikhail Grigorenko and Zemgus Girgensons. 

This work has started way before. In my opinion, the Sabres started the work for this draft when they traded for Cody Hodgson. For me, Hodgson is a top-six forward in any team in the NHL. Now that he'll have time to get acclimated with the city and his teammates, I can see him putting up 50 points per season as a second-line center.

The Sabres were handed a gem when Grigorenko was still available in the 12th spot. There was no real Nail-or-Mikhail debate. Yakupov has been dominating while there still are questions as to Mikhail's mindset. His bout with mononucleosis during the QMJHL's playoffs certainly played against him after having played through an injury in the World Juniors. 

The are no questions about his skills. His hands are second to none in this draft and, if he ends up filling up his frame, Grigorenko will be competing with the top centers in the league. His drive, on the other hand, has been scrutinized to exhaustion.

If he doesn't follow the Russian suit of the last couple of years, he might have been a steal at 12th. If he follows the likes of the Alexes, both Ovechkin and Radulov, Nikita Filatov and other Russian players, he might be out of the organization in three years.

All we can do is wait and see.

After the Sabres traded up to 14th, it was a win-win situation. If they had gotten Radek Faksa or Zemgus Girgensons, both players would've been excellent for an organization that lacked in size.

If they had gotten Faksa, though, there would've been a little organizational problem, in my opinion. Since Paul Gaustad was traded away, the Sabres didn't have anyone to cover that role.

 

With Girgensons, the Sabres get a player who is tailor-made for Gaustad's role. Girgensons, not only has the leadership potential to take over the C or an A in the future, he plays the type of game that Ruff's system calls for. He can make plays in the smallest of spaces.

The most successful European third-line center was Bobby Holik, and I see some of his characteristics in Girgensons. Although he doesn't have the fighting skills that Gaustad has, he has, arguably, more skill than him.

In three years, I can see the Sabres playing with Grigorenko in the first line, Hodgson in the second, Girgensons in the third with Cody McCormick rounding up the centers. 

All in all, the Sabres have won big in this year's first round.

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Position: C

Height/Weight: 6'2", 198 lbs

Shoots: Left

DOB: 1/5/1994

Youth Team: EVHS

Current Team: Dubuque (USHL)

 

In terms of pure talent, Zemgus Girgensons doesn't measure up to other forwards like Nail Yakupov and Alex Galchenyuk, but the promising Latvian has a lot of good qualities that should make him an effective NHL player in the future. Before that happens, though, Girgensons will have to go through a long seasoning process.

Girgensons has played in North America for the past couple seasons as a member of the Dubuque Fighting Saints in the USHL. His style has translated quite well, as he led Dubuque with 55 points in 49 games this past season. Girgensons will now attend the University of Vermont rather than playing Canadian juniors, so he should really mature in the coming years.

At 6'2" and 198 lbs, Girgensons has excellent size that promises to make him a solid player at the next level. The NHL has evolved into a league where you have to be able to make plays with very little space, and Girgensons can certainly do that. He isn't fussy about going to the high-traffic areas, he has very good hands and he is a very adept skater to boot.

Girgensons' contributions don't stop on the offensive end, as he is more than willing to work hard defensively and plays with a bit of an edge.

He is well known for laying some big hits, and that should make him a fan favorite when he eventually makes it to the NHL. The only issue with Girgensons is that his ceiling isn't as high as some of the other forwards in this draft, but I tend to say that his floor is higher than most.

There aren't many players in the draft who work harder than Girgensons, and that should lead him to NHL success.

He seems to have blossomed in the United States, so I don't view him as the type of European player that would bolt for the KHL or Elitserien in Sweden if the going got tough at the NHL level. Girgensons may never become a superstar, but I envision him being a 50- to 60-point scorer who could be an integral part of some winning teams.

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Position: C

Height/Weight: 6'2"/191 lbs

Shoots: Left 

DOB: 5/16/1994

Team: Quebec Remparts (QMJHL)

 

Mikhail Grigorenko is the type of No. 1 center that every NHL general manager covets when he attempts to build his perfect roster.

In 59 games for the Quebec Remparts in the QMJHL this season, the Russian star scored 40 goals with 45 assists to finish eighth in the league in scoring. Grigorenko will be a consistent scorer at the NHL level because he is a natural playmaker whose offensive talents still have much room for improvement.

Grigorenko's passing ability is absolutely fantastic, and his vision on the ice helps him make the precision passes in the offensive zone that create quality scoring chances for teammates. He's an unselfish player who looks to create for others but also understands when to look for his own scoring and take over games offensively.

His hockey intangibles are also quite impressive.

Grigorenko has a high hockey intelligence and shows the desire and determination to get better. This is exactly what you want from a young player with immense potential. Experience for Russia at the international level has given Grigorenko a taste of a highly competitive atmosphere, which will help him adjust to the pace and intensity of the NHL game.

He won't need much more development at the junior level and should be able to step into the NHL and contribute at a high level next year or the year after.

 

Nicholas Goss is an NHL Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report and was also the organization's on-site reporter for the 2011 Stanley Cup Final in Boston.

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