Continuing with Part 2 of the Sabres Draft Recap article, this section looks at the final six draftees. As was the case with Part 1, I give insight on what type of player each is, what they do well, where they need improvement, and what they ultimately project to be in the NHL.
In case you missed Part 1, the stats section below highlights some data about each prospect as it pertains to NHLe projections, even strength production, and transition stats.
NOTE: This section is identical to Part 1 so you can skip to Joshua Bloom if you have already consumed this information.
It’s easy to get excited or pessimistic about a new prospect based on their NHLe scores in their Draft Year (DY). This data can be a useful tool for evaluating a prospect’s production and how it may translate to the NHL but there’s a lot more context needed to truly project a player.
Patrick Bacon’s (@TopDownHockey) NHL Equivalency Tableau shows the chances that each Sabres draft pick becomes either an NHL player or a Star. Further detail on Patrick’s model can be found here but the general idea is to predict how successful a prospect will be given their DY-1 and DY seasons from a production standpoint.
Dave Macpherson (@Davemacp) has a great site pick224.com that gives a visual of all 2021 NHL Draft Eligibles, along with many other stats that are shown in the table above.. Adjusting each player’s data set to account for the league they played in and for their total time on ice at even strength, it’s clear to see how strong this years class is at even strength.
Baselining this against others from this draft class in Dave’s chart, I highlighted only Sabres draftees to see how they fared. It’s clear that the Sabres were prioritizing players that had positive Even Strength Goals For ratio, and also high end primary point contributors.
These stats are encouraging that the Sabres staff have made a concerted effort to find high impact players with good underlying numbers. However, these stats are meaningless if the tape doesn’t correlate and show prospects with good play driving traits.
Using InStat Hockey’s statistics, I compiled a table of each drafted prospect’s transition data at even strength. This data does paint a fairly good picture of how good each player is at transition though it should be noted what TCB classifies as controlled zone exits and entries, doesn’t always align with Instat.
These stats are consistent enough over large sample sizes however to back up what the tape has shown on each of these players, with the exception of Rosén whose SHL stats were omitted due to low average TOI.
When looking at this data, it shows which players are carrying the puck more often than others in both exits and entries. While the difference in league should be taken into account, the Sabres have shown that they are prioritizing prospects who area able to carry the puck, and do it effectively.
As the year goes on, I plan to dive deeper into equalizing each of these metrics based on the league each prospect plays in as it’s much easier to complete controlled exits/entries in the MHL than the NCAA, for example.
The Draftees: Part 2
3rd Round (95) – Joshua Bloom
F | 6’2” | 183 lbs | 6/8/2003 | Shoots: Left
Sagniaw (OHL): 54 GP | 6 G | 8 A | 14 PTS (2019-20 Stats – DID NOT PLAY IN 2020-21)
TCB Reaction: “The Josh Bloom pick surprised me a little bit, given his OHL rookie year and the lack of season I didn’t peg him as a top-100 pick. That being said, he’s a big-bodied offensive winger who can be a multi-dimensional threat. Had there been an OHL season I think his ranking would have likely reflected his draft status.” – Austin Broad (@Austin_Broad)
As the OHL was never able to get their season going, Josh Bloom did not play at all in 2020-21 so scouts were left with his tape with Saginaw the year prior. Bloom was one of the younger draft eligibles this year but is already physically mature, something that should help him take large leap in the OHL this upcoming season. What pops out about Bloom is how well he forechecks, playing with an edge and finishing his checks but doing so without taking himself out of position.
Bloom was not included in the advanced stats in the first section of this article but he does show a willingness to carry the puck when given the opportunity. His per 60 rates on transition plays from 2019-20 would rank in the top half of this Sabres draft class so he has the tools to be a possession player. When carrying the puck, Bloom uses his body to shield opponents from taking it away, all the while keeping his feet moving. As a shooter, Bloom has a strong release that allows him to get a lot of velocity on shots but he also plays well in front of the net with excellent hand eye coordination that gets him redirection goals.
