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Focus shifts to U20

Written By Kris Baker on Monday, July 21, 2014 | 7/21/2014

The summer usually offers a much-needed break from pucks, but the beat goes on for a group of Sabres prospects hoping to represent their countries at the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship. While the tournament is still five months away, the work begins with summer evaluation camps once the calendar flips in August.

The United States will welcome Finland, Sweden and the Czech Republic to the National Junior Evaluation Camp in Lake Placid, NY August 3-8. The Sabres boast five of the 42 Americans invited, the most of any NHL team. Canada will conduct their national junior team summer evaluation camp the same week in Quebec, where they’ll be joined by the Czechs, Finns and Russians.

Hudson Fasching returns to Lake Placid for the second straight summer after a strong freshman season with the University of Minnesota. Fasching, who was the youngest forward to attend the NJEC a season ago, clawed his way onto the 2014 edition and proved himself as a powerful workhorse as USA finished without a medal.

Fasching will be joined by reigning B1G Freshman of the Year, JT Compher from the University of Michigan. Like Fasching, Compher was excellent at last summer’s NJEC, and seemed destined to get a spot on the roster before injuring his foot during the selection camp.

Both Fasching and Compher should be seen as favorites to survive the summer cuts and go on to represent Team USA over the winter. Three other Sabres prospects will look to separate themselves among the best American U20s, but they’ll first need to make it through the first three days of intrasquad scrimmages prior to a round cuts.

Connor Hurley will get to gauge himself against an elite peer group on the eve of his first collegiate season at Notre Dame. The 6-foot-2 playmaker was masterful the last time he donned a USA jersey, posting three goals and 10 points in four games at the World Junior A Challenge as the Americans marched to a gold medal.

A product of the United States National Team Development Program, Sean Malone is set for a key role as a sophomore at Harvard University in 2014-15. The speedy sparkplug gathered six goals and 20 points as a rookie to earn All-Ivy League Co-Rookie of the Year honors. Prior to entering the ECAC, Malone was a 16-goal scorer with the National Under-18 team.

Providence College sophomore Anthony Florentino will be the only Sabres defensive prospect in Lake Placid, and one of 14 total blueliners invited. The sturdy freshman potted five goals and 11 points last season for the Friars.

The favorite to man the nets for Sweden at the 2015 World Junior Championship, Jonas Johansson is one of seven returnees from last year’s silver medalists set to attend Sweden’s camp. The Swedes will be in Lake Placid Aug. 3-8 to play a total of four games before heading to Quebec on Aug. 9 to take on Russia’s top U20s. Johansson should pull the majority of the starts while sharing the crease with two other goalies.

Two Sabres prospects will participate in Canada's summer evaluation camp, as Sam Reinhart and Nick Baptiste are among the 41 players who will start positioning themselves for U20 duty.

Reinhart, who is a virtual lock to play in the tournament if he’s not in the NHL, is one of 10 returnees from Canada's 2014 entry that will take part in the summer evaluation. A 105-point man last season in the WHL, Reinhart notched two goals and five points as a winger on Bo Horvat’s line at the 2014 event in Malmo.

A 45-goal scorer in Sudbury a season ago, Baptiste last skated for Canada at the 2013 U18s, where he gathered eight points (3+5) en route to a capturing a gold medal. The speedy Baptiste likely will be vying for a checking role for the Canadians.

There is a good chance that Vaclav Karabacek will be kept out of action when the Czechs make their summer rounds. The Gatineau Olympiques forward, who did not skate at the Sabres development camp due to an undisclosed injury, ended the year with a solid showing at the U18s and is still considered a good bet to play in the U20 event come December.

The Russians could enlist the services of 19-year old defenseman Nikita Zadorov when they skate at Canada’s Summer Evaluation Camp. Zadorov was paired with fellow Sabres prospect Rasmus Ristolainen on the 2014 World Junior Championship All-Star Team. There's a chance that Russia will elect to evaluate others, but the big defender does have one more year of U20 eligibility remaining.

Canada will host the prestigious U20 event Dec. 26-Jan. 5 in Montreal and Toronto.
7/21/2014 | 1 comments | Read More

Development Camp wrap

Written By Kris Baker on Saturday, July 19, 2014 | 7/19/2014

Some high level thoughts from this week's development camp where we watched a group of big, fast skaters do their thing...

- The best player that I saw this week was Rasmus Ristolainen. He defended well, moved the puck efficiently and showed all-around polish and confidence in his two-way game. He dropped the baby fat while adding strength to his big frame, setting him up for that top four NHL projection that we keep talking about. It's gotten harder and harder to imagine him in Rochester this fall.

- Mikhail Grigorenko looks like a different player. He dominated the three-on-three tournament with his size and hands, and is showing more of a battler's mindset on the cycle and when using his stick defensively. He continues to make a pronounced effort to have more explosive starts and crisper stops, and his overall skating stride showed improvement from where it was a year ago. He still has work to do towards hitting his high-end potential, but I appreciated the progress and the willingness to be accountable for his past performance, and I liked how he actually picked up his tempo late in Friday's tournament while others were slowing down.

- Linus Ullmark and Nathan Lieuwen rose above their goaltending peers this week. Both are big boys who show the requisite athleticism to have NHL success down the road. I thought Lieuwen was terrific in the three-on-threes in a situation where vision and goalie IQ are needed to be sharp. Ullmark simply has all the tools you want in a young goalie. He's aggressive and competitive. With added quickness and crisper move-to-move sequences, it'll be game on for the talented Swede.

- Say hello to a full-time NHL job, Mark Pysyk. Development Camp is not training camp. No jobs are won in July, but everything he has done to date should see him win a top-six role this fall.

- The future of the middle lines is in very good hands with the "pro styles" of Hudson Fasching, William Carrier, Nick Baptiste, and Brendan Lemieux. All of these guys are strong, move very well and battle hard on their way to the net, and all of them can fire the puck with authority. We know that Fasching, Carrier and Lemieux have power forward tendencies, but I continue to be impressed with Baptiste's versatile mix of speed and grit.

