After years of poor finishes, the Sabres finally secured the first overall pick at Saturday night's draft lottery, giving Buffalo GM Jason Botterill the opportunity to alter his franchise's future. It's arguable, however, that this year's draft gets much more interesting after the first three picks.
Let's take a look at how the first round might play out (playoff team draft order determined by regular-season point totals):
D Rasmus Dahlin | D | Frolunda HC (SHL)
Midterm CSB Rank (European): 1 | Final CSB Rank: 1
With his elite skill and dynamic play, Dahlin has the potential to be a game-changer for the Sabres. He's without question the prospect in this draft with the highest ceiling, checking every box - skating, smarts, puck-handling - for the ideal puck-moving defender.
Andrei Svechnikov | RW | Barrie Colts (OHL)
Midterm CSB Rank (North American): 1 | Final CSB Rank: 1
Svechnikov brings the kind of dynamic offensive play the Hurricanes need. His elite hockey IQ allows him to score goals and set them up, and he's difficult to knock off the puck. Don't be surprised if he's on an NHL roster by opening night.
Filip Zadina | LW | Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)
Midterm CSB Rank (North American): 2 | Final CSB Rank: 3
In addition to a strong work ethic and high-end hockey sense, Zadina supplies the elite offensive skill that the Canadiens' forward prospect pool lacks. He can score from almost anywhere, but the top of the circles down is where he does the most damage. He'll be an excellent top-line wing.
Adam Boqvist | D | Brynas IF (SuperElit/SHL)
Midterm CSB Rank (European): 2 | Final CSB Rank: 2
While not as advanced as Dahlin, Boqvist is a defenseman in a similar mold. He possesses high-end hockey smarts, excellent skating, and great passing and shooting ability. He's aggressive offensively and strong defensively, thanks in no small part to his skating. As one of the younger players in the draft, his potential is significant.
Brady Tkachuk | LW | Boston University (NCAA)
Midterm CSB Ranking (North American): 3 | Final CSB Rank: 2
Tkachuk barely missed being eligible for the 2017 draft, so we have a better idea of his development path. Fortunately, it seems to be a good one. He fits the gritty, tough-to-play-against Tkachuk mold, but his hockey sense and passing abilities may be the best in his family. His skating could still use some work, including his first step.
Quintin Hughes | D | University of Michigan (NCAA)
Midterm CSB Ranking (North American): 4 | Final CSB Rank: 6
His brother Jack is getting all the attention after a fantastic U18 Worlds showing, but Quinn Hughes is no slouch. He may be the best skater in this year's draft, and his offensive instincts are sublime. He's a creative and brilliant player, which comes with risks. But with Hughes, they're worth it.
Evan Bouchard | D | London Knights (OHL)
Midterm CSB Ranking (North American): 5 | Final CSB Rank: 4
Bouchard is one of the older prospects in the draft, so what kind of player he'll be is a bit more clear. He's a solid puck-mover with NHL size who can quarterback a power play. While there are more skilled defensemen in the class, he seems like catnip for Canucks GM Jim Benning et al.
Noah Dobson | D | Acadie-Bathurst Titan (QMJHL)
Midterm CSB Ranking (North American): 8 | Final CSB Rank: 5
A defensive prospect pool with Dobson and Henri Jokiharju is a defensive prospect pool in decent shape. Dobson is a very good skater who can play top-four minutes and has high-end smarts. His defensive positioning and gap control are strong, and he has a bomb of a shot.
Oliver Wahlstrom | C/RW | U.S. National Team Development Program
Midterm CSB Ranking (North American): 7 | Final CSB Rank: 7
Wahlstrom is a stellar puck-handler - possibly the best in the draft - and can score in just about any way you can think of. He dominates play when he's on the ice, especially alongside linemates Jack Hughes and Joel Farabee. He's an excellent skater, too, and isn't afraid to go to the dirty areas.