Bloom can generate a lot of speed and this helps him on the forecheck but his stride is a bit sloppy and prevents him from being a high end skater who can make even greater impacts in transition. The faster Bloom skates, the more he seems to lose control of the puck so developing this part of his game is important for him to play at a higher level.
Pick Grade: D
My Pick: James Malatesta (133rd – Columbus)
Projection – Possessing NHL size along with a high end shot and speed, Bloom has the tools to make it to the NHL. With how well he is at forechecking and backchecking, he seems like an ideal role player in the bottom 6 but one who can contribute on the score sheet at even strength and even kill penalties. Time to NHL: 2024-25
4th Round (97) – Olivier Nadeau
RW | 6’2” | 205 lbs | 1/15/2003 | Shoots: Right
Shawinigan (QMJHL): 34 GP | 13 G | 32 A | 45 PTS
TCB Reaction: “After back to back off the board picks in the 3rd round, I was ecstatic to see Nadeau selected in the 4th round. Nadeau was highlighted in the TCB Draft Guide as a player the Sabres should target in the 4th round but also someone we had ranked much higher and was great value here. It’s been a while since the Sabres had a lot of CHL talent to track and Nadeau has a lot of potential.” – Curtis Schwartzkopf (@CurtisNHLDraft)
Taking huge strides from his DY-1, winger Olivier Nadeau showed off his strong playmaking abilities for Shawinigan and looks like a tremendous value in the 4th round. Nadeau’s poise with the puck stands out the most probably as he utilizes patience and keen vision to set up scoring chances. As a puck carrier, Nadeau protects the puck well and does take opportunities to perform controlled zone exits and entries when given the chance.
As Nadeau is more of a distributor of the puck, his shot is a bit underrated as it’s accurate and has enough velocity to beat goaltenders from out far. Even with this ability though, Nadeau still is understands where the best scoring chances are and does an excellent job of using his size to get to the high danger area of the ice for his shot attempts. Nadeau also has shown solid defensive abilities that allow him to break up passes and turn them up ice the other way.
If there’s one issue with Nadeau it’s that he doesn’t have high end speed at this point in time. Shedding some weight could help the large forward gain in this aspect but Nadeau is able to compensate for a lack of foot speed with his positioning on the ice. Even though Nadeau has NHL size, he will need to work on his conditioning before getting a chance to jump to a higher level of play.
Pick Grade: A-
My Pick: Sean Tschigerl (130th – Anaheim)
Projection – Nadeau’s offensive talent alone give him a 2nd line winger upside. If he’s able to improve his foot speed, the odds of him attaining this potential will only increase. At this stage of his development, Nadeau really needs to focus on dominating at the junior level and further improving his offensive skills. Time to NHL: 2023-24
5th Round (159) – Viljami Marjala
LW | 5’11” | 154 lbs | 1/29/2003 | Shoots: Left
Quebec (QMJHL): 30 GP | 5 G | 22 A | 27 PTS
TCB Reaction: “Marjala looked to be a player who was going to be selected in the 3rd-4th round range so getting him at 159 was good value. Marjala is a solid playmaker and showed well in the QMJHL this past season. He’s a very intelligent hockey player and it’s great to see the Sabres select from the CHL as they’ve typically ignored those leagues for the most part in prior drafts” – Curtis Schwartzkopf (@CurtisNHLDraft)
Making the jump from Finland to the QMJHL, Marjala is truly a playmaker and one who is at his best when he controls the pace of the game. Marjala’s processing ability, especially in control of the puck is what made him dangerous for Quebec this past season. Having the ability to move defenders with his eyes and body, Marjala opens up space for himself that allows him to be the dangerous playmaker he is.
Out of all the Sabres prospects drafted in 2021, Marjala is the most likely to turn into a power play specialist where he gets extra ice to use his skills. There’s a some ability to carry the puck in transition though it isn’t a defining trait of Marjala at this point in time. Marjala really needs to improve his overall quickness as he already possesses good agility but the top end speed isn’t there to be a true puck possession player yet.
