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Buffalo Sabres: Looking at the Prospects Not Named McDavid or Eichel | SabresOnline.com

Buffalo Sabres: Looking at the Prospects Not Named McDavid or Eichel

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In a season full of negatives for the struggling Buffalo Sabres, there is one shining positive awaiting at the end of the tunnel in the form of the 2015 NHL draft.

Everyone has heard of Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel by now and rightfully so. Dan Marr of NHL Central Scouting has sung the praises of McDavid and Eichel, going as far as saying that the CSS has “nothing negative to say about either player.”

That notion was supported by the CSS ranking McDavid and Eichel Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, in its midterm ranking for the 2015 draft.

Many expect those two to remain in their spots until June, with Noah Hanifin, currently ranked third, likely to hold on to his spot as well. 

But while the Sabres sitting in 30th place in the NHL has the vast majority of the attention on what draft pick their own finish will net them, the Sabres and general manager Tim Murray also have two other picks in the first round to think about.

If the season were over today, the Sabres would currently hold either the first or second overall pick, the 25th pick (from the St. Louis Blues) and the 27th pick (from the New York Islanders).  

The negative for the Sabres is it seems that the Isles have gotten it together and, barring a Toronto Maple Leafs-like collapse, they will be a playoff team this year. The hope heading into this season was that the Islanders would also struggle and give the Sabres two lottery picks, but that dream has all but died. 

The positive is with the new NHL playoff system, the first round has much tougher matchups across the board than before. This translates to better teams exiting in the first round, which then translates to a potential mid-teen pick or two for the Sabres. 

This puts a lot of potential first-rounders in play for the Sabres, and many may be guys Sabres fans haven’t heard a lot about given the hoopla surrounding the top two guys.

Now, the guys who should go from picks three to ten probably are not in the realm of possibility for the Sabres, ignoring the potential of trading up. That means some of the names that may have been floating around like Mitchell Marner, Dylan Strome, Oliver Kylington and Pavel Zacha are likely going to find a home somewhere else.

That list also likely includes Lawson Crouse, one of the most polarizing prospects in some time. Many see Crouse as a potential top-five selection in June despite his pedestrian point totals so far for Kingston of the OHL. Despite that, Crouse was a surprise selection for the Canadian World Junior team this year, beating out last year’s fifth overall selection Michael Dal Colle in the process.

Many see Crouse as a north-to-south player who can be a possession wizard in all three zones. This is obviously a valuable skill set, but others feel that his lack of scoring puts a second- to third-line rating on him at best, and because of that he should not sniff the top five. 

So odds are a team in the first 10 picks will find space for him, but it’s—very, very slighty—possible the Sabres will have him fall in their laps if enough teams feel his scoring, or lack thereof, is not worth the high pick.

So who else could the Sabres be drafting in the first round come the end of June?

One player who has somewhat forced his way into the conversation is Timo Meier, currently playing for the Halifax Mooseheads in the QMJHL. Meier, a native of Switzerland, has the benefit of playing on a line with Nikolaj Ehlers, the ninth overall pick from last year’s draft, but he has shown he is an excellent player in his own right.

The Mooseheads have churned out three top-10 picks in the past two years, and Meier may play himself into the company of Nathan MacKinnon, Jonathan Drouin and Ehlers before his season is over. However, as it stands it seems as if Meier, ranked the 12th North American skater in Central Scouting’s midterm rankings, will find himself in the mid- to high-teens in June, which could potentially be where the Sabres are making their second pick.

Another group of players to keep an eye on are a trio of current and former USA National Team Development Program standouts. Jordan Greenway, Thomas Novak and Jeremy Bracco all should be available to the Sabres later in the first round, and all have a ton of upside.

Greenway is likely the first of the three to go as his 6’5″, 222-pound frame is sure to garner a ton of attention from NHL scouts. He needs to grow into his huge frame a bit, as most prospects his size do, but his hands and skating could make him a feared attacker in the NHL.

Novak is not nearly as big as Greenway but is uber-skilled. While displaying great offensive instincts, Novak is currently in the USHL, which means he’s a long-term prospect. However, he is committed to the University of Minnesota, which would likely ensure two to three years of development in and of itself. 

Bracco is the smallest of the three, checking in at 5’9″ and 173 pounds, but he arguably is the most skilled. He joins the likes of Mitch Marner and Travis Konecny as smaller guys with a ton of skill who hope to have enough physicality to be major contributors at the NHL level. 

There are a few defensemen that Murray may be keeping an eye on for later in the first round, with guys like Jakub Zboril, Rasmus Andersson, Brandon Carlo and Jeremy Roy potentially available at that point.

However, it’s no secret that the Sabres need a lot more help at the forward position, so it’s likely to see Murray grab as much first-round talent at the forward position as he can. Then he can add depth to the defense in the second round, potentially with one of the names mentioned above. 

Despite all these promising names in the bottom half of the first round, Sabres fans are still looking to the top of the draft as the season begins to wind down. 

And they’re in luck.

According to Sports Club Stats, the Sabres have a 76.72-percent chance of finishing between 49 and 60 points, with the most likely scenario finding them finishing with somewhere between 54 and 57 points. In comparison, the Edmonton Oilers have the best chance of finishing with somewhere between 60 and 64 points.

That translates to an 81-percent chance the Sabres finish 30th this year, with Thursday night’s game between the two likely to push that significantly up or down depending on the result. 

But while the top of the draft—understandably—has the most allure, the bottom of the first round may be one of the most important in Sabres history.

 

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

Read more Buffalo Sabres news on BleacherReport.com

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