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Grading Buffalo Sabres’ First-Round Picks in the Pegula Era

The Buffalo Sabres have made 18 first-round NHL Entry Draft alternatives since Terry Pegula bought the franchise halfway by means of the 2011 season. One would suppose the staff used these to stockpile younger expertise for the future and switch itself right into a perennial postseason contender, proper?

Wrong. The Sabres have spent a majority of Pegula’s tenure in a perpetual rebuild and have gone by means of three normal managers because it started. Despite drafting a number of gamers that appeared to own the expertise and talent to show a staff’s fortunes round, Buffalo’s constant organizational incompetence and upheaval prevented that from taking place. And although the staff lastly has appeared to search out the proper system and returned to playoff competition this previous season, their draft picks which have turned out to be failures nonetheless stand out.


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As we did with the Sabres’ largest free-agent acquisitions below Pegula, right here’s a take a look at these first-round alternatives and a good judgment of which have been wins and which have been flops. Ryan Johnson (2019), Isak Rosen (2021), Matthew Savoie, Noah Ostlund and Jiri Kulich (all 2022) is not going to be thought-about as they’ve but to play for the staff.

2011: Joel Armia- 16th general

The inaugural collection of the Pegula period was Joel Armia of Porin Assat. The Sabres’ 2010-11 season was certainly one of the most profitable in franchise historical past, as they rallied to the seventh spot of the Eastern Conference and made the playoffs after being in the basement at midseason. An opening spherical defeat couldn’t kill the buzz, and including the proficient Finnish winger after such a exceptional run appeared sensible. But followers have been by no means given the probability to see him.

Joel Armia #40 of the Winnipeg Jets
Armia, pictured right here with Winnipeg in 2018, appeared in only one recreation for the Sabres earlier than being traded (Jonathan Kozub/NHLI through Getty Images).

Armia made his NHL debut with the Sabres on Dec. 23, 2014, the solely time he ever appeared in the Buffalo blue and gold. He was returned to the Rochester Americans of the American Hockey League after the recreation and was packaged to the Winnipeg Jets later that season in certainly one of the many trades made by former GM Tim Murray that aged horrifically. Seeing as Armia has cast a strong profession for himself between the Jets and Montreal Canadiens and signed a four-year extension with the Canadiens in 2021, Sabres followers can solely marvel what might need been. Ruling: Flop.

2012: Mikhail Grigorenko- 12th general

After narrowly lacking the playoffs in 2012, the Sabres had two first-rounders in the 2012 Draft, and the outcomes couldn’t have been extra cut up. With their first choose, the staff chosen winger Mikhail Grigorenko. After two stellar seasons with the Quebec Remparts to his credit score, the Sabres assumed he was NHL-ready and added him to their roster for the lockout-shortened 2013 season. The relaxation, as they are saying, is historical past.

The Sabres’ atrocious fame for growing prospects below Pegula started with Grigorenko, the honorary first sufferer. The staff’s gamble backfired drastically, as he recorded only one purpose and 4 assists in 25 video games. They realized this and despatched him again to Quebec halfway by means of the subsequent season, however by then, the injury was accomplished.  


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He was shuffled forwards and backwards between Buffalo and Rochester quite a few instances over the subsequent season and a half earlier than he was packaged to the Colorado Avalanche at the 2015 Draft in the commerce that introduced Ryan O’Reilly to the Sabres. The Russian has since didn’t catch on elsewhere and returned to his homeland in 2017 to play in the Kontinental Hockey League. Though, to be honest, it’s not likely his fault. The Sabres destroyed no matter potential Grigorenko had, and he lands close to the prime of the record of younger expertise the staff has ruined in the final decade. Ruling: Flop.

2012: Zemgus Girgensons- 14th general

Ironically, two picks after the Grigorenko debacle, the staff chosen a participant who turned their cornerstone. After the shocking commerce of primary heart Paul Gaustad to the Nashville Predators at that yr’s Trade Deadline, the Sabres had an additional choose and used it to fill the void by taking heart Zemgus Girgensons of the Dubuque Fighting Saints.

Girgensons has been a real stalwart for Buffalo (Amy Irvin/The Hockey Writers).

