Grant Sonnier was an NHL scout for 13 years and currently contributes to ESPN.com. He was a guest on the WGR Morning show recently and said the Sabres can absolutely get a stud at pick number eight since this is a talent rich draft. Sonnier said his peers in the scouting business have been buzzing about this draft class since they started watching the players as underages. Sonnier believes there's enough talent throughout the class that this draft could directly change the face of one or two franchises and turn poor or average teams into contenders in a short period of time.
The top four players, according to Sonnier, are: Halifax center Nathan MacKinnon, his teammate and left winger Jonathan Drouin, Portland defenseman Seth Jones and center Aleksander Barkov who plays for Tappara in Finland.
He believes there is a separation after that group of four.
“I just can’t see how anyone is going to go by those four guys" Sonnier told WGR. "I personally think Nathan MacKinnon is the best player in the draft so I segregated him as the elite, franchise type player. I think he’s got those types of qualities."
Assuming Colorado, which needs defensemen, selects the Colorado native in Jones, that leaves MacKinnon on the board for the Florida Panthers, who will be moving into the Sabres division next season. MacKinnon had 32 goals and 75 points in 44 games for the Mooseheads. He added 29 points in 15 playoff games.
It gets worse Sabres fans. Tampa Bay will also be a division rival next season and Drouin would be on the board for the Lightning. "He’s got so much skill and so much individual talent that the combination of he and Stamkos in Tampa could be lethal" Sonnier said. "This kid can pass the puck through seams like nobody’s business and Stamkos can fire the puck maybe better than anybody in the world.” Drouin had 41 goals and 105 points in 49 regular season games then added 30 points in 15 playoff games this season.
In Sonnier's most recent mock draft, he has the Sabres taking Swedish center Elias Lindholm with the eighth pick. Lindholm is 5'11", 181 pounds and plays for Brynas in the Swedish Elite League. He had 11 goals and 30 points in 48 games this season. Sonnier says Lindholm is an elite, two way player and one of the most complete players he's seen in some time. He says Lindholm has excellent offensive hockey sense combined with tenacious effort.
Looking back in last year's draft, Sonnier advised Sabres fans not to get down on the choice of Mikhail Grigorenko based on what happened this season. "I would not even remotely give up on this kid yet. He’s a terrific talent. I think this kid’s got special qualities. Does he have to mature? 100%. He still has a chance to be a special player in the National Hockey League."
You can listen to the entire interview with Grant Sonnier: