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Draft Preview: Buffalo Sabres – Reaching for the top

Sabres often finish high – in draft order. It’s time to do that in the standings

From the Redundancy Department of Redundancy, the Sabres are again drafting in the top eight. For those keeping score, that’s seven years running, which is not an easy thing to do. But at least there was no talk of tanking. At some point, the Sabres have to start reaping the benefits of that kind of futility. For the most part, they’ve done all right with their gimmes in the first round but have little to show for later rounds, which is why they lack depth.

IMMEDIATE NEEDS: The Sabres made significant strides, but they still finished in the bottom third in both offense and defense. The dearth of scoring came despite the fact they took almost 33 shots per game. Jeff Skinner broke out with 40 goals, but of their top seven scoring forwards, four of them had single-digit shooting percentages. This team needs more firepower.

LONG-TERM NEEDS: Buffalo has no shortage of centers in its system, but until and unless Casey Mittelstadt can be a consistent performer, only Jack Eichel is considered elite. On the flanks, things are more dire in both the short- and long-term outlooks. Forwards, preferably ones who know their way around both ends of the ice, are in demand. The thin ranks up front are proving to be the Sabres’ demise.

CAP SITUATION: With $26 million in cap space and a good number of core players signed, the Sabres will have no problem fitting in pending UFA Skinner, who set career highs in goals and points. The only question is how high they’re willing to go on an eight-year term for a player who will be 35 by the end of the contract.

IN THE SYSTEM 2019-20: The Sabres gave Alex Nylander a late-season look, and while his numbers weren’t overwhelming, there is hope he’s turned the corner and is ready. Victor Olofsson was more impressive in a top-line role, with four points in six games.

DID YOU KNOW: When Olofsson showed up for the Sabres’ rookie development camp last summer, it was his fifth straight year doing so. It finally paid off with a terrific rookie season in the AHL and his late-season call-up.

LATE-ROUND GEMS:

(2000-2018 drafts)

Dennis Wideman, 241st, ’02

Andrej Sekera, 71st, ’04

Paul Gaustad, 220th, ’00

Jan Hejda, 106th, ’03

Clarke MacArthur, 74th, ’03

Paul Byron, 179th, ’07

Brayden McNabb, 66th, ’09

Nathan Gerbe, 142nd, ’05

Marcus Foligno, 104th, ’09

Patrick Kaleta, 176th, ’04

PICKS AFTER SECOND ROUND: 106
100+ NHL GAMES: 14
PERCENT SUCCESS: 13.2%
NHL RANK: 15TH

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