Buffalo Sabres general manager Tim Murray is no stranger to making a splash, as evidenced by the blockbuster Evander Kane trade before the 2015 trade deadline. When he was hired, Murray made it known that he was committed to the rebuild in Buffalo; he has traded away many seasoned veterans from the Darcy Regier era and has bolstered the prospect pool tremendously.
After a dismal season saw the Sabres finish last in the league, Murray lost his first overall pick to Edmonton when the Oilers won the draft lottery and the right to select generational center Connor McDavid. That didn’t stop him though, as the GM committed to Jack Eichel whole-heartedly, even adding Eichel’s BU teammate Evan Rodrigues to the organization.
Now, with the draft next week and the offseason about to begin, Murray has the chance to further improve his team by trading for a supporting cast to assist Eichel, Sam Reinhart, Zemgus Girgensons, Rasmus Ristolainen and the rest of the Sabres’ future core in becoming a contender in the near future. Though the name Rick Nash was recently mentioned by Elliotte Friedman to be a target for the Sabres, and Colorado Avalanche forward Ryan O’Reilly has been tied to the Sabres for quite some time, it is unlikely Murray would take a gamble on the 31 year-old winger or a forward one year away from being an UFA. He would instead go for someone younger – someone who fits into Buffalo’s youth movement.
The second of three first-round draft selections by the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2013, Kerby Rychel‘s name surfaced in credible trade chatter when Elliotte Friedman suggested that the prospect could be in play for Columbus in their search for defensive help. A left-wing power forward, Rychel was the 19th overall pick in 2013 and was immediately considered Columbus’ top prospect; but two years later, the Jackets are stocked with plenty of young offensive talent in the pipe-line, and Buffalo has just what they need defensively.
It’s likely that the CBJ will be losing American defense prospect Mike Reilly when July 1 rolls around, as the unrestricted free agent is set to test the waters. However, Murray can offer up a replacement for Reilly in Jake McCabe — the Sabres’ second-round pick in 2012 — as well as the New York Islanders’ 2015 second-round draft pick in a deal that sends Rychel to Buffalo. McCabe has the makings of a future top-four defender and is coming off a successful first professional hockey season in the AHL.
Friedman: #Blackhawks seen as 'legitimate threat' to land Mike Reilly. #mnwild seen contending too. http://t.co/eXeME3oZ4Z
— Chris Nichols (@NicholsOnHockey) June 8, 2015
Rychel led the OHL in 2014 playoff scoring with 32 points (11-21-32) in 20 games en route to an OHL championship. The power forward impressed in his first professional season in 2014-2015, scoring 33 points (12-21-33) in 51 games. The main draw with Rychel is that in addition to his excellent goal-scoring ability, he also knows how to get physical and will drop the gloves when necessary. He projects as a top-six left-winger, but with Kane taking all the pressure of being the top-line guy at that position, Rychel can excel in a second-line role next to center Sam Reinhart in the near future.
Another first-round pick in 2013, Anthony Mantha was considered a steal at 20th overall by the Detroit Red Wings. His incredible final year of junior hockey in 2013-2014 saw him score 120 points (57-63-120) in the regular season, 38 points (24-14-38) in the postseason, 11 points (5-6-11) in seven games at World Juniors for Team Canada and a QMJHL President’s Cup championship.
However, his illustrious junior career came crashing to a halt when he began his professional hockey career in 2014-2015. Before the season began, Mantha suffered a fractured leg that delayed his AHL debut and may have caused his slow start. However, he finished the season with just 33 points (15-18-33) and scored an underwhelming two goals and two assists in 16 playoff games, leading to much disappointment about his first year of pro hockey from Red Wings executive Jim Devellano.
Very, very, very disappointing. And I say that with a lot of sadness. Coming out of junior, we had such high hopes for him.
– Jim Devellano
All hope for Mantha is not lost however, as the hulking forward has yet to play a full, injury-free season of professional hockey — and this season may have just been a tough transition year from junior to professional hockey. Mantha is a speedy, dangerous winger in the offensive zone, and his size (6-foot-5 and 205 pounds) makes the sniper a physical threat as well. He’s got NHL size (and then some) already, but he just needs to work on honing his game at the professional level.
The Sabres have a former-junior-star-turned-disappointing-pro of their own in Mikhail Grigorenko, who seems even less likely to be in the Sabres’ plans now that he has three centers (Eichel, Reinhart and Girgensons) in front of him on the depth chart. The center could use a change, and the Red Wings have the patience to try to make it work. A new change of scenery could do wonders for both Mantha and Grigorenko, so perhaps a swap (among other pieces) would work.
This one may not make sense at first, but there’s a reason this could work. The Sabres could use another goal-scorer, as mentioned above, and St. Louis Blues prospect Robby Fabbri fits the bill. However, two things stand in the way: he’s a natural center, and the Sabres already have plenty of those; and he’s a top prospect who was just drafted last summer, so it’ll take quite a bit to pry him away from the Blues.
Fabbri did play wing at the World Junior tournament. After scoring six points (2-4-6) in five games as a winger for Canada, Fabbri went down with a high ankle sprain. It was a disappointing, abrupt end to our first look at the forward as a winger, something that may make him a more productive and successful hockey player in the NHL given the fact that he doesn’t exactly have NHL size.
Back to Robby Fabbri – takes a special talent to step into AHL & contribute so quickly. Remember, almost made Blues main roster. Gr8 talent
— Brendan Ross (@RossyYoungblood) April 19, 2015
Getting Fabbri to Buffalo could prove to be problematic though. There is not guarantee St. Louis will go into next season with their current core in-tact, and they may even push for a youth movement of their own (they have plenty of high-quality prospects in the system). That means that Fabbri could be a big part of their short-term plans, as he was already a big part of the long-term for the Blues.
Murray may be able to strike a deal if he gives the Blues the right assets. St. Louis could be looking to trade back into the first round of the 2015 draft (they lost their first-rounder to Buffalo in the Ryan Miller trade last year), and the Sabres have an extra pick to spare. It’s not very likely that Murray would give up the first-rounder for a prospect though, so he could look at sending Tyler Ennis over to the Blues with one of his two second-round picks.
The Sabres need wingers, and if Fabbri can make the switch to the wing full-time, he’d be an excellent addition to the young group in Buffalo.