Buffalo Sabres Draft Targets

With the Sabres holding the 1st overall selection in the 2018 NHL Draft there is almost no surprise about who the Sabres will be picking. Rasmus Dahlin is the consensus number one overall pick in the draft, and the Sabres shouldn’t waste any time in swooping him up with the top pick.

But the rest of the draft is still intriguing for Sabres fans, in fact there’s a chance that the Sabres can draft a top tier prospect in the second round with their 32nd overall pick, and the draft goes even deeper than that.

The Sabres have seven picks at the 2018 NHL Draft, one in each of the 1st, 2nd, 5th, 6th and 7th rounds and two picks in the 4th round (they do not have any 3rd round picks).

There are loads of prospects in this draft that could be factoring into the Sabres lineup in the future and below are just a few of the names that Sabres fans may want to keep an eye on when the Draft opens next month.

Jacob Bernard-Docker, D, Okotoks, AJHL
Future Considerations – 32
ISS – 25
NHL CS – 33 (NA Skaters)
Craig Button – 44

Bernard-Docker is a steady defenceman that has been regarded as a safe pick in the upcoming draft. He’s played in the Alberta Junior Hockey League (you know the league Cale Makar played in) for the last two seasons and his numbers have been modest. He scored 20 goals as a defender this year for Okotoks, and has committed to the University of North Dakota where he will develop at one of the best NCAA programs in the country.

He is more of a stay at home guy, although he has the ability to jump into the rush to help generate offence. Bernard-Docker is reliable in his own end and always tries to punish his opponents in his own end, think along the lines of a Will Borgen type player.

Although it’s an assumption that the Sabres will be drafting Dahlin first overall, taking a defenceman at 32 isn’t out of the question because you can never have enough defence prospects.

Bernard-Docker has the potential to be a top-4 guy who can be a solid defensive anchor for a top tier offensive minded defenceman, all while being able to help out on offence when needed.

Dominik Bokk, RW, Vaxjo U20, SuperElit
Future Considerations 38
ISS 28
NHL CS 12 (EU Skaters)
McKeen’s 31

Bokk is one of those prospects that could go late in the first round based on potential, the German is extremely skilled. He has the talent to beat people one on one, and the creative instincts that allow him to make exceptional plays that few can make.

While playing in Junior for Vaxjo in Sweden he has produced at over a point per game, and even made the jump to the Swedish Elite League appearing in 15 games this past season.

Bokk has represented Germany twice so far in his career, once at the WU18’s Division 1A and once at the WJC 1A Division and has produced at more than a point per game internationally.

He has a great shot, his ability to catch the puck and immediately release it off of his stick is very impressive. Just look at his first career SHL goal, he grabs the puck at the opposing blueline puts a move on the defender and wires a shot past the goalie.

His offensive skills are undeniable and if he has success in his first full SHL season next year he could turn into a huge steal if he’s available at 32.

Jacob Olofsson, C, Timra, Allsvenskan
Future Considerations – 31
McKeen’s – 30
NHL CS – 9 (EU Skaters)
Craig Button – 21

Timra earned a promotion from Sweden’s second tier league to the SHL next year and Jacob Olofsson was a contributer to the team’s success. Olofsson looks to be a late first round pick but it’s possible he falls to the second round (like Rasmus Asplund did).

The first thing you notice about Olofsson is his size, he’s 6-2 192 and uses his body to his advantage. He overpowers people at times and has the frame needed for an NHL player. He fits the same type of mold that the last two Swedish centers the Sabres drafted in the second round (Asplund and Davidsson).

Olofsson is a two-way center who needs to improve his skating but he has smarts and a good skill set (on offence and defence). On offence he has a good shot and has good vision that allow him to make smart passes to his teammates. On defence he is smart and reliable, he uses his positioning and his stick to break up plays and create quick chances off good defensive plays.

