Seven is also the number of highly ranked prospects that we sat down with during the week of the combine, for interviews you’ve seen portions of right here at Sabres.com.
Some of those seven, of course, will be gone by the time Buffalo makes its selection, but some might be really anxious when Murray steps to the podium and delivers an announcement that will be as efficient as it is impactful.
Pierre-Luc Dubois – 6-foot-2 and 201 pounds – rose from seventh at midterm to first on Central Scouting’s final rankings for North American-based skaters. Now a winger and a center, and always a fan of Jamie Benn, this Cape Breton standout is the son of a hockey dad (minor pro as a player, current assistant coach in QMJHL) and a southern belle (“She grew up in Atlanta, Georgia and just started watching hockey when she met my dad, so she’s still learning the game,” Dubois said).
And when you post 42 goals and 99 points in 62 games, attention will follow. Dubois had a really busy week in Buffalo that included his time with the Sabres.
“I think I had a good interview with them,” he said. “We talked about my game, who I am as a person...we talked a lot. It lasted 20 minutes so I think it went well.”
As you’ve learned through his Top 30 and our five-part video series “Prospect Avenue,” Kris Baker loves left wing Matthew Tkachuk, Central Scouting’s number two-ranked North American-based player.
My favorite part of our interview with Matthew was when he said, “People want winners.”
And he certainly fits the description.
At 6-foot-1 and 200 pounds, Tkachuk delivered the overtime goal to clinch the Memorial Cup for the London Knights.
“I met with 16 teams at the combine and I kind of know my range and I’m not in a 16-team range. The Buffalo interview was my first one,” he said. “It was a great. It wasn’t too crazy. You hear rumors about the Buffalo meeting being really scary and really intimidating but for me it was awesome, just relaxing and just talking.
“Their GM Tim Murray was in there, and getting to know him. You know he makes the calls back there and it was great to get some of his feedback and what he thinks and what the rest of the scouting staff thinks.”
And what Tkachuk thinks is that “competitiveness and hockey IQ” is what separates him from his peers.
Another Nylander is nearing his arrival in the NHL. Central Scouting’s third ranked player is Mississauga left winger Alex Nylander.
Son of Michael (920 NHL games) and brother of William (Toronto Maple Leafs) this 6-foot, 180 pounder calls himself a “gamebreaker.”
And he acknowledged, it would be fun to be drafted into the other side of the QEW rivalry, opposite William.
“We’ve always been competing with everything, doesn’t matter what it is,” he said. “It’s always been very good for me – being very competitive and always wanting to win – and the drive to get better since we push each other, whether it’s on the ice or the workout gym before the season starts, which has helped me become the hockey player I am today.”
As for whether he felt a connection with any of the teams he interviewed with at the combine, Alex replied with a playful smile “yeah...Buffalo.”
Jakob Chychrun is a chiseled 6-foot-2, 205-pound defenseman who ranks 4th on Central’s North American list.
He carries himself with the polish of someone who’s been playing the game his whole life, so it wasn’t a surprise when he said he’s been skating since the age of 2.
His dad Jeff played in the NHL (winning a cup with Pittsburgh in 1992) but retired early due to concussions. And for Jakob, this season – that was filled with incredible expectations – was a major challenge coming off of shoulder surgery.
But the maturity with which he’s handled it, despite various (if not most) mock drafts showing him sliding in the first round, leaves one rooting for this kid.
He grew up in Boca Raton, Fla. and was a Panthers season ticket holder, saying that it was that team “that helped him fall in love with the game.” Now he’s in the inevitable position of being compared to current day players, with at least some suggesting a left-shot Aaron Ekblad.
“I think everyone has their own craft,” Chychrun said when hearing the comparison. “It’s just such a compliment to be in the same sentence as Aaron, he’s a very special player. I met him when I was just coming into the OHL – he won Defenseman of the Year – and I was at the awards ceremony. He’s a great guy off the ice, very mature, and he will have a long and successful career. I look up to him. ”
As for his interviews at the combine, Chychrun said he just tried to take the honest approach.
“The Buffalo interview – it was a good one. They have lots of people in there,” he said. “That was kind of the big talk, just how many intimidating faces were in there. I tried to be as comfortable as I could and just show who I am as a person. It went well.”
Of course there may be one significant reason that it went so well.
“I’m familiar with the owners,” Chychrun confessed. “I went to school with their kids in Florida. We live a couple miles down the road from each other.”
