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Sabres could have plenty of talented prospects available to them at 7

A quick look at what could happen during Round 1 of the 2019 NHL Draft

by Chris Ryndak @ChrisRyndak / Sabres.com

The Buffalo Sabres are ready to pick seventh overall in the first round of the 2019 NHL Draft in Vancouver tonight. If you've been following any of the expert opinions throughout this process, it's thought that players rated as high as third could fall into the later part of the Top 10. The consensus seems to be that there's a lot of skill in this draft class, but not necessarily a whole lot of separation when it comes to the top tiers.

Not even the prospects whose names will be called early on Friday are sure what will happen.

From our recap of Media Day in Vancouver:

Video: Top prospects look ahead to NHL Draft

"I know one and two are pretty good," center Trevor Zegras said Thursday, referring to Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko. "But, after that, I don't think it's a huge drop off. I think, for the most part, everyone who's going to be picked in the Top 10 can play at a really high level. I think it's a really good draft in general."

The level of respect the prospects have for one another was apparent on Thursday, all having developed a familiarity during their years of either playing together as teammates or against one another on the international stage. 

Center Kirby Dach sounded like an analyst as he broke down the various top-10 scenarios.

"From three to 10, there's a variety of guys you can go with," Dach said. "If you need a D man, you're probably looking at taking Bowen Byram. I mean, what he was able to do this year in the Western League was unreal and just how smart and good a player he was.

"If you need a smaller forward, you're looking for Cole Caufield or Trevor Zegras, a guy who can make plays in tight, or a bigger centerman which is me or Dylan and Turcotte. It's kind of up in the air. That's the nerve-racking part of it, is you don't quite know what's going to happen, but it's also exciting. It will be an interesting night, that's for sure."

 

What picks do the Sabres have again?

After the seventh pick is in the books, general manager Jason Botterill and his staff will turn their attention to pick No. 31.

Round 1 will take place tonight starting at 8 p.m. on NBCSN. Rounds 2-7 will go down tomorrow, beginning at 1 p.m. on NHL Network. 

As for the conditional pick, the San Jose Sharks could hang on to their fourth-round pick this year, but that would mean they'd give the Sabres their third-round pick next year. We'll see what they decide.


So who could be available at 7?

NHL Central Scouting's rankings separate players by the region they played in, so it's tough to get a true gauge on overall rankings, but here are their Top 10 skaters both in North America and overseas:

1. Jack Hughes, C (North America)
1. Kaapo Kakko, RW (International)
2. Bowen Byram, D (North America)
2. Vasily Podkolzin, RW (International)
3. Kirby Dach, C (North America)
3. Victor Soderstom, D (International)
4. Alex Turcotte, C (North America)
4. Ville Heinola, D (International)
5. Dylan Cozens, C (North America)
5. Philip Broberg, D (International)
6. Trevor Zegras, C (North America)
6. Moritz Seider, D (International)
7. Arthur Kaliyev, RW (North America)
7. Tobias Bjornfot, D (International)
8. Cole Caufield, RW (North America)
8. Daniil Misyul, D (International)
9. Matthew Boldy, LW (North America)
9. Ilya Nikolaev, C (International)
10. Peyton Krebs, C (North America)
10. Mikko Kokkonen, D (International)

There are a lot of highly rated Americans on the North American side and a ton of defensemen up top in Europe. 

We focused on those players from the United States National Team Development Program during the NHL Scouting Combine earlier this month:

Video: 2019 NHL Scouting Combine Recap


What the experts are saying

Brian Duff and Martin Biron hosted our draft preview series this year and we kicked off our coverage and solicited some opinions on players who could potentially be targets for Buffalo:

Video: Who could the Sabres pick 7th overall?

Let's take a look around the internet for the opinions of some of the top draft analysts, some of whom you just heard from in that draft video:

NHL.com writers Adam Kimelman, Mike G. Morreale and Guillaume Lepage weighed in this week with their final mock drafts for the Class of 2019.

