The Buffalo Sabres finished their first draft in the Tim Murray era last weekend and added eight new prospects to the system. 

While there was a lot of positives this past weekend for the future of the franchise, there were a few negatives as well. 

Here is how the weekend shook out in a few highs and lows.

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Player: Brendan Lemieux

Drafted By: Buffalo Sabres (31st overall)

Position: Center

Final Central Scouting Ranking: No. 4 North American skater

Height/Weight: 6'0", 206 lbs

DOB: March 15, 1996 (18 years old)

Most Recent Affiliation: OHL, Barrie Colts

 

Background

Brendan Lemieux is climbing up the draft ladder based on a strong season in which he scored 27 goals and 53 points with the Barrie Colts. Lemieux, the son of former Conn Smythe Trophy winner/agitator Claude Lemieux, has a hard right-hand shot that he likes to unfurl from the left side. He is also a tough kid who is not afraid to mix it up. Lemieux had 145 penalty minutes with Barrie last season. If his team is behind and needs a spark, Lemieux is a willing combatant who is ready to use his fists to do just that.

 

Full Scouting Report

Lemieux is an edgy competitor who wants to make things as tough on his opponents as possible. He will go into the corners, dish out elbows if he has to and walk a fine line as far as the rules are concerned.

Lemieux will do the nasty things that it takes for his team to win. He also has good, but not great, skills at this point. He needs to work on several areas, including skating and stick-handling, to be a productive offensive player at the NHL level.

The feisty winger does have the kind of shot that can cause problems for opposing goalies. He can use opponents to provide screens, and he is quite proficient at picking the corner.

NHL Central Scouting Director Dan Marr thinks that Lemieux is a very similar player to his father. "Brendan is a guy you can put in front of the net because he can agitate and be a pest," Marr said. "I think that's in his DNA. He has the same skating stride as his father. He's also got a great one-timer and can finish."

 

NHL Player Comparison

In addition to his father, Lemieux seems to have similar characteristics to Minnesota Wild forward Matt Cooke. That's not necessarily a good thing because Cooke has crossed the line several times in his career.

However, Cooke is fearless on the ice, and he skates hard every shift. That allows him to take advantage of any mistake by an opponent. If Lemieux can do that without crossing the line into dirty and illegal play, he will be a valuable contributor.

 

NHL Timetable

Lemieux will need time to work on his skills before he makes it to the NHL. It appears he needs at least two seasons before he will be able to contribute regularly. While he is aggressive, he also needs to get stronger before he can attempt to handle the grown men in the NHL.

 

Top-End Potential

Don't look for Lemieux to win a place on an All-Star team in the foreseeable future. He is a hardworking and tough kid who most likely will fill a third-line role at some point in his career. It's possible he could be a second-line guy, but it's just as likely that he will be a fourth-liner. Lemieux will be a role player throughout the majority of his career.

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Player: Sam Reinhart

Drafted By: Buffalo Sabres (second overall)

Position: Center

Final Central Scouting Ranking: No. 3 North American skater

Height/Weight: 6'1", 183 lbs

DOB: November 6, 1995 (18 years old)

Most Recent Affiliation: WHL, Kootenay Ice

 

Background

Throughout the entire season, Sam Reinhart has been considered one of the top players available in the 2014 draft class. There's been a lot of debate as to which one of the top four or five players in this draft will top out highest at the NHL level, and Reinhart has one thing that makes him a standout prospect: ridiculous hockey IQ.

It didn't take long for the Vancouver native to find his scoring touch at the WHL level. He was the second-leading scorer for the Kootenay Ice in just his second full season, producing 62 points in 67 games.

Reinhart has been team captain over the last two years and is following two brothers into the NHL. Griffin was a first-round pick of the New York Islanders in 2012, while Max was selected in the third round in 2010 by the Calgary Flames.

 

Full Scouting Report

Reinhart isn't particularly fast or physical. What he lacks in athletic ability, he more than makes up for with his vision and patience. Corey Pronman of ESPN.com describes the 18-year-old this way:

Between Reinhart and Sam Bennett on a talent level, it's a 2A/2B situation to where I almost debated flipping a coin. However, I gave the edge to Reinhart because he's a right-handed center who is further along in his development curve and projects well defensively. Sam's offensive instincts are off the charts, as he's an elite playmaker with pretty good hands. His skating is average, though, and he's not a huge player, either. This lowers his prospect stock despite his great possession skills.

