(Update: Reinhart was indeed traded to the Florida Panthers for goalie Devon Levi and a 1st round pick)
Friday night provided a little bit of everything for the Buffalo Sabres faithful: trades, draft picks and intrigue. The Sabres selected the most obvious choice available to them in the draft, Owen Power, at first overall last night. The most surprising turn in terms of asset movement revolved around Rasmus Ristolainen and his departure to the Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for the 13th overall selection, a 2022 2nd round pick and defenseman Robert Hägg. That deal was followed post-draft by speculation that Sam Reinhart had been traded to Florida although nothing has to fruition on that (yet).
Draft Day 2021 will likely also be remembered for a move that wasn’t attempted: the trade of Jack Eichel whom many assumed would be dealt on draft night. Overall, Sabres General Manager Kevyn Adams scores well on his draft day moves for not only the decisions he did and did not make, although we’ll just have to wait and see what the Reinhart trade to florida looks like if it happens.
First thing’s first though, it was a special moment for the newest Sabre, Owen Power, the 6’6” defenseman out of Michigan. Power seemed very excited about his future with the Buffalo Sabres when he spoke to reporters shortly after the Sabres took him.
“I think it’s pretty special. Even better than the way I thought it would be,” Power said. “I was kind of hoping (it would be the Sabres). They got a lot of young prospects and a promising future… I like where they’re heading.”
For those unfamiliar with the prospect, here’s a snippet of my draft preview of Power in the lead up to the draft:
Power’s hand-eye coordination seems exceptional. In the offensive zone he kept the puck in at the blueline by gloving it down and then he used his free hand on the stick to poke check a pass across to a teammate. The combination of coordination and size seems elite. His hands in tight to the net are also impressive for a big man.
The newest Sabre defenseman thinks there’s more to his game than just offense, too.
“I’m just a two-way defenseman who can play in any situation” Power said following the draft. “Penalty kill, powerplay and the last minute of the game.”
Power – who lived with fellow Sabre draft pick Erik Portillo this past season – certainly has a very strong two-way game for such a young man and his potential is undeniable. He likely could step into the NHL as a third pairing defenseman in October and look totally at home, although he said he’s still not sure what the future holds as to where he will play next year. One area that perhaps he could use some work on, going into next year, is his skating, as outlined in a previous blog:
He seems to have an acute awareness of his surroundings on the rush whether he has the puck or not. He’s constantly reading the breakout and his presence on the rush is undeniable as he swivels his head around trying to read the next move. His first few steps seem a little bit slow and unwieldly before he can get his big frame moving north/south but when he’s finally chugging along his speed is good. It’s like freight train speed.
The available tape on Power’s skating ability did not immediately conjure parallels to the NHL’s elite skaters ripping down the ice and Power seemed to acknowledge that in his press conference. He said he wanted to work to improve his footwork in the offseason; perhaps as a Michigan Wolverine next year if he were to return. That was great to hear. Skating has become such an enormous part of the NHL game in recent years and he’ll likely need to sharpen that area of his game up before making the jump to the show. It very well could be in the Sabres’ best interest to allow him to go back to Michigan and contend for a title with fellow draftees Matty Beniers, Kent Johnson and soon-to-be teammate Luke Hughes. That team would be incredibly exciting if they all return, and it would undoubtedly serve Power well to have that kind of winning experience.
For now, it appears fans will have to wait to see whether Power immediately joins the Sabres. Power had previously said he intends to rejoin Michigan next year and he didn’t stray far from that comment after being drafted.
“I think it’s probably the same but I haven’t talked to anyone in the Buffalo organization. For now I want to enjoy it with family friends,” Power said. “I think I could step in and play. It’s what’s better for my development and I don’t think there’s a bad decision.”
Either way, Power projects to be a very solid player for the Sabres for a long time.
Elsewhere in the first round, the Sabres snagged the speedy, elusive and somewhat undersized forward Isak Rosen. Full disclosure: I hadn’t done any research on Rosen leading up to the draft because the Sabres didn’t have a draft pick in the middle of the first round at the time. In the coming days, you’ll see some post-draft content in which I’ll examine available footage of the Sabres 2021 draft selections and give impressions based on what I see.
