Buffalo Sabres director of amateur scouting Greg Royce is looking forward to working alongside general manager Tim Murray again at the 2015 NHL Draft on June 26-27 at BB&T Center in Sunrise, Fla.
The timing couldn't be any better as many associated with the organization feel the two-day draft might be Murray's defining moment as the leader of the organization.
"I've known Tim through scouting and seeing him on the road, socializing with him; we go back quite a few years," Royce said. "He brought me in when he was assistant GM with the Ottawa Senators and he called me after getting the job in Buffalo. I didn't hesitate because a GM with his scouting background makes it easy to go to work."
Why is the outspoken Murray so special to work with?
"There are no gray areas; you know exactly where you stand, good or bad," Royce said. "Sometimes it's brutally honest, but he's that way with the scouts and the players. He's that way with everyone in the office."
Murray has complete confidence that Royce will get the job done as his top evaluator.
"Greg has a good eye for young talent and I have full confidence in his ability to identify amateur talent," Murray said. "He had tremendous success working in the trenches as a scout when we were together with the Ottawa Senators and I know that success will now translate to the Sabres."
In addition to having a solid working relationship with Murray, Royce is excited the organization has four picks in the opening two rounds of the 2015 draft, including three of the top 31 selections.
Barring any trades, the Sabres hold the No. 2 and No. 21 selections in the first round. The Edmonton Oilers won the NHL Draft Lottery and are expected to select Erie Otters center Connor McDavid with the No. 1 pick. The Sabres are then likely to draft Boston University center Jack Eichel.
"I think the first two guys are special franchise players," Royce said. "If Eichel does come to us, we'll be very fortunate because he's an elite talent. I think McDavid and Eichel will forever be linked, like Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin (from the 2004 NHL Draft) through the years."
The drafting of either McDavid or Eichel comes at a time when the Sabres desperately need a top-line center.
"Eichel is an elite skater with unbelievable speed and explosiveness," Royce said. "He sees the game in slow motion, has great vision and anticipates a second or two before the rest of the pack. He's obviously a franchise player who will hopefully be part of our plans for the next 15-20 years, or longer."
Royce believes Dan Bylsma, hired by Murray as the new Sabres coach on May 28, is the perfect mentor for Eichel.
"I'm getting to know Dan now, but he seems like a real communicator and guy who can teach and instruct," Royce said. "He's going to be able to tell Jack not just what to do, but how to do it. He's had experience handling superstars such as Malkin and [Sidney] Crosby [with the Pittsburgh Penguins], so he can draw off that, nurture Jack as he comes into the League and moves forward. I think it's just going to be a great fit."
Royce feels after McDavid and Eichel are off the board, there are several options.
"The first two picks are what they are," he said. "I think there's a consensus of what players will be available No. 3 through No. 10, but in what order is the big question. From that No. 11 pick on, that's where we'll do our homework and make our money."
Royce said the Sabres will draft players not only with skill and ability, but players that perform with passion and determination.
The Sabres have been on a slow rebuild the past four years. The organization has one of the deepest prospect pools in the League with forwards Sam Reinhart, the second pick of the 2014 draft, and Mikhail Grigorenko (2012, No. 12), and defensemen Rasmus Ristolainen (2013, No. 8), Nikita Zadorov (2013, No. 16), Jake McCabe (2012, No. 44) and Mark Pysyk (2010, No. 23) in the fold.
The team acquired right wing Hudson Fasching (2013, No. 118) in a trade with the Los Angeles Kings in March 2014, and forwards Nick Baptiste (2013, No. 69), Justin Bailey (2013, No. 52) and J.T. Compher (2013, No. 35) are developing nicely.
"I really like what we have in the system right now; it seems Ristolainen, Zadorov and Zemgus Girgensons (2012, No. 14) each have a long future ahead of them," Royce said. "We're going to get a really good player at No. 21 and then at No. 31, but obviously he won't be NHL-ready until another two or three years down the road."