Joseph Veleno | C | Drummondville Voltigeurs (QMJHL)
Midterm CSB Ranking (North American): 13 | Final CSB Rank: 8
Veleno was the first player to obtain exceptional status - that is, permission to play at age 15 - in the QMJHL. He's a solid center at both ends of the ice, and his vision and hockey smarts are exceptional. Veleno brings burning speed along with his high-end offensive skill.
Ty Smith | D | Spokane Chiefs (WHL)
Midterm CSB Ranking (North American): 14 | Final CSB Rank: 14
Some might shy away from Smith because of his size, but they shouldn't. He's one of the best defenders in this draft class. He's poised with the puck, his decision-making is solid, and he's an excellent skater.
Jesperi Kotkaniemi | C | Assat (Liiga)
Midterm CSB Ranking (European): 3 | Final CSB Rank: 2
A solid center who can score goals and set up plays, Kotkaniemi has excellent vision and can read the ice well in any zone. Though he can keep up with play, his skating could use some work. He's got potential to be a good two-way center at the NHL level - something the Islanders could use more of if things go south with John Tavares this summer.
Joel Farabee | LW | U.S. National Team Development Program
Midterm CSB Ranking (North American): 11 | Final CSB Rank: 12
Farabee is dangerous offensively, able to burn defenders with his top speed and hold on to the puck at that speed, creating opportunities for himself and his linemates. He's a hard worker in all three zones and can anticipate the play of opponents and teammates alike. Take a moment and imagine him on Tyler Seguin's wing.
Barrett Hayton | C | Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (OHL)
Midterm CSB Ranking (North American): 6 | Final CSB Rank: 9
Hayton has improved noticeably this season and has significant potential moving forward. He's smart, but he's not the type to get overly creative. He's more likely to move the puck forward or use his great release than dangle an opponent. He works hard and smart defensively, but he needs to improve his overall consistency.
Rasmus Kupari | C | Karpat (Liiga)
Midterm CSB Ranking (European): 6 | Final CSB Rank: 11
A quick-skating center with an offensive mindset, Kupari held his own as an underager in a men's professional league this season. His vision and stickhandling make him a good playmaker, but he could stand to improve his play in his own end and add some strength.
Grigori Denisenko | LW | Loko Yaroslavl (MHL)
Midterm CSB Ranking (European): 4 | Final CSB Rank: 7
Denisenko is an excellent skater whose vision and hockey sense allow him to make creative plays that always seem to find his teammates. His defensive game needs work, but his offensive ceiling is high. Given time to develop, he could thrive alongside some of the Avalanche's centers.
Isac Lundestrom | C/LW | Lulea HF (SHL)
Midterm CSB Ranking (European): 3 | Final CSB Rank: 8
A strong skater with a high hockey IQ, Lundestrom brings to the table the ability to both set up his teammates and finish plays himself with his quick release. He works hard in all three zones and is strong defensively. He could stand to shoot more and pass less.
Dominik Bokk | RW | Vaxjo Lakers HC (SuperElit/SHL)
Midterm CSB Ranking (Europoean): 8 | Final CSB Rank: 12
While Bokk's offensive skill is raw, it's very real. He's an incredible stickhandler who sees the ice very well, able to make the smart play with the puck, and he's an elusive skater. Though his defensive game needs work, it should improve with more time against tougher competition.
Martin Kaut | RW | HC Dynamo Pardubice (Czech Extraliga)
Midterm CSB Ranking (European): 11 | Final CSB Rank: 4
Quick and committed at both ends of the ice, Kaut joins Zadina as a first-round Czech prospect. He handled himself well in the top Czech league this season and was a point-per-game player at the world juniors.
Bode Wilde | D | U.S. National Team Development Program
Midterm CSB Ranking (North American): 22 | Final CSB Rank: 17
High-risk, high-reward seems to be the name of the game for most USNTDP defensive prospects these days, and Wilde is no exception. He's an excellent skater and plays a strong offensive game, but his defensive game is inconsistent and needs time to develop. His ceiling could be sky-high, but a team has to be willing to take the risk that comes with that and work to mitigate it.
