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Will the Sabres’ No. 1 pick play in Buffalo this year?

Buffalo Sabres’ general manager Tim Murray has had quotes on both sides of the aisle about whether this year’s No. 2 overall pick will play in Buffalo. Of course, the Sabres will have to look at their selection in development camp, training camp and even 10 NHL games before they make a final decision, but we can still handicap the chances Sabres fans get to see Mr. No. 2 during the 2013-14 season.

While much could change on draft day, it is expected that the Sabres will draft one of four players: Aaron Ekblad, Sam Reinhart, Sam Bennett or Leon Draisaitl. The decision on whether to keep Draft Pick X in Buffalo or send him back to juniors will depend on the individual, the lineup and how the choice will affect the player’s long-term development.

What do the number say?

Yeah, there is a stat for that.

First: Last season we saw a handful of 2013 draft picks play most of the year in the NHL. Here is how they faired:

(1) Nathan MacKinnion – 82 games - 24 goals, 39 assists
(2) Alexsander Barkov – 54 games – 8 goals, 16 assists
(4) Seth Jones – 77 games – 6 goals, 19 assists
(5) Elias Lindholm – 58 games – 9 goals, 12 assists
(6) Sean Monahan – 75 games – 22 goals, 12 assists
 (10)Valeri Nichushkin – 79 games, 14 goals, 20 assists

OK, now for the stat.

Hockey analytics pioneer Gabe Desjardins developed a statistical model for projecting players who go from juniors to the NHL. This will, obviously, only apply to the forwards in this case.


Plugged into the formula, here is how the top three came out:

Sam Reinhart (WHL) 15-28-43
Leon Draisaitl (WHL) 15-25-40
Sam Bennett (OHL) 16-23-39

As you can see, the three are projected to be amazingly close if given a full NHL season. That should not come as a shock seeing as they are all CHL players who posted very similar junior numbers. Reinhart and Draisaitl scored 105 points and Bennett had 91.

By this measure – and you can be sure Draftee 2 would get power play time and top line minutes – all three draft picks could outscore every 2013-14 Sabre except Cody Hodgson and Tyler Ennis.

What do the scouts say?

At the combine, every player with a pulse said they were NHL-ready for the 2014-15 season.

The factors at play will be: The player’s physical readiness, mental maturity, skill set, place on the roster.

Last one first. The current forward group with guaranteed spots includes Zemgus Girgensons, Cody Hodgson, Tyler Ennis, Marcus Foligno, Nick Deslauriers, Torrey Mitchell, Drew Stafford and Chris Stewart.

Competing for a spot will be Brian Flynn, Cory Conacher, Mikhail Grigorenko, Joel Armia, Matt Ellis, Johan Larsson and Tim Schaller.
Of course, the Sabres will have to sign a few players or take on contracts to get to the salary cap floor.
So it is possible roster wise, but not a lock.

From a physical standpoint, Ekblad stands out as the most ready.

The National Post wrote:

In Barrie, Colts teammate, roommate and best friend Brendan Lemieux — a projected first- or second-round pick in his own right and the son of former NHL agitator Claude Lemieux — saw Ekblad show even more.

“Ek really showed that he was willing to stand up and answer the bell, even with his gloves off. I watched him pound a few guys this year,” Lemieux said at the combine. “He might not show that physical presence and how big he is and how tough he can be, but he’s a tough guy, too. He’s not just a super-skilled big guy, he’s a super-skilled big, tough guy.”

Skill set may give the edge to Draisaitl. He plays an “NHL style” game.

Central Scouting on Draisaitl:

"He plays a big, power forward-style of game," Central Scouting's B.J. Macdonald said. "He goes to the net and the opposition has a hard time stopping him from getting there. He's a big presence in front of the goal and skates well with deceptive speed. He can shoot the puck and overpower goalies with it. I like his style and attitude; he has a lot of upside"

Mentally, Reinhart is No. 1

Central Scouting on Reinhart:

“He’s one of the best when he’s given an opportunity to capitalize on it,” said Dan Marr, director of NHL Central Scouting. “If you turn the puck over and you’re not careful, he’s going to burn you. If he gets the chance to score, he’s a good scorer, but his vision, his anticipation, his hockey sense is what sets him apart from a lot of players.”

Bennett stands out as being able to give the night-to-night effort required to play in the Big Leagues

Hockey’s Future: On Bennett

"But what makes Bennett even more appealing is his willingness and ability to play a physical game. Last year, in 60 contests, he racked up 87 penalty minutes. This year, in only 40 games, he’s almost surpassed those totals with 85 penalty minutes.

He’s also displayed a maturity beyond his years, playing a focal role on the Frontenacs despite not turning 18 until late June."

What you find is that any of the four have a chance to play at the NHL level. The difference will depend on how they perform at training camp and whether the Sabres feel they are ready to handle the jump. It is unlikely the appeal of giving fans a young star to watch will make a difference, but fans will be rooting for No. 2 Pick Guy to stand out in camp and make the club.

The Sabres reportedly will hire Dan Bylsma to be their next head coach. Your thoughts?
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