Here's who they think the Sabres will select seventh overall:

Kimelman - Cole Caufield, RW, USA U-18 (NTDP): Forget the size (5-7, 163). Caufield, who set an NTDP record with 72 goals this season, is the best goal-scorer in the draft, with a great release he can get off from anywhere in the offensive zone. He also has underrated vision, passing ability and skating that's reminiscent of Pittsburgh Penguins forward and NTDP alum Phil Kessel.

Morreale - Caufield: He's skilled without the puck and in finding open space on the ice to set himself up and provide easy outlets for teammates.

Lepage - Kirby Dach, C, Saskatoon (WHL): The big power forward would strengthen the Sabres down the middle.

We profiled Caufield early last week. Here's the skinny on him:

Video: 1-on-1 with Cole Caufield

Caufield might be as an intriguing a prospect as there is in this draft, thanks in part to two numbers. The first - and most jarring - is his goal total. He scored 72 times in 64 games last season, including a tournament-best 14 goals in seven contests at the U-18 World Championship (where he earned MVP honors). 

The other number that stands out regarding Caufield is his height - he measured out at 5-foot-7, 163 pounds. But, as director of NHL Central Scouting Services Dan Marr explained at the combine, that might not matter so much. 

"[Teams] don't look at size anymore," Marr said. "They look at good players, the best players, what they bring to the table."

And why should they? Alex DeBrincat has almost the exact same measurables as Caufield, and he scored 41 goals and 76 points for the Blackhawks last season. Cam Atkinson is also coming off a 41-goal campaign, and he's 5-foot-8. Johnny Gaudreau and Jonathan Marchessault both check in at 5-foot-9. The list goes on.

Those names have paved the way for a player like Caufield, who is ranked eighth on Central Scouting's list of North American prospects.

Read the full profile here.

What about Dach?

Again from our Draft Profile series…

Video: 1-on-1 with Kirby Dach

Dach offers a unique blend of size, skill and hockey IQ at the center position. He's 6-foot-4, 197 pounds and has been lauded by scouts for his playmaking vision and passing ability.

Dach kicked off last season with a gold medal at the Hilinka Gretzky Cup, where he tallied seven points (1+6) in seven games. He then scored 73 points (25+48) in 62 games with Saskatoon, numbers that were mired by a seven-game scoring drought in December.

Sam Cosentino of Sportsnet published his mock draft on Wednesday. Who does he have Buffalo selecting? Well, it's none other than Caufield.

"The best pure sniper available will have a great mentor in Jeff Skinner," Cosentino writes. "Caufield is anxious to prove he belongs in the conversation with Alex DeBrincat. Isn't seen at the rink without a smile on his face."

 

Taking a step back for a moment…

Historically, what type of player could the Sabres be getting at 7? That's a question we tried to answer in this "Lucky 7s" segment:

Video: 7th Overall Picks in NHL History

Gotta love how prepared those guys were. The slot machine could've hit on anyone!
 

OK, back to the experts

TSN's Craig Button slotted Swedish defenseman Philip Broberg in as his seventh-ranked prospect.

In his mock draft, however, he has Buffalo selecting Caufield, his fourth-ranked player, whom he calls "the best goal scorer in the draft, bar none."  

Bob McKenzie, meanwhile, has center Trevor Zegras ranked seventh.

What's Zegras' deal?

"He's got personality to his game and he's one of these high-character players on the ice where he can rise to the occasion and he wants the puck, he wants to score, he wants to be in on the play," Dan Marr said in our profile of Zegras. "He goes out there and makes things happen. He's a player that forces you to notice him … He jumps out and pops at you every game."

Bian Duff also checked in with ESPN's Chris Peters yesterday for his thoughts on how the first half of Round 1 could shake out:

Video: ESPN's Chris Peters looks ahead to Round 1

 

So we've mentioned Caufield, Zegras, Broberg and Dach. Who else could be there? 

We sat down with Dylan Cozens at the Combine:

Video: 1-on-1 with Dylan Cozens

From that profile:

Cozens has as interesting an origin story as any in this draft. He was born and raised in Whitehorse, Yukon, a Canadian territory that has only produced two NHL players. By age 12, he was playing against grown men. At 14, he left home to join the Delta Hockey Academy near Vancouver. 