And then he added, “It’d be pretty cool to play in Buffalo.”
A fellow OHL defenseman, but this one a Memorial Cup champion, Olli Juolevi (6-foot-2, 182 pounds) is No. 5 on Central Scouting’s final rankings.
Considering it was his first year in North America – and a wildly successful one with London at that – it was impressive to converse with Juolevi in what is his second language. Sure, the accent is strong, but he doesn’t shy away from any question.
And poise is already a prominent part of his overall makeup.
He’s extremely proud of Finland’s recent dominance on the world hockey stage, and gives credit to how he and his peers have been coached since about age 10.
“It was more individual things we worked on: skating techniques, shooting, easy 6-foot passes. I think it has helped me with the everyday individual things,” he said. “Add in Finnish, work ethic and teamwork, it’s pretty nice. And now the 10 year olds watch us and wanna be like us!”
He prides himself on his hockey IQ, loves the style with which Oliver Ekman-Larsson (Arizona Coyotes) plays the game, and looks forward to the reunions years down the road with his London Knights teammates who finished the season on a mind-boggling 17-0 run.
As for the combine, Juolevi interviewed with 23 teams and concluded by saying “Buffalo is a special place.”
Boston University’s Charlie McAvoy is the third-straight defenseman on Central’s final list, coming in at No. 6.
It was impossible not to be in a good mood when chatting with this 6-foot, 208 pounder, who admits that “keeping it light,” both at the rink and away from it, is part of his persona.
As for his on-ice game, the offensive side (3+22 in 37 games as a freshman) has been there since the moment he started playing.
What’s new is the interview process at the combine, but he may now be the most seasoned of this year’s class.
Twenty-nine teams called him in (the Rangers were the lone team that didn’t because their head scout has known him forever).
“It gets repetitive,” McAvoy admitted, “but you’ve gotta put on your best face.”
And that face flashed a wide grin when asked about the interview with the Sabres.
“It went really well,” he said. “I had a good feeling about it. If I were to go to Buffalo at 8 it would be a huge honor and I’d be really excited about.”
Rounding out our seven sit-downs was Central’s No. 7, Logan Brown.
Brown – 6-foot-6, 220 pounds – vaulted from 14th at midterm, closing his year strong with Windsor by totaling 21 goals and 59 assists for 80 in 64 games (regular season and playoffs combined).
His dad Jeff was a terrific offensive defenseman (154+431 for 585 points in 747 games played) and according to Logan, an excellent (if not quick-tempered) coach for him growing up in St. Louis.
Jeff had plenty of help on his coaching staff back then – Keith Tkachuk, Al MacInnis, and Kelly Chase – and while that certainly made it cool for anyone on the team, it served another purpose for Logan.
“It was motivational,” he said. “I wanted to be these guys when I got older.”
And now, after interviewing with 26 teams at the combine (Logan says, “I’ve got my answers down now”) that goal to become one of “those guys” is nearing reality.
“I’m pretty anxious,” Brown said. “This (combine) week is a bit of a teaser since the draft is here too. I’m ready for it to come!”
But for Brown, a certain amount of patience is still needed as he grows into his body, a challenge that’s been hard to keep up with.
“I’ve gotta get up to 225. I don’t have to be 240 (despite being 6’6) with the speed of this game,” he said. “Just stay lean and find a happy medium.”
Happiness was found at Chef’s when combine week began and it was “excellent” according to Brown. And while the right diet will be a key element to his success, there is no question about the key item on his off-season agenda.
“The biggest thing for me is working on explosiveness,” he said. “It’s what I’m working on the most. Pop. Those first three steps. Once I get going I’m fine.
And he was fine – for the most part – during his interviews at the combine.
“It’s tough to know - some teams show their cards more than others. You really have no idea and that’s why I’m so anxious for the draft because I’m tired of wondering what’s going to happen,” he said.
“The Buffalo interview had a lot of guys. It was my first interview of the week so I got the hardest one out of the way. It’s a great franchise and you can really feel the up and coming part in the meeting.”
Brown will be joined by his mom and dad, and older sister and younger brother at the draft this weekend. And in a perfect world, one more member of this hockey family.
“I’m really hoping my grandpa can come along,” he said. “He’s getting pretty old and he watches every single game of mine and it will be really special if he can get down [here] and make the trip and I can share it with him.”
The top seven in North America according to Central Scouting.
Will one of them become a Sabre on Friday night?