If the Buffalo Sabres somehow land a top two pick in the 2017 NHL Draft the team should consider a trade involving Sam Reinhart.
Hear me out -- the Sabres need help on their blue line and that's not a secret. When the organization hires a new general manager, whenever that may be, one of his first priorities will be to address the teams weak defensive unit. In 2016 they had arguably the worst group in the league and something needs to change.
But how can the Sabres bolster their back end?
The draft, of course, is an option, but at a quick glance, it doesn't look like there are many top tier defensive prospects who can step into the league and contribute right away. Every year a few players are pleasant surprises and make an immediate impact, but that happens less often than you'd think. Last year only two defensemen drafted in the first round played in the NHL, including Montreal Canadiens ninth overall pick Mikhail Sergachev, who appeared in only four games and Jakob Chychrun who played in 68 for the Arizona Coyotes.
Free agency is a possibility, but the list of unrestricted free agent defensemen is incredibly underwhelming. Washington Capitals defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk tops the list of upcoming UFA's but aside from him, there isn't a lot to like. Take a gander for yourself.
So that brings us to a trade -- and while this may be an unpopular take -- it's harder to find a top pair defenseman than a top-six forward. Reinhart has oodles of potential and he's going to keep getting better, but if the Sabres land a top-two pick in Saturday's draft lottery, exploring a Reinhart trade makes a lot of sense.
Brandon Wheat Kings center Nolan Patrick and Halifax Mooseheads center Nico Hischier are far and away the top two prospects in June's draft and are both capable of replacing Reinhart. Neither are projected to produce like some of the top picks from the last few years [Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel, Auston Matthews, Patrick Laine] but they are both expected to play at a high level for a long, long time.
Here's how Jeff Marek from Sportsnet views the top two prospects:
With Patrick you get a safe, high-end, right-shot centre who gets the tap on the shoulder no matter what the situation the game is in.
And with Hischier you get a solid two-way player who drives the offence and has the ability to bring fans out of their seats.
Think Jonathan Toews lite vs. Pavel Datsyuk lite. (Side note: Hischier wears number 13 both as a tribute to his brother who wore the same number and the former Red Wing Hischier patterns his game after.)
I could've changed the spelling to center and offense, but I figured it adds to the analysis with the proper non-US spelling -- we change everything over here.
If the Sabres have a chance at adding either to their roster they can afford to move on from Reinhart. It won't be easy or cheap to land a cornerstone defenseman, and as it stands right now, Reinhart might be one of the Sabres most valuable assets.
I'm not suggesting the Sabres just trade Reinhart because he's not valuable -- he certainly is -- but I think Patrick or Hischier can fill his role, if not exceed it. Having both Reinhart and either Hischier/Patrick on the roster would be dynamic offensively, but the Sabres will still need to do something on defense or it'll likely be a seventh straight year without the postseason. Remember how bad the Edmonton Oilers were until the realized they needed to do something to their blue line?
With all that being said, the odds of actually landing a top-two pick are certainly stacked against the Sabres. Buffalo has only a 7.6 percent chance at the first overall pick and a 7.8 percent shot at the second pick. Reinhart is a nice player and his future is bright -- but if the Sabres find themselves at the top of June's draft this is a conversation that should be had.
— Matthew Bové (@Matt_Bove) April 29, 2017