The NHL lottery has changed since last season and the top draft picks are by no means a guarantee for those unfortunate franchises at the bottom of the standings. It is a complete reversal from the joy of the Buffalo Sabres fans for getting to the ironically coveted 30th place and a 100% chance of acquiring either phenom, Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel. Now the system is set up with three different lotteries for each of the top three picks. A seemingly perfect change considering the top three prospects are considered a notch above the rest of this year’s young draft-eligible talent.
The Buffalo Sabres are currently in 24th place in the NHL and have 73 points. There is a chance they can move up a few spots in the final weeks of the season by passing teams like the Arizona Coyotes or the Montreal Canadiens and likewise they could move further down in the standings; behind the Columbus Blue Jackets, Winnipeg Jets and/or Calgary Flames. They have fit right into a spot where they will have some odds to win on of the lotteries to draft Auston Matthews, Jesse Puljujarvi, or Patrik Laine. However, the more likely option is that they not be fortunate enough to select one of these players. If this happens, the Sabres should move out of their spot and trade for a young, NHL-proven defenseman.
The Sabres have a number one defenseman in Rasmus Ristolainen, who has made great strides this year and has produced with 9 goals and 31 assists. However, the rest of the Sabres defensive core has struggled throughout this season and they don’t have a clear number two defenseman to take some of the pressure off Ristolainen. Josh Gorges, Zach Bogosian, Mark Pysyk, Cody Franson and Jake McCabe have all had some success, but have also had their fair share of problems throughout. Casey Nelson is a new and nice addition to the blue line, but has not had enough time in Buffalo to be fully evaluated. The Sabres need to add more to their top six defensemen with a Draft Day move.
They could land the fourth pick if they fall back in the standings to get Jakub Chychrun, who currently plays for the Sarnia Sting of the OHL and is rated as the top defensive prospect or they could move their top ten pick to a team looking to bolster their prospect pools for a proven top pair defenseman from a contender with salary cap issues. The Sabres already have a tremendous prospect pool and a lot of draft picks in the future, but need NHL caliber defensemen. Often contenders have too many NHL caliber players and have a limited prospect pool. The timing is perfect for the Sabres to trade out of the top ten for a great, younger defenseman who has proven to be successful in the NHL.
Some possibilities through trade could be Jonas Brodin of the Minnesota Wild or Kevin Shattenkirk of the St. Louis Blues. Some options through free agency are Jacob Trouba of the Jets (RFA), Keith Yandle from the New York Rangers, Alex Goligoski from the Dallas Stars and Dan Hamhuis of the Vancouver Canucks. With improvement on the blue line, the Sabres could contend for the playoffs as soon as next season if they can blend the right mix of veterans with the young talent they have coming up.