Because of how well Marjala thinks the game, getting faster would enable him to be more effective at even strength and in transition. Because of Marjala’s high end hockey IQ, he is strong in his own end when defending and has shown good positioning tendencies as well. Marjala is going to need a lot of time to develop and will not be rushed whatsoever. It’s not known yet where he’s committed to playing next season but the skilled forward was well worth the gamble this late in the draft when most projected him to go higher.
Pick Grade: B
My Pick: Francesco Arcuri (175th – Dallas)
Projection – Marjala looks most likely to be a bottom 6 forward in the NHL who can play on a 2nd power play unit. Given his abilities on the PP, Marjala will stand a greater chance of earning an ELC down the road. As with most prospects taken this late in the draft, he will require a lot of patience and development. Time to NHL: 2024-25
6th Round (161) – William von Barnekow
W | 6’4” | 190 lbs | 11/12/2002 | Shoots: Left
Malmö J20 (J20 Nationell): 18 GP | 7 G | 14 A | 21 PTS
Malmö (SHL): 2 GP | 0 G | 0 A | 0 PTS
Tyringe (HockeyEttan): 26 GP | 9 G | 13 A | 22 PTS
TCB Reaction: “William von Barnekow is a big-bodied forward who brings skill and finesse to the game. Getting a player in the sixth round with mature physical traits and an offensive upside is a smart gamble by Buffalo. I like this selection a lot and think he’s a name worth remembering.” – Austin Broad (@Austin_Broad)
Taking the honor of best name in the Sabres draft class, von Barnekow is all about pace and seemingly never slows down regardless of which zone he is in. Having success at the U20 level in Sweden, von Barnekow earned stints in both HockeyEttan and the SHL this past year. As an effort player, von Barnekow excels at forechecking and shows high end defensive instincts that allow him to intercept passes and turn them up ice.
Von Barnekow’s size gave him quite the advantage at the junior level where he could take the puck to the middle of the ice for scoring chances. Fending off attackers with his body position, von Barnekow is a player who finds a way to win puck battles even when he does get it poked off his stick which leads to extended time of possession for his team.
It appears that von Barnekow will be given the opportunity to play in the SHL for Malmö next season but may end up at the U20 level if he fails to make an impact early on. There’s a need for von Barnekow to develop his puck skills more as his ability to drive the play puts him in good position for scoring chances but he can struggle with his puck control at times. Overall, von Barnekow was a player who fell and was projected to go higher so this was tremendous value for Buffalo.
Pick Grade: B
My Pick: Elias Stenman (Undrafted)
Projection – Given his height, when von Barnekow physically matures he has the makings of a very good bottom 6 power forward. His high compete level will always give him the potential to crack the NHL as a role player but further development in his offensive skills could allow him to reach an even higher potential. He remains a long term project though. Time to NHL: 2024-25
6th Round (188) – Nikita Novikov
LD | 6’4” | 207 lbs | 7/25/2003 | Shoots: Left
Dynamo Moskva (MHL): 52 GP | 4 G | 10 A | 14 PTS
Russia U18 (WJC-18): 7 GP | 0 G | 5 A | 5 PTS
TCB Reaction: “As a teammate of Kisakov, my first thought was that Novikov was a player who the Sabres noticed while watching Kisakov and would have otherwise not been drafted. While Novikov being a young draft eligible is good, his play driving traits are not the greatest and he is yet another LHD which is arguably where the Sabres are deepest and strongest.” – Curtis Schwartzkopf (@CurtisNHLDraft)
Nikita Novikov is yet another left handed defender who is more of a stay at home guy than one who leads the rush. A teammate of Kisakov, Novikov has NHL size and was just a few weeks away from being eligible for the 2022 draft. Novikov caught the eye of Russia’s international program and earned himself time representing his country at the U18 tournament where he made some offensive contributions.
