Buffalo Sabres Draft Recap

The Buffalo Sabres will always have a piece of my heart. Watching Alex Mogilny’s #89 fly around the ice is part of how I fell in love with hockey. With that said, here’s my recap on how they drafted in, what I believe is, a very key draft for them.

1st Round

7th Overall: Dylan Cozens (C/RW, Lethbridge Hurricanes: WHL)
I’ve had some not-so-nice things to say about Dylan Cozens this year. Originally I really thought he might be one of those kids who dominates his competition simply because of his size and once he gets to the NHL level that size will not be as dominant and therefore he could be a bust. But I was wrong about him. Because Dylan Cozens is not the kind of kid who would allow himself to coast along, being good simply because he is big. The big kid from the Yukon has had to work for everything he has ever gotten in this game. He made his way out of the Yukon during his 2014-2015 season of Bantam and hasn’t looked back since. His playmaking, shooting, puck handling, stick handling and skating are all top notch. He’s a right handed shot who can either play center or wing. I think Buffalo sees him more as a big, power-wing of the future and a guy who can really get the puck to the net to create dangerous chances. Dylan is a solid player in his own zone too. But where I think Buffalo really nails this pick is the character of the player they got. His work ethic permeated throughout that entire Lethbridge team this season. The kid helps you win games even when he’s not scoring and when he doesn’t have the puck. It’s 110% effort all the time and it’s infectious to those around him. Through his work on the ice, he inspires those around him to work harder and be better. I imagine Dylan Cozens will be playing a top 6 right-wing role for the Sabres within the next 3 seasons.

31st Overall: Ryan Johnson (D, Sioux Falls Stampede: USHL)
I loved this pick. I had the Devils taking Johnson at #34 on my draft board so this is not a reach at all by Buffalo. Ryan Johnson is the best attack neutralizer in this draft. In that, what I mean is: in transition when the puck is coming back through the neutral zone, Ryan Johnson is elite at disrupting the zone entry. He’s a defensive defender, through and through but do not let that fool you. His skating is excellent and his tenacity in board battles is superb. He hasn’t quite found his offensive game yet and it’s likely that most of his points through his future career are going to come from secondary assists due to him initiating the breakout with a pass. His breakout passing needs a little work, but it’s nothing that can’t get better over time. Buffalo has tried numerous times to bring in defenders and they haven’t really worked out the way they had hoped. I think Johnson is going to be a breath of fresh air for many Sabres fans as a guy who settles the game down and gives you a calming sense that everything is going to be ok when he is on the ice. I don’t know if he’ll every quite be that top pairing guy, but he’s definitely at least a solid middle pairing defenseman who settles the game down and gives his team a chance to win the game when he’s involved.

3rd Round

67th Overall: Erik Portillo (G, Frolunda HC J20, SuperElit)
Last season Linus Ullmark made me a little nervous. Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen has looked pretty good but he had offseason hip surgery in April. Hip surgery is funny for goalies because you HOPE they’ll just recover and that is that. But because of the nature of butterfly style, recover from hip surgery is never a given. Therefore I think the Sabres made a smart play here, grabbing the 6’6 Swedish netminder. Every report on this kid talks about how cool he is, and the game film I’ve watched speaks to it too. He just doesn’t get flustered or rattled at all and he really seems to thrive in situations where the game is on his glove. He was far and away the best goalie in Sweden’s under 20 league and he’s actually pretty fun to watch. You can kind of imagine him saying “nope” in Swedish every time he makes a save. When one does get by him, he has that unique, special goalie trait of shrugging it off and forgetting about it. I never really saw anybody seem to get inside his head. Goalies are so tough to project and I’m admittedly awful at it, but I genuinely believe the Sabres grabbed a good one with this kid. He’s playing in North America next year in the USHL for Dubuque and then he’s on to the University of Michigan for 2020-2021. The kid has a good development path ahead of him and Sabres fans will be able to keep a close eye on him.

