The first step to our mock draft is to establish the list of players that will be available for the Las Vegas franchise to draft. To do this, we decided to have a blogger from each team represent their own franchise and select the players that will be protected from the Mock Expansion Draft available player pool. To see the rules which were followed to protect players, hit this link.

Next up, we have the Buffalo Sabres. The Sabres are being represented by Chris Ostrander from

Protected Players

Analysis from

By no means was this an easy exercise. The rebuilding process that began under Darcy Regier and has been continued under Tim Murray provided the Sabres with a plethora of draft picks over the past three years. That glut of picks was primarily focused in the first two rounds of the 2013, 2014 and 2015 drafts, giving the Sabres a well-stocked pipeline of promising prospects.

Picking 14 forwards and a goalie from this group was difficult, especially since the list we’re working off of here encompasses any player currently under contract. While I assume the league will institute some level of protection for players on entry level contracts or under a certain age, the lack of such protection here added to my challenge.

Many of the choices were no brainers. Robin Lehner, for example, is young and still has plenty of promise – despite his early season lower body injury. I’m quite high on the outlook Linus Ullmark provides, but I couldn’t leave the only true starter in Buffalo’s pipeline unprotected. Even with four goaltending spots available between Quebec and Vegas, I don’t expect Ullmark to be on either team’s radar.

Filling up my five blue line spots was probably the easiest of the three categories as Rasmus Ristolainen, Mark Pysyk, Jake McCabe, Zach Bogosian and Brendan Guhle all represent key cogs in both the present and future of the Sabres blueline. This leaves Josh Gorges, Cody Franson and prospects Brycen Martin and Chad Ruhwedel unprotected along with other depth players. While Gorges and Franson are the most likely to be snatched up, they’re also probably the two easiest players to part with. They not only help to meet the 40 game requirement for unprotected defensemen, but they’re also going to be lesser contributors to Buffalo’s future than the five I chose to protect. Not unlike Ullmark, I doubt Ruhwedel will be on anyone’s radar. He’s sort of a 4A player right now for the Sabres. Not quite good enough to latch onto a full-time job in Buffalo and just a little too good for full-time duty in Rochester. My hope is that he slips through the cracks and remains property of the Sabres, as I still think there’s a spot for him here in Buffalo. Martin isn’t yet under contract as he continues to season in major junior. He won’t be on anyone’s radar anyway, so even though he probably doesn’t technically qualify for this exercise, I doubt he’d be snatched up anyway.

Narrowing down my choices for nine forwards was quite difficult. Obviously Jack Eichel, Zemgus Girgensons, Sam Reinhart, Evander Kane, Ryan O’Reilly and Tyler Ennis made the cut. They make up the engine that drives this team and this group will likely be together for years to come. Those final three choices were tougher. I had to keep the 40 game requirement in mind while also taking note of the plan of attack the Sabres have laid out as they move from the league’s basement back to contender status.

I chose to go with youth, protecting Johan Larsson, Justin Bailey and Nick Baptiste. Larsson impressed at the tail end of last season as a strong puck possession player and his two-way game is the hallmark of his skillset. He hasn’t settled into a spot on this year’s roster just yet, but I think he’s going to be valuable to the Sabres success long-term. I chose to protect Bailey and Baptiste over others like Marcus Foligno, Brian Gionta and Matt Moulson because of their age and ceiling. Gionta and Moulson both help to meet the 40 game requirement (as does Foligno) and both have contracts that could stand to be taken off the books. Additionally, Bailey and Baptiste have a lot more tread on their tires than others on the list of players I left unprotected.

Foligno, Gionta and Moulson are easily the three most surprising names fans will notice on my unprotected list. Foligno is still young and has terrific measurables. I’m not sold on him as a top-six forward and I’d argue that the Sabres have better options for third and fourth line roles than Foligno offers. As I noted above, these three tick the 40 game requirement and I’d be amazed if all three weren’t taken in the draft. However, if their presence helps to mask other unprotected players from Buffalo’s system, so be it.

Tim Murray has invested in the long-term outlook of the franchise and that was my primary focus in choosing the 15 players to protect for this draft.

The entire list of unprotected players that will be available for Team Lane and Team Pothier to select from can be found here.

To see more team explanations just like this one, check out The Sin Bin Mock Expansion Draft Landing Page.

Special thanks again to Chris Ostrander from Be sure to follow @2ITB_Buffalo on Twitter, and heck, throw us (@SinBinVegas) a follow too while you’re at it.