- Aside from stirring things up with guys like Girgensons, Ristolainen and J.T. Compher, Lemieux was at his best when digging in down the middle of the ice. There isn't much finesse there, but rather a guy who's willing to put his shoulder down and overpower defenders. But again, if he's drawing attention from the best players in a practice environment, think about what he's going to do against the Bruins, Habs and Leafs when he finally puts on an NHL jersey. Teams are going to regret not taking him, and I still can't believe Lou Lamoriello opted for John Quenneville over him, but who am I to evaluate a Cup winning GM.

- It's often not too difficult to get behind a late-round pick, but it looks like Victor Olofsson is going to be the biggest sleeper in the prospect ranks. Good changes of speed with the puck and an ability to quickly elevate it from in tight. He worked hard this week. The Sabres can sit on him for a few years, but long term sniper potential is plain and clear with this kid.

- Drake Caggiula, a camp invitee out of the University of North Dakota, proved himself to be an instinctive worker who can produce goals. He's not the biggest guy, but he consistently placed himself in the right position to make plays. He roofed several goals short side in Friday's three-on-three tourney as Team Grey cruised through undefeated. I thought he was far and away the best FA invite.

- Eric Cornel makes really good decisions when given space to operate. He's got a nice, quick shot and there weren't too many plays where I wish he had done something else with the puck. I walked away impressed with where he sits with two more years of junior ahead of him to get stronger up top.

- On the flip side, Joel Armia's body language at times showed disinterest. The crazy talent is there, and he certainly showed flashes in the scrimmage, but I still wonder about his desire every time he steps out to play. Too many blind passes for my liking, and still trying a lot of one-of-one stuff. I'm not judging a player's long-term future off a handful of summer practice sessions, but he does need to keep the switch flipped "on". I hope his head is in the game come fall.

- Max Willman looked like an interesting long-range prospect this week with good eyes in the offensive zone and very soft passing hands. I didn't see many dazzling goals come off his stick, but he plays an honest two-way style that offers lots of promise down the road once he puts a few years in at Brown.

- Justin Bailey showed spurts of his power game in the three-on-threes. One play saw him kick it into a higher gear on a cut to the front of the net, only to be robbed by a sprawling Jonas Johansson. Another play saw him sling a laser beam into the top of the net from the faceoff circle. He needs to realize how strong he is and start using his gifts with regularity this season to earn a pro contract.

- There is a still training camp ahead to truly battle, but as of now I'm sending Nikita Zadorov back to the OHL.

- Andrey Makarov will play second fiddle to Lieuwen in Rochester this year, but did his thing with a flashy glove hand and better side-to-side movement. He always makes showstopping saves, but needs to limit some of the soft goals.

- I loved the scrap between Anthony Florentino and Justin Kea at Tuesday's scrimmage. Florentino lit Kea up with a big open ice hit in the first period, and Kea got his number and dialed it in the second period. Great to see that passion in July.

- If the three-on-threes were all about seeing who was ready to battle and produce in down-low traffic, guys like Kea and Sean Malone likely impressed the coaches. Kea has always been tough in the trenches, but Malone looked the part of a hungry, smart player in helping Team Gold reach the tournament final before falling short against Gray.

- Entering the week, I was thinking that Tim Schaller between Jordan Samuels-Thomas and another power winger could make for one dandy line in Rochester this fall. With that in mind, I was pleased to see them together on Team Team for the three-on-threes. Both players are cut from the same cloth in that they'll skate hard, work for their chances and use their size to make simple plays.

- Two of the quieter, yet solid performances of the week were put in by defensemen Brycen Martin and Brady Austin. Martin was simple and safe in five-on-five, and showed some nice finishing skills when given room to play with in the three-on-threes. Aside from one turnover at the side of his net on Tuesday, Austin mirrored Martin's simplicity and overall effectiveness while showing some good passing skills in the three-on-three portion.

- While Lieuwen and Ullmark were my top goalies, I really liked what I saw from Johansson in terms of athleticism and simple positioning. He seals off the bottom of the net and can really move. Playing deep works if you can track the puck well, and he seems to have that gift. Cal Petersen did a very nice job this week as well, especially when holding his ground when the pressure builds at the edge of his crease.

- I have liked Dan Catenacci for quite some time. His speed and shooting are there, and I thought he played really well on line with Grigorenko and Fasching on Tuesday. Long term, I'm still trying to understand where he fits at the NHL level. Year two in Rochester will be big for him. He needs to dial in his consistency and push himself to a better progression to maintain his spot in a talented group of forwards.

- If you didn't realize this by now, Compher is prickly with no quit. He did nothing to soften his NHL projection this week, as he takes away space and challenges the opposition each time he sets foot on the ice.

- Lastly, Mr. Samson Reinhart. Everything he does is smooth and crisp. His passes are clean, and he makes it look easy. Those looking for a high-flying, superstar highlight reel player may want to find another player's jersey to buy, but patience in development is going to pay off with this kid once he's fully acclimated to the speed and physicality of the pro game. I still don't know what to do with him next season, but I'm eager to see him when paired with NHL caliber wingers in his first training camp.
7/19/2014 | 3 comments | Read More

Development Camp roster finalized

Written By Kris Baker on Saturday, July 12, 2014 | 7/12/2014

The Buffalo Sabres have announced their 2014 Development Camp roster. The event will take place July 14-18, with the marquee Blue vs. Gold scrimmage set for Tuesday, July 15 at 7:00 PM.

A total of 41 players will take part in the action, including seven first round NHL draft picks. Sabres fans, of course, will get their first chance to see 2014 prize Sam Reinhart, who recently signed his three-year entry-level contract with the Sabres.

