Player: Connor Hurley

Drafted By: Buffalo Sabres (38th overall)

Position: Forward

Final Central Scout Ranking: No. 45 North American skater

Height/Weight: 6’0”, 181 lbs

DOB: September 15, 1995 (17 years old)

Most Recent Affiliation: U.S. National Development Team

 

Background

Hurley has worn many sweaters as an amateur hockey player. He spent the 2009-10 season with the powerhouse Shattuck St. Mary’s program, where he had 59 points in 58 games. The next year he had 36 points in 25 games for Holy Angels High School in Minnesota before transferring to the storied Edina High School, where he had 48 points in the 2011-12 season and 43 in the 2012-13 season.

He then had stints with the Muskegon Lumberjacks of the USHL, where he had eight points in 11 games, and then tallied a goal and assist in 10 games with the U.S. National Development Team.

Safe to say the peripatetic teenager will not be unfamiliar with change when he puts on another uniform, that of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, in 2014-15.

 

Full Scouting Report

It had to be crazy trying to scout this guy because he’s been in so many places, but the experts have seen enough to rave about his versatility—not just in terms of jumping from a boarding school (Shattuck) to a private school (Holy Angels) to a public school (Edina) to a USHL team (Muskegon) to a development team (USNDTP), but from role to role while playing at so many different levels.

“Hurley has the look of a future NHLer,” writes Future Considerations’ Aaron Vickers, “as he can play in any role given; checker, antagonist or offensive force.”

For Hurley to succeed at the next level, he must add strength during his time at South Bend. If he can build upon his 6’0”, 180-pound frame, he will be one of the most well-rounded prospects in the game.

 

NHL Player Comparison

David Krejci of the Boston Bruins. He can play both ends of the ice, sees the sheet well and is more of a setup guy than a scorer.

 

NHL Timetable

Hurley is going to have to spend two or three years building up his body and polishing his game in order to make it to the next level. (And, hey, it wouldn’t hurt to stay put in one place for a while, right?) Expect to see him during the 2015-16 season at the earliest.

 

Top-End Potential

If all goes well, Hurley will be a top-six forward capable of setting up talented linemates while keeping opposing scorers in check. If not, he can probably adapt to a role as a depth player on a grinder line. 

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Player: J.T. Compher

Drafted By: Buffalo Sabres (35th overall)

Position: Center

Final Central Scouting Ranking: No. 34 North American skater

Height/Weight: 6'0'', 184 lbs

DOB: April 8, 1995 (18 years old)

Most Recent Affiliation: U.S. National Development Team

 

Background

J.T. Compher's statistics don't jump out at you and make you take notice, but if you watch him play, you can't ignore him.

Compher scored seven goals and accumulated 24 points in 21 games with the U.S. National Development Team.  He also has a habit of producing in clutch situations, which endears him to scouts and fans alike.

 

Full Scouting Report

The thing that impresses scouts the most is Compher's competitive spirit and desire. That's not to say he doesn't have skills, but Compher is a leader who really wants possession of the puck.

NHL Network analyst Craig Button is impressed by Compher.

When you look at the package that J.T. has, it's skill, it's a competitive spirit. The biggest thing is, you watch a player that can skate and make plays, but he does it at high speed and at pace and tempo. He's just a threatening player when he has the puck. And when he doesn’t have the puck, he wants the puck.

Compher also has great quickness and plays up to the level of the toughest competition.

Don Granato, Compher's coach on the U.S. Under-18 Team, raved about his player's desire.

If you take a puck from him, you better skate as hard as you’ve ever skated because he’s tracking you down and going to steal it back immediately. And if he can’t get it back, he’s probably going to whack you or run you into the boards.

Compher doesn't project to be a big goal scorer at the NHL level, but he should wear a letter on his sweater before his career is over and will be a very effective two-way forward.

 

NHL Player Comparison

Brad Marchand of the Boston Bruins. Like Marchand, Compher doesn't have huge physical size, but he gets under the skin of opposing players, fights for loose pucks and will be a productive offensive player. He will also be very tough to play against. Opposing players will remember Compher for a few nights after they play against him.

 

NHL Timetable

Compher has committed to the University of Michigan this fall and is likely to spend at least a couple of seasons with Red Berenson's club in Ann Arbor. Because Compher is a physical forward, he probably needs a little more time to bulk up his 184-pound frame so he is ready to play against men rather than teenagers. Expect him to reach the NHL on a full-time basis by the 2015-16 season after a couple years of college hockey.

