The Buffalo Sabres are in a bit of a meltdown. Drama surrounding the team’s stars, owners, and staff has created a bit of a bleak situation for Sabres fans. This wasn’t helped by the 2020 Draft Lottery, which saw the Sabres land the eighth overall pick. While having a top-10 selection is great, it would’ve been nice to see the Sabres land a top-five pick like many anticipated.
Nevertheless, the 2020 NHL Draft is one of the most potent in recent memory. Its top-10 is absolutely riddled with star power and its flanks are filled with great boom-or-bust talents. It is not at all unreasonable to think the Sabres could make out like bandits in this draft, coming away with a haul that could quickly change the face of their franchise. It’s going to be a vital draft. Today, we’ll look at the first three picks in the Buffalo Sabres draft.
Drafting the First Four Rounds of the Buffalo Sabres Draft
Setting the Groundwork
The all-new ‘Mock Draft Tool’ from FCHockey will be used to accomplish this. This tool allows the user to draft for any team. It uses FC’s rankings to evaluate players, although both FC’s ranking and Ben Kerr’s rankings will be mentioned in this article. It’s important to note that, while FC’s tool is very well guided, it is still a simulation. So some picks may seem a bit awry. This year’s draft is also highly-debated. Rankings between the best prospect eyes in the world have some players separated by as much as 30 ranks. Seemingly anything is possible this year, so anticipating anything certain isn’t easy.
Establishing what the Sabres will be looking for is fairly easy, though. The team is completely devoid of a middle-six centre and is desperate to find their magnum opus in that regard. This will surely be a focal point of the Buffalo Sabres draft. The team is also rumoured to be interested in defencemen, which could help influence a few picks. But, of course, the number-one rule is to take the best option available; not sacrificing talent for the sake of positioning.
With that said, let’s get into it.
First Round Pick (8th Overall)
Anton Lundell (C)
FC Ranking: Eighth Overall; Ben Kerr’s Ranking: Ninth Overall
Anton Lundell seems to be the obvious pick at eighth overall. Unlike many other players in the top-10, Lundell isn’t likely to move much higher than the late-top-10, meaning his selection is the safest assumption of anyone.
But despite not rivalling a top-five pick, Lundell is a seriously special player. He scored 28 points in 48 SM-Liiga games this season, emphatically proving his worth in a professional setting. He was also the focal point of a Finland team that won gold in the 2019 World Juniors, among other accolades. While some are worried about his bout with injury this season, all signs point towards Lundell being perfectly capable come next season.
Lundell is, at his core, a great playmaker. He uses great stickhandling, passing, and overall vision to perfectly set up his teammates. His hockey IQ has been praised repeatedly, seemingly always placing him in the right spot at the right time in the offensive end. But while a great playmaker, Lundell also boasts a terrifically quick shot and great potency on the defensive end.
All-in-all, he is the ideal two-way player that Buffalo is so desperately searching for. His ability as a pure-centre is hard to come by and his experience in the SM-Liiga could fast-track his NHL readiness, with a debut in the 2020-21 season not being entirely out of the question. While weak skating could hold his debut back a year, he has all the makings of a solid top-six piece in no time at all.
Cole Perfetti (C)
Also available was Cole Perfetti, a flashy, speedy, offensive-dynamo out of the OHL. Perfetti is a terrific talent, exemplifying the strong offence that the OHL has started to breed. But while his speed and offensive ability definitely hold him over Lundell, he lacks that terrific two-way smarts that Lundell holds so tightly. The Sabres could very easily select Perfetti – if he’s available – at eighth overall and would be just as well off. But by selecting Lundell, the Sabres are giving their lineup a Swiss Army Knife; a player that can score, spark the offence, and is great defensively. Lundell is the trustworthy player that the Sabres are looking to build around.
Second Round Pick (38th Overall)
Brendan Brisson (C)
FC Ranking: 41st Overall; Ben Kerr’s Ranking: 26th Overall
Brendan Brisson is a name that’s bounced around many’s Draft Rankings. There’s nearly a 20-rank difference between his placement in Kerr’s ranks, versus FC’s, and he has been featured as high as 20th overall in some rankings.
Brisson’s talent is readily apparent when watching him. He’s a terrific playmaker and has the ability to easily manipulate the opposing team to his will. His hard work, stickhandling, and great vision make him a true threat in the offensive end. He also has a bit of a goal-scoring knack, although that seems to be more a result of his great setup-abilities rather than a jaw-dropping shot or deke ability.
His hard work also translates very well into his own end. Brisson is a terrifically versatile centre. He perfectly aides his defencemen in the D-zone and is very quick to jump on the transition when his team finally regains the puck.
