The Buffalo Sabres made the most out of the 2015 NHL draft weekend, which was held in Florida on Friday, June 26 and Saturday, June 27, making two multi-player trades and selecting six players in the draft, including American phenom Jack Eichel with the second overall pick. The selection of Eichel made official of what had already been widely speculated since the Sabres were handed the second overall pick after finishing in last place and losing the draft lottery to the Edmonton Oilers, who selected Canadian prodigy Connor McDavid first overall.
The Sabres first move on Friday morning was sending the 21st overall pick (previously acquired from the New York Islanders) to the Ottawa Senators in exchange for young goalie Robin Lehner and veteran forward David Legwand.
Lehner, 23, was initially drafted by the Senators 46th overall out of Sweden in the second round of the 2009 NH draft. Splitting his time in the Ottawa organization as a starter with their AHL affiliate in Binghamton and as the backup to Craig Anderson with the big club, Lehner played 86 games with the Senators, posting a 30-36-13 record with a 2.88 goals against average, a .914 save percentage, and two shutouts.
Legwand, 34, is a 16-year veteran with 1057 games of NHL experience. Initially drafted second overall by the Nashville Predators in 1998 and since becoming their franchise leader in all offensive categories and games played, Legwand was then traded to the Detroit Red Wings in March of 2014. After finishing the season with Detroit, Legwand signed a two-year contract with Ottawa in July of 2014, in which he now has one year remaining. In 1057 games with the Predator, Red Wings, and Senators, Legwand has 223 goals and 381 assists for 604 total points, while also amassing 537 penalty minutes and a plus-11 rating.
The Sabres second big move came shortly before the draft (yet wasn’t officially announced until after drafting Eichel), in which they sent center Mikhail Grigorenko, defenseman Nikita Zadorov, forward prospect JT Compher, and the 31st overall pick (second round) to the Colorado Avalanche for center Ryan O’Reilly and left wing Jamie McGinn.
Grigorenko, 21, was drafted 12th overall by the Sabres in the 2012 draft, and has shuffled around between the Quebec Remparts of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL), the Sabres AHL affiliate Rochester Americans, and the Sabres. In 68 career games with the Sabres, Grigorenko has six goals and eight assists for 14 total points, to go along with four penalty minutes and a minus-14 rating. He had 14 goals and 26 assists for 40 points, 27 penalty minutes, and a minus-4 rating in 52 games with the Amerks.
Zadorov, 20, was drafted 16th overall by the Sabres in the 2013 draft, and has played in 67 games with the team over the past two seasons, scoring four goals and adding 12 assists for 16 total points, while also tallying 55 penalty minute and minus-14 rating. However, this past season he had been held out of several games for conduct detrimental to the team, including missing a team meeting and showing up late to another.
Compher, 20, was drafted 35th overall by the Sabres in the second round of the 2013 draft and just finished his sophomore season at the University of Michigan. Compher has 55 total points in 69 total games with the Univesiry of Michigan on 23 goals and 32 assists, while accruing 62 penalty minutes. He had yet to make the Sabres roster.
The biggest piece coming back to Buffalo from Colorado is center Ryan O’Reilly. The 24-year-old was drafted 33rd overall by the Avalanche in the second round of the 2009 NHL draft, and has played in 427 games with the team over the past six seasons. In those 427 games, O’Reilly has 90 goals and 156 assists for 246 points, to go along with 64 penalty minutes and a minus-13 rating. He won the Lady Byng Award after the 2013-2014 season, which is given to the player “adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability.”
The other piece coming back to Buffalo is forward Jamie McGinn. The 26-year-old left wing was drafted 36th overall by the San Jose Sharks in the second round of the 2006 NHL draft. He would go on to play four seasons with the Sharks before being traded to the Avalanche in February of 2012. In 366 career games over the course of seven seasons with the Sharks and Avalanche, McGinn has 69 goals and 59 assists for 128 total points, while accruing 172 penalty minutes and a minus-43 rating.
What was probably the Sabres biggest move over the weekend and likely the most widely speculated and anticipated move, however, was taking Jack Eichel with the second overall pick on Friday. All season Jack Eichel was widely considered to be the consensus number 2 pick, after prodigy Connor McDavid, who in turn had been touted as the next generation talent, a la the likes of Sidney Crosby and Wayne Gretzky.