Ross MacLean, head scout for the International Scouting Service, also sees Reinhart as an exceptional offensive talent. MacLean had this to say about the youngster, according to Kelly Friesen of Yahoo Sports' Buzzing The Net:

He's a great offensive thinker with great skills and a natural nose for scoring goals. He's a very smart playmaker who can really control his time and space well around the puck. He's got a great release on his shot, a release that reminds me a lot of James Neal. He has a natural ability to adapt to his surroundings and seems to build chemistry quickly with whomever he lines up with. He's a quality individual with good character and leadership qualities as well, so not only is the skill there but he brings some very valuable intangibles.

There are a lot of keywords to like when you look over the assessments of Pronman and MacLean: "elite playmaker," "possession skills," "great release." The list goes on. He's not going to bowl anyone over, but the NHL is slowly turning into a more skill-oriented game.

 

NHL Player Comparison

It can be tough to truly pin down a young player's projection, but Reinhart models his game after Jonathan Toews of the Chicago Blackhawks. Given how strong Reinhart is in all three zones and how smart he is, the comparison seems like a natural one.

 

NHL Timetable

Reinhart is smallish, but that probably won't impede his transition to the NHL for the 2014-15 season. He was impressive as an underage player at the WJC in January, and we're looking at a guy who sometimes piles on four or five points a night at the WHL level.

He might not be quite ready for the rigors of the NHL season, but it's clear he has nothing left to gain by going back to juniors for one more campaign.

 

Top-End Potential

When you're compared to Toews, that's your top-end potential. That's the kind of player Reinhart could be if the stars align.

He needs to work on his foot speed to be an impact player in the neutral zone, but that's an easy fix for trainers at the highest level—just ask John Tavares.

"Captain Serious" is in the midst of a Hall of Fame career and is only 26. Expecting Reinhart to step in and lead his team like that might not be realistic, but that's his ceiling. He has the smarts and hands to be a No. 1 center in the NHL—potentially of the top-10 or top-15 variety.

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With the 2013 NHL entry draft mere days away, the time to officially welcome the third top-three pick in Buffalo Sabres history is almost here. 

But that only increases the speculation as to whom they will take with the second overall pick on Friday night.

As it stands right now, the Sabres will only have to wait for the Florida Panthers to pick, but there is more and more chatter of late that someone else may be trying to move ahead of the Sabres. 

There has been a long-standing rumor that the Toronto Maple Leafs want to move up to No. 1, but the rumored package of Nazem Kadri, Jake Gardiner and the No. 8 pick was said to be insufficient to get the deal done, according to Sportsnet's Gare Joyce. Most believe, including Joyce, that the Leafs will try to take Aaron Ekblad with the pick if a trade was to be made. 

The other rumored deal of a team looking to move up to the top spot in the draft, via CBC Sports' Elliotte Friedman, involves the Vancouver Canucks, who currently own the No. 6 pick. Jason Botchford of The Province claims Vancouver is interested in Sam Reinhart.

But if all stands pat, many, including Sabres general manager Tim Murray, believe the Panthers will take Ekblad with the first pick, according to NHL.com. That leaves the Sabres with a pick of the forward class, with Reinhart, Sam Bennett and Leon Draisaitl leading the charge. 

Sabres fans should feel good in that any of the three could become a top-flight NHL prospect, so however Friday ends, the Sabres will be better than they were before the draft.

But there has to be a best choice, right?

Reading between the lines, it seems the Sabres have narrowed it down to Reinhart and Draisaitl.

Sabres assistant GM Kevin Devine gave a glowing review on WGR 550 of Sam Reinhart in the beginning of June, saying he has not seen the playmaking ability Reinhart possesses in the last "10 to 15 years." That's high praise, and it's very easy to assume that that makes Reinhart the pick because of it.

Yet one cannot discount the chatter that has surrounded Draisaitl for the past few weeks, either. 

NHL.com features three mock drafts, and one of them has the Sabres taking Draisaitl, with the other two going with Reinhart. This is telling because the previous installment had the Sabres unanimously taking Reinhart. The final version also does not have Draisaitl getting past the Edmonton Oilers at No. 3. 

When you have comparisons to Anze Kopitar and Joe Thornton being thrown around, you don't take those lightly. The Hockey News' Ryan Kennedy did just that while putting Draisaitl atop his rankings for this year's draft. 

Murray and Devine have taken notice as well. 

Murray lumped him in with the Sams at his predraft interview last week, per the Olean Times Herald's Bill Hoppe, and Devine praised his "big body" and also compared him to Kopitar and Jaromir Jagr in his WGR interview. 

