Buffalo Sabres general manager Tim Murray said at his pre-draft press conference Thursday that he expects defenseman Aaron Ekblad to be off the board by the time his team is on the clock.
The Sabres hold the second overall selection in the 2014 NHL Draft, which begins on June 27 in Philadelphia. Florida is slated to pick first, but is reportedly fielding offers from other teams.
Therefore, Murray said there’s “a very good chance” that the Sabres will select Sam Reinhart, Sam Bennett or Leon Draisaitl with their first pick.
Ekblad is the top-ranked defenseman in the draft by NHL Central Scouting. For Murray, it’s really a just question of which team picks him.
“I believe that Ekblad is going to go one and then we pick who we have left – the next guy on our list,” Murray said. “If he doesn’t go one, I’d be surprised I guess, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”
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Reinhart and Bennett have been regarded for some time now as the top two draft-eligible centers, but Draisaitl has recently worked his way into the discussion. Murray said that Draisaitl is “right there” among this year’s top forwards.
“There are guys that aren’t being talked about that are potentially part of that,” Murray said. “It’s a copycat league, so LA wins the Cup again and the terminology is ‘They’re heavy.’ So you’ve got guys like [Nick] Ritchie and [Jake] Virtanen that are good players that are heavy. Teams are looking for heavy.”
As to whom the Sabres will take, the pick won’t be based on any perceived need.
“We’re taking the best player available,” Murray said, noting that the team has a lot of needs.
And what are some of Murray’s expectations for this draft, his first as a GM?
“The perfect draft?” he pondered. “Our first pick is going to be what we consider a very good player. Use assets to get back into the first round and pick a player we feel down the road […] can play. Hit on one or two of your seconds and hit somewhere later in the draft. I would consider that a very good draft.”