Ryan Merkley | D | Guelph Storm (OHL)
Midterm CSB Ranking (North American): 21 | Final CSB Rank: 45
Merkley is a contentious defensive prospect. His highs are very high, but his mistakes can be egregious. Looking at pure skill, he should go higher than 21st. But due to his size and teams' aversion to risk, he likely won't. The Sharks should take advantage of this oversight and work to develop Merkley into his best-case scenario.
Jared McIsaac | D | Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)
Midterm CSB Ranking (North American): 12 | Final CSB Rank: 13
No one knows how the Erik Karlsson situation is going to pan out, so adding as many skilled defensive prospects as possible is a good approach for the Senators. McIsaac is no Boqvist, but he's an excellent skater who can lead the rush and quarterback a power play. He's hard to beat one-on-one, and his positioning and gap control are good, but he could stand to get stronger.
Serron Noel | RW | Oshawa Generals (OHL)
Midterm CSB Ranking (North American): 9 | Final CSB Rank: 10
Noel has been one of the most confusing prospects this season, but he's got real raw potential. At 6-foot-5, he already has NHL size, and his skating improved significantly this season. He's got a lethal shot, scoring 28 goals this season, but he needs to be more consistent.
Alexander Alexeyev | D | Red Deer Rebels (WHL)
Midterm CSB Ranking (North American): 26 | Final CSB Rank: 22
Alexeyev isn't a high-risk, high-reward defensive prospect, but don't take that to mean he's a boring stay-at-home type. He's mobile, has sound positioning, and carries the puck smoothly up the ice. He's not dynamic offensively, but he also rarely has serious miscues.
Ryan McLeod | C | Mississauga Steelheads (OHL)
Midterm CSB Ranking (North American): 16 | Final CSB Rank: 16
When opportunity knocked at the beginning of the season, the youngest McLeod answered. He's one of the older players in this year's draft, so we can see his development path a bit better than others. His skating is excellent, particularly his edgework, and his vision and hockey sense allow him to slow down the game and create plays.
Akil Thomas | C | Niagara IceDogs (OHL)
Midterm CSB Ranking (North American): 10 | Final CSB Rank: 15
If you had to describe Thomas in one word, "speedy" immediately jumps to mind. He reaches his top speed quickly and maintains it when he has the puck on his stick. He's a skilled playmaker, able to quarterback the power play. He stickhandles well and has great vision, though his defensive game could still use development.
Rasmus Sandin | D | Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (OHL)
Midterm CSB Ranking (North American): 15 | Final CSB Rank: 11
Sandin is extremely smart, with great vision and good passing skills that allow him to set up plays on the power play. His timing is good - he knows, for the most part, when to pinch and when not to - and his defensive positioning is sound. He's not the best skater in the class, but he's agile and knows how to use it.
Jonathan Tychonick | D | Penticton Vees (BCHL)
Midterm CSB Ranking (North American): 45 | Final CSB Rank: 36
Tychonick is a speedy, mobile defender with top-notch hockey smarts and vision. His game is offensively oriented but his defensive positioning and instincts are sound. He'll continue his development at the University of North Dakota next season.
Jacob Olofsson | C | Timra IK (Allsvenskan)
Midterm CSB Ranking (European): 5 | Final CSB Rank: 9
Olofsson has a good top speed, and he reaches it quickly. Combine that with his high-end puck-handling skills and ability to read the ice, and he's a major threat off the rush. He isn't the most creative player, but smart and simple works for him.
K'Andre Miller | D | U.S. National Team Development Program
Midterm CSB Ranking (North American): 31 | Final CSB Rank: 23
Miller only converted from forward to defense a few years ago, but he's come a long way in that time. He's a great skater, even at 6-foot-3, and has strong puck-handling and passing skills. Though he needs a few more years of development, there's real potential there.
Jake Wise | C | U.S. National Team Development Program
Midterm CSB Ranking (North American): NR | Final CSB Rank: 38
Wise has a good future ahead of him as a top-six center. He's crafty with the puck and is a strong skater. He missed the first half of the season due to injury, but has been solid for the NTDP since his return.
(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)