By Jourdon LaBarber for Sabres.com
Following a busy six weeks of getting to know a brand new scouting staff and preparing a list of prospects, Jason Botterill's first Draft as an NHL general manager is officially in the books. It began with the selection of Casey Mittelstadt on Friday and ended with Linus Weissbach being taken in the seventh round on Saturday.
In between, the Sabres took who they believe to be a high-end forward in Marcus Davidsson and used other picks to begin replenishing organizational depth at the goalie and defense positions. All in all, Botterill seemed fairly pleased with his first go-around.
"We're happy with it," the Sabres GM said. "I think we've got a good balance, obviously getting the goaltender we desired but also getting a couple defensemen along with forwards. Maybe there's not as much fanfare and as much excitement as the first round, but we felt we got some picks that will have an opportunity to help our organization in the future."
Botterill covered a variety of subjects at day's end, so let's break it down topic by topic.
What the Sabres saw in Davidsson
Davidsson was the first selection Buffalo made on Day 2, taking him with the 37th overall pick in the second round. A two-way forward who checked in at No. 31 on Kris Baker's list of the top prospects available for this year's Draft, Botterill said he was a player who excited the organization's scouting department.
"Our Swedish scouts really thought he was a player who had good hockey sense, could play and - although his production might not be as high as some of the other players in the draft - could certainly be a guy who can contribute offensively but also play a good, solid defensive game too," he said.
Davidsson played 45 games for Djurgardens of the SHL last season after spending the previous season with the organization's J20 team, meaning it was his first adjustment to playing against grown men. He scored five points and four assists.
Buffalo got its goalie
After announcing that the organization was expecting to lose Cal Petersen to free agency, Botterill said he'd like to add to the team's goaltending depth - but only if the right opportunity presented itself. It did in the second round, and Buffalo made Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen the second goalie taken when they selected him with the 54th pick.
Luukkonen, who's listed at 6-feet-4-inches tall, led Finland's junior league with a 1.78 goals-against average last season. He also won a silver medal backstopping the Finnish team at the U-18 World Championship.
"The first thing that just jumps out at you is his size," Botterill said. "It's something that we talked a lot about in the meetings, is just there's always the lasting impression, the evaluation of the U-18's this year but he's had some success even the previous year at the U-18's.
"You try to look at, instead of just the last couple months, you're looking over a 24-month period at how he's performed. Certainly he, like most goalies at his age, there's a lot to be worked on from a positional standpoint but he has the size, he has the demeanor and we look forward to working with him."
Sabres continue to add puck-moving defensemen
They may not have been names you thought of coming into the Draft - neither Oskari Laaksonen (Round 3, 89th overall) or Jacob Bryson (Round 4, 99th overall) showed up on NHL's Central Scouting Service's lists - but the Sabres believe they added a pair of talented puck-moving defensemen in those two players.
Laaksonen may be the more unknown of the two, at least to the public. But the Finnish defenseman isn't an unknown in League circles, according to head amateur scout Jeff Crisp, and the Sabres' scouting department thought highly of his potential.
"Our European scouts really wanted to stand up and get the player in the organization," Botterill said. "Unfortunately sometimes, if you don't step up and take a player, you may not get him … The offensive creativity, the ability to make plays, the ability to get up the ice and create offense [is exciting]. There's certainly some work to be done in the defensive zone, but the offensive skillset is something that they were very intrigued by."
Bryson, meanwhile, is a defenseman who the Sabres believe excelled in his first collegiate season at Providence, where he played alongside fellow Sabres prospect Anthony Florentino.
"He steps in as a freshman at a very top-end program at Providence and I think sometimes we undervalue players who step into college right away," Botterill said. "I know it's a big adjustment, playing against sometimes 23, 24 year olds, and he stepped into a very good program at Providence and I think played very well. I think from a puck moving ability, puck-moving standpoint, he did an excellent job this year."
Sabres coach Phil Housley said he'll expect defensemen to jump into the attack in his system, and these picks sound like they follow Buffalo's pro acquisitions (Victor Antipin and Nathan Beaulieu) in fitting that mold.
WATCH: JASON BOTTERILL SPEAKS FOLLOWING CONCLUSION OF 2017 NHL DRAFT
Botterill will continue to draft out of the NCAA
Botterill has a track record of drafting players out of college, and he reiterated once more that the threat of losing those players' rights to free agency after four years won't deter him from doing so.
"Our job, you want to be in a situation where you're developing players and I trust the college route," he said. "It doesn't mean the junior way isn't a very good way too. Everyone wants to say, 'What's the best way?' There's no best way. But I feel very comfortable with players in college and developing that scenario, and then it's a matter of making sure you're building that relationship over the two, three, four years.
"We're trying to develop an organization here in Buffalo and Rochester where players do want to come here, where if your drafted here, you're bringing them to development camps, you're interacting with them, and they want to be a part of what we're trying to create up top with Jack [Eichel] and [Rasmus Ristolainen] and [Ryan] O'Reilly."
Players are only eligible for free agency once they're four years removed from their Draft, which make a top selection like Mittelstadt - who is attending the University of Minnesota next season - unlikely to do so in the first place.
"I don't want to put a timeframe on his development but it's a scenario where, look, we're going to give him plenty of attention," Botterill said. "We feel very comfortable where he is, going to the University of Minnesota and you look at their track record developing payers, they do a great job there. We'll be evaluating him after each year to see what's best for him, but if you're asking me straight up the likely hood of staying four year? Very unlikely."
Looking ahead to free agency
July 1 is only a week away. Botterill said that the Sabres will continue to pursue all avenues of improving the team, be it through free agency or through trades, but added that he doesn't believe there are many "big splash" free agents available this offseason.
"We're still addressing a lot of different positions in our organization," he said. "We want to bring more depth obviously, and whether that's through free agency or through trades we'll continue to look at different things. I think it's just in general, free agency in the last five, six years, it's become more difficult to find high-end players. Teams are signing their players younger and players aren't getting to free agency.
"I don't think there's as much of that sort of a "big bang" [free agent] on July 1, but you can find some good value and good depth."
Botterill also discussed the balance the team is looking to strike between becoming more competitive next season without mortgaging its future.
"I think if you ever get in a rush, that's when you make mistakes," he said. "The bottom line is you do have to be patient, but I know Phil Housley's competitive. I know myself, [I'm] competitive. We want to be competitive, we want to make changes, we want to be more successful right off the bat here.
"So it's a scenario where you're trying to balance things out. Your trying to make the improvements, you're trying to bring people and players in who are going to help our organization right away. But you always have to have a little bit of a look at a long term. We can't be sacrificing young players. We can't be sacrificing draft picks for a short-term fix."
The Sabres are close to hiring an assistant GM
Botterill said he hopes to make an announcement in the coming days. The new assistant GM is also expected to take on the role of general manager for the Rochester Americans.