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Draft Preview | Potential options with the 16th-overall pick

Examining who might be available in the middle of the 1st round

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber / Sabres.com

The Buffalo Sabres hold three first-round picks in the 2022 NHL Draft, which will be held at Bell Center in Montreal on July 7 and 8. In addition to their own choice at No. 9, they acquired picks Nos. 16 (from Vegas for Jack Eichel) and 28 (from Florida for Sam Reinhart). 

We wrote Monday about nine potential options for the Sabres with the ninth-overall pick - some of whom might also be available at 16.

But projecting the middle of the first round - particularly in what is shaping up as an unpredictable draft - requires us to cast an even wider net. With insights from national draft analysts, here are nine more players who could be options for the Sabres with the 16th pick. 

 

Lian Bichsel - LHD, Leksands IF (SHL)

Bichsel, the ninth-ranked European skater by NHL Central Scouting Services, is one of the largest players in the class at 6-foot-6, 225 pounds. He profiles as a strong, dependable defender whose ceiling could rise if his offensive game develops. 

The Sabres do have a wealth of young, left-shot defensemen on the organizational depth chart - a group that includes Rasmus Dahlin, Owen Power, Mattias Samuelsson, Jacob Bryson, and Ryan Johnson - but Bichsel is generally projected to be selected in the mid-teens, making him a potential option. 

NHL.com's Mike Morreale mocked Bichsel to Buffalo with the 16th pick.

"The Switzerland-born defenseman (6-5, 216) moves well for his size, has a good first pass, and is aggressive in battles around the net," Morreale wrote. "He scored three points (one goal, two assists) and averaged 11:48 of ice time in 29 games in his first season in the Swedish Hockey League, the top professional men's league in Sweden."

Fast fact: Bichsel made the jump from his home country, Switzerland, to Leksands IF of the Swedish Hockey League prior to last season. There, he was teammates with Sabres prospect (and 2021 first-round pick) Isak Rosen.

What he's saying: Bichsel said Rosen was among the first players to greet him when he arrived in the SHL. He did not, however, give Rosen an edge when asked about their one-on-one battles. 

 "You can ask him, but I think I win," he said.

 

Conor Geekie - C, Winnipeg (WHL)

Geekie is the brother of Seattle Kraken forward Morgan Geekie, a third-round pick by the Carolina Hurricanes in 2017. Conor has size like his brother (listed at 6-foot-4, 190 pounds) which he packages with a high skill level. He had 70 points (24+46) in 63 games this season. 

Chris Peters of Daily Faceoff and Hockey Sense projects Geekie as a top-20 pick and an option at 16th overall but adds that questions about his skating have affected his rankings. 

Peters cited Dallas Stars forward Jason Robertson - a second-round pick who scored 41 goals this past season - as a comparable player who overcame questions about his skating.

"[Geekie's] projections are all over the map in terms of where he's going to go because he is a big center, smart, high-end hockey sense - some of the best hockey sense among centers in this draft - and he put up numbers this year," Peters said. 

"The thing about him is he's not a very good skater, and that is a problem for a lot of teams. If he's there at 16, I think his hockey sense is one of those things that makes up for any lack of foot speed. It's something that will take time."

Fast fact: Geekie is known for having a vibrant, affable personality. He literally sang during his interview with Sportsnet at the NHL Scouting Combine earlier this month. 

"Geekie is one of the most vibrant personalities," Sportsnet's Sam Cosentino said. "He walks in the room, he lights up the room."

 

Isaac Howard - LW, USA U-18 (NTDP)

Howard is the ninth-ranked North American skater by NHL CSS and has been projected to fall into the 20s despite leading the NTDP in scoring each of the past two seasons. He had 82 points (33+49) in 60 games this season. 

The Athletic's Scott Wheeler is one strong proponent of the 5-foot-10 winger, ranking him 10th among all players and citing him as a strong option for the Sabres. He describes him as having a knack for getting open in the slot, which he accomplishes with a high-level skill and strength. 

"If you ever meet Isaac Howard, the first thing you bump into is a kid who is strong," Wheeler said. "He's one of the most well-built kids in this class. He doesn't play like he's 5-foot-9. And then he's got oodles of skill."

Fast fact: Howard is committed to the University of Minnesota Duluth. 

 

Kevin Korchinski - LHD, Seattle (WHL) 

Korchinski joins Bichsel as the second left-shot defenseman on this list, meaning he would add to what currently stands as a position of organizational depth in Buffalo. 

Still, analysts list him as an option with the 16th pick - if he is still available - because of his eye-popping offensive numbers. He had 65 points (4+61) in 67 regular-season games, then added 19 points (6+13) in 25 playoff contests as Seattle made its run to the WHL finals. 

"The one thing that stands out about him is his ability to manage the offensive blue line," Cosentino said. "His feet are magic, his look offs, his deception, his ability to get pucks through, create offense, that's kind of his calling card. So, he's one of those guys you would consider the new-age defenseman who uses a great skating foundation to produce offense."

Fast fact: Korchinski's 61 assists ranked second among WHL defensemen, behind 2021 draft pick Owen Zellweger.