What’s attention-grabbing is that, for all the errors the Sabres made with Grigorenko, they didn’t make them with Girgensons. The staff allowed the Latvian to spend a full yr with the Americans earlier than becoming a member of the Sabres for the 2013-14 season, the place he scored the staff’s first purpose of the marketing campaign.

As the longest-tenured member of the staff, he won’t have developed into the participant the Sabres thought they have been getting, however nobody can deny the steadying drive he’s been over the years. Through all the turnovers and tumult that the Sabres have had since Pegula took over, Girgensons has been the one fixed and has emerged as each a pacesetter and a significant fan-favorite. He was acknowledged for his contributions when he was named an alternate captain earlier than the 2021-22 season, a well-deserved honor. Ruling: Win

2013: Rasmus Ristolainen- 8th general

The 2013 NHL Draft was the final of Darcy Reiger’s 16-year tenure as the Sabres’ GM and he had two first-round alternatives for the second consecutive yr. With the first, they bulked up their defensive corps by taking 6-foot-4 defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen of TPS Turku.

After debuting as an 18-year-old and splitting his first skilled season between the NHL and AHL, Ristolainen joined the Sabres full-time in 2014 and immediately turned the centerpiece of the staff’s protection. However, Buffalo’s propensity for turnover hit the Finn tougher than most of his contemporaries. In his eight seasons with the group, he performed below six totally different head coaches, and it damage his growth considerably (very similar to one other defenseman on this record). Despite this, he proved to be dependable and anchored the Sabres’ blue line for many of his tenure. The staff was unable to discover a option to stop him from being overloaded with ice time, and he typically led in that class.

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Buffalo determined to commerce him earlier than he reached free company and dealt him to the Philadelphia Flyers forward of the 2021 Draft in change for a first-round choice, and he signed a five-year extension with them in March 2022. The Sabres’ perpetual lack of ability to develop younger gamers meant Ristolainen’s true potential wouldn’t be seen and he may have been extra if given the probability to develop correctly, however he proved to be strong nonetheless. Ruling: Win.

2013: Nikita Zadorov- sixteenth general

The Sabres determined to go all-in on protection at the 2013 Draft and used their second first-round choice (acquired from the Minnesota Wild in change for Jason Pominville) to take one other hulking blueliner, Nikita Zadorov of the London Knights. At 6-foot-6, Zadorov possessed the measurement and talent to make the Sabres’ defensive corp extra formidable, however his dealing with by the entrance workplace proved to be just like that of Grigorenko.

Zadorov (proper) with Ristolainen after being drafted by the Sabres in 2013 (J.C. Hageny/The Hockey Writers).

Sabres head coach Ron Rolston named the Russian to the staff’s roster for the starting of the 2013-14 season however then made him a wholesome scratch for the first 10 video games (I can’t make sense of it both). He was lastly added to the lineup on Oct.23 and scored on his first profession NHL shot in opposition to the Boston Bruins. He was then returned to juniors after seven video games.

He was introduced again the following season and recorded 15 factors in 60 video games, together with his physicality and grit incomes reward. However, questions on his character started to come up after he was suspended by the Sabres twice for violating the staff’s private conduct guidelines. After that season, the staff wiped the slate clear when he too was packaged to the Avalanche in exchage for O’Reilly. Though the Sabres clearly made errors with Zadorov, he went on to accuse the staff of being discriminatory against Russian players. Maybe transferring on was for the greatest? Ruling: Flop.

2014: Sam Reinhart- 2nd general

After the 2013-14 season, which might solely be described as wretched, the Sabres had a purpose for pleasure with the second general collection of the 2014 Draft. Though the Florida Panthers by some means won the Draft Lottery regardless of ending 14 factors forward of the Sabres in the standings, Buffalo followers weren’t deterred and newly-minted normal supervisor Murray chosen heart Sam Reinhart of the Kootenay Ice.

Unlike so many others on this record, the Sabres truly dealt with Reinhart’s preliminary growth effectively. They introduced him up for a quick run to start the 2014-15 season however promptly returned him to Kootenay in order that he wouldn’t be rushed, and it paid off in the lengthy haul.

Sam Reinhart Sabres
Reinhart was at all times a drive for the Sabres, however the staff by no means valued him as a lot as they need to have (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers).

