Jason Botterill had to run a draft with scouts he barely knows. ©2017, Hickling Images, Olean Times Herald

Sabres GM Jason Botterill comfortable with scouts for NHL Draft

CHICAGO – When Jason Botterill was named Buffalo Sabres general manager May 11, he entered what he called a “different situation.”

The Sabres also fired amateur scouting director Greg Royce with GM Tim Murray on April 20. Botterill inherited Jeff Crisp, the team’s head amateur scout, and Murray’s old scouts.

So Botterill only had six weeks to prepare for the NHL Draft with Crisp and his new staff, not exactly ideal.

“You don’t have your relationships with the scouting staff, you don’t know how things have gone at midseason meetings and some of the discussions there,” Botterill said Saturday following the draft inside the United Center. “It was a learning process. It was more of a difficult situation.”

The Sabres picked six players – three forwards, two defensemen and one goalie – in Botterill’s first draft as an NHL GM.

Of course, center Casey Mittelstadt, the eighth overall pick, will receive most of the attention. But the Sabres went off the board a bit early, selecting two defense prospects – Oskari Laaksonen 89th overall and Jacob Bryson 99th – who were virtual unknowns to fans.

Those choices illustrate Botterill’s confidence in his scouts.

“You’re always challenging certain scouts on certain things,” he said. “You want to select players your scouts are passionate about so when you call their name, they’re excited about it.”

Crisp said Botterill made the scouting staff feel “welcome” and “comfortable” with his program.

“He listened to the guys,” Crisp said. “He sat in on all the meetings and made sure he listened to the area (scouts), (director of player personnel) Kevin Devine and myself. I think we all felt part of the program. I don’t think it was an issue at the end of the day.

“(There) was maybe a little awkwardness or uncomfortableness in the middle of or in the process of it, but I don’t think it affected the outcome or how we scouted or how we talked about the players.”

Mittelstadt plans to attend the University of Minnesota next season, but what will happen to him after that? High picks rarely stay in the college more than a season or two.

“If you’re asking me straight up the likelihood of him staying four years, very unlikely,” Botterill said.

Minnesota, one of the NCAA’s premier programs, does “a great job preparing guys for pro,” Crisp said.

“There’s no time frame,” he said of when Mittelstadt could begin his pro career. “It’s just more just making sure he’s progressing.”

The 6-foot-1, 201-pound Mittelstadt, like most 18-year-olds, must improve his upper-body strength. He couldn’t do a pull up at the NHL Scouting Combine.

“His legs are really strong,” Crisp said. “His upper body, as (the media) noted at the combine, maybe wasn’t as good. His legs are strong. When he takes off on guys, it’s not an issue. So I think they have a world-class program with the Gophers, so he’s in good hands.”

Botterill on what he has learned about new Sabres coach Phil Housley:

“There’s a lot going on with going on with trying to build a staff and trying to get people on your scouting staff here. I think if you see the personality he has with our scouts interacting, players in the organization, I think he has a very good feel on the players in the league and what wants to bring into (the team).”

Botterill said Housley has spoken to all of his new players. Botterill said he hasn’t interacted with the players as much as Housley yet.

The courting period for free agents opened Sunday. Teams have six days to talk to players. Contracts, however, can’t be finalized until free agency opens next Saturday.

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