Draisaitl is a proven offensive force, like Reinhart, and will only get bigger and stronger as his game grows. Having him as your first-line center next to a guy like Joel Armia will make this Sabres team scary for years to come. 

So with both Reinhart and Draisaitl as viable options, which one will they choose? 

Taking a look at the Sabres roster and what's in their pipeline doesn't really help either because there is a clear place in it for both Reinhart and Draisaitl. With both Tyler Ennis and Cody Hodgson likely better suited on the wing, Zemgus Girgensons and Johan Larsson remain the only definite centers on the roster at this point, with Mikhail Grigorenko potentially fitting better on the wing and J.T. Compher and Connor Hurley a few years away. 

That means both Reinhart and Draisaitl would be able to easily slot into the organizational structure, so it will likely come down to who the Sabres like better, and they have gone out of their way to make that as murky as possible. 

With that said, Draisaitl just looks and sounds like a Tim Murray guy, seeing as Murray helped bring in Ryan Getzlaf while he was with Anaheim and has traded for big bodies like Chris Stewart, William Carrier and Hudson Fasching since his arrival in Buffalo.

This is a 1A-1B decision, so whatever the end result is, Sabres fans should be thrilled. But who doesn't want a guy nicknamed the Deutschland Dangler?

Prediction: Buffalo Sabres select Leon Draisaitl (C - Prince Albert, WHL) at No. 2.

 

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

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Despite finishing dead last in the 2013-14 NHL season, the Buffalo Sabres will pick second in the 2014 NHL Draft. Many might groan at the injustices of the lottery system, but Sabres general manager Tim Murray will get his man anyways.

Florida Panthers GM Dale Tallon has publicly stated the availability of the first overall pick, and teams are interested, including the likes of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Calgary Flames.

However, there's a reason that the first pick never gets traded, and it won't happen this year. When the smoke settles, the Panthers will select defenseman Aaron Ekblad with the first pick, leaving the Sabres with their pick of the lot.

Most conjecture says the second pick is down to Sam Bennett or Sam Reinhart, but Leon Draisaitl has recently entered the conversation, as well. Each player offers a distinct playing style and unique strengths, making them difficult to compare.

Bennett finished the season as the top player on NHL Central Scouting Service's list. At 6'0" tall and 178 pounds, the Kingston Frontenacs center is a dynamic skater.

Corey Pronman of ESPN gave this scouting report:

Bennett is a highly entertaining player to watch for a variety of reasons. He's a fantastic skater with plus hands, great two-way instincts and a pretty good edge to his game. He fights for pucks well, and shows an unusual amount of strength as well as the ability to come out of corners with pucks for a player his size.

Draisaitl, nicknamed the "Deutschland Dangler," is arguably the best German-born player we've ever seen. Playing for the Prince Albert Raiders of the WHL, he put up big offensive numbers, registering 105 points. At 6'1" and 209 pounds, he is very strong on the puck with some serious puck skills, as well. 

Reinhart, the son of longtime NHL'er Paul and younger brother of Max and Griffin, has hockey coursing through his veins. He may not be an elite skater or the flashiest of players, but he more than makes up for it with his playmaking skills and oft-cited "hockey IQ."

In an interview with Jeremy White of WGR 550, Sabres assistant GM Kevin Devine lauded particular praise on Reinhart:

"It goes back to hockey sense.  I don’t know that I’ve seen a guy that can make plays like Sam can in the last 10 to 15 years…his playmaking ability.  That’s the thing that stands out for him.  He sees the ice really well.  Knows how long to hold the puck, when to pass it, when to shoot it…just uncanny hockey sense." 

Reinhart has been talked about for years as the top player in the 2014 NHL Draft and fell in rankings due to impressive campaigns by Ekblad and Bennett. 

International Scouting Service still ranks Reinhart as number one, but that opinion seemingly becomes less popular as days go by.

Personally, I believe that Reinhart is victim of the typical "paralysis by analysis" that plagues the top prospect in every sport. After years under the microscope, analysts stop finding positives and nitpick at every small weakness.

In 2009, John Tavares was picked first by the New York Islanders, but that was only after he was badgered for years about his average skating.

I think the Islanders feel pretty happy about that selection now.

I'm not saying that Reinhart will be as good as Tavares, but I do think he is the best player available this year. If the Sabres take him, they'll be getting the smartest player in the draft and a man who can create tons of offense for his linemates for years to come. 

