The Sabres wrapped up night one of the 2022 NHL Draft by using all 3 selections they came into it with. As expected, the 1st round was all over the map, especially with how things started, but the Sabres walked away some very nice prospects.
Kevyn Adams and his scouting staff seemed to put a premium on highly-skilled offensive forwards, walking away with 3 of them when all was said and done. While not the same style of players, each brings a different dynamic to the offensive zone.
In the first of this two-part article, I will look into the Sabres first three draftees and give some 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.
The Draftees: Part I
1st Round (9) – Matthew Savoie
C | 5’9” | 179 lbs | 1/1/2004 | Shoots: Right
Winnipeg (WHL): 65 GP | 35 G | 55 A | 90 PTS
TCB Reaction: “I could not have been happier with this selection. As the 4th ranked player on my final board, Savoie presents so much upside from the center position because of how supremely skilled he is. As a dual-threat passer and shooter, Savoie knows how to create offense on his own. It’s a fun pick and Savoie is a massive addition to an already strong Sabres forward group of prospects.” -Curtis Schwartzkopf (@CurtisNHLDraft)
Speed and creativity are the big parts of Savoie’s game that make him so successful.
He can make teams pay when they give him space or find open ice on his own. While some will knock Savoie’s size as a red flag, his ability to keep his feet moving and play the game at such a high pace when controlling the puck make him very hard to contain.
At even strength and especially on the power play, Savoie is a dynamic offensive force.
Savoie is a player who drives to the middle of the ice when attacking with speed. This speed allows Savoie to enter the zone with control of the puck as he sets things up on offense. Because Savoie is such a dual-threat shooter and passer, it’s challenging to defend against him since he will take the play that is given to him. Savoie’s quick hands allow him to handle the puck in tight spaces, especially in front of the net. It’s impressive to see how fast Savoie can move the puck, but he also understands how to slow the game down when necessary.
With elite-level IQ, Savoie is effective away from the puck on offense and defense. Savoie can be hard on the forecheck with his speed and forces the play where he wants it to go. In his own end, Savoie has strong anticipation skills that make it easy for him to intercept passes and turn possession up ice quickly.
Savoie’s overall strength doesn’t limit him at the junior level but it will be a hindrance in the NHL. As this physical trait is something Savoie can work on and improve over the next year or two, it’s not concerning that he is not fully filled out physically.
Pick Grade: A
My Pick: Matthew Savoie
Projection – Top 6 forward in the NHL who may project better on the wing because of his size but Savoie’s speed and creativity are certainly good enough to play the pivot position. Savoie will head back to Winnipeg and likely dominate the WHL once again. He is also a good bet to make Team Canada’s World Junior roster. Time to NHL: 2023-24
1st Round (16) – Noah Östlund
C | 5’11” | 165 lbs | 3/11/2004 | Shoots: Left
Djurgårdens IF J20 (J20 Nationell): 32 GP | 9 G | 33 A | 42 PTS
Djurgårdens IF (SHL): 11 GP | 0 G | 0 A | 0 PTS
TCB Reaction: “Östlund has the ability to use his skating ability and puck skills to manipulate the defensive coverage and open up lanes to attack. He had a relentless motor on the forecheck, something he needs to use more often but that will likely come as he matures. I think he has great positional versatility and can play both C and the wing if needed. Love the pick, not too risky, but a lot of upside if he develops.” –Austin Broad (@Austin_Broad)
Noah Östlund is a smaller center who is at his best when the puck is on his stick.
With some of the best play-making ability of the entire draft class, Östlund works his magic through manipulation of defenders. Östlund is excellent at using his body movements and head to get defenders to move, opening up passing and shooting lanes for himself.
Östlund’s vision allows him to control the pace of the game, which in his case, is a good thing because he does not have elite speed. It’s Östlund’s intelligence though that makes up for his lack of straight-line speed as he’s able to create so much offense with accurate passes to the high danger area of the ice. Östlund will also find himself down low in front of the net where he is generating scoring chances for himself and others.
Defensively, Östlund’s intelligence shines again as his ability to read the play makes him effective at breaking up passes. Östlund was effective as a penalty killer as well this past year because of his natural ability to keep the play outside and suppress dangerous shot attempts through his positioning.
Ideally, Östlund will continue to build up strength such that he’s capable of handling stronger opponents at higher levels of competition. Because Östlund has such strong hockey sense, he figures to develop very well moving forward.
Pick Grade: B-
My Pick: Filip Mesar (26th – Montreal)
Projection – Östlund will need at least another year in Sweden before thinking about coming over to North America. Currently slated to play in Allsvenskan next year, Östlund could make a smoother transition to the top-tier SHL, though he will have to be loaned to another club if he’s to play at that level.
Östlund projects to be a middle-6 center at the NHL level and one who will contribute as a playmaker on offense but also be used on the PK and in defensive situations. Time to NHL: 2024-25
1st Round (28) – Jiri Kulich
C/W | 5’11” | 179 lbs | 4/14/2004 | Shoots: Left
HC Energie Karlovy Vary (Czechia): 49 GP | 9 G | 5 A | 14 PTS
TCB Reaction: “Hard skill, think of him as a Marco Kasper-lite. Above-average skater with an above-average shot and a relentless motor. Always in pursuit of the puck. Kulich is very aware in the defensive zone with a very projectable two-way game. He lacks some vision and touch in the offensive zone which may push down his ceiling, but he’s a future NHLer in some capacity.” –Walt Zurowski (@Sabremetrix)
After being drafted Kulich said, “I hope to play next season in the NHL. I don’t have any other plans.” That is some high-level confidence from Kulich and something you want to hear out of a kid after being drafted.
With an NHL-level shot, Kulich is very good at finding the middle of the ice. What Kulich really does well is create space for himself and adjust his position so as to not glide to a crowded area. With an understanding of his position relative to defenders, Kulich is very good at ensuring he is in a shooting position with time to get a shot off.
Kulich is a very competitive forward and one who is capable of playing both the wing and center positions.
Kulich’s pro-style game is made possible because of his effort level in his own end and ability to change possession and drive transition the other way. Kulich is so good at reading the play around him, knowing when to apply pressure and when to give space to the puck carrier.
With how well Kulich did playing against both his peers and in the Czechia pro league this past year, it’s clear that the change in competition level doesn’t impact how he plays the game. Kulich’s effectiveness definitely dipped when playing against men as he had moments where he rushed plays that resulted in turnovers. Maturing a bit and learning to play a bit more composed while under duress will help Kulich transition to higher levels of play.
Pick Grade: B+
My Pick: Ryan Chesley (TBD)
Projection – It’s very possible that Kulich could end up making it to the NHL for the 2023-24 season, though it’s more likely he can earn a full-time role a year later. Being selected 3rd overall in the CHL Import Draft to Cape Breton of the QMJHL, Kulich may head there for the 2022-23 season or back over to play in Czechia.
Regardless, Kulich is a 2-way goal scorer who plays a style that may not ultimately be highly productive on the score sheet in the NHL but instead will have great underlying metrics. The Sabres really liked Kulich and according to a source, discussed trading up for him multiple times. Instead, they stay put and take him at 28. Time to NHL: 2024-25