 

Top-End Potential

Scouts see Compher as a solid two-way forward. His top-end potential is probably a 30-goal scorer who will see some time on the power play and keep opposing players off their game. He will also be a leader on and off the ice and score big goals in big games. We're talking about a hard-working, skilled and productive two-way forward who will log top-six minutes.

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Player: Nikita Zadorov

Drafted By: Buffalo Sabres (16th overall)

Position: Defense

Final Central Scouting Ranking: No. 22 North American skater

Height/Weight: 6'5'', 221 lbs

DOB: April 16, 1995 (18 years old)

Most Recent Affiliation: OHL, London Knights

 

Background

Nikita Zadorov knows that many NHL teams have questions about signing Russian-born players, so to prove he wanted to play in North America, the Moscow native joined the OHL's London Knights this past season.

Zadorov has been a physical presence for the Knights this year. He scored six goals and 25 points in 63 games during the regular season and was an impressive plus-33. He added two goals and six points in 20 playoff games.

 

Full Scouting Report

Size is the first thing anybody notices about Nikita Zadorov. The Moscow native stands 6'5" and weighs an imposing 221 pounds. Scouts are pleased that Zarodov isn't afraid to use his size and plays a physical game.

Mark Hunter, a coach with the London Knights, raved about Zadorov. "He's an intelligent kid. He's grown so much -- he's so big. We knew he was going to figure it out. He's not scared. He hits people, he finishes his checks. There's so much to like about him it's ridiculous."

In addition, scouts are impressed with the way Zadorov skates for a big man. "Nikita is a big man who skates very well," Central Scouting's Chris Edwards told NHL.com. "He has very good mobility and his backwards skating is about the best in this year's draft. He will take the body and battles hard along the boards. He uses his long reach well and is an effective pokechecker."

The only issue scouts have about Zadorov is that because of his size, he may need more time than many other highly rated prospects to reach his full potential.

He also has had a tendency to go for big hits that look great on highlight reels but can take him out of position defensively, something most scouts believe he can overcome with more experience.

 

NHL Player Comparison

Zdeno Chara of the Boston Bruins. Like Chara, Zadorov has great size and is a smooth skater. He also plays a physical game and will make life tough on opposing forwards who want to get close to Zadorov's goaltender.

 

NHL Timetable

Because of his size and because he is a defenseman, it will take Zadorov a little longer to mature and reach the NHL. Remember, he's only played one year of junior hockey in North America. Expect him to reach the NHL on a full-time basis during 2015-16 season. Figure one more year in junior and one season in the AHL should have him ready to play his physical game against men instead of boys.

 

Top-End Potential

Scouts see some offensive potential in Zadorov. His top-end potential has him set to become a big No. 1 defenseman like Chara who can play on the power play, kill penalties and log major minutes. Even if he doesn't develop an offensive game, his size and willingness to hit make him a solid second-pairing defenseman who will make life difficult for opposing forwards. With his earth-shattering hits, Zadorov should become a fan favorite in whatever city he plays in.

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Player: Rasmus Ristolainen

Drafted By: Buffalo Sabres (8th overall)

Position: Defenseman

Final Central Scout Ranking: No. 4 European skater

Height/Weight: 6’4”, 207 lbs

DOB: October 27, 1994

Most Recent Affiliation: SM-liiga, TPS Turku

 

Background

A large defenseman with room to grow, Ristolainen already has 93 games of experience in the Finnish SM-liiga as an 18-year-old. His moderate 2011-12 season (three goals, eight points, 78 penalty minutes in 40 games played) was backed up by an impressive 2012-13 campaign.

Last season, Ristolainen scored three goals and had 12 points while reducing his penalty minutes (32) in 52 games played. TPS relied heavily on his contributions, giving him ample playing time and putting him into key situations. His ability to play at such a high level in Finland’s professional hockey league has some scouts believing he could jump right in and play on an NHL team next season.

 

Full Scouting Report

Ristolainen is built like a forward and possesses exciting offensive ability, but the foundation of his play is in his own zone.

“To that point, he will lay the body, and he can provide quality hits,” writes Corey Pronman of Hockey Prospectus. “He could fast track to the NHL quicker than a typical defense prospect.”

He's already a skilled puck-handler, a strong skater and is poised with the puck.

“With the puck, he shows calmness,” continues Pronman, “but he can process the game quickly when the situation calls for it.”

