At the draft table, you want to nail as many picks as possible. Obviously.
But when you nail a pick outside of the second round, it has to feel good, because the talent level typically sees a solid drop off after the first half of the opening round. Drafting a top prospect is easy. Finding value later in the draft is what truly makes scouts earn their paycheck.
So that's part of why Josh Bloom's signing was so interesting. The Sabres selected him 95th overall in the 2021 draft before signing the 18-year-old to a three-year entry-level contract on Monday. The deal will kick in next season, and he'll spend the rest of the season practicing with the Rochester Americans on an amateur tryout. It's a good chance to get familiar with other prospects in the system like John Peterka, Jack Quinn, Arttu Ruotsalainen and Brandon Biro while spending time against pro-quality and pro-minded veterans.
Bloom, a candidate for Canada's World Junior Championship team later this summer and again this winter, is an interesting prospect. He struggled as a rookie, recording just six goals and 14 points for the OHL's Saginaw Spirit after a fantastic U-16 season with the Toronto Nationals.
Bloom missed all of 2020-21 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, instead focusing on training and practicing. The Sabres still saw some potential in him and drafted him in the third round in 2021, surprising some observers at the time.
But now? It's looking like a fantastic pick.
Bloom had 30 goals and 61 points as a "sophomore" with Saginaw, sitting one point behind 2022 projected first-round pick Pavel Mintyukov for the team lead. The Spirit came dead last in the West Division and will be one of just five teams missing out on the playoffs this spring. So while 61 points in 67 games might not seem incredible by any stretch of the imagination, he still managed 30 goals for one of the worst teams in the league. You can't ignore that from an 18-year-old.
"It's like he's a completely different player," a scout said. "The improvements in his game have been immense. There's so much potential in Bloom's game now."
One of the big things here will be Bloom's experience with Buffalo at training camp. He'll join the team for development camp before making a case to join the big club out of training camp. It's a longshot, for sure, but this is all valuable experience before his return to the OHL on a team selecting first overall at the draft. That could mean either Michael Misa or Malcolm Spence join the fold, something that would spice up the team's offense and likely step into a top role immediately with the help of Bloom as a veteran presence.
As a player, Bloom is a tremendous skater, and always has been. Scouts love his decision-making with the puck and he possesses a solid release on his wrist shot that, as he continues to grow as a shooter willing to take chances with the puck, only gets better with time. As his game is developed, he's more willing to take risks to make the best play possible, something that wasn't evident in his more guarded play early on his career.
Bloom told Sabres media after getting drafted that he wanted to show everyone how he grew as a player despite missing an entire season: he proved that with and without the puck. The Sabres didn't need to sign Bloom this early, so they clearly think he must have a shot at making the NHL next year, as small as it may be.
This is a win for the franchise, and, more importantly, a win for the Oakville, Ont. native. Bloom's hard work paid off into a successful season, personally, for the winger, and he's only going to get better from here.