Forwards (26)
Joel Armia
Justin Bailey
Nicholas Baptiste
Christopher Brown
Drake Caggiula*
William Carrier
Daniel Catenacci
J.T. Compher
Eric Cornel
Hudson Fasching
Zemgus Girgensons
Mikhail Grigorenko
Colin Jacobs
Vaclav Karabacek
Justin Kea
Brendan Lemieux
Sean Malone
Jonathon Martin*
Victor Olofsson
Liam Pecararo*
Sam Reinhart
Patrick Russell*
Jordan Samuels-Thomas
Tim Schaller
Kevin Sundher
Maxwell Willman

Defensemen (10)
Brady Austin
Anthony Florentino
Jerome Gauthier-Leduc
Brycen Martin
Jake McCabe
Andrew Prochno*
Brandon Prophet*
Mark Pysyk
Rasmus Ristolainen
Nikita Zadorov

Goalies (5)
Jonas Johansson
Nathan Lieuwen
Andrey Makarov
Cal Petersen
Linus Ullmark

first round pick
second round pick
third round pick
* free agent invite

Feel free to post some line combinations that you'd like to see in the comments section.
7/12/2014 | 1 comments | Read More

Buffalo Sabres Summer 2014 Prospect Rankings

Disclaimer: The ranking exercise is not about compiling a list of who is closest to playing in the NHL. The prospects are first listed by their potential ceiling, and then slotted up or down based on their overall likelihood of achieving. This is the only fair way to assess a pool of players ranging 18-23 years of age.

THE TOP 30


1 - REINHART, Sam
2 - RISTOLAINEN, Rasmus
3 - ZADOROV, Nikita
4 - GRIGORENKO, Mikhail
5 - COMPHER, JT
6 - ARMIA, Joel
7 - PYSYK, Mark
8 - MCCABE, Jake
9 - LEMIEUX, Brendan
10 - FASCHING, Hudson
11 - ULLMARK, Linus
12 - BAPTISTE, Nick
13 - CARRIER, William
14 - HURLEY, Connor
15 - LARSSON, Johan
16 - BAILEY, Justin
17 - CATENACCI, Dan
18 - CORNEL, Eric
19 - JOHANSSON, Jonas
20 - KARABACEK, Vaclav
21 - DESLAURIERS, Nicolas
22 - LIEUWEN, Nathan
23 - POSSLER, Gustav
24 - PETERSEN, Cal
25 - KEA, Justin
26 - MAKAROV, Andrey
27 - MARTIN, Brycen
28 - MALONE, Sean
29 - FLORENTINO, Anthony
30 - SCHALLER, Tim

Notes (conveniently a Baker's dozen):

1) The first two prospects were easy to rank sans formula. The fun started from there, including a serious debate about Compher vs. Grigorenko. I feel that Compher is a "sure thing" set to make an impact at the 2015 WJC and beyond, but Grigorenko has been hitting it hard this offseason. The work should see him inch closer to his higher-end potential.

2) I maintain the position that Armia has all the talent in the world to occupy that No. 2 spot, but he won't earn a higher qualifier to his grade until he shows that he can consistently produce to the best of his abilities. His season trajectory, which was capped with a fabulous playoff run, reminds me of the way Girgensons finished his rookie year on the farm. A full cultural adjustment should see his stock skyrocket this season.

3) Spots 11-15 were fun to navigate. If there is one guy in that cluster who has a chance to make a serious leap in the rankings, it's Hurley. We'll be monitoring his adjustment to the college game, but I have full confidence in him breaking out following a full run through the cycle.

4) The Los Angeles Kings continue to be the model franchise. Size isn't everything, but it rightfully holds a ton of weight (pun intended) in the modern NHL, along with the obvious key ingredient - skating. When scouting players, the tiebreaking trait is always desire. A consistent high level of engagement wins versus slick puck skills and questionable heart.

5) The Sabres acquired a slew of forwards at the 2014 draft, and all of a sudden they are running lighter on defensemen. Lacking strength in numbers is less of a concern when you've amassed quality depth at the position (four of the top 10).

6) Sabres prospects are going to be busy once development camp is out of the way. Compher, Fasching, Hurley, Malone and Florentino will attend USA's National Junior Evaluation Camp. Johansson (SWE) and Karabacek (CZE) are expected to participate for their respective countries in Lake Placid. Reinhart and Baptiste have been tabbed by Canada for August action. It's unknown if Russia will look to Zadorov for summer duty, but he's eligible.

7) Outside of thinking that Nine Eleven wings and Hamburg Brewing's No Lux Black IPA are two of the greatest things ever, I'm hardly a Buffalo homer. With that said, I truly believe in Bailey regardless of what USA Hockey thinks (or does not think) about his 2013-14 effort, and I'm very excited for Malone to come out blazing and push his way up the list.

8) Regarding goaltenders, I'm trying to find one who simply wins games. We can talk about technique all day, but this broken record insists that it's not about the saves you make, but the goals you let in.

9) Part of me thinks that Johansson has the goods to be a top flight NHL goaltending prospect (read: top 10 ranking), but the the more sagacious half of my brain tells me to be conservative and let things happen. 

10) Makarov impressed in limited AHL duty, and I eagerly await to see how he responds moving forward. He likes to play a lot, and it'll be interesting to see if he can perform consistently in an AHL timeshare.

11) In a perfect world, a guy like Karabacek would be rated in the 12-15 range. Unfortunately, the Sabres prospect ranks is not a perfect world -- it's a loaded one.

12) With the Sabres having three more years to develop Possler before needing to sign him I'm not too worried about the knee injury. However, we should watch it closely when he is able to return.

13) Schaller turns 24 in November and will drop off the list at that point. I like the way he plays, and see him grinding out some plug minutes at the NHL level this season as an injury call-up. Pysyk, with 63 NHL games under his belt, is on the verge of graduation. Same with Deslauriers, 23, and his one-way contract


PLAYER PROFILES


1 – Sam Reinhart
RC, Kootenay ICE (WHL)
6’1” | 186 lbs.
2014 (1st round, 2nd overall)

A masterful even-strength playmaker and all-around offensive talent, Reinhart enters the system as the Sabres’ top prospect following a 36 goal, 105 point season as an 18-year in Kootenay. The Sabres haven’t had a player with this type of hockey brain in a very long time.