Ristolainen could crack an NHL roster immediately after being drafted, but while everyone raves about his physical play and hockey sense, some scouts question his ability to position himself in the defensive zone and control the play at both ends of the ice.

“[His] calling card,” reads his Talent Analysis on HockeysFuture,com, “is his willingness to be involved in the play and to push the envelope at times.”

 

NHL Player Comparison

Ristolainen is drawing comparisons to Victor Hedman of the Tampa Bay Lightning. He is a large, versatile defenseman who's productive at both ends of the ice.

 

NHL Timetable

If he is able to get involved in the play at both ends of the ice and generate offense, especially as a point man on the power play, Ristolainen could arrive as soon as the 2013-14 season.

 

Top-End Potential

At his best, Ristolainen will become one of the elite two-way defensemen in the NHL. If the offense does not come after his body has filled out, then it is likely he will be a defensive plug for a team in need of depth along the blue line. 

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This will be a six-part series highlighting what the Buffalo Sabres' draft plans may be, including an individual look at all four picks the Sabres have in the top 52.

The Buffalo Sabres will have a busy 48 hours, not only having two of the first 16 picks in tomorrow's draft, but also having a few of their stars on the trade block. 

That means, no matter how deep this draft is, every Sabres fan will have one eye on their Twitter feeds to see if Thomas Vanek, Ryan Miller or Drew Stafford has been moved. 

So here is a look at the three biggest story lines for the Sabres entering into the draft tomorrow. 

Follow me on Twitter for NHL and Sabres news all offseason: @SwordPlay18

Begin Slideshow

This will be a six-part series highlighting what the Buffalo Sabres' draft plans may be, including an individual look at all four picks the Sabres have in the top 52.

By the time the Buffalo Sabres approach their second of their two second-round picks at pick No. 52, many of the big name players that have had their names floated around for the past few weeks will be long gone. Here, instead, the Sabres will be looking to find that player that is trying to make a name for himself, beyond that of NHL scouts. 

Last year, the Sabres seemingly did just that in taking Jake McCabe, who went on to captain Team USA to a gold medal at the World Junior Championships in Ufa, Russia this January. 

This year, the Sabres have the opportunity to do the same. 

Once a team gets into the second round, "needs" are closer to wants as the likelihood that a prospect drafted makes a substantial impact at the NHL level drops significantly once you leave the first round. This draft may be a bit different given the wealth of talent in the first round, but history doesn't lie. 

That's why the Sabres will likely go with the best player available at this point, and who will be available is impossible to know. Prospects with second-round grades are just as likely to go in the fourth round, depending on where they fall on a particular team's board. 

So, with this in mind, picking the player the Sabres will select brings us well into the realm of conjecture and guesswork. 

But if the draft goes according to needs, a few names may jump out to the Sabres. 

The first is Justin Bailey, who may end up coming off the board earlier in the second—possibly the Sabres. Bailey is a longer term prospect with above-average athleticism that may bolster the Sabres' second or third line in a few years.

Other talented wingers the Sabres may look to include Nick Sorensen, a teammate of Mikhail Grigorenko's in Quebec of the QMJHL, Hudson Fasching, a member of the United States National Development Team, and Anthony Duclair, another teammate of Grigorenko's in Quebec. 

While any of those four players would be excellent additions to the Sabres' ranks, there is certainly no guarantee that they will all be available when the time comes for the Sabres to pick at No. 52. Sorensen, Duclair and Bailey all have first-round potential, and would be clear first rounders if not for the depth of this year's class. 

So, if any of these four players are left, the Sabres will look long and hard, no matter who they select in the first round. Bailey seems to be the guy with the most buzz around him in Western New York, which is not surprising given he grew up in Williamsville, just a few miles outside of Buffalo. 

Prediction: Justin Bailey, W, Kitchener Rangers (OHL)

Follow me on Twitter for NHL and Sabres news all off-season: @SwordPlay18

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After the Buffalo Sabres missed the postseason in 2013, tallying just 48 points in their 48 games, there hasn't been much to talk about, especially with the NHL playoffs taking center stage.

With the Stanley Cup Final now over, however, and as we get closer to the NHL entry draft and NHL free agency, talk is beginning to ramp up for every team around the league once again.

Here is a comprehensive guide to the Buffalo Sabres' 2013 offseason, covering the NHL draft, right through the 2013-14 season outlook.