Here's to a very bright future for the Sabres organization.

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With the city of Los Angeles celebrating their second Stanley Cup in the last three years, the city of Buffalo hopes to be preparing Ville Leino's goodbye parade very soon.

Leino's contract may be one of the more infamous of the past few years, as his six-year, $27 million deal with the Buffalo Sabres has made him one of the most glaringly overpaid players in the league. 

This talk has made Leino a buyout favorite, especially considering the Sabres still have both of their lockout-awarded amnesty buyouts. This would allow the Sabres to buy out Leino with no salary-cap consequences, something most teams are keen to avoid.

Sabres general manager Tim Murray also said that a Leino buyout was a "very good possibility" a few weeks ago, according to CBS Sports. 

Yet there has been some pause recently in respect to Leino's buyout because of the salary-cap floor the Sabres must meet, which is expected to be about $52 million in 2014-15. 

As of right now, according to CapGeek, the Sabres have a team salary of $38.9 million, about $13 million shy of the projected cap floor. A compliance buyout of Leino would make put number closer to $17.5 million.

With the need to re-sign several restricted free agents including Tyler Ennis, Cory Conacher, Marcus Foligno and Chad Ruhwedel, that $17.5 million may not be as truly daunting as it seems at first glance. However, it is unlikely that those four, plus any other players re-signed, will get the team beyond that $52 million threshold. 

That's why there's been more general speculation among Sabres fans that Leino may not be as much of a slam-dunk buyout candidate as once thought. The general thought process is fairly simple: Why buyout a high-priced free agent just to have to sign another one?

And there is some logic to that argument. Why spend $6.5 million per year on Ryan Callahan when you can keep Leino for $2 million cheaper?

Now, realistically, that's not comparing apples to apples because Leino has struggled in his time with the Sabres. While he is not nearly as terrible as many lead on, his on-ice performance has not come anywhere near the level he has showed in the past, especially with the Philadelphia Flyers.

An inability to score is an inability to score. You really can't come up with many excuses for that. 

So any argument against buying out Leino has one foundation in the cap floor. As that is not really a persuasive argument, that leads many back to the compliance buyout.

But there is another option.

In a thought shared by Joe Yerdon of Pro Hockey Talk, the Sabres could buy out Leino, but use a traditional, non-compliance buyout on him. 

This helps the Sabres in two ways.

First, it keeps some salary on the books to help with the cap-floor issue. According to CapGeek, where it can be assumed Yerdon also found his numbers, Leino would count $1.7 million against the cap in 2014-15, $2.2 million in 2015-16 and 2016-17 and then $1.2 million for the three seasons after that. 

That allows the Sabres to keep some salary on the books, pushing them to the floor, but not too much to hamper future plans for Tim Murray. While this may be an odd "benefit," it allows the team to get to the floor without throwing ridiculous money at another free agent, which seems to be the best thing for a young team moving forward.

The second, and perhaps less obvious benefit is that the Sabres would get to keep both of their compliance buyouts to use on other players.

This is especially relevant in light of Murray's comments last week in which he said the Sabres, in exchange for first-rounders in this June's draft, would be willing to trade for a bad cap contract that they would in turn buy out.

That report, from ESPN's Pierre LeBrun, shows that Murray is willing to do some unorthodox things to bring this team to the next level. 

Now, granted, it's probably highly unlikely that Murray can make a deal like that, let alone two, but he may want to have the flexibility to do so just in case, and the cap-floor help may be enough of a push for him in and of itself. 

But, either way, one can expect Leino's name to join the free-agent pool this July.

 

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

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It goes without saying that the Buffalo Sabres need to improve to compete for the Stanley Cup. This is as obvious a fact as any, but there are plenty of ways they can go about doing it. 

One potential way to get better in a hurry is through trades and the free-agent market, both of which are about to open for business in the next few weeks with the Los Angeles Kings on the verge of winning their second Stanley Cup. 

And this offseason seems to have quite a few big names available for those willing to pony up, be it with money or players. 

But is that the best move for the Sabres?

At this point, the players purportedly available via trade have been game changers in years past. This article from The Hockey News gives a great overview of the guys that will see plenty of rumors floating around them all offseason. The article names guys like Ryan Kesler, Sam Gagner and Evander Kane who have had these types of rumors surrounding them for quite some time, and others like Jason Spezza and Joe Thornton who are relatively new to the party. 

