The lottery balls will determine Tuesday night where the Sabres pick in the first round of the NHL draft and whether they’ll have two early selections.
Kevyn Adams, the Sabres’ general manager, has a 5% chance of winning the first overall pick for a second consecutive year when the NHL draft lottery is held at 6:30 p.m. They hold the ninth-best odds, trailing, in order, Montreal, Arizona, Seattle, Philadelphia, New Jersey, Columbus, Ottawa and Detroit. The event will be broadcast on ESPN.
But the Sabres could also hold an additional top-16 selection. Vegas’ first-round draft pick will transfer to Buffalo if it doesn’t fall in the top 10, as outlined in the Jack Eichel trade. The Golden Knights hold the 16th-best lottery odds after missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs and have a remote 0.5% chance of leaping the maximum 10 spots. They can’t pick higher than sixth.
If Vegas defies the odds and picks in the top 10, they will retain the pick and send their 2023 first-round selection to the Sabres, no matter the outcome of next season.
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The Sabres are guaranteed to own at least two picks in the first round of the draft, which will be held July 7-8 in Montreal. They have their selection and the one acquired from the Florida Panthers in the Sam Reinhart trade, which will be late in the round. And though much can change between now and draft day, Adams told reporters last week that he expects to keep his picks.
Seemingly every Sabres player on the roster, no matter their experience, improved under Granato and his staff.
“I think when it comes to this year’s draft, we’ll be open,” Adams said. “We will have conversations. Is there something that we do that makes sense that we think is going to put us in a better position? Then we’ll do it. What we won’t do is do something we think is just a short-term fix because that’s just kind of what I talked about earlier. That’s not where we’re at right now.
“If you’re putting me on the spot, I would expect that we would make our three picks. I believe in the pipeline you have to build.”
The prospect pipeline received much-needed reinforcements at the draft last July, when the Sabres picked Owen Power first overall, followed by Isak Rosen, Prokhor Poltapov, Aleksandr Kisakov, Stiven Sardarian, Josh Bloom, Olivier Nadeau, Viljami Marjala, William Von Barkenow, Nikita Novikov and Tyson Kozak.
Previous trades by Jason Botterill left Adams with five selections in the 2020 draft. And although two of Buffalo’s picks, Jack Quinn and JJ Peterka, are on the cusp of the NHL following remarkable rookie seasons in Rochester, more young talent is needed in the organization.
Since the 2018 draft, only three of the Sabres’ 17 selections after the second round have signed an entry-level contract: Matej Pekar (fourth round, 2018), Lukas Rousek (seventh round, 2019) and Bloom (third round, 2021).
Two notable prospects, goalie Erik Portillo (third round, 2019) and defenseman Ryan Johnson (first round, 2019), are expected to return to their respective NCAA schools next season and are eligible to become unrestricted free agents in the summer of 2023.
The pipeline was bolstered through the acquisition of goalie Devon Levi in the Reinhart trade, but he opted to play another season at Northeastern University following a record-breaking sophomore year. The Sabres hold Levi’s NHL rights until the summer of 2024.
Early returns from the Sabres’ draft classes in 2019 and 2021 look promising, yet future development and injuries are difficult to predict. And they could take advantage of a talented crop of available prospects atop this draft.
According to NHL Central Scouting’s final rankings, the top North American skaters available are center Shane Wright (Kingston, OHL), center Logan Cooley (USA Hockey National Team Development Program), left wing Cutter Gauthier (NTDP), center Matthew Savoie (Winnipeg, WHL) and center Conor Geekie (Winnipeg). The top available European skaters are left wing Juraj Slafkovsky, right wing Joakim Kemell, defenseman Simon Nemec, defenseman David Jiricek and center Marco Kasper.
“When we talk about long-term sustainable success, you need talent,” Adams said. “You need talent that can come up from Rochester, and you don’t have to rush them. You can let them grow and develop. And then when they’re ready, boom, they’re here and they’re ready to be impactful, not just surviving.”
The Amerks’ postseason continues on the road Tuesday with Game 1 in the best-of-five second-round series against the Utica Comets. Rochester pulled off an upset in the first round, sweeping the Belleville Senators in two games behind Brett Murray’s overtime goal Friday night.
But this matchup is far more challenging. The Comets’ 43 regular-season wins were tied for third in the American Hockey League, trailing only Chicago (50) and Stockton (45). Utica received reinforcements from the New Jersey Devils in the form of 2020 first-round draft choice Alexander Holtz and winger Fabian Zetterlund, who had a breakout 24-goal season.
Aaron Dell is expected to remain in goal for Rochester, which is without Sabres prospect Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen because of injury. Arttu Ruotsalainen was the Amerks’ leading scorer in round one, and he has 18 goals and 51 points in 57 games this season.
Luukkonen remains “week to week,” said coach Seth Appert, and defenseman Mattias Samuelsson is day to day. Winger Linus Weissbach, who was injured in Game 1 against Belleville, remains unavailable.
Here’s the rest of the series schedule, if games four and five are necessary:
Game 2: Saturday, May 14 at Utica, 7 p.m.
Game 3: Sunday, May 15 at Rochester, 5:05 p.m.
Game 4: Tuesday, May 17 at Rochester, 7:05 p.m.
Game 5: Thursday, May 19 at Utica, 7 p.m.
Sabres center Dylan Cozens was selected to represent Canada at the IIHF World Championship, which will be held from May 13-29 in Finland. Cozens, 21, had 13 goals and 38 points in 79 games for Buffalo this season. He previously played for his home country at World Juniors, where he won gold in 2021 and finished second at the tournament in scoring in 2021.
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