Lottery balls will determine Tuesday night where the Sabers pick in the first round of the NHL Draft and whether they have two early picks.
Sabers general manager Kevyn Adams has a 5% chance of winning the first overall pick for a second straight year when the NHL Draft Lottery takes place at 6:30 p.m. They hold the ninth-best odds, behind, in order, Montreal, Arizona, Seattle, Philadelphia, New Jersey, Columbus, Ottawa and Detroit. The event will be broadcast on ESPN.
But the Sabers could also hold an additional top-16 selection. Vegas’ first-round draft pick will be traded to Buffalo if he doesn’t drop into the top 10, as noted in Jack Eichel’s trade. The Golden Knights hold the 16th-best lottery odds after missing the Stanley Cup playoffs and have a 0.5% remote chance of skipping the maximum 10 spots. They cannot choose higher than sixth.
If Vegas defies the odds and picks in the top 10, they will keep the pick and send their 2023 first-round pick to the Sabers regardless of the outcome next season.
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The Sabers are guaranteed to have at least two picks in the first round of the draft, which will take place July 7 and 8 in Montreal. They have their selection and that acquired from the Florida Panthers in the trade of Sam Reinhart, who will be at the end of the round. And while a lot could change between now and draft day, Adams told reporters last week that he expects to stick with his picks.
Apparently every Sabers player on the roster, regardless of experience, has improved under Granato and his team.
“I think as far as this year’s draft goes, we’ll be open,” Adams said. “We will have conversations. Is there anything we’re doing that makes sense that we think will put us in a better position? So we will. What we won’t do is do something that we think is a short-term fix because that’s kind of what I talked about earlier. That’s not where we are now.
“If you embarrass me, I would expect us to make our three picks. I believe in the pipeline you need to build.
The prospect pipeline received much-needed reinforcements in last July’s draft, when the Sabers picked Owen Power first overall, followed by Isak Rosen, Prokhor Poltapov, Aleksandr Kisakov, Stiven Sardarian, Josh Bloom, Olivier Nadeau, Viljami Marjala , William Von Barkenow, Nikita Novikov and Tyson Kozak.
Jason Botterill’s previous trades left Adams with five selections in the 2020 draft. And although two of Buffalo’s picks, Jack Quinn and JJ Peterka, are on the cusp of the NHL after notable rookie seasons in Rochester, more young talents are needed in the organization.
Since the 2018 draft, only three of the 17 Sabers selections after the second round have signed an entry contract: Matej Pekar (fourth round, 2018), Lukas Rousek (seventh round, 2019) and Bloom (third round, 2021) .
Two notable prospects, guard Erik Portillo (third round, 2019) and defenseman Ryan Johnson (first round, 2019), are scheduled to return to their respective NCAA schools next season and are eligible to become unrestricted free agents at the summer 2023.
The pipeline was bolstered by the acquisition of goaltender Devon Levi in the Reinhart trade, but he opted to play another season at Northeastern University after a record second year. The Sabers own the rights to Levi’s in the NHL until the summer of 2024.
Early returns from the Sabers’ draft classes in 2019 and 2021 look promising, but future development and injuries are hard to predict. And they could enjoy a talented crop of prospects available at the top of this draft.
According to the final rankings from NHL Central Scouting, the best North American skaters available are center Shane Wright (Kingston, OHL), center Logan Cooley (USA Hockey National Team Development Program), left winger Cutter Gauthier (NTDP), the Matthew Savoie Center (Winnipeg, WHL) and the Conor Geekie Center (Winnipeg). The best European skaters available are left winger Juraj Slafkovsky, right winger Joakim Kemell, defender Simon Nemec, defender David Jiricek and center Marco Kasper.
“When we talk about long-term, sustainable success, you need talent,” Adams said. “You need talent that can come from Rochester, and you don’t have to rush it. You can let them grow and develop. And then when they’re ready, boom, they’re here and they’re ready to make an impact, not just survive.
The Amerks’ playoffs continue on the road Tuesday with Game 1 of the best-of-five second-round series against the Utica Comets. Rochester pulled off a first-round upset, sweeping the Belleville Senators in two games behind Brett Murray’s goal in overtime on Friday night.
But this match is much more difficult. The Comets’ 43 regular-season wins were tied for third in the American Hockey League, behind only Chicago (50) and Stockton (45). Utica received reinforcements from the New Jersey Devils in the form of 2020 first-round pick Alexander Holtz and winger Fabian Zetterlund, who had a 24-goal season.
Aaron Dell is expected to stay in goal for Rochester, who are without Sabers prospect Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen through injury. Arttu Ruotsalainen was the Amerks’ top scorer in the first round, and he has 18 goals and 51 points in 57 games this season.
Luukkonen is staying “week to week,” coach Seth Appert said, and defender Mattias Samuelsson is day to day. Winger Linus Weissbach, who was injured in the first game against Belleville, remains unavailable.
Here’s the rest of the series schedule, if games four and five are needed:
Game 2: Saturday, May 14 at Utica, 7 p.m.
Game 3: Sunday, May 15 at Rochester, 5:05 p.m.
Game 4: Tuesday, May 17 at Rochester, 7:05 p.m.
Game 5: Thursday, May 19 at Utica, 7 p.m.
Sabers center Dylan Cozens has been selected to represent Canada at the IIHF World Championship, which takes place May 13-29 in Finland. Cozens, 21, has 13 goals and 38 points in 79 games with Buffalo this season. He previously played for his home country at the World Juniors, where he won gold in 2021 and finished second in the tournament in scoring in 2021.