Reinhart is smooth, calm, disciplined and efficient with an uncanny feel for where everyone is at all times. Detractors will harp on Reinhart’s lack of high-end wheels, but the same things were said about John Tavares, and well, we know how that turned out.

Future captain material is in play for the reigning WHL Player of the Year. It’s just a matter of when he’s able to earn the full-time gig. It’s a safe assumption that Reinhart will be in the starting lineup in 2015-16, but it’s either NHL or WHL next season with Rochester not being an option.


2 – Rasmus Ristolainen
RHD, Rochester Americans (AHL)
6’4” | 207 lbs.
2013 (1st round, 8th overall)

The big Finn progressively matured in his first year of North American hockey to properly lay the foundation to develop into a future top-pair workhorse. Ristolainen has it all - size, reach, skating ability, and a more than adequate hitting game that features a classic hip check. He adds motion to the power play, and is very capable of keeping his shots low on their way to the net.

Anyone who watched him take charge in the gold medal game at the World Junior Championship can tell you that he’s a big game player. Ristolainen should not only be a full-time NHLer in 2014-15, but a high performing one at that. It’s a numbers game right now, so we shall see.


3 – Nikita Zadorov
LHD, London Knights (OHL)
6’5” | 228 lbs.
2013 (1st round, 16th overall)

The massive, hard hitting rearguard logged a ton of minutes once he returned to the OHL in 2013-14, and he certainly benefitted from the exposure by being named a finalist for the Max Kaminsky Award, given to the league’s Most Outstanding Defenseman. His offensive production skyrocketed, thanks in part to his booming slap shot, and each point was seemingly matched with a crunching body check. His confident play against the top U20 players at the 2014 World Juniors showed that he learned from his brief NHL term.

What comes next for Zadorov will likely be an exercise in patience. The Sabres added some veteran depth to the blueline via free agency, so if he wants to be in the NHL next year it will have to be well earned. Zadorov looked a little gassed by the end of the playoffs thanks to a depleted Knights’ blue line, but you’d be too if you were playing more than 30 minutes a game on the heels of a very long season.


4 – Mikhail Grigorenko
LC, Rochester Americans (AHL)
6’3” | 200 lbs.
2012 (1st round, 12th overall)

The supposed ups-and-downs of Grigorenko’s first two post-draft seasons are well documented, but were there really many downs? Without knowing the producer’s name, I think most fans, even the impatient ones quick to throw out the “B” word, would be impressed by 45 goals and 93 points in 56 CHL contests since being drafted.

With the reset button hit, it’s on Grigorenko to work his way up to his high-end potential by responding to coaching and putting in the work. He didn't score but showed positive signs when he landed in Rochester at the end of the year. He was skating hard on the backcheck, and continuing to improve his play away from the puck. I’d love to see him on the power play halfwall where his creativity in space can make shooters look good. Aside from that, it’s a brave new world in Buffalo where culture matters. With the right attitude, everything should fall into place.


5 – JT Compher
RC, University of Michigan Wolverines (B1G)
5’11 | 184 lbs.
2013 (2nd round, 35th overall)

A well-rounded forward with an ultra-competitive motor, Compher led Michigan in scoring as a true freshman with 31 points (11+20), but earns this spot with his do-it-all effort and attitude.

Compher may not have the brilliant vision as some of his top-five peers, and there might be speedier players in the stable, but it doesn’t matter. Compher is simply a “hockey player”, and a damn good one. Leadership, desire and timely offense make him a sure-fire NHLer in my eyes.

Buffalo fans are going to love what Compher brings each and every night. He is equally effective at both ends of the rink, and he’s an up-tempo beast on both the power play and penalty kill (3 SHG). Compher’s ceiling is a blue collar 2C who can leverage his three-zone smarts and apply some timely scoring, but his value goes well beyond his already sparkling statistical resume.


6 – Joel Armia
RW, Rochester Americans (AHL)
6’3” | 203 lbs.
2011 (1st round, 16th overall)

Still speculating this stock due to goal scoring potential, Armia simply needs to smooth out his consistency issues to keep a firm grip on his spot in the top five. Armia got a late start after suffering a busted hand in NHL preseason action, and it was a slow-cooking process once he was good to go, but he emerged as the Amerks best forward by the time the playoffs rolled around with three goals and six points in their first round loss to Chicago. If the season progression rings a bell, it's probably because the trajectory was a near match to that of Girgensons in his first AHL season.

If his excellent closing performance was any indication, Armia will be more than ready to get an NHL look in 2014-15. His size and skating are coveted assets down the right side, and it’s clear that his high-slot trigger on the power play will be utilized more moving forward. With more confidence comes a more physically engaged forward, so it’s on the gifted winger to keep the fire lit to bring out the best in his game in year two of his North American journey.


7 – Mark Pysyk
RHD, Rochester Americans (AHL)
6’2” | 188 lbs.
2010 (1st round, 23rd overall)

Very smart and equally mobile, Pysyk’s simple plays and level demeanor are attractive qualities for a depth NHL defender. He’s could probably afford to spread his wings more at times when carrying the puck up ice (he conservatively picks his spots), but his value comes in great exit passes to spark the transition game and strong positioning at both ends of the rink. Pysyk is the epitome of steadiness and low panic.

Pysyk keeps his gaps tight and communicates well with his partner, while countering a lack of an aggressive physical presence with diligent footwork and effective stick checks. His poise and work on the penalty kill should get him a full-time gig in 2014-15.


8 – Jake McCabe
LHD, Buffalo Sabres (NHL)
6’1” | 205 lbs.
2012 (2nd round, 44th overall)

A rock solid, two-way defender, McCabe’s footwork, sturdy frame and willingness to fill a lane on the rush make him an ideal candidate for middle pair NHL minutes in short order. His three years in Madison and international experience have him well prepared for an all situations role. He’s physical and mobile, and is basically a “can’t miss” prospect at this stage in his development.

