The Buffalo Sabres will host the 2016 NHL Draft at First Niagara Center Friday and Saturday. At a pre-draft press conference Tuesday morning, General Manager Tim Murray discussed the team’s draft strategy, the possibility of trading their first-round pick, and rumors surrounding the Sabres’ efforts to sign free agent Steven Stamkos, among other topics.
Barring further trades, the organization will make 11 selections in the draft, including the eighth overall pick. Whether via the draft or trade, Murray said the Sabres' biggest need is on defense, especially on the left side of the ice.
“If someone offers us a top-end, young, left-shot [defenseman] and they demand our eighth overall pick and we feel that it makes us better, we’ll do the trade,” Murray said.
Director of Scouting Rob Murphy said this year’s draft features a crop of strong, top 15 prospects. If the Sabres keep the eighth pick, Murray said there are three players the team realistically hopes to land.
“We’ve got it narrowed down to three guys,” Murray said. “People think we’re targeting these three guys. It’s not; it’s who we think’s going to be left. Not all three will be there, but one of the three will be there, so we’ve interviewed those players.”
On Monday, the Sabres traded one of their three third-round draft picks to the Nashville Predators for the rights to sign Hobey Baker Award winner Jimmy Vesey.
Vesey recently informed the Predators he had no intentions of signing with the team that drafted him in the third round of the 2012 Draft. Shortly after the trade, Vesey’s agent made a statement that his client intends to test out free agency come Aug. 15, when the Sabres’ exclusive rights to the Harvard standout expire.
“They haven’t sat down and talked to us, so to me, it’s like a college free agent recruiting process,” Murray said. “We haven’t began our recruiting yet; we just happen to have exclusive rights to recruit him. I have no issue with the statement whatsoever, but he’s our property until August 15.”
Rumors have been circulating that the Sabres are actively seeking to sign star free agent center Steven Stamkos. Murray downplayed the rumors and said there have been no serious talks about the 26-year old Tampa Bay center.
“We have not even discussed an offer, so I don’t know where the rumors are even coming from,” Murray said. “I think everybody knows that whoever does go after him is going to be spending a lot of money, but we haven’t really discussed a firm offer internally.”