While he’s shown some ability to carry the puck, Novikov does not consistently do it enough to be labeled as a mobile defenseman. Novikov is more of a traditional defender who likes to play physical and does a good job maintaining proper gaps against opponents though this will become more of a challenge as he plays at higher levels.
Novikov really needs to improve his ability to take more dangerous shot attempts, something that he can do by identifying holes in the offensive zone and sliding into those areas. He’s predominately a perimeter guy in the offensive zone and simply changes to his mindset would go a long way towards increasing his offensive impacts.
Pick Grade: C
My Pick: Lorenzo Canonica (Undrafted)
Projection – I am not bullish on Novikov making it to the NHL as his skillset does not seem like one that would translate well. Making some adjustments to his style as he develops will be necessary for him to increase his overall potential but best case scenario is he becomes an AHL guy though staying in Russia long-term and joining the KHL would seem more lucrative for him. Time to NHL: 2025-26 (If at all)
7th Round (193) – Tyson Kozak
C | 5’11” | 161 lbs | 12/29/2002 | Shoots: Left
Portland (WHL): 18 GP | 3 G | 8 A | 11 PTS
TCB Reaction: “After taking all wingers at the forward position earlier in the draft, taking a gamble on a center from the WHL made a lot of sense. Kozak was another player who was a bit higher up most rankings and fell a round from where was projected to go. This was good value on a player who exhibits good natural abilities to play center.” – Curtis Schwartzkopf (@CurtisNHLDraft)
With their last pick in the draft, the Sabres took Center Tyson Kozak from the WHL. Kozak is a versatile forward who does a little bit of everything well but doesn’t excel in one area in particular. Where he’s arguably the strongest though is his defensive game as his commitment to proper positioning make him good at suppressing shot attempts against.
Kozak is a good skater though doesn’t consistently take chances to carry the puck in transition to be a high impact player to possession. While his contributions to the defensive side of the game are known, Kozak struggled to generate a lot of offense and was really limited in his shot attempts for. Given how well he plays positionally, it’s hard to understand why his offense doesn’t translate to more production.
As Kozak appears to be a player with high hockey IQ, it seems that he needs to be more aggressive in taking chances that are given to him and learn how to find the high danger areas with more frequency. Building up more strength should help his shot become more effective and also have positive impacts to his speed which is adequate at the junior level but will need to improve as he gets older.
Pick Grade: B
My Pick: James Hardie (Undrafted)
Projection – Kozak showed a lot of improvement form his first year in the WHL so there’s reason to be optimistic about his commitment to being a better hockey player as he gets older. Playing the center position gives him an edge to getting a chance at an ELC as he already plays the position well and has the tools to be a bottom 6 role player in the NHL provided he continues his development. Time to NHL: 2025-26
Final Verdict: B-
Overall, the Sabres showed a shift in how they evaluate and draft talent, which is a refreshing sign from how things have operated in the past. While they definitely left some value on the board at several picks, their boldness should be respected as they took a few swings on high skill players who have substantial potential to be impact point scorers at the NHL level, should they hit their ceiling.
At the end of it all the Sabres Placed an emphasis on drafting forwards and in general, players who not only produce at even strength, but also have clear transition abilities. Given how important these types of players are to team success in the NHL, it’s great to see the Sabres valuing prospects who exhibit those traits.
With 11 total prospects added to the Sabres organization, the upcoming season is going to be a lot of fun to track the development of these players. Stay tuned for more Sabres prospect coverage throughout the year from the TCB Prospect Team.
My Final Team
As I have used this Draft Recap article to track who I would have selected instead of who the Sabres did, I will populate my draft classes here and will continue to do so for future drafts. My preferences can be found as far back as the 2019 Draft and as such, here is my prospect system were I drafting instead of Buffalo GM’s.
Note that these selections were also based off of my published rankings and recap articles where I take the best player available on my board at each spot. While there’s a lot of prospects in our system that I do like, I still prefer the group of prospects that I would have drafted.