Sabres’ recent drafts have yielded some strong talents and notable misses
Since most NHL Entry Drafts don’t start paying dividends for a few years, here’s a look at the Buffalo Sabres’ first-round picks from 2006-11 and some notable hits and misses. Fourteen of Buffalo’s 43 draft choices over that time have made the NHL.
The Sabres have eight picks this weekend in Philadelphia, including the No. 2 selection.
First-round pick: center Joel Armia, 16th overall
Armia endured a rough season in 2013-14, his first in North America. The 21-year-old broke his hand during an NHL preseason game and didn’t debut in the AHL until November. The Finn compiled seven goals and 27 points in 54 games with Rochester.
But Armia finished strongly, scoring three goals and six points in the Americans’ five-game playoff loss, including a two-goal, four-point effort. If he keeps progressing, he could earn his first recall next season.
Hidden gem: goalie Nathan Lieuwen, sixth round, 167th overall
It’s still early, but Lieuwen wrestled the starting job away from Matt Hackett in Rochester before looking sharp at times during six NHL appearances late last season.
With Hackett injured, Lieuwen should start next season as the Amerks’ No. 1 goalie.
First-round pick: defenseman Mark Pysyk, 23rd overall
The smooth, unassuming Pysyk turned heads as perhaps the Sabres’ steadiest defender early last season. Then the hapless team sent him to Rochester halfway through the year.
Why? They wanted the 22-year-old to perfect his game in the NHL.
Pysyk should be back in Buffalo next season. He could be the team’s franchise defenseman someday.
Notable misses: The Sabres never signed their fourth-round pick, 98th overall, Steven Shipley, or their fifth, 143rd, Gregg Sutch. Their three third-round picks – defensemen Jerome Gauthier-Leduc and Matt Mackenzie and center Kevin Sundher – are still in Rochester.
First-round pick: winger Zack Kassian, 13th overall
Kassian, a lethal hitter with soft hands in junior, lost much of his aggressiveness during 2011-12, his first professional season. The Sabres traded him to Vancouver for forward Cody Hodgson in February 2012 after 27 games.
Hidden gem: forward Marcus Foligno, fourth round, 104th overall
Foligno quickly became one of the NHL’s top forces following his late in 2011-12, scoring six goals and 13 points in 13 games. But he hasn’t developed into an elite power forward. Foligno has only 12 goals in 121 contest since his rollicking start.
He’s a restricted free agent.
First-round pick: defenseman Tyler Myers, 12th overall
Myers burst on the scene as a 19-year-old in 2009-10, earning the Calder Trophy and accolades as one of the NHL’s top defenders. But Myers hasn’t become the franchise defenseman or superstar many had envisioned.
He slumped for years, even becoming a healthy scratch at times. Finally, Myers regained much of his rookie form last season, showcasing his old aggressiveness and dictating some games under new coach Ted Nolan.
First-round pick: center Tyler Ennis, 26th overall
The flashy Ennis has scored 20 goals both times he hit the 80-game mark, including a team-high 21 in 2013-14. Right now, he’s the Sabres’ No. 1 center and favorite of Nolan. Ennis could score 30 goals or 70 points someday.
He’s a restricted free agent and due a healthy raise.
No first-round pick
Notable miss: defenseman Drew Schiestel, second round, 59th overall
In 2010-11, Schiestel developed into arguably the Sabres’ best defense prospect. When a recall seemed inevitable, he tore his ACL just after earning an AHL All-Star nod.
Schiestel hurt his knee again on opening night in 2011-12. He has spent time in the ECHL and played last year in Montreal’s organization.
First-round pick: defenseman Dennis Persson, 24th overall
Persson’s NHL career, if you want to call it that, lasted about 15 minutes – the length of the pregame warm-up prior to the Game 2 of the 2011 Eastern Conference quarterfinal in Philadelphia.
With Andrej Sekera hurting, the Sabres summoned Persson from the AHL. But Sekera played, so Persson sat. The Swede developed a bit under Kevin Dineen in Portland, and then did little in 2011-12 under a new coaching staff in Rochester. He now plays overseas.
The Sabres took goalie Jhonas Enroth, who will compete for the starting job next season, and defenseman Mike Weber, a regular the last four seasons, with their second and third picks.