 

Jiri Kulich - C, Karlovy Vary (Czechia)

Kulich shot up the rankings following a season in which he tallied 14 points (9+5) in 49 pro games in Czechia and dominated against his peers at the U-18 World Championship. He is ranked 13th among European skaters by NHL CSS after slotting in at 22nd in the midterm rankings.

Kulich was named Most Valuable Player at the U-18s in May, where he scored a tournament-high nine goals in six games. TSN Director of Scouting Craig Button sees him as a potential pick at 16, citing longtime New Jersey forward Patrik Elias as a comparable.

"Patrick Elias, all he did was help teams win," Button said. "He did it in multiple ways. Tell me what Patrick Elias couldn't do in a game - that would be nothing. He made teams better. Whoever he played with, he made better. That's what I see in Jiri Kulich." 

Fast fact: Kulich served as captain for Czechia at the U-18 World Championship, his second time playing in the tournament.

 

Denton Mateychuk - LHD, Moose Jaw (WHL)

Mateychuk, the third left-shot defenseman on this list, tallied 64 points (13+51) in 65 games this past season with Moose Jaw. He is ranked 14th among North American skaters by NHL CSS, behind fellow blue liners Korchinski (seventh) and Pavel Mintyukov (sixth). 

The Athletic's Corey Pronman, however, ranks Mateychuk first among that group of defensemen. Pronman describes Mateychuk as player who competes hard despite his 5-foot-11 frame and is dynamic with the puck.

"Mateychuk for me was just the most dynamic of the defensemen I saw this season," Pronman said. "He's an excellent skater. He brings legitimate top-level offense, power-play offense in the NHL."

Fast fact: Mateychuk played for Canada at the U-18 World Championship as a 16-year-old in 2021, winning a gold medal.

 

Rutger McGroarty - RW, USA U-18 (NTDP)

McGroarty is a vibrant, charismatic personality who captained Team USA's talented U-18 group. He also has size at 6-foot-1, 204 pounds; plays a smart two-way game; and is willing to score from hard areas. He had eight goals in six games at the U-18 World Championship. 

While the analysts who spoke to Sabres.com agree that his skating needs development, McGroarty's other intangibles could make him an option for Buffalo at 16 - or, should he fall, at 28. 

"The reason that I think teams love him is because he competes like no other," Peters said. "The work ethic is off the charts in terms of what he does on the ice. … He's got that unique ability to score goals from distance with a high-end shot, great one-timer, and also picks corners really well but then he's also scoring most of his goals from a couple feet away from the net."

What he's saying: McGroarty said he is committed to developing his skating. 

"I believe that one day I'm gonna become a really good skater," he said. "I feel like I'm a very coachable kid and I feel like I'm really putting in a lot of effort now. I just got a skating coach last summer … her and I have developed a really good relationship and she's worked with some of the best, Brayden Point. She sees potential in my skating in the next three to four years so I'm really excited to just keep working with her."

Fast fact: McGroarty is from Lincoln, Nebraska. He could become the second Nebraska-born player to be drafted and play in the NHL, joining Pittsburgh Penguins forward Jake Guentzel.

 

Pavel Mintyukov - LHD, Saginaw (OHL)

Mintyukov is a 6-foot-1, offensive-minded defenseman who led the OHL's Saginaw Spirit with 62 points (17+45) in 67 games. It was the first North American season for the native of Moscow, Russia. 

NHL CSS lists Mintyukov as the sixth-ranked North American skater, first among defensemen. Pronman lists him third among the defensemen in this range, behind Mateychuk and Korchinski. 

"He's big and he's mobile and he's got a lot of offense, he can shoot the puck," Pronman said. 

 

Ivan Miroshnichenko - LW, Omsk Krylia (VHL)

Miroshnichenko is regarded as one of the most skilled players in the draft, a power forward at 6-foot-1 who is competitive, can skate, and has scoring ability. 

His season ended in January when he was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma, though recent updates on his health have been positive. His draft stock will also be affected by the uncertainty wrought by Russia's invasion of Ukraine. 

Those factors make it difficult to predict where Miroshnichenko might fall, leaving him as a potential option at 16 or 28. The team that takes him will expect a determined player.

"He's what I call a bulldog goal scorer," Button said. "He's gonna find somehow, some way to score. He's got a determination in and around the net. He's another player that can score in multiple ways."

Fast fact: Miroshnichenko played for Russia at the U-18 World Championship in 2021, tallying eight points (6+2) in seven games.

 

Jimmy Snuggerud - RW, USA U-18 (NTDP)

Snuggerud is the son of former NHL forward Dave Snuggerud, who played 215 games for the Sabres from 1989 to 1992. He scored 63 points (24+39) in 59 games this season.

Snuggerud is described as having an NHL-ready shot. 

"I would describe him as somebody who's got an unbelievable release," Button said. "He gives me a little bit of a blend of Blake Wheeler, Filip Forsberg. He shoots the puck like Forsberg but he can make plays like Wheeler, and those are two powerful guys."

What he's saying: Snuggerud said he's spent time researching his father's career. 

"I research him a lot, kind of watch his games, watch his goals," he said. "I think he only got in a couple fights, so they're not really online that much."

Fast fact: Snuggerud is slated to follow in his father's footsteps by beginning his collegiate career next season at the University of Minnesota.

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