In six seasons with the Sabres, the Vancouver native was a constant contributor and recorded 20 or extra targets 5 instances. Despite this, the Sabres have been by no means keen to decide to him long-term and he was by no means provided greater than a two-year deal. This, mixed with the Sabres’ struggles to point out any progress, led to understandable frustration. Speculation quickly turned rampant that he wished out of Buffalo, and he was traded to the Panthers in the summer time of 2021.

Reinhart’s tenure with the staff might have ended acrimoniously (or so it appeared), nevertheless it was hardly his fault. Had the staff in some unspecified time in the future provided him greater than a bridge contract, maybe he would nonetheless be sporting a Sabres jersey. Nevertheless, he was worthy of being a second-overall choice. Ruling: Win.

2015: Jack Eichel- 2nd general

After the 2014-15 season (which by some means managed to be much more disastrous than its predecessor), the Sabres misplaced the Draft Lottery for a second consecutive year regardless of having the greatest odds. It triggered no scarcity of shock in the City of Good Neighbors, nevertheless it wasn’t an entire loss. Though it meant they’d miss out on the immensely-touted Connor McDavid, the 2015 Draft had two generational skills accessible. Boston University heart Jack Eichel immediately reinvigorated the beleaguered franchise and gave hope for the future. If the Sabres have been to show it round, he can be the purpose why.

Jack Eichel Buffalo Sabres
The Sabres have been unable to show it round with Eichel aboard, regardless of his greatest efforts (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes).

As everyone knows by now, that didn’t occur. The Hobey Baker Award winner proved that he was worthy of the hype and by no means scored lower than 50 factors in every of his 5 full seasons in Buffalo, nevertheless it was all for naught at the finish of the day.

Eichel was with the Sabres for seven years, and in that point, the group fired three head coaches and two normal managers. The turnover prevented the staff from reaching any enchancment they usually constantly spun in the mud yr after yr. He openly admitted to being sad consequently, and it’s simple to see why. The state of affairs worsened when the celebrity sustained a severe neck damage and the Sabres rejected his most popular course of remedy. It proved to be the last straw and he by no means appeared in the Buffalo blue and gold once more, being to the Vegas Golden Knights in November 2021.

Whether his departure was his or the Sabres’ fault could be argued till the finish of days. But as the state of affairs unfolded, followers turned on Eichel and labeled him a egocentric, cancerous diva (some extent that may also be argued). Though he’s now public enemy primary in Buffalo, his skills did give the Sabres the potential to win, the staff was simply by no means in a position to get out of its personal method. Ruling: Win.

2016: Alexander Nylander- eighth general

After a much-improved 2015-16 season, the Sabres had the honor of internet hosting the 2016 Draft and saved their renewed vigor going by choosing Alexander Nylander of the Mississauga Steelheads. With Eichel, Reinhart, O’Reilly, Ristolainen, and Evander Kane main the cost, optimism in Buffalo was rampant, and Nylander appeared like an awesome alternative after being named the Canadian Hockey League’s 2015-16 Rookie of the Year. Since it was his solely season in junior, the Sabres allowed him to spend elements of three seasons in Rochester.

Therein lay the drawback, nevertheless. Though the Swede excelled in his time with the Americans, he by no means appeared actually able to make the soar to the NHL and he was restricted to transient call-ups at the finish of these seasons, in which he didn’t impress. Though 19 complete video games was hardly sufficient of a pattern to make a judgment, the Sabres determined to maneuver on, and he was traded to the Chicago Blackhawks in the summer time of 2019.

Thankfully, the commerce proved to be trash-for-treasure as the Sabres acquired Henri Jokiharju in return. Nylander didn’t catch on in Chicago and was despatched to their AHL affiliate after one season. Seeing as his now finds himself in the Pittsburgh Penguins’ system, it’s secure to imagine Buffalo made the proper name right here. Ruling: Flop.

2017: Casey Mittelstadt- eighth general

Former Sabre Jason Botterill turned the third GM of the Pegula Era after a disappointing 2016-17 season led to Murray’s firing. With his first choose in the position, Botterill chosen Casey Mittelstadt of the Green Bay Gamblers, the first American chosen by the Sabres in the first spherical since 2004.

Though Sabres followers have been initially upset by the alternative due to Mittelstadt’s performance at the scouting combine, their fears have been put to relaxation when he tore up the 2018 World Junior Championship (coincidentally held in Buffalo) and was named MVP. But in hindsight, that success did extra hurt than good in the brief time period. Just when it appeared the Sabres had lastly discovered from their previous errors of speeding prospects into the highlight, they went again to their outdated methods.