Those available in free agency have been talked about much more, given that their availability is far more certain. Currently, the list includes former captains, former 40- and 50-goal scorers, Vezina winners and some potential hall of famers.

Given the types of names available, it would be very easy to look to scoop a few up and move on as a much improved team, but, again, is that the best move for the Sabres?

Simply, no.

You cannot deny that acquiring a talent like Kesler, Spezza or Thornton via trade, or signing Kesler, Gaborik or (re-signing) Moulson would help the team next year, but one or two of them will not be enough.

Looking at it from a purely statistical angle, which is by no means sufficient, the Sabres finished last in goals for, 25th in goals against, 29th in power-play percentage, last in shots per game and 28th in shots allowed per game.

One or two guys aren't going to change that level of pathetic. This is a much bigger project than that. 

Tim Murray has said that this is not going to be a five-year rebuild, per ESPN.com, and Sabres fans seem to believe him when he says that, but that doesn't mean that next year is going to be much different than this past season. 

And this is not an argument against the team getting better in order to draft Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel next year. 

This instead is an argument against getting marginally better in the short term while potentially limiting your ability to get better in the long term.

What's meant by that can be summed up by two things.

First is the trade market surrounding especially Jason Spezza. In one of their most recent editions of the popular Insider Trading, TSN's Darren Dreger, Pierre LeBrun and Bob McKenzie talked about the Kesler/Spezza market. All seemed to agree that the asking price would be high for both, with Vancouver asking for at least some futures and a NHL center, and Ottawa wanting a package including a NHL player, a first rounder and a top prospect for Spezza. 

Acknowledging a report today by the Ottawa Sun's Bruce Garrioch that several teams have called about Spezza, with some indicating serious interest, one has to imagine that there is at least a chance that that price is met, despite the potential glut the veteran center market could have. 

But as good as Spezza has been in his career, he's now 30 years old and has battled some significant injuries during his time. The Sabres have a window opening, but it probably will not be for two or three years, and will Spezza be the same guy he is now, then?

That's quite the risk to give up a roster player, a first rounder and a guy along the lines of Rasmus Ristolainen, Nikita Zadorov, Joel Armia or Mikhail Grigorenko. By making that deal, you run the risk of Spezza becoming only a contributor by the time the team is better and sending away a couple huge pieces in getting the team there and beyond.

Adding to the trade discussion is the need to be hesitant in the free-agent market. 

Ryan Callahan has been the biggest name of late, but guys like Paul Stastny and Ales Hemsky have seen a bump in recent weeks as well. 

It should come to no one's surprise that Callahan is looking at signing north of $6 million per year, and Stastny's impressive April has probably assured him a similar payday. 

No matter what those types of guys would do for the Sabres in the short term, that's a lot of dough for someone you hope will become a role player in the next couple of years (as Stastny has become in Colorado). It would not be looked upon very highly in Buffalo if the Sabres were unable to sign a young, homegrown player because there's $6 million on the books for a third liner. 

Now, is it a bad thing if Stastny or Callahan signs, or if Spezza or Kesler find themselves in the blue and gold? Of course not. They are all excellent players that will bring some much needed veteran talent to the Buffalo roster.

The contention is that these guys may not factor as much into the plan two to three years down the line, and the package given to get them or the money spent to land them will not look quite as good in comparison at that time. 

Now, there is one situation where it would make a lot of sense for the Sabres to make a move to acquire a veteran player, and that's in a situation discussed by Pierre LeBrun in an ESPN column from yesterday. There, LeBrun spoke to Sabres general manager Tim Murray's willingness to take on a cumbersome, veteran contract—likely to use a compliance buyout on—as long as it came with a first rounder.

That makes a lot of sense for obvious reasons.

The player acquired would not impact you in even the short term, aside from Terry Pegula's wallet, and you would get a big piece in the puzzle for the future to build around.  

Beyond that, Murray needs to be very careful to balance the long-term potential with short-term success because, if he just arbitrarily adds pieces because they look good on paper, the impact could be felt the most in the long run, and not in a positive way.

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

 

 

 

 

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With the 2014 NHL draft mere weeks away, the Buffalo Sabres and general manager Tim Murray enter the next phase of their rebuild. 

With Murray sitting on a pile of picks, the Sabres have plenty of options, but none have captured the attention of the general Sabres fan quite like the No. 2 overall pick. 

With a number of highly touted prospects and a bunch of teams chomping at the bit to select them, the Sabres have plenty of options heading into the draft on June 27-28. 

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