Are the Buffalo Sabres Ready for the Draft?

The franchise went through a radical revision of its hockey operations just months ago and the stakes at the draft are high.
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Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

Dylan Cozens. Photo by Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

Let the great experiment begin. The Buffalo Sabres made massive changes to their hockey operations department in the summer and now, GM Kevyn Adams and director of scouting Jeremiah Crowe face their first-ever draft together.

They do so armed with the eighth pick overall and six selections total, heading into the seven-round draft.

"There's an intensity I'm feeling right now," Adams said. "The process has been impressive because of the amount of work put in by the staff."

Speaking of the staff - it's still rather skeletal. Buffalo terminated many of its scouts during that summer purge and now has just four staffers listed as amateur scouts on its masthead. Crowe and assistant director of scouting Jason Nightingale are also part of the department, however, while members of the development staff helped in preparation, too.

But what will the Sabres draft look like? According to Crowe, he and his staff have been using analytics in "multiple ways" during their assessments, while some of the work done by the since-fired scouts was also utilized by the new crew.

"We looked at players through a little bit of a different lens," Crowe said. "We wanted to give them a fresh slate. We asked our scouts to dream, but we also asked them, what could go wrong with a player?"

As for the size of his staff, Crowe didn't have a number for what his ideal scouting roster would look like once the dust settles, as he is still evaluating. He did ring off a number of benefits that he saw to the slimmed-down version he has been working with the past few months however: focused meetings, heightened sense of responsibility and clarity, for example.

"I do like a little intimacy," he said. "But I also like having different opinions."

Crowe also seems to like video - which was essential this year, since no draft picks were still on the ice when he was hired. But Crowe sees the benefits of video nonetheless, as he believes a scout can watch multiple games in the same amount of time it takes to do one live viewing, while still getting good information.

If it doesn't work, however, the Sabres will be opening themselves up to a volley of criticism. Buffalo needs to have a great draft after years of underachieving and going up against other franchises whose scouting staffs are double the size or more could well be a disadvantage. Right now, the Sabres have one scout in Europe - Chicago has four, while Detroit has five, for example. So Buffalo better be very confident in the guys they have in place right now and the new metrics that Crowe has brought into the system, because they're not going to win through boots on the ground.

As much as Crowe spoke of analytics though, the new director of scouting cited some very traditional and tried-and-true traits in the players he is interested in taking this week: competitiveness, desire to make an impact and being invested in themselves. He wants kids who "burn to be hockey players."

The stakes could not be higher right now. Buffalo hasn't made the playoffs since 2011 and the Sabres have already lost one star when they traded away a discouraged Ryan O'Reilly, only to see him win a Stanley Cup and the Conn Smythe with St. Louis. Franchise cornerstone Jack Eichel has yet to play in the NHL post-season and it obviously grates on him.

While it wouldn't be fair to ask any of the 2020 draft picks to make an immediate impact on the Sabres, Buffalo does need to set the table for the near future. Last year's first-rounder, center Dylan Cozens, looks like a good one and the acquisition of veteran Eric Staal could help Cozens adjust to the NHL in myriad ways.

The mission for Crowe and his crew is to add to Cozens, goalie Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen and raw defenseman Ryan Johnson. Hopefully, all the video work pays off in the coming days.

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