As for Eichel, many analysts stated that a player of his caliber would have gone first overall any year since 2005 (when Crosby went first overall), and is only pushed to second this year due to McDavid and should not be considered as merely a “consolation prize” to the team that ended up with the second overall pick.
Eichel, 18, just finished his freshmen season at Boston University, where he was awarded the 2015 Hobey Baker Award as the top player in collegiate hockey. Becoming the first freshman to win the award since Paul Kariya in 1993 (and only the second all-time), Eichel finished the season a top the NCAA in points (71) and assists (45), and tied for third in goals (26). His 71 points were the highest for a freshman in NCAA hockey history. He also led the NCAA with a plus-51 rating and 23 power play points.
After his season with Boston University concluded, Eichel played for Team USA en route to a bronze medal during the IIHF World Championships, where he tallied two goals and five assists for seven total points in 10 games, while playing top line minutes as an 18 year old with and against veteran players.
New Sabres coach Dan Bylsma served as an assistant coach for team USA, and had nothing but praise for Eichel’s play.
“You’re talking about an elite player with elite speed and ability to accelerate down the ice,” Bylsma said. “He makes everyone on the bench and in the stands notice him right away. To be able to add that to our team is pretty exciting.”
While Eichel has yet to announce whether he will join the Sabres next season or return to Boston University for his sophomore season, Eichel is excited for the opportunity to turn the Sabres fortunes around.
“It’s a great feeling to be selected, especially in an organization like this. There’s so much passion and tradition,” said Eichel. “You look at the Buffalo community and everyone is really into their hockey and knowledgeable. Even though I hadn’t been selected until today, it seemed like I had been part of the Buffalo Sabres for a while now. To finally put this jersey on, it’s a tremendous feeling.
“The feeling of wearing this jersey right now, it really hasn’t sunk in,” he continued. “To be able to talk to my family and my friends that are all here about the fact that I was just selected by the Sabres in the NHL Draft, it’s a dream come true.”
“Buffalo as a city and the Sabres as a team are heading in a great direction,” Eichel said. “You look at some of the moves they’ve made and the guys that they’ve acquired, the guys they have in their system and some of the guys they have on their team, there’s a lot of positives. I just want to become a piece of the puzzle.
“They’re so passionate about hockey and that means a lot to me,” he said of the fans. “To go to a hockey community like that where everyone cares about you and they want to see you do well.”
After selecting Eichel with the second overall pick on Friday night, the Sabres rounded out their draft with five more picks on Saturday, including defenseman Brendan Guhle out of Prince Albert Raiders of the Western Hockey League with the 51st overall pick in the second round.
Guhle finished this past season with five goals and 27 assists for 32 points in 72 games, with 15 of those points coming in the last 22 games of the season. He then increased his draft stock by logging the best scores amongst all prospects at the Scouting Combine in the long jump and highest peak power output score on the Wingate bike test. He also finished in the top 10 in seven of the 10 categories at the combine, tying none other than Jack Eichel in top-10 results.
The Sabres then took three more defenseman and a forward in the last four rounds to conclude the draft, with the Sabres full 2015 draft class as follows:
1st round, 2nd overall: Jack Eichel (center), Boston University (NCAA)
2nd round, 51st overall: Brendan Guhle (defenseman), Prince Albert Raiders (WHL)
4th round, 92nd overall: William Borgen (defensemen), Moorhead High School, Minnesota
5th round, 122nd overall: Devante Stephens (defenseman), Kelowna Rockets (WHL)
6th round, 152nd overall: Giorgio Estephan (center), Lethbridge Hurricanes (WHL)
7th round, 182nd overall: Ivan Chukarov, (defenseman), Minnesota Wildnerness (North American Hockey League)
The Sabres next order of business will be Free Agency. Qualifying offers to restricted free agents are due by Monday, June 29. The deadline to buy out the remainder a player’s contract is Tuesday, June 30, in which restricted free agents are also allowed to start meeting with teams. Free agency then officially opens on Thursday, July 2.