Jason Botterill has more work to do this offseason. ©2018, Hickling Images

Sabres leave NHL Draft with more work to accomplish

DALLAS – For the time being at least, Ryan O’Reilly, the versatile center several teams are trying to pry away from the Sabres, is still with Buffalo.

General manager Jason Botterill, who’s expected to overhaul the NHL’s worst team this offseason, left the NHL Draft on Saturday without making any player trades.

Of course, the league’s busy season is just getting underway. Teams can talk to free agents starting Monday and begin signing them next Sunday. The entire league was pretty quiet at the draft, with only two notable deals going down.

It’s highly unlikely the Sabres, who still made a huge addition by drafting defenseman Rasmus Dahlin first overall Friday inside American Airlines Center, will stay quiet.

“Sometimes you think a lot of things make sense and things just don’t come to fruition,” Botterill of making deals.

So perhaps O’Reilly, an NHL All-Star in 2015-16, could be dealt soon. The Sabres owe him $7.5 million next Sunday, meaning some interested teams might want to wait until after the bonus is paid out to consummate a trade. Or maybe a deal of lesser significance will take place.

Right now, after letting go Robin Lehner, the Sabres’ biggest priority is finding a goalie, Botterill said. They likely need one they can rely on as a starter and another with NHL experience for the Rochester Americans.

“We continue to talk to different teams about trade possibilities,” Botterill said of adding a netminder. “We’re looking forward to this week to having an opportunity to (talk to) some free agents.”

The five players the Sabres drafted Saturday likely won’t help them for years, if they ever do. They selected four defensemen and one forward.

Botterill again focused on NCAA and European players. Interestingly, two years and 12 picks into his GM career, he still hasn’t drafted a junior player from the Canadian Hockey League: the Ontario, Western and Quebec Major Junior leagues.

Why? Botterill sees more value in college and European prospects, whose rights the Sabres can retain for four years. NHL teams can only hold CHL players’ rights for two years.

“There’s nothing to shy away from at all,” Botterill said of the CHL. “I just believe, especially with later-round picks, the fact that you only control their rights two years, you have to make a quicker decision on that.”

The players the Sabres selected Saturday:

Mattias Samuelsson, a defenseman with the United States National Development Program, in the second round, 32nd overall.

The 6-foot-4, 218-pound Samuelsson is the son of former NHL defenseman Kjell Samuelsson.

– Matej Pekar, a forward with the junior Muskegon Lumberjacks, in the fourth round, 94th.

The 6-foot, 170-pound Czech was named the United States Hockey League’s rookie of the year in 2017-18, compiling 14 goals and 54 points in 56 games.

“I saw the opportunity that I could get better exposure, face some better competition and just try to make it,” Pekar said of coming to North America.

Pekar plans to play at Miami University next season.

– Linus Lindstrand Kronholm, a defenseman with the Malmo Redhawks, an under-20 junior team, in the fourth round, 117th.

The 6-foot-1, 172-pound Swede compiled six assists in 37 games last season.

– Miska Kukkonen, a defenseman with Ilves, an under-20 junior team, in the fifth round, 125th.

The 6-foot, 183-pound Finn compiled two goals and four points in 12 games last season.

– William Worge Kreü, a defenseman with Linköping, an under-20 junior team, in the seventh round, 187th.

The 6-foot-6, 181-pound Swede had three goals and 14 points in 38 games last season.

The Sabres also traded their sixth-round pick, 156th, to Toronto for the Maple Leafs’ 2019 sixth-rounder.

Botterill said the Sabres wanted to bring in an asset for next year.

Counting Dahlin, the Sabres drafted five defensemen.

“You look at our pipeline right now … we had to have more defensemen in our group,” Botterill said.

He added: “You can never have too many defensemen.”

Still, Randy Sexton one of the Sabres’ assistant GMs, said the Sabres don’t draft to fill slots. Instead, they take the best player available.

“There were certainly a few forwards there today that we hoped might drop to us that didn’t and as a result the next player on our list happened to be a defenseman,” he said.

This year, Botterill said he felt more comfortable running the draft. A year ago, he said “there was an awkwardness” as he was trying to get a feel for people.

Botterill likes to stay out of the way of his amateur scouts.

“You have to trust those people in those roles,” he said. “If you dabble in it a little bit, I think you almost mess it up a lot of times. You’re having those guys who are focusing on it for an entire year.

“As a general manager, you’re focusing on the NHL team, you’re focusing on pro teams. So you can’t be active in amateur scouting all the time. I felt very comfortable in people that we hired.”

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