BUFFALO – Once ultra-talented forwards Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine and Jesse Puljujarvi are nabbed early tonight, the NHL Draft might really get interesting.
Sure, after the Toronto Maple Leafs select Matthews, there’s speculation the Winnipeg Jets could pass on Laine, the presumptive No. 2 pick, and go for Puljujarvi, another Finn, leaving Laine for the Columbus Blue Jackets. But those three players will almost certainly go first.
What could happen next on the First Niagara Center floor is unclear. In past years, the order could be handicapped somewhat, said NHL Central Scouting’s Dave Gregory.
This year, with no consensus, it could get “crazy,” Gregory said.
Here’s more on two players who could be available to the Sabres eighth overall the Times Herald hasn’t profiled.
Dubois, Cape Breton Screaming Eagles, Quebec Major Junior Hockey League
The 6-foot-2, 202-pound Dubois, the No. 1 North American skater by Central Scouting, enjoyed a breakout season in 2015-16, scoring 42 goals and 99 points in 62 games, a 32-goal, 54-point improvement.
“He’s a player who is such a specimen,” Gregory said. “His game just translates really well to the NHL level for someone to have the size that he does and to be able to skate with and without the puck the way he does.”
Gregory said Dubois possesses a “creative mind for guy who can be big and physical.”
“He has soft hands, and then all of a sudden, next shift he’ll be really gritty and be physical in the corners and be able to dominate in traffic,” he said.
Dubois switched from wing to center after Christmas, a move he enjoyed.
“One of the things I wanted to be was be a guy that could play anywhere, any position, any situation,” Dubois said. “I never played center in my life before Christmas. So I think that made me a more well-rounded player.”
Nylander, Mississauga Steelheads, Ontario Hockey League
The 6-foot, 180-pound Nylander scored 28 goals and 75 points in 57 games, earning OHL and Canadian Hockey League top rookie honors.
To Gregory, the Swede “might be the most skilled guy in this draft.”
“He’s a pure-skilled guy that thinks the game so well, creative thinker to make opportunities happen,” he said. “He’s like a pure offensive instincts guy. He’s going to score one way or another.”
Nylander is the son of former NHL forward Michael Nylander and the brother of Leafs forward William Nylander, the eighth pick in 2014.
“I think I’m a smart player out there … with really good vision, playmaking abilities,” Alexander Nylander said.
Sabres coach Dan Bylsma filled one of the openings on his staff Thursday, hiring Bob Woods as an assistant.
Woods, 48, just spent two seasons as the coach and general manager of the junior Saskatoon Blades, a Western Hockey League club. Prior to that, he was as an NHL assistant under Bruce Boudreau for six years with the Washington Capitals and Anaheim Ducks.
Before his NHL run, Woods coached with the AHL Hershey Bears for five years, including a year and a half stint as head coach after Boudreau was promoted. The Bears won the Calder Cup in 2009.
Woods, who had a 752-game pro playing career, began coaching as a player-assistant in the ECHL in 1997-98. Woods spent eight years as a coach in the ECHL, including four as a head coach.
The Sabres had two openings because Dave Barr left for the Florida Panthers and the Sabres assigned Dan Lambert to coach the Rochester Americans, their AHL affiliate.
Gregory on what makes the Arizona-raised Matthews so special:
“He can dominate in so many ways. When he has the puck, something is going to happen, especially in the attacking zone. Even when he might not have a huge scoring night, he just dominated with the puck and made things happen, created chances, maybe just didn’t have the finish.
“And then there’s games where everything clicks. He’s putting up five, six points or something crazy. He just plays at such a quick pace and (has) such a passion, (is) hard to get off the puck. He just does everything so well. You can’t knock him off the puck. He’s so strong on his skates, effortlessly knocks guys away from him.
“(He’s) just one of those guys that you know immediately he’s dominating a game when you watch him play.”