The Wisconsin product has the pace down to remain in the NHL, but the upcoming season could see McCabe spend some time on the farm as the Sabres push for their new core to grow together. His leadership, diligence and team-first attitude not only round out the Sabres’ embarrassment of back end riches, but also add to the culture that Tim Murray is striving for over the re-build and beyond.


9 – Brendan Lemieux
LW, Barrie Colts (OHL)
6’1” | 206 lbs.
2014 (2nd round, 31st overall)

I always wanted Claude Lemieux on my team. Having his son in the system may very well be the next best thing. A grade “A” agitator as advertised, Lemieux hits the corners hard, draws attention after the whistle, and shows a strong two-way sense for the game. He plays tough and isn’t afraid to instigate. On top it all, Lemieux has the hands between the hash marks as evidenced by his 27 lamplighters in 2013-14.

The draft is complete, and Lemieux falling out of the first round could be the best thing that happened to the Sabres. You have to think that being left off Canada’s roster for the U20 summer evaluation camp put a sour taste in his mouth as well. If the chip remains planted on his shoulder, a motivated Lemieux could storm out of the gate and work his way into an NHL role rather quickly. For now, the focus is acting like a pro and achieving personal statistical goals over the next two OHL seasons while continue to sturdy up his wide, cut frame.


10 – Hudson Fasching
RW, University of Minnesota Golden Gophers
6’2” | 207 lbs.
2014 (4th round, 118th overall - LAK)

Appropriately called “Thor” by his teammates, Fasching exceeded his fourth-round draft position with a solid all-around freshman season to shoot up the prospect ranks. Fasching works his tail off beneath the goal line, and boasts perhaps the greatest net front presence in the system.  He has size, hands and sense to play at very high level, as evidenced by his 14 goals (tied for most on team) and 2.5 shots on goal per game.

Big bodies that can bang are appreciated by NHL staffs, and Fasching has the look of a middle-line power winger in two years time. Working on his explosive starts will only increase his chances of succeeding at the NHL level, but the B1G All-Freshman Team selection has plenty of time to make his feet lighter while adding even more mass to his impressive frame.


11 – Linus Ullmark
G, MODO Hockey (SHL)
6’3” | 198 lbs.
2012 (6th round, 163rd overall)

Perhaps the greatest breakout goalie in all of European hockey last season, Ullmark guided a goal starved MODO squad to the SHL playoffs with a league-best .937 save% while keeping his GAA under 2.00 for the majority of the year. It was Ullmark’s first full season of SHL duty, and he came away with flying colors to earn a spot on the Swedish media’s year end All Star team.

Ullmark is big and wide with a good glove hand. He’s a very reliable first-save goalie, so the sky’s the limit once he becomes quicker on his feet and improves his balance to stop second and third chances. Ullmark won the Honken Trophy as the SHL’s top goalie in 2013-14, and with an entry-level deal inked, will play one more year with MODO before coming to North America to continue building his resume. Works needs to be done before penciling in an NHL future, but the year-over-year progression has been remarkable.


12 – Nick Baptiste
RW, Sudbury Wolves (OHL)
6’1” | 190 lbs.
2013 (3rd round, 69th overall)

Speed kills, and when you can get to the goal mouth and finish plays, it’s relatively easy to forecast a bright future. The Ottawa native exceeded his third-round expectations last season, producing consistent offense to the tune of 45 goals to earn the Sudbury’s MVP award, and later his first NHL contract.

Baptiste’s gift for beating defenders deep is well established at the junior level, and it’s reasonable to suspect those “in your face” wheels will make him a versatile, useful checker at the top level even if his scoring doesn’t fully translate. Baptiste is off to Team Canada’s U20 World Junior Evaluation Camp, where he’ll aim for a third-line role among a talented forward grouping.


13 – William Carrier
LW, Rochester Americans (AHL)
6’1” | 194 lbs.
2013 (2nd round, 57th overall - STL)

If there is a dark horse to force his way into an NHL role quickly, Carrier is it, and it could happen before the calendar hits 2015. A gritty, instinctive producer who will hit the high traffic zones, the Quebecer’s track to the top league may come down to simply staying healthy. A high ankle sprain sidelined the winger in his draft year, and while staying healthy throughout 2013-14, he again battled the lower body blues in the playoffs.

Carrier has good speed, great hands in tight and proves tough along the wall. Most importantly, he launches a lot of shots at the net, many of them at rocket velocity. There is a reason the Blues packaged picks to move up to get him at the 2013 draft, and there is a reason Tim Murray insisted that he was included in the Miller/Ott return. Carrier plays the game the right way.


14 – Connor Hurley
LC, University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish (HE)
6’2” | 174 lbs.
2013 (2nd round, 38th overall)

Hurley, who won’t turn 19 until September, has the dynamic toolset to become an elite playmaking force once he gets his feet wet at the NCAA level with Notre Dame. He’s got the size, puck skills and impressive instincts to make it happen, so with added strength the Sabres could have a gem in the making down the middle.

Hurley's season got off to a slower start in Muskegon, but he came on after a trade to Green Bay at the holiday break to post 36 points (10+26) in the final 35 games. His man advantage mastery was showcased at the World Junior A Challenge, and further displayed with his 20 power play helpers ranking third in the USHL.
Jeff Jackson’s system at Notre Dame rewards defensively responsible players. If Hurley can put his nose to the grindstone in his own end while putting his gifts to work on the power play, the budding package should eventually be put into a position to flourish by the time his sophomore year rolls around.

15 – Johan Larsson
LC, Rochester Americans (AHL)
5’11” | 198 lbs.
2010 (2nd round, 56th overall - MIN)

Known as “The Bull”, Larsson gets by with a low center of gravity and good offensive smarts.  He’s not the speediest forward in the system, but he sees the ice extremely well and is very tough to knock off the puck. Larsson can do a little bit of everything, but it’s clear that his battle skills and work ethic fit right into to what the Sabres are looking to reward.

Honest and efficient, Larsson’s doesn’t post gaudy numbers but it’s worth noting that his production went up a notch last season. And hey, let’s not forget the chemistry he displayed with Girgensons two years ago in the AHL playoffs. Moderate offensive production is in play down the road, and it’s easy to think that Larsson’s combination of responsible defensive zone work and cool playmaking will plug into a third line NHL role, either down the middle or as a left winger.


