Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. If they aren’t going to make the playoffs and they are thinking about rebuilding, why not hope for the worst possible finish and the highest possible draft pick? We lived that this entire football season. The question is, are you now thinking about it with hockey? I’m not for a number of reasons including the fact that I don’t watch Canadian Junior Hockey, U.S. College Hockey and European Leagues every Saturday so I have no idea who I should be drooling over.
But the Sabres sure look like they are headed for the draft lottery rather than the playoffs so when a handful of mid season draft rankings came out recently, I took the time to read up on the top prospects. I think the fact that the World Juniors were just here and some of those guys played in the tournament also piqued my curiosity.
The exact order may differ based on which draft expert you believe but it appears there is a consensus on the 4 best players who will be available, 3 of whom were in Buffalo for the World Juniors. Sean Couturier played for Team Canada and is a 6-4, 195 pound center with Drummondville in the Quebec Major Junior League. Scouting comments include: good size, creative with the puck, can create a scoring chance anywhere in the offensive zone and makes his linemates look better.
Adam Larsson is a 6-3, 200 pound defenseman from Sweden. He stood out for Team Sweden in the medal round even though they ended up with a loss in the bronze medal game. Larsson is considered a complete player with good offensive and defensive skills.
Fellow Swede Gabriel Landeskog is a 6-1, 207 pound winger who plays for Kitchener in the Ontario Hockey League. He is being compared to Flyers captain Mike Richards and is considered by some as the most complete player in the draft. Kitchener’s captain puts up the numbers on offense but is known to block shots, fight for teammates and more than happily go into the tough areas to fight for the puck.
The 4th member of the group is Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, a 6-1, 170 pound center with Red Deer in the Western Hockey League. He didn’t make the cut for the Canadian Junior team but it hasn’t hurt his stock in the eyes of the scouts. He is said to possess tremendous vision and creativity.
There are a couple of guys nearby to keep an eye on outside of the top 4. Center Ryan Strome and Defenseman Dougie Hamilton both play for the Niagara Ice Dogs of the OHL. One local draft note, native Western New Yorker Adam Clendening is rated a 3rd round prospect by the NHL’s Central Scouting Bureau. The former Niagara Wheatfield Falcon is playing on defense for Boston University.