Kaiden Guhle could be taken early in the 2020 NHL Draft. ©2020, Lucas Chudleigh, Apollo Multimedia

Sabres will have chance to take special prospect with first draft pick

The Buffalo Sabres have just 6.5% odds to nab the top pick in tonight’s NHL Draft Lottery, so they likely won’t win the right to select winger Alexis Lafreniere, the ultra-talented prospect who has been projected to go first overall for two years.

Lafreniere is such a dynamic threat he began dominating the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League as a 16-year-old rookie, scoring a career-high 42 goals in only 60 games for Rimouski Oceanic, Sidney Crosby’s old team, in 2017-18.

In his three-year junior career, Lafreniere compiled a whopping 114 goals and 297 points in only 173 outings.

“He can do it in a physical sense and a skill sense, and not too many players bring both those attributes in any given situation,” Dan Marr, the NHL’s director of Central Scouting, said of the 6-foot-1, 193-pound Lafreniere. “And he won’t be denied, he plays the game that way. (Sabres captain) Jack Eichel’s made of the same DNA, doesn’t want to be denied.”

Chances are Lafreniere will end up with the hapless Detroit Red Wings or Ottawa Senators, two franchises in dire need of a young superstar to build around.

The Red Wings have the highest odds for the top pick, just 18.5%. The Senators own the second- and third-highest odds, 13.5% and 11.5%. They received their second first-round pick in a trade with the San Jose Sharks.

The Sabres possess the lottery’s seventh-highest odds. In or around that spot – they grabbed center Dylan Cozens seventh overall last year – they should have an opportunity to draft a prospect who can fill their need, according to Marr.

“The top 10 are pretty special players … and they play multiple positions,” he said.

Marr believes the five or six players ranked after Lafreniere are “almost interchangeable.”

“These players are going to be able to impact in the NHL,” he said. “So if they want to go after a specific position type of player, they do have some options.”

He added: “These top seven teams are going to have a pretty good name looking at them whenever they pick.”

Based on their needs, the Sabres might want to take draft a center first. But remember, the team has a new regime.

General manager Kevyn Adams has no history in the front office. He hasn’t said much about how he would like to reshape the Sabres.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic forced the NHL to suspend its season, the first round of the draft was scheduled for tonight in Montreal. Instead, it will likely take place in October.

Some prospects who could be available to the Sabres early are listed below.

Cole Perfetti, center, Saginaw Spirit, Ontario Hockey League

The 5-foot-10, 177-pound Perfetti is ranked fifth among North American skaters in Central Scouting’s final ranking of 2020 draft prospects. He scored 37 goals and his 111 points ranked second in the league in 61 appearances in 2019-20.

“Cole is one of the smarter and skilled players in the draft, and the reason he’s in the top end there is just the quickness in which he can play the game, think the game, see the ice,” Marr said. “Maybe he can react quickly to the situation and he can make a pass while he’s being checked, he can draw checks to him so someone’s open and he can deliver that backhand, over-the-stick pass that connects.”

Marco Rossi, center, Ottawa 67s, OHL

The 5-foot-9, 183-pound Rossi is ranked sixth among North American skaters. The Austrian scored 39 goals and a league-high 120 points in 56 games for the powerhouse 67s in 2019-20.

“His hockey sense is exceptional,” Marr said. “His anticipation and his timing, the way he sets up and executes plays, he’s going to be a very, very strong playmaker going forward in the National Hockey League.”

Jack Quinn, winger, Ottawa 67s, OHL

The 6-foot, 167-pound Quinn is ranked seventh among North American skaters. He scored 52 goals – the league’s second-highest total – and 89 points in 62 contests in 2019-20.

In just one more outing than his rookie season, he scored 40 more goals and 67 more points.

“Goal scorers have to have confidence, and he’s got that confidence you don’t want to misconstrue with cockiness,” Marr said. “When he has the puck, he’s the guy you want to be shooting.”

Quinn often finished feeds from Rossi.

Tim Stuetzle, winger, Mannheim Eagles, Deutsche Eishockey Liga

The 6-foot-1, 187-pound Stuetzle, the top-ranked European prospect, won the DEL rookie of the year honors as a 17-year-old playing against men. Stuetzle scored seven goals and 31 points in 41 games in 2019-20.

“It’s just not a common phenomenon where you have a player that can come in and contribute like he did and play regular,” Marr said. “There’s a special makeup to him in his approach to the game where he’s already been in a pro environment.”

Jake Sanderson, defenseman, United States National Team Development Program

Sanderson, the son of former Sabres winger Geoff Sanderson, is ranked fourth among North American skaters, climbing from 11th at the mid-term rankings. He scored two goals and 14 points in 19 games in 2019-20.

Marr said he has never seen a player dominate a prospects game like Sanderson.

“I mean, dominate,” he said. “It was so impressive, and all that did was confirm what everyone else projected.”

Marr said Sanderson, who plans to attend North Dakota, “can play in every situation.”

“He’s smart in the sense of being responsible, he’s got smarts on the offensive side, smarts on the defensive side of the game,” he said. “He’s got the puck skills to move, handle, skate the puck out of the D-zone, and he’s got the puck skills, smarts to control the play at the offensive blue line, get some shots off. But he’s a natural-born leader.”

Kaiden Guhle, defenseman, Prince Albert Raiders, Western Hockey League

The 6-foot-2, 186-pound Guhle is ranked eighth among North American skaters. The younger brother of former Sabres defenseman Brendan Guhle scored 11 goals and 40 points in 64 games in 2019-20.

“He did get stronger going into this year, and that’s really influenced his game, because he’s a terrific skater just like his brother (with his) speed, quickness, mobility, agility,” Marr said. “He’s got all the wow factors with the skating.

“His game with the puck is good, he’s got the offensive instincts. But what came into play this year, he started to play with a lot more bite, and he was winning the one-on-one battles.”

Chris Bandura, the Sabres’ former vice president of media relations, recently began a new job as the director of athlete relations for Dave and Adam’s Card World.

In his new role, Bandura secures, coordinates and facilitates the store’s exclusive autograph appearance deals with athletes. He also coordinates and facilitates the in-store and private signings and is responsible for the marketing and athlete endorsements for Hit Parade, which sells memorabilia boxes with high-end autographed items and unique pieces.

Bandura, a popular figure with Sabres players and media members, was one of three vice presidents let go in April.

The Vancouver Canucks added former Sabres prospect Justin Bailey to their training camp roster earlier this week.

Bailey, 24, played two games with the Canucks earlier this season. The winger enjoyed a huge AHL campaign with the Utica Comets, scoring 28 goals and 47 points in 53 games.

The camp is set to open July 10.

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