By Jourdon LaBarber for Sabres.com
Another Combine has come and gone. Prospects who spent the last week meeting with NHL teams at KeyBank Center, some having spoken with 20 or more clubs, spent Saturday at HarborCenter completing the physical portion of their testing.
Once they were done, one more task remained before they could leave and set their sights on the NHL Draft in Chicago later this month: interviews with the media.
So, after a day of conversations with NHL hopefuls, here's what we learned at the 2017 NHL Scouting Combine.
Marr on the defensive crop
While it's no certainty that the Sabres will take a defenseman with the No. 8 pick in the first round, general manager Jason Botterill has already pointed to the Buffalo defense as an area in need of improvement.
Should the Sabres choose to use their first pick on the back end, they should have options. Miro Heiskanen, Cale Makar, Timothy Liljegren and Callan Foot are all names projected to be taken off the board in the first round.
Here's what Dan Marr, the director of NHL Central Scouting, had to say about this year's crop of defensemen:
"A lot of variety, a lot of versatility. It depends on what type of player you're looking for. I think the emphasis on Cale is because, if you're looking for a guy who can be another Karlsson or Letang, he can potentially develop into that type of player.
"But you've got other players like Cal Foote, [Juuso] Valimaki, they bring different dimensions to the game, different styles. Even though the numbers are quite similar, it's just a different package that you get with each player."
Who met with Buffalo?
So, who might the Sabres be looking at? Well, here's a list of players who confirmed meeting with Buffalo during the week.
Keep in mind that this isn't the full list of players who met with the Sabres, just the ones who were asked on Saturday.
Lias Andersson, C
Shane Bowers, C
Erik Brannstrom, D
Miro Heiskanen, D
Timothy Liljegren, D
Cale Makar, D
Grant Mismash, LW
Casey Mittelstadt, C
Jake Oettinger, G
Nolan Patrick, C
Owen Tippett, RW
Eeli Tolvanen, RW
Urho Vaakanainen, D
Juuso Valimaki, D
Buffalo might also have a home-field advantage of sorts when it comes to these interviews. Almost every prospect who was asked about interviewing with the Sabres mentioned that it was fun being interviewed in a conference room at KeyBank Center as opposed to a suite.
According to Bowers, Buffalo's was the only room with a wheelie chair.
Finns like Risto
One thing that stood out early in the day was the number of Finnish players invited to this year's Combine. Rasmus Ristolainen - Buffalo's own Finnish defenseman - is now four years removed from his own draft year, so we asked a couple of this year's prospects if he's someone they look up to.
Eemeli Rasanen, a 6-foot-7-inch defenseman from Finland, smiled at the question.
"I look up to him a lot. He's actually my favorite defenseman," he said. "I love the way he plays. The physicality and he plays a lot, PK, power play, bit minutes. That's how I want to play too."
Vaakanainen showed similar respect.
"He's so big and strong," he said. "I'm not like him, but everyone would like to be like him."
Nolan Patrick: Sabres fan
Nolan Patrick has family ties to Buffalo. His father, Steve, was a first-round pick by the Sabres in 1980. His uncle, James, spent six seasons with the Sabres and an additional seven as an assistant coach. He was a part of the organization for both the run to the Stanley Cup Final in 1998-99 and the Presidents' Trophy season of 2006-07.
During the seasons his uncle coached in Buffalo, the No. 1 prospect for this year's draft considered himself a Sabres fan. His favorite player was Tyler Ennis.
"Buffalo was my favorite team growing up," he said. "I watched them a lot. It was mostly my favorite team just because he was coaching there, so I was always supporting where he was. He said he loved playing here and he loved coaching here so he's got nothing but good things to say about Buffalo."
Josh Norris, a forward committed to the University of Michigan for next season, placed in the top three of six separate tests, including first-place finishes in the standing long jump, both agility tests, the vertical jump and the peak power Wingate test.
Spokane Chiefs forward Kailer Yamamoto, meanwhile, placed in the top three in four events, including first place in the VO2 max test.
Full results can be found at centralscouting.nhl.com.
Buffalo makes a strong impression
As it has been in years past, prospects seemed to come away from the week with a positive impression of Buffalo as a hockey city.
"It's a very nice city," Makar said. "To be honest, I didn't have this high expectations for this city because I haven't heard too much about it but being here, I got to walk around the town and seeing the building that they have here, it's pretty exceptional."