16 – Justin Bailey
RW, Kitchener Rangers (OHL)
6’3” | 199 lbs.
2013 (2nd round, 52nd overall)

Mysteriously left off USA’s 2014 National Junior Evaluation Camp roster, the reigning Kitchener Rangers MVP is sure to come out in 2014-15 and show that he’s bigger, stronger, faster and ready to make a significant impact in his final OHL season. He started to impose his size and power more last season with a struggling Kitchener squad en route to collecting 25 goals, and he rounded out his resume with more “effort” plays along the way.

More development time will be needed once he’s through with junior, but I believe in Bailey’s long-term ability as a professional power forward. He's smart enough to know what he needs to do to make the dream happen. The turning point will come once he realizes how strong he is compared to his level of competition. From there, confidence should build and unlock all the good in his game.


17 – Dan Catenacci
C/LW, Rochester Americans (AHL)
5’10” | 186 lbs.
2011 (3rd round, 77th overall)

Most comfortable playing the center position, Catenacci took excellent strides in his first year of farm duty in Rochester. He used his speed to pressure the puck and became acclimated to the need for quicker decisions when it hit his stick. His improved defensive commitment kept him in the lineup, and the reward arrived in 10 goals and 20 points.

Moving forward, Catenacci should continue to counter his lack of size by finding space to exploit AHL defenders with his wheels and stickhandling. He has plenty of offensive polish and a good work ethic to make it happen, so the NHL dream is alive and well for the versatile forward – be it as a checking centerman or platooning 2W.


18 – Eric Cornel
RW/C, Peterborough Petes (OHL)
6’2” | 185 lbs.
2014 (2nd round, 44th overall)

The third overall pick in the 2012 OHL draft, Cornel is crafty, heads-up forward with great playmaking skill and room to add mass to his frame. He doesn't play overly physical and can afford to up his overall intensity, but he's a fast and agile skater that adds another quality right-handed shot to the organization.

A second half riser leading up to the NHL draft, Cornel will need to add some serious mass and dial in his game-over-game consistency over the next two seasons, whether it comes down the right wing or at his natural center position. Solid all around tools and a robust skating game will certainly help his cause as he rounds off his three-zone play.


19 – Jonas Johansson
G, Brynas IF Gavle (SEL)
6’4” | 198 lbs.
2014 (3rd round, 61st overall)

The front-runner to man Sweden’s nets at the 2015 World Junior Championship, Johansson is a big, athletic blocker style goalie who, like so many young Swedes, models his game after Scandanavian goaltending king Henrik Lundqvist. He plays deep in his crease, leveraging his size, positioning and wide butterfly to force shooters to beat him high.

Signed to an SHL contract through 2015-16, Johansson will compete with former MODO netminder Bernhard Starkbaum for the starting role over the next two seasons. Being pushed by a veteran is a healthy situation while developing in one of Sweden’s stronger programs, and I'd love to see a friendly rivalry develop between he and fellow countryman Ullmark over the next few years.


20 – Vaclav Karabacek
LW, Gatineau Olympiques (QMJHL)
6’0” | 190 lbs.
2014 (2nd round, 49th overall)

A straight line, north/south forward who works hard at both ends of the rink, Karabacek could easily carve out an NHL future if he maintains the level of consistency that he showed this past season in Gatineau and at the World U18s. Karabacek plays a simple, no nonsense game. He gets into scoring position and makes the most of his chances while managing good board work and a responsible sense on the other side of the puck.

The Sabres can afford to take their time monitoring Karabacek’s progress. He has two years of Quebec league action left in him before needing to be signed. Elements of a third-line winger with second-line upside are apparent, giving the Sabres another solid depth piece to work with for the foreseeable future.


21 – Nicolas Deslauriers
LW, Buffalo Sabres (AHL)
6’1” | 230 lbs.
2009 (3rd round, 84th overall - LAK)

Upon his arrival in Buffalo at the trade deadline, Deslauriers used his big frame and competitive spirit to slot himself into a full-time place in the show for 2014. Not too shabby for a converted defenseman who was playing his first full season as a forward.

It’s hard thinking that Deslauriers' 18 AHL markers last season are indicative of scoring prowess at the world’s highest level, but his willingness to battle during his brief NHL stint proved that he’s a serviceable, heavy checker who can claim his share if he goes to the net with his stick on the ice. In my opinion, his final landing spot is likely that of a fourth-liner on a competitive club.


22 – Nathan Lieuwen
G, Rochester Americans (AHL)
6’5” | 191 lbs.
2011 (6th round, 167th overall)

The tallest goalie in the Sabres pipeline, the 6-foot-5 Lieuwen took excellent developmental leaps in 2013-14 by overcoming Matt Hackett for the top job in Rochester, and later earning his first career NHL start. Lieuwen’s ascendence started at the 2013 d-camp, where you noticed improved focus and more economical movement. He shined in Traverse City with solid, consistent play, and the momentum saw him win the Amerks’ backup job outright.

An aggressive stopper in junior, Lieuwen’s athleticism is still present but the biggest factor in his rise has been his composure, which has led to crisper move-to-move sequences. He’ll be challenged by Andrey Makarov, but smart money is on Lieuwen being the Amerks’ opening night starter.


23 – Gustav Possler
LW, MODO Hockey (SHL)
5’11” | 183 lbs.
2013 (5th round, 130th overall)

A Swedish version of former Sabres captain Jason Pominville, Possler is of average build but brings good speed and a knack for finding space to leverage his quick wrist shot. While getting off to a hot start in the goal scoring column, Possler also proved to be a solid penalty killer last season before getting sidelined with a knee injury in early December. The rehab will keep him off the ice at the 2014 development camp.

The Swedish scorer, who was on course to be a major contributor at the World Juniors before getting shelved, will spend two more seasons with MODO before eyeing a jump across the pond. He's a player with a second-line ceiling, but the Sabres are hoping that he continues to work hard away away from the puck to offer greater versatility down the road.