Begin Slideshow

With the NHL Draft less than one week away, it's time to look at a team that is in a position to make some of the biggest headlines early on Sunday—the Buffalo Sabres.

With four picks in the first two rounds (No. 8, 16, 38 and 52), the Sabres have more than enough ammo to continue to build up their already deep prospect pool, or try and use some combination of those picks to move into the top five.

The value of their first four picks is exponentially larger this year thanks to the depth of the 2013 class. Players who would normally come off the boards between picks 15-30 in an average draft will be available in the late 30s and early 40s this year, and a team like Buffalo is in a great position to capitalize on this.

If one thing has become clear over the past season, it’s that Buffalo has fallen from a perennial playoff contender to a rebuilding team that needs to build a new core. Longtime Sabres like Ryan Miller, Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville are either gone or on their way out the door and they are being replaced with new faces like Mikhail Grigorenko and Cody Hodgson. The glory days are long gone, and it may take a while before they’re back.

By the end of the 2013-’14 season, Buffalo will look nothing like the team that went to two straight Eastern Conference Finals before falling into mediocrity for the last three seasons. That transformation starts with the draft.

General manager Darcy Regier has made no secret of the fact that he is looking to move up into the top three selections this year, but after his comments last week, that possibility is looking increasingly unlikely.

“I would characterize the draft and primarily the ability to move in the draft—to move up into those top spots—will be extremely difficult if not impossible given the conversations that I have had as recently as [Wednesday],” Regier said in his pre-draft press conference.

With that in mind, Sabres fans can probably stop dreaming about picking up Halifax Mooseheads forwards Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin, or Portland Winterhawks defenseman Seth Jones, who are the consensus top three prospects in this draft class.

However, just because Buffalo will most likely not be in a position to pick up a five-star prospect doesn’t mean that they won’t be able to find a player or two who can make a significant impact in the not-so-distant future.

Before we begin looking at specific players, I should note that I would be shocked if Buffalo actually kept each of their first four picks. Even if a trade into the top-five is impossible, if recent history is any guide, Regier will surely make some sort of move with those picks.

Assuming Buffalo keeps the No. 8 pick, they should be looking at a group of players that includes Swedish forward Elias Lindholm, Ottawa 67's center Sean Monahan and Russian winger Valeri Nichushkin.

Lindholm, a strong two-way player who put up 30 points in 48 games against grown men in the Swedish Elite League this year, seems to be the most likely pick. It has been said that in most other drafts, the 18-year-old would garner top-three consideration, so picking up a player of that caliber would be nothing to sneeze at with the eighth pick.

That said, Buffalo already has a couple of strong two-way players in Rochester in Zemgus Girgensons and Johan Larsson, so the positional need for another center is not that strong.

What the Sabres do not have is a player like Sault Ste. Marie defenseman Darnell Nurse. You won’t see a lot of offensive production in any of his highlight videos, but what you will find is a guy with the toughness and shutdown ability to take an opponent’s best player out of the game on a nightly basis. What you’ll find is exactly what the Sabres’ current defense corps is missing.

Buffalo has plenty of smooth-skating, offensive minded defensemen in the pro ranks, but they don’t have that guy who can poke check, block shots, drop the gloves and lead his teammates in clutch situations. Nurse can do all that and more. He is the type of player who can take over a playoff series and put the team on his back.

The nephew of former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb, Nurse is already 6'5", 185 pounds at 18 years old, and he has the frame to add on another 20-30 pounds to give him the ideal size needed to be a top flight defenseman in the NHL.

He has been compared to future Hall of Famer Chris Pronger, and if he is even half that good, Nurse would be an absolute steal at pick No. 8.

Taking a defenseman with their first pick opens up the possibilities for Buffalo when they head back to the podium with the 16th pick. They could go the defenseman route again, but with the other positional needs, that is unlikely, even if Rasmus Ristolainen and Bo Hovat are still available. Look for a forward or Halifax goaltender Zach Fucale to come off the board at 16, especially if Miller is no longer on the roster come draft day.

The best bet for the Sabres with their second pick could be Quebec Ramparts power forward Adam Erne. A former teammate of Buffalo’s first pick from last year, Mikhail Grigorenko, Erne brings a toughness and scoring touch that would fit in well with a Boston Bruins-type system—something that the Sabres could sorely use.

Together with Marcus Foligno, Erne would help change Buffalo’s perception around the league from a soft team to a one that is tough as nails with the offensive ability to match it.

