This will be a six-part series highlighting what the Buffalo Sabres' draft plans may be, including an individual look at all four picks the Sabres have in the top-50.
The Buffalo Sabres have one slight positive from their disappointing season: Their draft position. The 2013 NHL Entry Draft is chock-full of top-end talent and the Sabres have two picks in the first 16 (Nos. 8 and 16) selections in the draft. There is a huge opportunity for the Sabres to get two pieces that will help them over the hump in the near future.
But they also need to be the right pieces.
The Sabres looked like they needed help everywhere at most times last season, but a few needs definitely outweigh some of the others.
The Sabres' biggest need is likely a sizable winger with a scoring touch.
On the roster now are Thomas Vanek, Drew Stafford and Marcus Foligno, but the futures of Vanek and Stafford are clouded at best right now. Joel Armia will have every opportunity to make the team in October, and at 6'3" he is exactly what they need, but he alone will not be enough.
On the board in the top-50 that fit this bill include Valeri Nichushkin (6'3",195 lbs.), Anthony Mantha (6'3",180 lbs.), Michael McCarron (6'5",220 lbs.), and Jacob de la Rose (6'2",190 lbs.). Nichushkin could be the target with the number eight pick, but the likelihood that Sabres' general manger Darcy Regier will have to move up from the eight-spot to get him increases by the day.
Another huge need for the Sabres is a three-zone defenseman that can be paired with a more stay-at-home guy like Mike Weber.
With the departures of Jordan Leopold, T.J. Brennan and Robyn Regehr, the Sabres' defensive corps have basically been reduced to some stay-at-home guys like Weber and Chad Ruhwedel and offensive zone guys like Christian Ehrhoff, Andrej Sekera and Tyler Myers. Myers, when playing well, has the best three-zone potential on the team, but last season saw Mark Pysyk emerge as the Sabres' best three-zone guy in a very short period of time.
Names that Sabres fans will hear that fit this description are Darnell Nurse, Nikita Zadorov, Rasmus Ristolainen and Seth Jones, who is almost certainly going to be the first pick.
The last major need for the Sabres is another playmaking center to add to Cody Hodgson and (potentially) Mikhail Grigorenko.
Hodgson had a much publicized issue in the defensive zone this season, but he was exactly what the Sabres needed in the neutral and offensive zones. And while Tyler Ennis has played well at the pivot, he is not a long-term answer at center. The Sabres' prospect pool is not necessarily full of playmaking centers, with Grigorenko and Daniel Catenacci being the only ones likely to make an impact. Zemgus Girgensons and Johan Larsson have shut-down, third-line potential in the NHL and will likely not be a Hodgson-Ennis type of guy.
Grigorenko is the dark horse here, and likely the reason a winger is the top priority. While he certainly did not have a Calder-worthy rookie season, he also was not afforded the opportunity to make the type of impact fans expected from the 12th overall pick last year.
Names that the Sabres will keep an eye on here are Nathan MacKinnon, Alexsander Barkov, Sean Monahan, Elias Lindholm and Bo Horvat. MacKinnon, Barkov and Monahan will likely be gone prior to the eighth pick, but Lindholm and Horvat may be available as late as the 16th.
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