Sabres Director of Amateur Scouting Jerry Forton absolutely crushed the draft.
The selections he made on night one were almost universally loved by the hockey world. Sure, Twitter also reacted somewhat negatively to the second-round selection of goalie Topias Leinonen who largely had a third-or-fourth-round grade from those in the know.
Forget about the picks, though. That’s not the story.
The Buffalo Sabres finished their draft on Friday afternoon by making their 11th pick in seven rounds, one day after they started their journey in Montreal with the choice of Matthew Savoie at 9th overall. There’s plenty of time to dissect these choices – and we’ll get to that later – but the story of the Sabres draft really happened following the conclusion of formal draft activities, as Forton made his comments to the media.
The long-time head of Sabres scouting had a great interview. The whole thing is worth a listen. The primary focus here, though, happens around the 18:00 mark as Forton is asked about Kevyn Adams and his role in the decision-making process.
Regular readers probably recognize that this corner is not usually one to buy into talk of culture and vibes when on-ice results ultimately determine whether a franchise is successful or mired in an NHL-record playoff drought.
Still, like the Grinch on Christmas morning, it’s hard not to have your heart grow three times larger while listening to Forton talk about the culture change in the Buffalo Sabres organization. Forton, a native of Buffalo, started with the Sabres back in 2013 and he’s had a front row seat to the disaster ever since.
Awful general managers.
Horrible head coaches.
Poor leadership from the top.
Forton was asked about what he appreciates about Kevyn Adams and while processing the question, he began to tear up. It’s hard not to have an emotional response as well. After all, Sabres fans still here following the team – those still enduring this awful drought after 11 years of abject misery – can undoubtedly empathize and respect the level of dedication it takes to stave off apathy or anger in the face of unmitigated failure and total failure.
It was easy to nod along in agreement as Forton rubbed his eyes, teared up, and said:
“I’m sorry guys. It’s… it’s been a lot.”
It has been a lot!
Even from this jaded part of the Sabresphere, as someone who largely shrugs off the culture talk while wishing desperately for the Sabres to bring in a meaningful addition in net, it was genuinely encouraging to hear someone hit all the right notes. Sabres fans have been desperately seeking someone in the organization who shows they care, and they got a nice look at that this season with players like Kyle Okposo and Alex Tuch really embracing what it means to be a Buffalo Sabre.
That hasn’t been the case with management. Kevyn Adams tends to be somewhat of a likeable-but-indecipherable sphynx, and with all due respect to the Pegulas who seem to mean well, their interactions with the media often go sideways (spectacularly). Today, though, Forton unknowingly stepped into a gap that Sabres fans have been longing for someone in the organization to fill: someone who will care in public.
“We’ve obviously been through a lot,” Forton said as he fought back tears. “The whole organization has been through a lot, and to see the coaches, and the development staff, and the Rochester staff, and all our support staff, and how everyone works together?”
He rubbed his eyes again before continuing.
“To me that all starts with the Pegulas and Kevyn.”
It’s genuinely refreshing to see someone who cares. In recent years the Sabres have been run by snake oil salesmen like Ralph Krueger who have no idea what they’re doing, or by well-intentioned robots like former general manager Jason Botterill who was often frozen by indecision and therefore resorted to mid-level moves.
Hearing Forton speak about Kevyn Adams actually gives fans a reason to hope.
“He includes everyone,” Forton said about Adams. “He lets everyone do their jobs, and he’s done an incredible job of bringing this organization together.”
Admittedly, the bar of “letting everyone do their jobs” is a low one; it’s actually comically low. It also shows how messed up and backwards this organization has been for the better part of a decade when that low bar can actually lead someone like Forton to tears. So maybe this team is actually finding their way out of the abyss after over a decade in the wilderness. Maybe they actually are heading in the right direction despite a seeming lack of elite talent. After all, it would be almost impossible to be as depressing and awful as they were for the past 11, even when they did have elite talent.
The Grinch is still in here, though, and the culture talk still only goes so far. The work this offseason has only just begun as Kevyn Adams still has to get a real goalie this summer in order for this culture talk to really be taken seriously.
That said, it's a great step in the right direction.
Here are the Sabres selections by round from this year’s draft, via hockeydb.com:
1 Matthew Savoie , C, Winnipeg Ice [WHL]
1 Noah Ostlund, C, Djurgardens Jr. [Swe-Jr]
1 Jiri Kulich, C, Karlovy Vary HC [Czech]
2 Topias Leinonen, G, Jyp (Finland Jr.)
3 Viktor Neuchev , L, Yekaterinburg Auto Jr. [Rus-MHL]
4 Mats Lindgren, D, Kamloops Blazers [WHL]
5 Vsevolod Komarov, D, Quebec Remparts [QMJHL]
6 Jake Richard, F, Muskegon Lumberjacks [USHL]
6 Gustav Karlsson, C, Orebro HK Jr. [Swe-Jr]
7 Joel Ratkovic-Berndtsson, L, Vastra Frolunda Jr. [Swe-Jr]