With the 38th pick, Buffalo can add more offensive firepower to their prospect pool with winger Andre Burakovsky. The Swedish sniper can do almost anything with the puck, and with Vanek’s days in Buffalo seemingly numbered, Burakovsky could act as his replacement a few years down the road.

Weighing in at just 176 pounds, Burakovsky will need to add weight to his slim frame, but if he is available at pick No. 38, Buffalo would be able to pick up their third first-round caliber player in this draft.

As it stands, Buffalo has 10 picks in this year’s draft, and while that number is likely to change, Buffalo should come away with a number of players who could make an impact at the NHL-level soon. Regier has come under fire from fans for his inability to acquire any superstar talent, but he has done a fine job of putting his team in position to build through the draft as they work through this rebuild. Even if he won’t call it that.

Follow me on Twitter: @M_R_Masterson

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This will be a six-part series highlighting what the Buffalo Sabres' draft plans may be, including an individual look at all four picks the Sabres have in the top 52.

The Buffalo Sabres have some assets in this year's draft with four picks in the first 52 selections. These assets can be used to bulk up the prospect pool or to move up in the draft—more on that in another article. 

Considering the predictions already made in this series—center/winger Elias Lindholm at No. 8 and goaltender Zach Fucale at No. 16—the Sabres still need to draft a skilled winger or a three-zone defenseman. 

While the second-round talent may not be quite to the level of the first-round pool, plenty of excellent prospects should be available for the Sabres. 

The first is Thomas Vannelli, a high schooler who has committed to play for the University of Minnesota next season. He will join a stable of NHL prospects in Minnesota, putting his 6'2", 175-lb frame to work at the college level. Vannelli is known for his presence in all three zones but especially on the offensive end. 

Vannelli may be somewhat of a project, but he'll likely end up playing at least two years at Minnesota before considering a jump to the pros. With his upside, motor and skills, a second-round pick on him could be a steal. 

Another prospect is Robert Hagg, who played for MODO of the Swedish Elite League last season. While Hagg only registered one point in his 27 games, he was praised for his ability to dictate a rush and to play the point on the power play. He also excels in the defensive zone, with his 6'2" body leading the way. 

Hagg is not as flashy as Vannelli or any of the other first-round defensemen, but he projects as a top-four guy on defense and could bolster the Sabres' special teams for years to come. 

The last intriguing prospect is a hometown player, Justin Bailey.

Bailey played in the Ontario Hockey League for the Kitchener Rangers last season, scoring an impressive 36 points in 57 games, which was fourth on the team. He is exceptionally athletic but may have to improve his strength—his 6'3", 190-lb frame can benefit from some time in the weight room. 

Bailey is another high-ceiling talent who can develop in the OHL for another year or two and then be a welcome addition to Buffalo's top six. 

With pick No. 38, the Sabres will likely seek defense, and Vannelli seems to be the perfect option if he's available. With the end of the first round and the beginning of the second being so wide open, it's possible. 

The pick: Thomas Vannelli, defenseman, University of Minnesota

Follow me on Twitter for NHL and Sabres news all off-season: @SwordPlay18

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The Buffalo Sabres have re-signed netminder Jhonas Enroth to a two-year deal this morning according to ESPN's Pierre Lebrun, ensuring that the Sabres will be with at least one of their two top goalies to start next season. 

Enroth will receive $1.25 million per season over the two years, potentially making the signing an excellent deal for the Sabres. 

Enroth was due to become a restricted free agent on July 5, meaning the Sabres could have matched any offer made to him. However, given the uncertainty surrounding the Ryan Miller situation at the present time, it was pretty much a sure thing that Enroth would be back with the Sabres next season and beyond. 

Enroth only started nine of the team's 48 games last season as his struggles from the end of the 2011-12 season carried over to the beginning of this season. In those nine games, Enroth amassed a respectable 2.60 goals against average and an excellent .919 save percentage. Enroth finished the season with a 4-4-1 record. 

Given the uncertainty swirling around Miller, Enroth could be the Sabres' number one netminder come October. While he has not proven that he can consistently play at a high level, Enroth has shown his ability to carry the Sabres to a win. If Miller were to leave, Enroth would share time with Matt Hackett who came over from the Minnesota Wild in the Jason Pominville trade.

Follow me on Twitter for NHL and Sabres news all season long: @SwordPlay18.

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