Buffalo Sabres Director of Amateur Scouting Jim Benning and his staff have combed North America and Europe in an effort to determine the most talented players among the pool of eligible draftees in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft.
After arduous months of preparation and a weekend of conversing with more than 70 prospects at the combine in Toronto, Ontario, the scouting staff is prepared to make its first selection in Saturday's draft.
"In today's game, we're looking for a player with good skating, hockey skills, hockey sense and character," said Benning. "Those are the four main ingredients we are looking for in our first-round draft pick."
Hockey skills are the basic the foundation for any developmental player: ability to handle the puck, passing and shooting. Benning described hockey sense as thinking the game, reading plays and functioning within a system on the ice.
So the 24th overall selection in the draft has been devoted to the best player available.
What about the team's other five picks?
Benning stated that Buffalo would probably focus more on positions where the franchise may be lacking some depth in the latter rounds.
During the 2005 draft, Buffalo selected Slovakian center Marek Zagrapan in the first round at 13th overall and towering right wing Philip Gogulla in the second. The team then used five of its remaining seven selections on defensemen.
"We always want to have young players coming through our system," said Benning. "We just pick guys that have enough talent with some development, hopefully can make our NHL team someday."
Buffalo's draft philosophy coincides with the team's philosophy on the ice and in the locker room. One of the most important traits for a player to possess is integrity.
"We try to pinpoint the hard working, character type kids that are team players," said Benning. "We want guys who can be molded together to create a team that cares about each other and works hard for each other.
"Given Lindy Ruff's philosophy of all players being reliable defensively and able to make plays in the offensive zone, we have created a mold of the players we are looking for along with character. That's the blueprint of the players we want to draft and we feel that's going to be a recipe for success for the team."
The age decrease of unrestricted free agency has put even more pressure on the Sabres scouting staff to identify quality talent. Buffalo will rely on prospects and draft picks to fill the void left by departing players in the coming seasons.
"With the new collective bargaining agreement, teams are going to sign more of their players and try to develop them faster because they don't know what's going to happen at the other end with unrestricted free agency," Benning said. "Development now becomes even more important. Going forward, you're going to see more teams signing more and more of their draft picks."
Proof is in this summer's signings. Buffalo has inked six of eight players drafted in 2004, including the 13th-overall selection Drew Stafford
Said Benning: "The sooner we can get them into (Rochester), the better we will be in the long run." ---------------------------------------
Gilbert Perreault, Andrew Peters and Sabretooth have been scheduled to appear at the Sabres' 2006 NHL Draft Party. Click here
for more details.