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Jason Botterill pleased with first draft as Sabres GM

Hired six weeks ago, Buffalo executive makes most of six selections

by Shawn P. Roarke @sroarke_nhl / NHL.com Director of Editorial

CHICAGO -- The first draft for Jason Botterill as an NHL general manager had a little bit of everything.

The 2017 NHL Draft, which was held Friday and Saturday at United Center, was six weeks after Botterill became GM of the Buffalo Sabres, leaving his role as associate general manager with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Botterill, 41, was responsible for drafting and scouting several players who made important contributions to the Penguins' Stanley Cup championship teams in 2016 and this season. He was hired by Buffalo on May 11 to replace Tim Murray, who was fired on April 20. The condensed run-up to the draft because of the late hiring provided interesting challenges for Botterill and a scouting staff that he still is getting to know.

 

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"Coming in in May, you don't have the relationships with the scouting staff, you don't know how things have gone at the mid-season meetings and the discussions there," said Botterill, who spent the past 10 seasons with the Penguins in a variety of roles. "It was a learning process. I think next year, they are going to have a familiarity of what we are looking for from players, what we feel is a Buffalo Sabres player and what we want to bring to the organization."

The Sabres selected Minnesota high school prospect Casey Mittelstadt, a smooth-skating, offensively gifted center with the No. 8 pick in the first round of the draft on Friday. In the second round on Saturday, Buffalo selected Swedish center Marcus Davidsson (No. 37), an 18-year-old already playing regularly for Djurgardens in Sweden's top professional league. Later in the round, they selected goalie Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen (No. 54), the No. 1-rated European goalie, who starred at the 2017 IIHF U-18 World Championship with Finland.

Video: Casey Mittelstadt speaks with Steve Mears

In the third round, they selected defenseman Oskari Laaksonen (No. 89), who is playing for the junior team of Ilves in Finland. He was not on NHL Central Scouting's list of ranked prospects, but Jeff Crisp, Buffalo's head amateur scout, said other NHL teams were in on him and that the Sabres scouts had been following Laaksonen for the better part of the past two seasons.

"He's a late bloomer that is coming along nicely," said Crisp, who took over the scouting staff at the start of the 2016-17 season. "He's a good player that we trust will develop."

Said Botterill: "Our European scouts really wanted to stand up and get the player in the organization. Unfortunately, sometimes if you don't step up and take a player, you may not get him.

"They sort of won us over from a standpoint of this is a player we have to stand up and select. He is a player that is going to take some time to develop but certainly has the skills offensively and has the ability to skate and we look forward to working with him."

The Sabres also chose defenseman Jacob Bryson (No. 99) and forward Linus Weissbach (No. 192).

In the end, the decisions were his, but Botterill put his trust in the scouts who have been following these players all season. Botterill believes the Sabres took a major step toward replenishing organizational assets, something that is his top priority.

He selected a top-tier goalie, two offensive-minded centers, a left wing and two defensemen.

"I thought we had a good balance, got the goalie we wanted and a couple of defensemen along with some forwards," Botterill said.

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