With the NHL Central Scouting midseason rankings out, the CHL Top Prospects game in the books and the latest update of ESPN Insider NHL draft wonk Corey Pronman's top 50 prospects rankings, it's time to take the next step and see what some of these top prospects might look like in an NHL sweater.
Below, I take Pronman's top five prospects and see how these players might fit with the needs of the bottom five NHL teams (as of Jan. 22). For these teams -- with playoff hopes all but gone -- here's something to look forward to as the season heads for the home stretch.
Buffalo Sabres (30th)
Best fit: C Sam Reinhart
Central Scouting rank: 4 | Pronman rank: 2
Perhaps the only silver lining to the Sabres' miserable 2013-14 season is the fact that they currently hold the top pick in the 2014 NHL draft. (Buffalo could conceivably have two of the top five selections this June in the unlikely event the Islanders don't defer the first-round pick they included in the Thomas Vanek trade to 2015.) The general consensus is that the upcoming draft has only one high-end defensive talent (Aaron Ekblad), but Buffalo likely won't look to the blue line. The Sabres have a bevy of young defensemen in the system with Nikita Zadorov (age 18), Rasmus Ristolainen (19), Jake McCabe (21), Mark Pysyk (22) and even 314-game NHL veteran Tyler Myers (who is a mere 23 years of age). Moreover, Myers, Ristolainen and Pysyk all share the same shooting side (right) as Ekblad.
Where the Sabres could use the most help, from a prospect standpoint, is on the wing. Having said that, skewing a draft decision too heavily in favor of positional needs is a risky exercise. In opting for Reinhart, Buffalo gets, as Pronman notes, a potential right-handed top-six center (which are difficult, and very expensive, to find through trades or free agency) who plays an extremely intelligent game. When you add him into the mix of Mikhail Grigorenko (19), Zemgus Girgensons (20), Joel Armia (20) and Cody Hodgson (23), the Sabres' offensive future is definitely looking better than the present -- which is producing at the historically paltry rate of 1.73 goals per game.