24 – Cal Petersen
G, University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish
6’2” | 183 lbs.
2013 (5th round, 129th overall)

A scrappy goalie with great quickness and a sharp glove, Petersen’s consistent play earned a Second Team All-USHL selection, and later USA Hockey's Dave Peterson Goalie of the Year Award as the top American-born goaltender in junior hockey. With his junior days complete, Petersen is walking into a good situation at Notre Dame that, in my opinion, should see him pull the majority of starts ahead of returning sophomore Chad Katunar.

The Iowa native started the year in Waterloo with wins in six of his first seven starts before backstopping Team USA to a gold medal at the World Jr. A Challenge in November.  With confidence and a strong defensive system, Petersen logged some dominant stretches this season with the Black Hawks, including an impressive mid-season run of 12 consecutive victories in regulation. The full body of work netted 27 wins (t-1st in USHL), a 2.50 GAA (6th) and a .915 save% (8th).


25 – Justin Kea
LC, Rochester Americans (AHL)
6’4” | 206 lbs.
2012 (3rd round, 73rd overall)

A long-limbed defensive forward and reliable faceoff specialist, Kea has an excellent opportunity to work his way into a fourth line forward role by the time his second NHL deal rolls around. He’s a hard worker who chips the puck deep and pursues with speed and power, and he knows what to do when he gets the puck around the net. Being tough to knock and showing a willingness to step in front of shots are solid traits for a Sabres club looking for character players.

The Sabres will exercise patience when it comes to watching a potential shutdown, unsung worker mature. The next three years should see him hit the weights while adding a touch of quickness to make his strong skating game all the more effective. Emulating Tim Schaller’s on-ice demeanor will only accelerate his development.


26 - Andrey Makarov
G, Rochester Americans (AHL)
6’1” | 178 lbs.
Signed as free agent 9/15/12

Makarov should be proud of what he was able to accomplish in 2013-14. His year began with a poor showing in his only Traverse City start, allowing five goals on 32 shots in an overtime victory over the Rangers. He struggled with side-to-side plays, and he appeared to overplay at times. He was assigned to the ECHL’s Fort Wayne Komets from there, getting off to an average statistical start before being challenged for time following a January concussion.

Surviving on sheer athleticism, Makarov rose to the occasion during a late-season recall to guide a struggling Amerks squad to a Western Conference playoff spot. Small sample size no doubt, but he was sharp and at times flashy while doing a better job controlling his rebounds to win seven of 10 starts and post a .927 save%. The Russian stopper is not out of the woods yet, but his rookie year progression was an encouraging sign as the Sabres search for a future No. 1 goaltender.


27 - Brycen Martin
LHD, Swift Current Broncos (WHL)
6’2” | 185 lbs.
2014 (3rd round, 74th overall)

Martin’s size and mobility blend right in to what the Sabres are looking to build on the blue line. He’s a confident puck lugger who can get shots through from the point. While at his best when he keeps things simple, Martin’s overall effectiveness is right where it needs to be moving forward. Defensively, he’s calm in the face of pressure but he’ll want to up his physical game over the course of the next years in the WHL to round out the appealing package.

28 - Sean Malone
LC, Harvard University Crimson (ECAC)
5’11” | 183 lbs.
2013 (6th round, 159th overall)

An up-tempo creative worker, Malone excelled as a true freshman at Harvard en route to being named the All-Ivy League co-Rookie of the Year. He showed speed around the edge and an unselfish ability to hit his teammates with sharp passes, while showing the smarts and dedication defensively to keep himself on the top line. I entered the season wanting to be impressed with Malone, and the times that I saw him play left me satisfied with where he was at on his developmental curve. His six goals were evenly split, with two each coming at even strength, on the power play and while short handed.

As of now, I expect Malone to remain in school for the remaining three seasons. He’ll get his degree from a prestigious institution and emerge as a very mature player with a good amount of NHL upside. He'll frustrate defensemen with his feet and jam, and he can quickly convert turnovers into offensive opportunities. Hard work and instincts present a good combo, and with a few years to beef up his frame, he'll remain in contention as a dark horse NHL prospect.


29 - Anthony Florentino
RHD, Providence College Friars (HE)
6’2” | 210 lbs.
2013 (5th round, 143rd overall)

A raw two-way talent with a heavy defensive style, Florentino got off to a hot start as a true freshman in 2013-14 with seven points in his first eight games before recording just one in his next 10. An upper-body injury in mid-January provided a minor setback in his development, but the New England native has clearly staked a claim to big collegiate minutes moving forward.

The situation ahead should afford Florentino plenty of opportunities to polish off his set under the guidance of Providence coach Nate Leaman. Florentino's skill set was rightly rewarded with a invitation to Team USA's U20 National Junior Evaluation Camp, a development that could boost his confidence and take his game to the next level in 2014-15.


30 - Tim Schaller
LHC, Rochester Americans (AHL)
6’2” | 210 lbs.
Signed as free agent 4/2/13

Schaller has a legitimate shot at getting a look as a fourth-line NHL character player and shutdown defensive forward. He’s a speedy, determined checker who doesn’t hesitate to take the puck hard to the net. He can win draws, kill penalties, and cover a lot of ground on the backcheck.

As a whole, the former Hockey East Best Defensive Forward is a selfless player that every team can use to plug grind-line minutes. You're never going to count on Schaller for steady offense, but you can look to him for smart execution with effort and detail while applying pressure on the opposition with a high level of defensive aptitude.


NR – Phil Varone
LHC, Rochester Americans (AHL)
5’11” | 186 lbs.
Signed as free agent 3/9/12

A consistent, reliable AHL point producer, Varone’s skating and sharp passing skills keep him in the running as a solid depth performer. His career path. though, is likely as a key farm hand that can do his part in developing the next wave of scorers while plugging small doses of NHL minutes as needed. It would be wise for the Sabres to keep him well compensated for his AHL work if Varone is agreeable to that role moving forward upon expiration his entry-level deal following the 2014-15 season.