Casey Mittelstadt Team USA
Mittelstadt’s electrical efficiency at the 2018 World Juniors ended up considerably hampering his growth (Kevin Hoffman/Getty Images).

After buying and selling O’Reilly to the St. Louis Blues in the summer time of 2018, the Sabres had a large gap in their lineup, as he had been the staff’s quantity two heart and noticed appreciable time on particular groups. Though he had only one season of NCAA expertise with the University of Minnesota, Mittelstadt was chosen to fill the void and joined the Sabres full-time as a 19-year-old for the 2018-19 season. The determination backfired, and it turned evident in a short time that he was not but prepared for such a big position. The staff realized its mistake and he was despatched to Rochester for the 2019-20 season and it did appear to assist him regain some type, however accidents triggered him important time in every of the subsequent two seasons.

But, simply when Sabres followers have been about to declare him a misplaced trigger, the script flipped. Mittelstadt quietly posted a really sturdy 2022-23 season and posted new profession highs in each offensive class. When prime star Tage Thompson went down at the finish of the yr when the staff wanted him most, the Minnesotan stepped as much as the plate, posting 12 factors in the ultimate eight video games to maintain the Sabres in the hunt. He completed with 59 factors in 82 video games and it’s exceptional how shortly the notion of him has modified. Fans and the media alike might owe him an apology. Ruling: Win.

2018: Rasmus Dahlin- 1st general

Despite bringing in former Sabre and Hockey Hall of Famer Phil Housley to take over behind the bench, the Sabres’ downward spiral continued they usually completed final in the NHL in the 2017-18 season. Though the marketing campaign appeared to suck the life out of the gamers and followers alike, there was a silver lining. The Sabres lastly managed to win the Draft Lottery and acquired the first general choose for the first time since 1987, and their alternative was a straightforward one. The prize awaiting them was Rasmus Dahlin of HC Frolunda, additionally proclaimed to be a once-in-a-generation expertise.

Rasmus Dahlin Buffalo Sabres Heritage Classic
Dahlin has excelled regardless of two separate teaching modifications inside his first 4 seasons (Dave Sandford/NHLI through Getty Images)

Though it made him the league’s youngest participant, Dahlin joined the Sabres for the 2018-19 season and instantly proved it was the proper alternative. His 44 factors ranked second in NHL historical past by an 18-year-old defenseman (behind solely his coach, Housley) and earned him a nomination for the Calder Trophy. However, his sky-rocketing momentum declined after repeated turnover; Housley was fired in April 2019 and it was solely a season and a half extra earlier than successor Ralph Krueger met the identical destiny. Thankfully, present coach Don Granato was in a position to assist his star regain himself and Dahlin turned in a breakout 2021-22, posting a brand new career-high 53 factors and was named an NHL All-Star.

After saying his arrival, the Swede took it a step additional this previous season and posted 73 factors in 78 video games, being named an All-Star as soon as once more. Despite this, he was not named a finalist for the Norris Trophy, the solely main NHL award a Sabre has by no means received. Nevertheless, the odds of Dahlin altering that at some point are nonetheless very excessive and he’ll lead the subsequent technology of the staff. Ruling: Win.

2019: Dylan Cozens- seventh general

All one must find out about the Sabres’ 2018-19 season is that the staff received 10 straight video games in November (tying a franchise file) after which didn’t win consecutive video games after that till the ultimate two of the season. It made them much more of a joke and resulted in Housley being fired. Looking to show the unfavorable right into a optimistic, the Sabres made historical past at the 2019 Draft by making heart Dylan Cozens of the Lethbridge Hurricanes the first-ever first-round choose born in the Yukon.

After profitable gold at the 2020 World Junior Championship, Cozens made his NHL debut throughout the COVID-shortened 2021 season. Though simply 19 at the time and regardless of the troublesome circumstances, he instantly impressed followers and the media alike together with his poise and maturity. He completed his 41-game rookie season with simply 13 factors however his impression was far better than that. He continued to excel in his sophomore marketing campaign however stumbled in the second half and endured a 17-game goal-less drought.

