By Bill Hoppe
BUFFALO — Some of the names you’ve possibly heard bandied around in trade rumors, the players fans might be drooling about seeing in blue and gold, Sabres general manager Darcy Regier has discussed with his counterparts.
The Sabres, owners of four of the first 44 selections at this weekend’s NHL Entry Draft at the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, including picks 12 and 21, have some nice chips if they want to deal.
At this point, nothing’s off the table, Regier said. The Sabres have flexibility. They could use the picks or other talent to move up or get established players, or simply keep their choices.
Right now, the market’s still developing.
“It’s way too early to know if anything will happen,” Regier said Monday during a pre-draft chat inside the First Niagara Center. “I think that there are a lot of teams like us, in similar positions. … At the start of the draft week, even the week before, you start to get a sense, and then as we get closer to the draft things have a way of materializing.”
Something materialized last year, when Regier swung a huge trade at draft, filling an immediate need by acquiring gritty defenseman Robyn Regehr with roster players.
Naturally, Regier wants to balance building and helping his current roster. Someone won’t be brought in as a one-year fix.
“If you have the opportunity to add someone who’s either under contact or is a high-profile player at a reasonable cost … then certainly that’s something we’ll pursue,” Regier said.
Is anyone on the roster available?
“There’s some obvious guys we don’t have any interest in talking about right now,” Regier said. “I make it a practice to call teams and ask them for players I assume they’re not willing to trade nor do they want to trade. Other GMs do the same thing, and you let them know in the event they change their mind, please give me a call. And I certainly do a lot more of that now than I used to.”
The Sabres have nine picks, the most since 2010, and two first-rounders for the first time since 2008, when they scored huge hits with defenseman Tyler Myers 12th and center Tyler Ennis 26th.
The 21st pick came from Nashville for center Paul Gaustad. The 44th selection arrived with Regehr from Calgary. The Sabres haven’t picked in the second round since choosing center Luke Adam 44th in 2008. They have two second-rounders for the first time since 2007.
The Sabres select again at 73, 133, 163, 193 and 204 (via Florida). They traded their fourth-rounder to the New York Islanders for defenseman Christian Ehrhoff’s rights.
Some have panned this draft as weak. The view may depend on your position, said Kevin Devine, the team’s director of amateur scouting. A team with a lottery pick might not receive the same impact as past years.
“I think it’s a fairly good draft,” Devine said. “There’s as many as 20 players deep in the first round where you can get a real good player.”
However, consider the following:
–There’s little consensus on the top five picks, Devine said.
“We’re not averse to moving up,” he said. “But this year’s draft, it’s the first that I can remember where there’s not really that consensus top five out there. If you polled all the head scouts in the National Hockey League, you’d probably have 30 different lists.”
If the Sabres move up, it’ll likely be from that 21st pick.
“For us to try to move up to the top five, the price it’s going to be, I’m not sure it’s worth it because I’m not sure if those players are going to distinguish themselves any differently than some of the players that might be around nine,” Devine said. “If we’re sitting at 12 and we really like a guy and we see him falling, then there’s a possibility that we’ll move up.”
–About four of the top 15 prospects experienced season-ending injuries, so scouts couldn’t get the look they wanted.
“That’s not a good feeling,” Devine said. “You have to go on their underage year basing what these kids did.”
–Three of the top 10 players are Russian, including winger Nail Yakupov, NHL Central Scouting’s No. 1 prospect. Big money from the KHL can make getting Russians over to North America an arduous task. Some bolt later on.
“They’re risky guys,” Devine said. “Having said that, at 12, if one of those guys is around, I’m not going to say I’m not going to pick them.”
The Sabres haven’t selected a Russian since 2005.
The draft is heavy on defensive talent early, a position the Sabres have a lot of organizational depth at.
“You could bide your time and get a forward with your first pick and maybe pick up a good defenseman with your second pick,” Devine said.
The Sabres’ emphasis could be on forwards, Regier said. Sometimes depth vanishes quickly, though.
“You can make a trade and effectively deplete what depth you have in any position,” he said.
Four early picks should make for an intriguing weekend.
Although Regier said the Sabres haven’t made any “final decisions” on forwards Brad Boyes and Jochen Hecht, it’s “probably less likely than likely” the veterans, unrestricted free agents, will return. Nothing is final, however.
Hecht, the longest-tenured Sabre at nine seasons, has battled concussions recently.
Forward Joel Armia, the 16th pick last year, should be at the team’s prospect camp next month, Regier said.
The Sabres had to keep the Finn, who’s serving his military duty, in Europe another season as part of the three-year, entry-level contract he signed Saturday.
Armia’s talented enough he could crack the NHL immediately when he comes over in 2013, Regier said.
Notes: Regier called not signing center Steven Shipley, the 98th pick in 2010, a “hockey decision.” … Regier said the Sabres haven’t started negotiating with Ennis or winger Patrick Kaleta, two restricted free agents. … Defenseman Mark Pysyk, the 23rd pick in 2010, will likely start his first professional season in Rochester, Regier said. … According to a report late Monday in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, popular former Sabres defenseman Jay McKee won’t return as an assistant coach with AHL Rochester after one season.