KANATA, ONTARIO (LGS) — After going big with their first selection, the Buffalo Sabres did the exact opposite when they tabbed 5-foot-9 center Tyler Ennis as the 26th overall pick of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft.
Despite being considered by many as one of the best pure offensive players in the entire draft, most draft experts pegged Ennis as an early second round selection. Central Scouting had the Edmonton native as the 31st ranked North American skater.
"Tyler is a quick, water-bug type of player that scoots up and down the ice and can turn on a dime," said E.J. McGuire, NHL Director of Central Scouting. "He may be one of the best pure offensive players in the entire draft."
In 70 games for the WHL's Medicine Hat Tigers this season, Ennis contributed 43 goals and 91 points while adding 42 penalty minutes.
"He's so, so fast that I think he's one of the toughest guys in the league to handle," said Tigers GM and head coach Willie Desjardins. "He wants to score so bad on every shift and his quickness down low in the corner is why he's so hard to handle."
Ennis says he tries to model his playing style after former Sabres co-captain and current Philadelphia center Daniel Briere as well as Tampa Bay's Martin St. Louis. He considers Briere his favorite NHL player.
The 18-year-old was named to the 2008 WHL Eastern Conference First All-Star Team after finishing second in goals and fourth overall in points. He also earned the Brad Hornung Trophy this past season as the WHL's Most Sportsmanlike Player.
Ennis has represented Team Canada throughout his youth career which included a gold medal victory with Canada's U18 team during the 2006 IIHF World U18 Championship.
Shifty and creative with the puck, Ennis became an instant fan favorite in Medicine Hat where the Tigers faithful laud the smallish centerman for his tremendous work ethic and pure offensive prowess.
"It's hard to say anything about Tyler that hasn't been said or that doesn't sound a little bit understated," said Tigers associate coach Shaun Clouston. "He's electrifying at times. I think he's worth the price of admission a lot of nights. I think our fans really enjoy watching him. Every time he touches the puck you can feel the buzz. You just kind of expect him to create something."
Ennis was also selected and played in the 2008 CHL Top Prospects Game where some scouts said the centerman had a hard time handling and getting around the bigger, more talented defensemen.
Despite the average showing, most believe Ennis posses skill that isn't seen too often, even in the NHL. His size was a big reason why many expected him to stay out of the first round but that wasn't enough to deter Buffalo to select him at #26.
"The only negative is people's perception," Ennis said in an interview with NHL.com earlier this week. "My size is a disadvantage in some people's minds. But numbers are important to them, so look at my statistics. I put up good point totals. Hopefully, a team won't look at my height and weight but my competitiveness, skill and results."
The Sabres brass obviously saw enough in Ennis to make him a first rounder. While he's listed as a centerman, don't be surprised if he is eventually transferred over to a wing position where smaller players tend to excel. He clearly has a chip on his shoulder and isn't afraid to play with a balls-to-the-wall mentality. I don't think there will be any middle ground with this pick; expect Ennis as either a top line NHLer or a career minor leaguer. The Sabres took a risk with Ennis, but the upside is clearly higher than most of the players taken immediately before and after him.