The NHL Draft host team always wants to make an impression on draft day in front of their fans. In 2012, the Pittsburgh Penguins — who weren’t slated to pick until the late-first round — traded Jordan Staal to Carolina in exchange for a top-10 pick. It was a bold move, and it had fans roaring in their seats.
Then, conversely, in 2013, the New Jersey Devils traded away a top-10 pick in exchange for a goaltender. They actually made their draft standing worse, but it was a great move nonetheless and had their own home fans energized.
There were even reports that there was something in the works at the 2014 draft in Philadelphia, where the Flyers came close to acquiring the first-overall pick, but the deal fell through.
Needless to say, it’s always exciting to see what the home team does on draft day because you never know what to expect. But the Buffalo Sabres should stay right where they are, because the prospect they will be able to select with their eighth-overall pick would be the best fit for the club.
Buffalo general manager Tim Murray has done an excellent job rebuilding a Sabres club that looked like an AHL squad as recently as last season.
But the emphasis he placed on adding offensive stars and stars-in-the-making like Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart, Evander Kane, Ryan O’Reilly, left holes in obvious places along the blue line.
Sure, they have Zach Bogosian and Mark Pysyk under contract, while RFAs Jake McCabe and Rasmus Ristolainen will most likely be re-upped soon, but veteran Josh Gorges is hardly the top defender he once was and Cody Franson – one year away from UFA – doesn’t really fit long-term.
That makes for a fairly complex situation in which, aside from Ristolainen, Buffalo doesn’t really have any future top defense options – either in the system or on the main roster.
Truthfully, while he could turn into a future franchise defenseman, it never hurts to have those in the pipeline, so the Sabres should definitely grab one at this year’s draft.
Luckily, one may fall in their lap, as Jakob Chychrun has slid in the draft rankings.
A product of Boca Raton, Florida, Chychrun learned to play hockey in his native state. When things got serious and it looked like he was headed for greatness, though, he was at a disadvantage. So without a solid program for an exceptional player like him to get himself noticed by scouts, he and his father Jeff — a former NHLer — traveled every weekend to Michigan so he could play for the Little Caesars U16 club.
Eventually, he made the move to Toronto to play out his minor midget season with the Toronto Jr. Canadiens before being selected first overall by the Sarnia Sting at the 2014 OHL Priority Selection Draft. His natural leadership abilities made him the first choice to become an alternate captain as a rookie when Anthony DeAngelo vacated that position after his mid-season trade.
Chychrun has also proven that he is steadily increasing his offensive production, and he even eclipsed the point per game mark this past postseason.
For the longest time, it was speculated that the stud two-way defender would be the second overall pick, right behind Auston Matthews. But because of the meteoric rise of players like Patrik Laine, Matthew Tkachuk, Alex Nylander and others, Chychrun’s draft stock couldn’t keep up with the forwards.
Defensemen are tough to develop, and unless they’re at Aaron Ekblad-level when they are draft-eligible — ready to step right in to the NHL and contribute — teams can be a bit wary.
But the Sabres needs to make good use of their first pick in the draft, even if it may take Chychrun a year or two to be NHL-ready.
It’s the perfect marriage. With a glut of right-handed shots, Buffalo is in desperate need of a lefty. Chychrun’s two-way game makes him an excellent asset for an all-situations role, and he’s a big, strong body capable of getting under the opponent’s skin and grinding it out when necessary.
Everything about this prospect fits exactly what Murray should be looking for in a future No. 1 defender, and to get him at No. 8, that’s just a steal.