The Buffalo Sabres had quite the start to the 2018-19 National Hockey League season. At one point, the Sabres were tied with the Tampa Bay Lightning for first in the Atlantic division. But as quickly as they rose, they fell right apart.
What exactly was the problem? Goaltenders Carter Hutton and Linus Ullmark were not exactly good in net for the Sabres. Their defense is solid and deep (while also young) with plenty of growth ahead of them. However, the glaring issue is depth forwards, and just forward prospects in general. Drafting at number seven overall in the upcoming NHL entry draft, who are some of the players who could shore up the forward core as soon as next season, and become a star in the future?
Kirby Dach, C, Saskatoon Blades (Western Hockey League)
The 6’4”, 195 pound centerman in Saskatoon may not be available at the seven spot in the entry draft, but there’s about 10 players you can argue are top-five talent in this draft, and he’s one of them. If he slips to seven, Buffalo should be yelling out his name at the draft.
He posted 25 goals and 48 assists (73 points) in 62 games played, with an additional five goals and three assists (eight points), in 10 playoff games. Using DobberProspects PNHLe, (which measures a players NHL potential using their point production, the league they play in, their age, and their position), he checks in between first and second line talent.
The one downside, he’s a center. The Sabres have Jack Eichel, Casey Mittelstadt and Zemgus Girgensons down the middle. They could always move him or Mittelstadt over to the wing, but with him at center behind Eichel, the Sabres have a serious shot at matching the Pittsburgh Penguins one-two punch of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin down the middle.
Alex Turcotte, C, Committed to Wisconsin (NCAA)
Playing with the United States National Team Development Program juniors (USNTDP Juniors), the 5’11”, 194 pound Turcotte posted 12 goals and 22 assists (34 points) in just 16 games. With the USNTDP U18 team, the centerman posted 26 goals and 35 assists (61 points) in only 34 games. Those are remarkable numbers, and not just that, he is incredible at both ends of the ice. From DobberProspects’ Cam Robinson on Turcotte: “The Wisconsin commit blends exceptional defensive play with high-end speed and skill. Has played second fiddle to Jack Hughes for years, but is beginning to step out of his shadow. A [coach’s] dream.” That is incredibly high praise, and deservedly so.
Again, he is a center as Dach is, but with some shuffling, the Sabres will certainly make it work. Using the PNHLe scale again, they place Turcotte above first line potential, and trending towards superstar status, meaning the sky’s the limit for the young Wisconsin-commit.
Peyton Krebs, LW, Kootenay Ice (WHL)
Finally, a winger! Now, Krebs isn’t as good as Dach and Turcotte are expected to be, but he was also on a very bad Kootenay team, and was one of the lone bright spots on the roster. If the Ice have a better team, he could prove to be a huge steal for anyone outside of the top five. He also fits the Sabres needs better, and like Dach, isn’t committed next season, and can make the jump if the Sabres believe he’s capable, which most likely isn’t as likely as Dach making an immediate jump, but the option is still certainly there.
Posting 19 goals and 49 assists (78 points) in 64 games is extremely impressive for a 17-year-old on a very bad team. In the World Junior Championships with Canada, he potted four goals and three assists (seven points) in four games. In the Hlinka Gretzky Cup, he put up two goals and three assists (five points) in five games. DobberProspects’ Cam Robinson had this to say about the winger: “Krebs takes creative lines to dangerous areas of the ice. He’s the type of player that sees plays develop before those around him and uses that to exploit the opposition. Krebs is a playmaker who can impact the game on any shift. He’s also capable of playing all three forward positions but likely ends up on the wing in the NHL.” He’s not only versatile, but has very high hockey IQ and great vision.
On the PNHLe chart, he’s almost exactly on par with Dach, between first and second line potential, but Dach is closer to a big impact at the NHL than Krebs at the moment. With the Sabres however, Krebs would probably have more success, as there is a need for wingers over centers at the moment. Krebs better fills that need.
Who Would I Pick?
For me, this is a truly difficult choice. All three are versatile, and can fill needs at both wings, and if necessary, center. Dach is the closest to being NHL ready, and could certainly play next season, which is a huge plus. However, Turcotte currently has a higher ceiling, but is committed to play college hockey next season, and who knows if he’ll be ready after next season either. He’s certainly worth the wait, but the Sabres are so close to having a contending team that they need a player who is as close to being NHL ready as they can be at seventh overall, and Dach is that player.
If he is gone, the Sabres should go with Krebs, but Turcotte’s potential is tantalizing, and it will be a very difficult decision. But really, the Sabres cannot go wrong here.
Prospect Evaluations and stats via DobberProspects
Featured Image Photo Credit: Nikos Michals