With the 2011 NHL Entry Draft just days away, the year-round work of the Buffalo Sabres’ amateur scouting staff is about to pay off.
Buffalo holds the 16th overall selection in the first round of what Sabres Director of Amateur Scouting Kevin Devine says is a deep draft, particularly through the first two rounds. With that 16th selection, Devine believes the Sabres will be able to land a player worthy of a top 10 pick.
“It’s a fairly deep draft right to the early 20’s, then it continues on to deep into the second round, where you’ve got a chance to get a pretty good player, so in that respect it’s pretty deep,” Devine said of the 2011 draft class. “It’s a good draft, and where we’re picking, we’re going to get a player that we like…. You could get the same player at 16 that some teams might get at 8 or 10.”
The draft process is a detailed one, and traveling throughout North America and Europe to watch players during the season is only part of it. Once the season ends, the evaluation continues with, among other things, the NHL Combine. This off-season, however, the Sabres added an additional element to their draft preparation by bringing prospects to Buffalo as they held their own internal combine.
While the notion of holding their own combine had been considered in years past, Devine credited Sabres Owner Terry Pegula for suggesting the idea and committing the resources to the project earlier this month. According to Devine, Pegula knew that the New England Patriots, one of the NFL’s model franchises over the last decade, had done something similar in recent years and asked if the Sabres could get value out of bringing prospects to Buffalo for additional evaluation.
The Sabres then invited about 35 prospects to Buffalo and put them through a series of both on-ice and off-ice testing while also interviewing them away from the rink. One of the biggest benefits is that they were able to put the prospects through on-ice testing, which does not happen at the NHL Combine.
“What Central Scouting doesn’t do is they don’t put them on the ice, and I think there’s been a lot of teams clamoring for that over the last four or five years,” explained Devine. “We had about 35 guys in and we thought we got some value out of it, so I think it’ll continue.”
The abundance of information that is accumulated on draft-eligible players throughout the scouting process must eventually be used to make a selection. While the information is plentiful, Devine explained that it’s important to not over-analyze.
|2010 NHL Draft Table (Buffalo Sabres) |
“You don’t want to get to the point where there’s so much information that you get away from looking at the important things, which are the play on the ice and what kind of character the kid has,” said Devine, who has been a member of Buffalo’s scouting department since 1997 and is in his sixth year as the director of amateur scouting. “You get into too much of the other stuff and it can be paralysis by analysis. We try to just use the information and take what’s important.”
In addition to the 2011 draft crop being a deep group, Devine also called it a balanced draft, meaning the talent pool is about equal at every position. And while he acknowledges that the Sabres front office, which has selected a defenseman with four of its last six first round picks, has a plan of attack in place, the goal is typically to get the best player available in the early rounds rather than targeting a certain position.
“We usually take the best player available with our first couple picks,” he said. “This year we don’t have a second round pick, so the third round pick will probably be determined by what we do with the first round pick. We’ve got an idea of what we want, but if there’s a significant player (available) that’s better at another position, we’ll take that player.”
Buffalo’s second round pick this year belongs, of course, to the St. Louis Blues as a result of the trade deadline deal that saw the Sabres acquire forward Brad Boyes
. While Devine said the team will consider trying to acquire a second round selection in this year’s Draft, watching 60 players come off the board while you wait can be a difficult exercise. Sometimes, though, it can still work out.
The last time the Sabres were without a second round selection was 2009 as a result of a series of trades that began the previous summer. But, in the third round, Buffalo was able to land Brayden McNabb
, a defenseman who captained the Kootenay Ice to the Western Hockey League Championship and an appearance in the Memorial Cup this past season.
“We’re just crossing off names and hopefully somebody will pop up there like Brayden McNabb
did a few years ago,” Devine said when explaining what it’s like to wait out the second round without a pick. “We didn’t have a second rounder (in 2009) and we had McNabb (rated) up in the top part of the second round and there he was sitting there in the third round. You cross your fingers that somebody you like in the second round will fall to you in the third round.”
Now that the scouting staff has arrived in St. Paul for this weekend’s Draft, the final preparations continue. Devine, General Manager Darcy Regier and the rest of the staff will go over their lists, conduct a few more prospect interviews and even hold a mock draft amongst themselves.
And if all goes as planned, the future of the Buffalo Sabres will be in even better shape by the end of the weekend.