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Evaluating the Sabres’ Most Likely Pick at 9th Overall

June 26, 2022, 6:09 PM ET [1 Comments]
Hank Balling
Buffalo Sabres Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT
With the NHL season winding down, it’s time to start thinking about the 2022 NHL Entry Draft which is scheduled to start on Thursday, July 7th from Montréal, QC. Specifically, it’s time to start thinking about who the Sabres could select at 9th overall with their first of three draft picks. For many, the process of ranking prospects for a given draft class is a multi-year process that involves lives scouting and watching game-footage of eligible prospects.

For others, such as yours truly, the process involves watching a couple hours of prospect footage. I’m generally reticent to enter the world of prospect rankings because there are plenty of hockey minds out there who devote their time to truly watching and evaluating prospects, and it seems disrespectful to jump in at a late hour with a ranking that isn’t as well informed as it should or could be. There are plenty of well-researched prospect profilers out there who do a terrific job with their analysis and rankings and those people are undoubtedly more knowledgeable on the subject than a random guy on the internet who checks in at the last minute.

Here’s the disclaimer:

It is important to acknowledge that I’m in no way a draft expert. I seldom take a position on draft prospects or offer advice on whom the Sabres should select for one simple reason: I don’t dedicate the time to following the Canadian Major Junior Leagues or the college ranks with the amount of energy it would require to form an entirely educated opinion. Frankly, it’s somewhat insulting to the professionals and amateur enthusiasts who do dedicate their time to watching those games live if I pretend to talk knowledgeably about a subject that I only follow casually.

Here's my promise though (and it’s the same as last year): I will view prospect footage without preconceived notions of a player and give my unbiased opinion of the player based only on the footage I’ve watched, while posting links to the viewed footage. I will then contrast my observations against the draft profiles of people who truly know what they’re talking about.

The interesting thing about this draft is the wide range of views as to who could be taken where and by whom. While the first overall pick is viewed to be somewhat of a lock with Shane Wright projected to go to the host city of Montréal at first overall, there are a ton of questions as to the order following that pick. For that reason, we will average the projected draft order of picks 8, 9 and 10 from various experts and then use that ranking to project the prospect who is perhaps most likely to be available at 9th overall.

Sam Cosentino, Sportsnet:

8.) Marco Kasper, C, Rogle (SHL)
9.) Joakim Kemell, RW, JYP (Liiga)
10.) Jonathan Lekkerimaki, RW, Djurgarden

Lyle Richardson, Bleacher Report:

8.) Conor Geekie, C, Winnipeg Ice (WHL)
9.) Cutter Gauthier, C/LW, USNDTP
10.) Pavel Mintyukov, D, Saginaw Spirit, OHL

Adam Kimelman, NHL.com:

8.) Jonathan Lekkerimaki, RW, Djurgarden (SWE)
9.) Matthew Savoie, C, Winnipeg (WHL)
10.) Pavel Mintyukov, D, Saginaw (OHL)

Mike G. Morreale, NHL.com:

8.) Jonathan Lekkerimaki, RW, Djurgarden (SWE)
9.) Frank Nazar, C, USA U-18 (NTDP)
10.) Denton Mateychuk, D, Moose Jaw (WHL)

Ryan Kennedy, The Hockey News:

8.) Matthew Savoie, C, Winnipeg (WHL)
9.) Conor Geekie, C, Winnipeg Ice (WHL)
10.) Jonathan Lekkerimaki, RW, Djurgarden (SWE)

Corey Pronman, The Athletic:

8.) Matthew Savoie, C, Winnipeg (WHL)
9.) Marco Kasper, C, Rogle (SHL)
10.) Danila Yurov, RW Metallurg Magnitogorsk (KHL)

Scott Wheeler, The Athletic:

8.) Brad Lambert, C/RW, Pelicans (LIIGA)
9.) Jonathan Lekkerimaki, RW, Djurgarden (SWE)
10.) Isaac (Ike) Howard, LW, USNDTP

Bob McKenzie, TSN:

8.) Danila Yurov, RW Metallurg Magnitogorsk (KHL)
9.) Simon Nemec, RD, HK Nitra, Slovakia
10.) Conor Geekie, C, Winnipeg Ice (WHL)

Based on those eight rankings, we arrive at the vote totals for the prospects. The top-three players most likely to be taken at 8th, 9th or 10th are therefore Jonathan Lekkerimaki with five votes, Conor Geekie with three votes, and Matthew Savoie also with three votes. Here are the totals in full:

Lekkerimaki: 5 votes

Geekie: 3 votes

Savoie: 3 votes

Mintyukov: 2 votes

Yurov: 2 votes

Kasper: 2 votes

Kemell: 1 vote

Gauthier: 1 vote

Nazar: 1 vote

Mateychuk: 1 vote

Lambert: 1 vote

Howard: 1 vote

Nemec: 1 vote

With that in mind, let’s take a look at some tape of Jonathan Lekkerimaki, who is apparently the most likely to be taken in striking range of the Sabres’ first selection.

The first thing that pops off the tape when evaluating Lekkerimaki is his proximity to the net when he scores a goal. This is clearly a player who is willing to go to the dirty areas to pop one into the net. That is undoubtedly a trait that translates well to the NHL where goal-scoring requires a willingness to “pay the price” in order to pot one. This is not a guy who is playing a perimeter game which relies on his shot to create scoring opportunities – although there’s also no doubt that his shot looks lethal.

If we’re making a comparison to a Sabre – current or former – it’s hard not to see a parallel to Victor Olofsson. True, Lekkerimaki shoots right, while Olofsson shoots left, but they both possess a canon of a shot and seem to thrive in areas of open space. Lekkerimaki, though, seems to have a better ability to finish in close by using his backhand which isn’t a strong suit for Olofsson who relies on the pure power and accuracy of his forehand wrist shot.

In terms of skating, he looks competent but not overly fast; it doesn’t look like he’s going to blow anyone away with his speed. Again, the parallels to Olofsson continue. The 5’11” forward finished the season with more goals than assists and figures to be a goal-scorer at the NHL level. It’s fair to wonder if this goalscoring prospect role is already occupied by a guy like Jack Quinn, but if the Sabres are truly committed to going best player available, and if they have a strong enough grade on him, perhaps that’s not important.

Let’s see what the experts have to say:

Alex Hobson, TheHockeyWriters.com:

When it comes to analyzing his game, let’s start by addressing the elephant in the room. If you aren’t convinced already, Lekkerimaki will do quite literally anything to find the back of the net. Whether it’s a slap shot from the point that goes in before the goaltender has a chance to blink or a dirty net-front goal that finally trickles in after three or four whacks at it, Lekkerimaki wants every part of it, every time. His teammates tend to give him the Alex Ovechkin treatment on the power play, constantly trying to set him up for the one-timer at the top of the circle.

Benn Kerr, LastWordonSports.com:

Lekkerimaki is a pure goal scorer. He loves to shoot the puck and does it with a wide array of powerful and accurate shots. His wrist shot, snapshot, one-timer, slapshot and backhand are all strong weapons for him. He gets his shot off in a hurry, with a very deceptive release. Lekkerimaki can score goals in a variety of ways though. He has the hands to go to the net, get deflections and pounce on rebounds. He also has the soft hands to make moves in tight to the net. Lekkerimaki elevates the puck extremely quickly in tight to the net. He also does a very good job of finding open ice without the puck. Lekkerimaki is able to find the soft spots in the defence and get himself ready for a pass from a teammate.

Youtube links:

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