The move paid off. Cozens was the WHL's rookie of the year in 2017-18, then scored 84 points (34+50) in 68 games for Lethbridge last season. He tallied nine in seven games for Canada at U-18 Worlds in April and was the fifth-ranked North American prospect in NHL Central Scouting's final rankings. 

Like fellow Canadian center Kirby Dach, Cozens offers a blend of size and speed with his 6-foot-3, 183-pound frame. He's been labeled as an explosive player who's at his best when carrying the puck with speed.

Alex Turcotte also took some time to speak with us:

 Video: 1-on-1 with Alex Turcotte

Turcotte missed time last season due to a hip injury but still managed to put up 62 points (27+35) in 37 contests. He's drawn comparisons to Chicago forward Jonathan Toews for his well-rounded game, which blends creativity on offense, a willingness to go to the net and attention to detail in his own end. 

The trait that comes up when talking to Turcotte's teammates at the US National Team Development Program is his competitiveness. His coach, John Wroblewski, went so far as to describe him to NHL.com as a blend of Sidney Crosby and Brad Marchand. 

"Alex's personality is a blend between Sidney Crosby and Brad Marchand because he's so agitating like Marchand but will never give you the time of day like Crosby," Wroblewski said. "Just the way he carries himself on the ice is very annoying to the other team because he's so good and so versatile. He can go right through you or dangle you."

While we're at it, let's check in with Matthew Boldy:

Video: 1-on-1 with Matthew Boldy

On how he developed his hands: "I think some of it's kind of natural, just growing up when you're so young, you don't even realize it. But it's something you kind of work on every day, fiddling with the after and before practice. I mean, you learn a lot from your teammates. Me and [fellow draft-eligible prospect] Trevor Zegras do a lot with the puck, kind of just messing around a lot."

On blending speed and power: "I think that's how I like to play and that's probably how I describe my game, I think being able to use your body and protect the puck and kind of be hard to play against, but doing that in a way that is still super skilled and kind of creative makes it a lot harder for the D to figure out what you're going to do."

There's also a chance that right wing Vasily Podkolzin, Central Scouting's No. 2-ranked International skater, will still be on the board.

Mike Morreale's take: "Podkolzin (6-1, 190) plays with a lot of intensity and has a great set of skills that earned him three games with a strong SKA St. Petersburg team in the Kontinental Hockey League. He has the attitude and speed to become a solid NHL player with proper development. He plays a mature game, has a high hockey IQ, good breakaway speed, and puck protection skills." 

We've tried to paint with a pretty wide brush for you here, but again, we won't know what Buffalo will do until the pick is in. 

 

What about 31?

From the NHL.com Mock Draft crew on No. 31:

Kimelman - Connor McMichael, C, London (OHL): He became the go-to player for London this season and responded in a big way. His vision and hockey sense should help him produce in the NHL.

Morreale - Tobias Bjornfot, D, Djurgarden Jr. (SWE-JR): He's a solid all-around defenseman with few weaknesses. He skates well, plays a strong game and is tough to play against. 

Lepage - McMichael: The forward did not start the season with a substantial role but managed to carve out a big season. With Dach and McMichael, the Sabres would add quality depth at center.

Costentino likes right wing Bobby Brink for the Sabres at 31. He posted 35 goals and 68 points in 43 games for Sioux City last season.

"The debate rages between size and skating ability versus hockey sense and finish for the 5-foot-8, 165-pounder," Costentino writes. "Numbers are numbers, though, and his are unparalleled at his age in the USHL."

Button has Edmonton Oil Kings defenseman Matthew Robertson ranked 31st, and has left wing Nolan Foote going to Buffalo in his mock.

Jakob Pelletier, a forward from Moncton of the QMJHL is No. 31 in McKenzie's rankings. 

Should be an interesting weekend. Let's see what happens. Sabres.com is on the scene so be sure to check in here and on our social media channels for live updates from Rogers Arena. 

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