Brisson ended the 2019-20 USHL season second in the league in points and for good reason. No other player in the league commanded his team like Brisson did. While the Chicago Steel were a studded lineup, Brisson’s impact placed the team on a different level. His ability to perfectly gel with star Mathieu de St. Phalle and spark transition offence was truly special and something that will be heavily-coveted in the NHL. Reeling in Brisson could be a steal for the Buffalo Sabres draft.
Justin Barron (RD)
There were plenty of defensive options available at 38th overall, in FC’s ‘Mock Draft’ tool. Justin Barron, Ryan O’Rourke, Emil Andrae, and Shakir Mukhamadullin were all available and all provided one similar skill: the ability to terrifically boost a fairly bleak Sabres defence pool.
While each available defenceman has their own strengths and weaknesses, any of them would lift up the Sabres. Brisson more than anyone. However, the Halifax Mooseheads blue-liner boasts terrific skating and offence, placing him in the upper-echelon of his position heading into the draft.
There’s a very real possibility that both Brisson and Barron go in the first round, though, leaving the Sabres to likely choose from one of Andrae, O’Rourke, or a forward option with their 38th overall selection. Even in that case, the Sabres are coming out of the second round with a steal of a pick.
Ty Smilanic (C/LW)
If the Sabres are going to go for a forward at 38th overall, and Brisson is gone like many expect, they’ll very likely end up with Ty Smilanic. Smilanic is a versatile player, appearing on both wings and at centre over his tenure with the USNTDP. No matter where he’s put, his skillset barely changes. He’s a strong two-way talent, with all of the hallmarks of an American forward: good passing, good skating, and good defence. He’s a bit of a downgraded version of Brisson, who would be a steal at 38th overall, but Smilanic would still be nearly as strong of a pickup for the Buffalo Sabres draft.
Fourth Round Pick (96th Overall)
Daemon Hunt (LD)
FC Ranking: 99th Overall; Ben Kerr’s Ranking: 73rd overall
The Sabres don’t have a third-round pick but they luckily don’t lose out on much despite it. The fourth-round could prove to be just as potent. Among the most potent is Daemon Hunt.
Hunt is another interesting prospect that FC takes the under on, as many have. This is largely because Hunt only appeared in 28 games this season, missing much of it thanks to injury. But in those 28 games, he managed an admirable 15 assists. Had he continued at this pace, he would’ve ended the year with 33 assists in 62 games, good for 17th among all WHL defencemen.
Hunt’s small sample size makes him a big question mark. Because of that, he’s more-than-likely to fall into the Sabres lap in the fourth round. If they can manage to snag him, they’re getting a defenceman that excels in transition both up and down the ice. Hunt is a strong skater and a confident puck-handler, allowing him to quarterback his team’s movement up the ice. His high assist totals clearly show his worth once his team sets up in the attacking end. If they lose the puck, Hunt’s agility sparks his transition back into the defensive end; with great edge work and backwards skating helping make him a brick wall.
Kerr does a good job of breaking down the situation around Hunt, saying, “If [Hunt] had played the whole season, it would be easier to judge his value, but his injury and the COVID-19 pandemic have conspired against it. Hunt is a bit of a wildcard but a potential steal in this draft.” Simply put, if Hunt is available at 96th overall, the Sabres need to take him.
Oliver Suni (RW)
Oliver Suni is an exciting right-winger. He possesses great size at 6’1”, 188lbs and complements that with terrific acceleration and agility. This dynamite-speed is matched with great stickhandling, helping him prance around defenders. He also has a promising wrist shot to help top off his offensive ability, although it’s a bit too weak right now. Still, Suni is a determined, speedy winger with strong enough ability in all three zones. He’s strong on the puck and able to win battles both on and off the puck; while also being fearless enough to fight in front of the net.
Suni is also another player that has a strong discrepancy between his FC ranking and Kerr’s ranking. He is an exciting prospect and seeing where he lands could be very telling.
Samuel Hlavaj (G)
Samuel Hlavaj is one of the best goaltending prospects in this year’s draft. While not as elite as someone like Yaroslav Askarov, Hlavaj managed to come to life this season: his rookie year in the QMJHL. This came after a few years in Slovakia’s U20 program and one year in the USHL where he looked like he may not be cut out for the world’s top league. But he changed hearts this year, earning a .915 save percentage and 33-3-2 record on one of the QMJHL’s best teams. Like any goalie prospect, Hlavaj has a long road ahead of him. But if the Buffalo Sabres draft is only selecting one goalie through the entire draft, he’s a great one to land.