4th Round
102nd Overall: Aaron Huglen (F, Fargo Force: USHL)
Kid played High School hockey for Roseau High in Minnesota. NHL Central Scouting had him 90th among North American skaters and TheDraftAnalyst had him in the top 250 overall. So this kid drew the right kind of attention to himself. Huglen had some nice highlight reel plays while at the 2018 Hlinka Gretzky Cup playing with a lot of the other kids who got drafted. He’s got some jump in his step and some real slick hands. When I’ve watched him, he’s played with confidence with and without the puck. What likely happened with this pick, is they picked up on the kid after his two real brilliant goals at the Hlinka-Gretzky tournament and then followed him throughout the season, liking what they saw. Buffalo wasn’t the only team in on this kid, so they decided the 4th was the place to grab him. I don’t really know what his ceiling is, but he’s a real interesting prospect for them. He’s eventually going to the University of Minnesota, so the Sabres will have the time to sit back and see what the kid grows into. He’s a name that 4 or 5 years from now we could look back and say, “Ohhhh THAT KID.”

5th Round
143rd Overall: Filip Cederqvist (LW/RW, Vaxjo Lakers HC: SHL)
A lot was made of 2nd overall pick Kaapo Kakko playing against men as an 18 year old. The same can be said about Filip Cederqvist. He was so dominant in the Under-20 league that Vaxjo moved him up to play 33 SHL games this year. Now, in those 8 games Cederqvist only had 8 points, but Vaxjo, like many Swedish teams tends to ease in the younger kids and doesn’t give them huge minutes. In my opinion, Cederqvist is better suited for the North American game than the SHL game. His best work comes within the 10-15 foot range right in front of the goal crease. He owns that section of the ice, pounces on loose pucks and gets them going towards the goal. At 18 years old, he’s 6’1 and 187 pounds. I would expect him to finish off in the 210 range after a few more years, because the kid is really broad shouldered and looks like he has a lot of room to fill out. There’s definitely room in any NHL lineup for a slick-handed crease crasher. Probably on the longer term of development also, would expect him to be trying to crack the NHL in 3-5 years. Likely a role player and depth scorer.

6th Round
160th Overall: Lukas Rousek (LW, HC Sparta Praha: Czech)
Rousek is a double overager in this draft, but he really caught some eyes down the stretch this year. He was good enough to catch a 39th overall ranking from NHL Central Scouting among available European forwards. That’s some pretty good value in the 6th round for Buffalo here. His speed is ridiculous. His first couple strides to get going when he decides he’s going to go are like a running stride, but he gains so much momentum that he flies past people. He’s a complete puck hound. If you have it, he wants it, and he’s going to catch you and take it from you. Lukas isn’t shy about board battles, or forechecking, or backchecking. He does not care, if the puck is there and he does not have it, he wants it. This makes him an absolutely FOREBODING penalty killer to play against because as the chase man, he’s able to hassle and breakup power play zone entries before they can even get going. He’s probably a role player at best, but because he’s 20 it wouldn’t shock me to see the Sabres try to get him into the AHL this season even though he’s supposed to play in the Czech leagues. He’s very good and active in the cycle though and he has phenomenal tools at his disposal, so his ceiling COULD be higher. Development camp is really going to be the determining factor. If this guy comes in and has the development camp and preseason that I think he could have, Sabres fans could be seeing him a lot sooner than you would typically expect to see a 6th round pickup.

I absolutely love the first 3 picks for Buffalo and the 6th round pick. The guys taken in between have potential also. There’s nobody here that you look at and say, “Why the hell would they take that kid?!” All around it was a really solid draft for Buffalo and I think the fans can relax a little because it looks like they came into this draft with a plan, and executed it. That kind of forethought bodes well for the future of a team that is far too talented to struggle the way they have these last few years.   Feel free to check out some of the videos I have linked below:

Scouching Report #7 – Ryan Johnson
Huglen Lacrosse Style for Nasty Goal against Canada | 2018 U18 Hlinka Gretzky Cup | USA vs Canada
Aaron Huglen breakaway goal vs Czech Republic | Aug 6 2018 | 2018 Hlinka Gretzky

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