For now, let’s see what Alex Hobson of thehockeywriters.com had to say about Rosen:
As a player, Rosen is a shoot-first type of forward with an effortless release and the ability to score from all areas of the ice. Despite the goals showing up more often on the score sheet than the assists, he’s seen as an elite playmaker who has a knack for finding open lanes in heavy traffic areas. He also has deceptive, explosive speed, which makes him a threat for getting breakaway opportunities, and soft hands to complement these breakaways.
That certainly sounds like an enticing package of skills. I look forward to examining the available tape for a piece next week.
Earlier in the day, Sabres General Manager Kevyn Adams orchestrated a doozy of a trade which saw the Sabres deal defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen to the Flyers in exchange for the 13th pick in this year’s draft – technically the selection was listed by the NHL as the 14th pick, but the Arizona Coyotes forfeited their own first round selection which effectively rendered the Flyer’s pick #13. The Sabres also received a 2022 2nd round selection and defenseman Robert Hägg.
Frankly, it was an incredible haul.
Although the Sabres lost Will Borgen in the expansion draft in order to protect Ristolainen, it appears they made out like bandits in the process. I still believe the Kraken may have selected Collin Miller over Ristolainen due to Miller’s ties to Seattle Kraken AGM Jason Botterill, but the decision to protect the hulking Finn over Borgen currently looks like a terrific choice and my former position looks pretty untenable.
So here I stand eagerly eating a healthy portion of crow with regard to the expansion draft. I’m here to eat it.
Hägg may not amount to much more than a cap dump or a third pairing defenseman, but the picks are certainly valuable. Adams appears to have done an excellent job on this trade, and by extension, the expansion draft as he read the layout of the NHL and saw the demand for Ristolainen. I never believed the tire-flipping defenseman would be worth that much, but Adams did, and it seems as though he pulled off a masterful trade with the Flyers.
Sam Reinhart is in a similar situation to Ristolainen with respect to contract status. With this being Reinhart’s last year as a restricted free agent (RFA), the Sabres forward holds most of the cards when it comes to his status as a Sabre. He can simply take a one-year deal from the Sabres and walke to free agency and the Sabres need to avoid overplaying their hand which could result in Reinhart walking to free agency at the end of the 2021-22 season. His value pre-contract as an RFA is a major piece of leverage for the Sabres that they need to exploit in whatever deal they end up making.
Around midnight last night, Elliotte Friedman reported that pending a trade call, Reinhart was being traded to Florida. That news sat around for a while with no update or details and then Kevyn Adams spoke to the media without clarifying the situation. Basically, all fans got was a “no comment.”
It was a bizarre news conference post-draft because of the delay on Reinhart’s trade call. It’s been speculated that the Sabres had asked for a 1st round pick conditioned on Reinhart signing an extension in Florida which is not currently permissible under the collective bargaining agreement. This led to the strange situation in which Kevyn Adams couldn’t comment on the pending trade as fans followed along into the wee hours of the morning.
Elsewhere, the Sabres made some headlines through the one move they didn’t get close to making. While some would have liked to see Eichel traded at the draft, at the end of the day, the value conceivably wasn’t there in order for Adams to pull the trigger. It’s important to remember that the Sabres have Eichel under contract for 5 more years and they can’t be in any rush to offload him due to arbitrary deadlines.
On Friday a report surfaced from Eichel’s agent, Peter Fish, in which he said that Eichel was feeling good. Adams declined to elaborate on his Eichel’s status other than to say he heard from Fish that Eichel is indeed skating. It’s entirely possible that Eichel will need to return to the Sabres and prove his health in order for the Sabres to receive proper compensation for the star center. Head Coach Don Granato seemingly values offense and it would be really interesting to see what Eichel and Granato could do together in the coming year with a healthy captain and a coach not named Ralph Krueger. The Sabres can still trade Eichel at the draft in 2022 prior to his no-movement clause kicking in. That doesn’t mean that the Sabres wouldn’t trade the captain, though.
“Right now we’re going to look at every possible way to get our organization in the right direction,” Adams said last night.
Those trade offers evidently didn’t meet Adams’s standards to this point though. Trading Jack Eichel for a sub-par return was number one thing the Sabres needed to avoid, and they did that. In any case, sometimes no deal is better than a bad deal, and in the case of Jack Eichel that is especially true.
Finally, here’s a quick programming note: I’m going on vacation for a week. I’ll still be providing regular content, but I’m not sure about the Wi-Fi situation at the cottage so the posting hours might be a little different if I need to drive into town to hit send. If anything big breaks, I should still be in the know. Enjoy the rest of the draft and I’ll be back early in the week.