But although his momentum stalled quickly, he recorded 31 targets and 68 factors in a exceptional bounce-back this previous season. He additionally made important strides in his defensive play and proved to be dependable in all conditions. Cozens has been with the staff for a comparatively brief interval however has endeared himself to followers immensely together with his effort and character. The Sabres confirmed their religion by signing him to a seven-year extension in February and he’s positive to be a fixture in Buffalo for years to come back. Ruling: Win.

2020: Jack Quinn- eighth general

It appeared like there might have been a ray of hope for the Sabres in the 2019-20 season below new head coach Ralph Krueger, however we’ll by no means know as sports activities took a backseat to grim actuality that March. The outbreak of the COVID pandemic pressured all skilled sports activities into hiatus and when the NHL resumed play in August, Buffalo was certainly one of solely seven groups that didn’t qualify for the restart. As a end result, they set their sights on the future and in the October draft, Kevyn Adams (the fourth GM of the Pegula regime) chosen Jack Quinn of the Ottawa 67’s. Quinn acquired little consideration in comparison with his 2020 Draft Class contemporaries however the his choice, shortly proved to be a smart one.

Jack Quinn Buffalo Sabres
Quinn ascended by means of the Sabres’ minor league ranks in a really brief span (Bill Wippert/NHLI through Getty Images).

In his first full skilled season with Rochester, Quinn received the Dudley Garrett Memorial Award as AHL Rookie of the Year after recording 61 factors in simply 45 video games. The Sabres wanted no additional instance and added him to their roster for the 2022-23 season, in which he impressed with 14 targets and 37 factors in 75 video games. Much like Cozens, Quinn shows a poise not typically seen out of such a younger participant and it’s clear that he’s simply getting warmed up. Some doubts about his sturdiness stay as he has struggled with accidents and will have so as to add some bulk to his body, however at there’s nonetheless no purpose to not anticipate huge issues from him. It’s nonetheless to early to declare him or increase or a bust, nevertheless, as one season isn’t a sufficiently big pattern measurement. In that spirit, we’ll maintain off on judgement. Ruling: The jury continues to be out.

2021: Owen Power- 1st general

The COVID-shortened 2021 season might have been the worst in Sabres historical past however we’ve mentioned that earlier than and received’t get into that once more. But after profitable simply 15 of 56 video games and at one level shedding 18 in a row (throughout which Krueger was fired and changed by Don Granato), the Sabres hit a brand new low and received the first general choice for the second time in 4 years. And like 2018, there was little doubt over whom they’d choose- hulking 6-foot-6 University of Michigan defenseman Owen Power. An excellent skater and playmaker regardless of his measurement, the Mississauga, ON has all the makings of a future celebrity.

Owen Power Buffalo Sabres
Power has lived up the hype to date with the Sabres (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers).

After bypassing the minors and becoming a member of the Sabres in the spring of 2022 after the Wolverines have been eradicated in the Frozen Four, Power recorded two targets and an help in eight video games to shut out the yr. The following season he led rookie defensemen with 35 factors and completed with a plus-10 ranking, receiving a nomination for the Calder Trophy in the course of. At simply 20 years outdated, Power nonetheless has loads to study and he’ll must develop up quick. But he and Dahlin are the way forward for Buffalo’s protection and have the potential to be a dynamic tandem. Like Quinn, it’s too early to rule on Power a technique or one other, however he’s solely going to get higher with age and Sabres followers must be very excited for what his future holds. Ruling: The jury continues to be out.

Recapping: 2022 Draft Will Be Pivotal For Buffalo

Although most of their first-round picks since 2013 have turned out to be strong (if unutilized) property, it goes with out saying that the Sabres have additionally had greater than their share of misfires over the previous 12 years, particularly contemplating how they dealt with the growth of some. With the 2023 Draft not far off and the staff in the greatest place it’s been in in a very long time, Adams have to deal with holding Buffalo’s development going in the proper course.

Related: Sabres’ Have 3 Good Options at sixteenth Overall in 2022 NHL Draft

The NHL Draft can reinvigorate a struggling franchise and set it again on the course for greatness. Or, as Buffalo followers have seen so many instances in current historical past, it might probably additionally torpedo development and set a staff again. Coming off their greatest season in a decade, the Sabres can little afford to be hampered by draft blunders any additional.




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