Sabres trade Matt Savoie to Oilers for Ryan McLeod and Tullio

Kevyn Adams left the NHL Draft in Las Vegas with all the talented young players he was willing to trade to improve the Buffalo Sabres roster.

The general manager signed a fourth-line winger, Beck Malenstyn, to give Lindy Ruff the physicality the new coach wanted. Then the Sabres spent $10.2 million on forwards Jason Zucker, Sam Lafferty and Nicolas Aube-Kubel, and defenseman Dennis Gilbert.

When the dust settled on Monday, Adams said he was happy with his roster but would still be willing to trade if the right player became available.

Stanley Cup Panthers Oilers Ice Hockey

Ryan McLeod (71) of the Edmonton Oilers is congratulated for his goal against the Florida Panthers during the third period of Game 6 of the NHL Stanley Cup Final on Friday, June 21, 2024, in Edmonton, Alberta. The Oilers won 5-1 to even the series.

Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP

The Sabres found a suitable player on Friday and Adams made one of his biggest moves in that area by trading one of his most promising talents, Matthew Savoie, to the Stanley Cup runner-up Edmonton Oilers in exchange for center Ryan McLeod and right wing Tyler Tullio.

McLeod is just 24 years old and recently completed his third full season in the NHL with the Oilers. He scored four goals in 24 playoff games after totaling 12 goals and 30 points in 81 regular-season games. His average ice time has been about 14 minutes over the past two seasons, and his skills are a good fit for the third-line center position Buffalo created by trading Casey Mittelstadt to Colorado.

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The Sabres could also use McLeod as a left winger in the top six if an injury occurs or their other options, Zucker and Zach Benson, fit better elsewhere in the lineup. McLeod has the speed and skill to hang with elite players, something he did last season in Edmonton with Leon Draisaitl. According to NHL tracking data, McLeod’s peak skating speed of 23.82 mph last season was in the 99th percentile.

McLeod has one year left on his contract with a $2.1 million salary cap hit for 2024-24, but he is set to be a restricted free agent after next season. He has played in 56 playoff games and averaged 13:12 minutes of ice time in the Oilers’ last appearance. McLeod also has a connection to Buffalo. His brother Matt played hockey at Canisius from 2015 to 2019.

Tullio has spent the last two seasons with the Oilers’ affiliate team in the American Hockey League. The 6’1″ center has scored 22 goals and 47 points in 117 games for the Bakersfield Oilers. He is 22 years old and gives the Rochester club another right winger who can play alongside one of the Sabres’ young talents.

Sabres player Matt Savoie used the “planes, trains and automobiles” season to prepare for the NHL

“It was a whirlwind,” Savoie said. “I just tried to keep my head down and work wherever I was and make the best of every situation.”

It’s a surprise move by the Sabres, who signed Savoie with the ninth pick of the 2022 draft. The 20-year-old scored 19 goals and 47 points in 23 regular-season games in the Western Hockey League before scoring 24 points in 19 games during Moose Jaw’s run to the league championship and Memorial Cup berth. He has been plagued by minor injuries over the past two seasons, including a sprained knee that kept him out of the IIHF World Junior Championship.

Scouts, development coaches and Sabres managers love Savoie’s competitiveness, intensity and work ethic. Adam Mair, their development director, raved about the 5-foot-10 forward this week at development camp.

The problem, however, is that Savoie’s quickest path to the NHL is through the wing, not the center position. The Sabres drafted Finnish center Konsta Helenius 14th overall, and their top talent in Rochester, Jiri Kulich, could play that position in the NHL as early as this season.

It’s a trade that gives Savoie the opportunity to join a Stanley Cup contender soon, and the Oilers know Savoie very well through his older brother Carter, who was one of the organization’s junior players. Savoie is also from the area and trains nearby each season.

The Sabres have enough NHL and junior players on the wing to finally use their stockpile of draft picks to sign a player for Ruff’s roster. They will have several talented wingers on the Amerks this fall, most notably Isak Rosen, a first-round draft pick in 2021, and Anton Wahlberg, a second-round pick in 2023. Kulich can also play on the wing, although Rochester assistant coach Vinny Prospal stated that the Czech forward could be better at center because he has more space to operate with the puck.

McLeod won 50.8% of his 718 faceoffs during the regular season and then 52% of his 148 attempts during the Oilers’ 24-game run to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final. He is left-handed, like Mittelstadt, and has scored double-digit goals two seasons in a row, with 11 in 2022-23 and 12 in 2023-24. .

First-round pick Konsta Helenius shows smooth hands at Sabres camp tournament

Konsta Helenius played with men at home in Finland last season and is now returning there to work with his personal trainer. The Sabres would like to sign him and have him play in Rochester this season.

According to Natural Stat Trick, the Oilers had 56.7% of shot attempts and 56.6% of shot quality at 5-on-5 when McLeod was on the ice during the regular season. They also scored more points than their opponents (39-30), but he wasn’t used in a shutdown role like Buffalo may use him in next season.

McLeod has a chance to play a bigger role in Buffalo. The Sabres were 32nd in the faceoff spot and needed another experienced center who can drive the game. Adams has mentioned several times in recent weeks that he has been investing in depth this summer to ensure Ruff has options. It’s important for a coach to be able to make lineup changes during games, especially on the road when the other team has a second sub to determine the pairings. The roster would have been too thin at center if Adams hadn’t made another sub.

Sam Lafferty signed a two-year deal with the Sabres two seasons ago after completing 51.1% of his faceoffs in Chicago and Toronto, but his career numbers aren’t good enough at the position to be considered an improvement. It’s also possible he’ll be needed on the right wing to give Buffalo more speed and physicality on the third line.

Ruff can use McLeod, Lafferty and Peyton Krebs as third and fourth line centers, while Dylan Cozens and Tage Thompson bolster the front six. The group has three right-handed shooters and two left-handed shooters, which is another factor to consider on faceoffs.

The Sabres have added five forwards in the last six days, giving Ruff the following options: Thompson, Cozens, McLeod, Krebs, Lafferty, Zucker, Malenstyn, JJ Peterka, Alex Tuch, Jack Quinn and Jordan Greenway.

It’s unclear what’s next for Adams. The Sabres have about $14.7 million in salary cap space after signing McLeod and signing Jokiharju to a one-year deal on Friday, according to Malenstyn and goalie Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen must be paid as restricted free agents before their arbitration hearings.

McLeod may be the last major addition of the offseason, which saw Adams bring Jeff Skinner down, rebuild the bottom six and improve the depth of the defense by signing Gilbert. Adams and Ruff have promised a competitive training camp to prepare their players for their opening game against the New Jersey Devils on Oct. 4 in the Czech Republic.

While their season will depend on whether their top players perform better under Ruff, the Sabres will need to make a significant impact with their trades and free agent signings in their respective roles.