Casey McCarthy grew up in Clarence. ©2023

NHL Draft: Gavin McCarthy’s selection by Sabres special; Buffalo thrilled to take Anton Wahlberg

NASHVILLE – The daily challenges an NHL general manager faces can keep you awake at night, Kevyn Adams said. Still, moments like the one he experienced Thursday at the NHL Draft table can make all the stress worth it.

After the Buffalo Sabres drafted defenseman Gavin McCarthy in the third round, 86th overall, he walked down to meet Adams and other members of the team.

McCarthy’s excitement made Adams’ mind flash back to all the work the youngster has put into his career. Adams has known McCarthy, 18, for years. They live in the same Clarence neighborhood. He played for the Jr. Sabres and developed at the Academy of Hockey when Adams ran both organizations at LECOM Harborcenter.

To see McCarthy’s smile, Adams said, was “special.” The Sabres added a player they’re thrilled about. They did not choose him because he’s a local kid.

“We added a 6-foot-2, right-shot defenseman that we think there’s a lot of upside there,” Adams said after the draft ended in Bridgestone Arena. “And that’s why we made the pick.”

His selection marks the first time the Sabres have drafted a local prospect since they grabbed defenseman Austin Osmanski, an East Aurora native, in the seventh round in 2016.

McCarthy, who plans to attend Boston University in the fall and play with his brother, Case, already feels comfortable in his new organization.

“I grew up, obviously, a young Sabres fan,” a smiling McCarthy, sporting a No. 23 blue Sabres jersey, said. “I still follow them to this day.”

On Sunday, he’ll likely participate in his first session of Buffalo’s development camp at Harborcenter, where he has logged countless hours on the ice.

“It’ll be really cool just kind of being there, being in a Sabres jersey,” said McCarthy, a prospect NHL Central Scouting ranked 52nd among North Americans. “It’s a 30-minute ride from my house, so I think it’ll be really cool kind of going down there for a different reason this time. Been down there a million times and this one’s definitely going to be the most fun.”

McCarthy endured a frustrating yet productive season in 2022-23, injuring his knee in the World Junior A Challenge when he was away from the United States Hockey League’ Muskegon Lumberjacks.

“It’s a tough injury that he had and he went through, but to come back and then be able to get back and perform the way he did toward the end, it speaks to who he is as a person,” Adams said.

Jerry Forton, Buffalo’s director of amateur scouting, said McCarthy would’ve been a higher pick if he had remained healthy.

“I was there in Cornwall (Ontario) when he had the knee injury,” he said. “He was begging USA Hockey to let him continue to play and practice in the tournament. Thank goodness they had to kind of hold him off … If he didn’t lose those six to eight weeks this year, there’s zero chance he would have been available in the third round.”

He added: “He’s an athletic kid and I think he’s got a really versatile game. I mean, his nature is to be hard to play against and mean, but I actually think he’s got some sneaky puck-moving abilities.”

More on Buffalo’s last seven picks Thursday:

– The Sabres selected Swedish forward Anton Wahlberg in the second round, 39th overall.

Central Scouting ranked the 6-foot-3, 192-pound Wahlberg 30th among European prospects.

“I’m a two-way forward and center,” Wahlberg said. “I can play both positions. I can carry the puck with speed and be crafty on the ice.”

Adams said the Sabres tried to move up during Wednesday’s first round and again in the second round to take Wahlberg.

“This was a guy that we had way up on our list,” he said. “We were desperately trying to move up last night to get him in the first round.”

Wahlberg, who turns 18 on Wednesday, said he has often skated as a winger on the smaller North American ice surface. He played center last season.

He compiled 14 goals and 27 points in 32 games for Malmo’s junior team last year. He scored two goals and four points in 17 contests for Malmo’s Swedish Hockey League team, his first extended taste of pro hockey.

Wahlberg said he has one year left on his Swedish contract.

– The Sabres drafted Slovakian defenseman Max Strbak in the second round, 45th overall.

Central Scouting ranked the 6-foot-1, 198-pound Strbak 48th among North American prospects.

Strbak, 18, compiled five goals and 18 points in 46 games last seasons with the USHL’s Sioux Falls Stampede.

“I try to be a two-way defenseman, all around,” he said. “I think I’m more of a shutdown defenseman right now. I like to kill plays.”

He plans to attend Michigan State next season.

“I talked to a lot of universities and Michigan State was the only one that stood out to me the most,” Strbak said. “They had the most interest in me right away. I’ve kind of kept in close touch with them. I just really love what they’re doing with the brand-new coaching staff.”

– The Sabres drafted winger Ethan Miedema in the fourth round, 109th overall.

Central Scouting ranked the 6-foot-4, 208-pound Miedema 50th among North American prospects.

Miedema, 18, compiled 20 goals and 52 points in 68 games with the Ontario Hockey League’s Windsor Spitfires and Kingston Frontenacs last season.

He said possesses a physical and offensive style.

“I’m diverse in that way being 6-foot-4, I kind of have both of those different aspects and skills,” he said.

– The Sabres drafted goalie Scott Ratzlaff in the fifth round, 141st overall.

Central Scouting ranked the 6-foot, 175-pound Ratzlaff fourth among North American goalie prospects.

Ratzlaff, 18, compiled a 25-8-1 record with a 2.15 goals-against average and a .918 save percentage in 34 games for the Western Hockey League’s Seattle Thunderbirds last season. He did not play during Seattle’s postseason run to the WHL championship.

“I’m more of a stand-up goalie,” he said. “I like to be on my feet as long as possible, and I think a big strength of mine is just lateral movement, east to west on my feet, getting places there. Agility.”

– The Sabres drafted defenseman Sean Keohane in the sixth round, 173rd overall.

Central Scouting ranked the 6-foot-4, 182-pound Keohane 159th among North American prospects.

Keohane, 18, compiled four goals and 16 points in 32 games for Dexter High School in Massachusetts and one goal and five points in 14 contests for the Cape Cod Whalers’ U-18 team last season.

– The Sabres drafted German defenseman Norwin Panocha in the fifth round, 141st overall.

Central Scouting ranked the 6-foot-1, 178-pound Panocha 114th among Central European prospects.

Panocha, 18, compiled six goals and 22 points in 34 games with Eisbaren Berlin, a junior team. He also played eight pro games in the Deutsche Eishockey Liga and DEL-2.

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