The 2020 NHL Draft will be held virtually tonight and tomorrow on NBCSN. The Sabres enter this year’s draft with the eighth overall pick, marking the eighth straight year that Buffalo has had a top-eight selection.
On Monday, new Sabres general manager Kevyn Adams held a video conference with media via Zoom to discuss the team’s plans for the draft. Here is what the first-year GM had to say:
Q: What’s it been like to prepare for first draft as GM?
KA:There is an intensity that I’m feeling right now. The process itself has been really impressive from the amount of work that’s been done by this staff. I have to say that the extra time because of COVID, and here we are in October, and the draft being pushed back, is certainly unique, and I looked at it as an opportunity for us to learn more and to do more. I give (Sabres Director of Scouting) Jeremiah Crowe and (Sabres Asst. Director of Scouting) Jason Nightingale and the entire scouting staff a ton of credit because there was a challenge to them in June to say let’s really make sure we’re taking another look at this and we’re going to reset some metrics to how we’re going to evaluate players. And those guys really bought in and have covered an incredible amount of ground, and now here we are. So there is an intensity about it, I’m excited, I’m learning, I’ve been talking to the other general managers every day around the clock and some of the veteran ones even this morning asked how I was doing, and I said I was excited, and they said well 10-15 (drafts later), and you’re still nervous, excited, and anxious and all those good things. I just think it’s fun. But in terms of how we’re preparing, I think our guys are ready to go.
Q: How different is the draft with the changes that have come about due to COVID-19?
KA: This is my first draft as a general manager, so this is normal for me - trying to figure out what are our landline and cell phone numbers and contact information. So I think it’s unique, but as I’ve spoken to the other general managers around the league, it’s like you know what, we are all in this position. You are having a lot of conversations before on the phone now because I can’t just walk over and tap someone on the shoulder (like in past years). I’ve heard a couple of the other GMs say to me they miss being all together. Everyone is (usually) in the same city, everyone is bumping into each other. Obviously, we know why we are in this situation, but I think it is going to be unique. But at least it’s unique for all of us.
Q: What positions are a priority?
KA: I think we need to improve our roster - period. We need to become a better team. As I’ve had conversations, I haven’t eliminated anything because I say, “oh, we are fine here; we don’t want to talk about this.” If you just look at our team yes, we have more right-shot defense than left-shot defense, so would we like to see something, our mix, or how we get the partners working together? Definitely. But what I’ve tried to be very careful doing is I’m having conversations around the league and have been talking about options, not just boxing ourselves in and say we’re looking for this and this is it. I think when you’re getting to that point as a team that means you may be the Tampa Bay Lightning, and you just won a Stanley Cup, and you have this team and its a little tweak here or there.
Q: What’s important, then?
KA: I do think that character is really important. I think you have to look bigger than just what happens on the ice; you have to think about your locker room. You have to think about the dynamic that’s in the room and the veterans and how young players learn from veterans and even younger veterans. Like, we have re-signed Curtis Lazar, but he brings that character and that glue type player. So those are the things as I’m thinking about our roster.
Q: Where are the Sabres at in terms of goaltender?
KA: Everyone feels really good about the steps that Linus (Ullmark) took last year and we’re excited about him. You look back at his track record and where he came from and the success he had and the steps along the way. He has had a good progression and had a very good year last year.
Q: How do you balance building for the future but also helping the team right away?
KA: I think you have to be willing to listen to everything when it comes to how do you make your team better and you balance it. I think that’s a perfect way of saying it. You have to think about what the number eight pick could mean to the organization short and long term, you have to analyze the draft class and what the depth of it is. So you’re having all of that while having parallel conversations around what’s going on in the league and how you can improve your team. Those all happen and are happening every day, all the time. So it’s just that balance and trying to put ourselves in a position where we are making the best decision for the organization.
Q: As a team with plenty of holes, how do you go about plugging all of those holes while remaining conscious of the team’s cap situation and budgeting concerns?
KA: (Sabres owners) Terry and Kim (Pegula) have shown over the years since they bought the team that they’re going to put every resource possible to help the organization be successful. Their goal is to win a Stanley Cup. I’ve been put in a position where they want to see us do better; they want to see us put a team on the ice that we’re all proud of and we’re going to work towards that. We have been very fortunate with the ownership we’ve had and the commitment that they’ve put into this organization, and that hasn’t changed at all. Like any business, you want to look at things responsibly and look at all different scenarios to see how it affects you on the ice, how it affects you financially, how does it put your organization in a position not just today but down the road. So you’re constantly thinking about those things and having those conversations.
Buffalo has had a rough few years and it’s led to recent discussions regarding the potential departure of star center Jack Eichel. Although Adams tried his best to pour cold water on those rumors, if the Sabres new GM isn’t able to begin to put a talented roster around his top player, it won’t be surprising if we see Eichel force his way out of Buffalo in the near future.
Adams’ job truly begins tonight with his first draft as a general manager and there is a whole lot at stake for he and the franchise.