Ryan Merkley, D, Guelph, OHL
Future Considerations – 25
McKeen’s – 24
NHL CS – 45 (NA Skaters)

Ryan Merkley is the toughest prospect to gauge in this entire draft. Merkley is a super talented prospect who has all of the tools to be an elite playmaking defenceman in the NHL. Yet scouts can’t seem to agree on where he will go in the draft because Merkley’s defensive abilities are severely lacking at the moment. He seems to be a player that could go at any point in the first two rounds, I wouldn’t be surprised if he is a top-15 pick but I also wouldn’t be surprised if he falls to the mid to late second round either.

I honestly have no idea will go in the draft but his offensive abilities are unmatched by the defenders in this draft class. The scary thing though, is that former Kitchener Rangers star Ryan Murhpy has been used as a comparison and he hasn’t been able to figure it out at this point in his career.

Just listen to The Hockey News’ Ryan Kennedy in this highlight pack discuss Merkley [1:30-3:30]

What I will say that if Merkley is there at 32 for the Sabres Botterill should take him (or at least heavily consider it). If the right organization gets a hold of Merkley and preaches patience with his development he could turn into the second best defenceman in the draft.

Dmitri Zavgorodniy, RW, Rimouski, QMJHL
Future Considerations – 86
NHL CS – 69 (NA Skaters)

In his end of the year press conference Botterill said he wanted to add speed and skill to wings, and Zavgorodniy fits the mold. The undersized winger (5-9, 161) played for Rimouski in the QMJHL.

He scored 26 goals and 47 points, but this isn’t an accurate representation of his skill. He has an excellent shot that will allow him to score goals at the next level. Where he needs to improve is his willingness to get into the dirty areas. If he adds weight and gets stronger he will be able to get himself into better scoring areas and use his skill to put up a lot of points.

Zavgorodniy would be an excellent selection in the third round for the Sabres if he’s still on the board.

Ryan O’Reilly, C/RW, Madison, USHL
NHL CS – 58 (NA Skaters)

O’Reilly (the other one) is a project, but he has the potential to be a very good prospect for whoever drafts him. He has good NHL size (6-2, 201) and play the wing and center, he has the versatility that Botterill looks for in a prospect.

He won’t wow anyone with his skill, but he’s a hard worker that does whatever it takes to help get the job done. He is committed to the University of Denver for the 2019 season, and he will have the chance to develop at a very good school in the NCAA under a very good coaching staff that has developed a lot of good NHL prospects.

O’Reilly is the perfect prospect to take in the late third and early fourth round and if he works out could be an excellent role player in the NHL.

Blake McLaughlin, LW, Chicago, USHL
Future Considerations – 92
NHL CS – 24 (NA Skaters)

McLaughlin had an excellent season for the Chicago Steel in the USHL, he averaged nearly a point per game (52 point in 54 games), and impressed with his offensive abilities. The kid can flat out score, with 23 goals in 54 games in the USHL McLaughlin looks like he could be a very good goal scorer at any level.

He is committed to the University of Minnesota for 2019-2020 (according to EP) meaning he will likely play for the Steel in the USHL again. McLaughlin should make a big jump in his game next year if he stays in the USHL and should become one of the dominant wingers in the league.

With the Sabres preaching proper development these days McLaughlin is a perfect prospect to target with one of their third round picks if he is on the board. He can develop in Junior and in the NCAA before making the jump to professional hockey when he and the team feels he’s ready.

McLaughlin could turn into a top-six winger, meaning he could find himself with one of the Sabres stud centers in Eichel and Mittelstadt and a player with his scoring abilities would be a great complimentary piece to one of those young studs.

These prospects, and many others would all make excellent picks for the Sabres at this year’s NHL Draft. If Botterill can have a draft that is as good as his 2017 NHL Draft then the Sabres will be a lot closer to replenishing their prospect pool that was decimated by the previous regime.

People around the hockey world believe Botterill is the right guy for the job in Buffalo. It seems that he has a plan in place to help Buffalo come out from the NHL’s basement and the 2018 NHL Draft will be another big test for the Sabres GM.

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