NR – Brady Austin
LHD, Rochester Americans (AHL)
6’4” | 225 lbs.
2012 (7th round, 193rd overall)

Austin’s size and mobility make for a compelling organizational depth defender. He sees the ice well from the back end with an ability to hit guys in stride with long stretch passes. He uses his frame well to shut down his half of the ice, and he's become more aggressive when clearing out the front of his net.  Continuing to assert his physical dominance and holding his ground in the face of the speedy rush will be keys to becoming a sturdy stay-at-home force at the pro level. Signed to a three-year ELC, Austin has time to ease his way in.

NR – Kevin Sundher
LW/C, Rochester Americans (AHL)
6’0” | 181 lbs.
2010 (3rd round, 75th overall)

Sundher is one of the more puzzling prospects in the Sabres ranks. A fantastic junior player who excelled with a target on his back, Sundher’s has received uneven playing time while managing his way through the odd injury here and there through the first two years of his contract. He has the requisite speed and improved fire in his belly to succeed, but he’ll need to emerge from the numbers game in Rochester to play a bigger role in the final year of his deal.

NR – Jerome Gauthier-Leduc
RHD, Rochester Americans (AHL)
6’1” | 192 lbs.
2010 (3rd round, 68th overall)

I have been stressing coaching and patience through the first two years of Leduc’s ELC, and the song remains the same moving forward. Leduc excelled in the role of mobile offensive booster in his QMJHL days, and he has shown flashes of his puck-moving skills in his first two seasons of pro hockey, but he has yet to develop the consistent defensive fortitude required to keep pace with his professional peers.  

We know he can be a valuable asset, as evidenced by him stepping up his game in Traverse City following Chad Ruhwedel’s shoulder injury, so with 99 AHL games under his belt, it’s time for him to show the adjustment and do a better job handling strong forwards while making the most of his opportunities up ice.

NR – Max Willman
LW, Brown University Bears (ECAC)
6’0” | 181 lbs.
2014 (5th round, 121st overall)

A tenacious, downhill offensive player, Willman grinding work ethic and goal scoring skill fit the bill for what the Sabres are looking for in terms of building quality organizational depth. He plays a pressuring up-tempo style, and he'll plenty of time to perfect his craft away from the puck before deciding on a pro future. A bright student who nearly gave up on hockey a year ago, Willman will make the leap from high school to the ECAC this fall when he enrolls at Brown University.

NR – Chris Brown
RC, Green Bay Gamblers (USHL)
6’0” | 189 lbs.
2014 (6th round, 151st overall)

A prolific scorer at the Michigan prep school level, Brown will get a chance to marinate longer with a ramp-up season with the USHL’s Green Bay Gamblers before a multi-year term with perennial NCAA powerhouse, Boston College. Bloodlines are in play, with Brown’s father Doug being a proud veteran of over 800 NHL games. We may not see the younger Brown for a while, but the potential is in play for a home run prospect following strength development and sound coaching over the next four years.

NR – Victor Olofsson
RW, MODO Hockey (SHL)
5’11” | 176 lbs.
2014 (7th round, 181st overall)

A speedy winger with a bullet of a shot, Olofsson shredded the Swedish J20 ranks in 2013-14 with 32 goals and 53 points in 44 games. The production led to Olofsson getting a late December call up to the SHL club for 11 games, where he went without a point in the 12th/13th forward role before continuing his elite production at the junior level with another five goals and nine points in five playoff contests. Olofsson is inked for two more years in MODO, and with the Sabres having four years to make a signing decision, he'll have plenty of time to work his way on to the NHL radar as sleeper/sniper.

NR – Colin Jacobs
RC, Rochester Americans (AHL)
6’1” | 211 lbs.
2011 (4th round, 107th overall)

Following a four-assist effort in Traverse City, Jacobs struggled to find regular minutes in his rookie year on the farm. The pace of play at the AHL challenged his decision-making ability out of the box, and getting jumped in a thug move by Utica’s Darren Archibald in his second game of the season did little to get him moving in the right direction. The Dallas native got into just games after the holiday break, instead spending most of his time with the ECHL’s Elmira Jackals.
NR – Judd Peterson
RW, St. Cloud State University Huskies (NCHC)
6’0” | 184 lbs.
2012 (7th round, 204th overall)

Committed to St. Cloud State University this fall, Peterson connected on nearly 19 percent of his shots over his two year stint with the USHL’s RoughRiders. The former Minnesota high school standout is a strong skater with a quick release, and he isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty and initiate contact when chasing 50/50 pucks. If he can catch fire with his stick and really beef up his body over the course of his collegiate career, he could feasibly work his way into pro consideration.

NR – Eric Locke
LW, Saginaw Spirit (OHL)
5'10 | 184 lbs.
2013 (7th round, 189th overall)

With good speed and pro-style release of the puck, the 20-year old Locke proved himself as a multi-dimensional scorer at the junior level.  A model for his long range upside would be a player like Varone - an undersized forward who will need to skate hard and regularly stack points to get a look. Continued puck pressure, three-zone diligence, and finding space to operate offensively will get him moving in the right direction as he carves out a pro niche, be it with the Sabres or another organization.

NR – Brad Navin
LW, University of Wisconsin Badgers (B1G)
6’3” | 200 lbs.
2011 (7th round, 197th overall)

Midway through his third collegiate season, Navin turned a bit of a corner to garner a greater role for Mike Eaves' squad. He plays the game hard on the wall and in the corners, and uses his frame to create traffic in front of the net and jam at rebounds. The traits allowed him to excel as a checker in his first two years, and helped lay a foundation for what should be a strong senior season in Madison.

NR – Christian Isackson
RW/C, University of Minnesota Golden Gophers (B1G)
6’2” | 190 lbs.
2010 (7th round, 203rd overall)

With an endless line of talent being fed into the Gophers’ program, Isackson has had a difficult time finding regular ice over his first three collegiate years. He’s a big guy with quick hands around the net, but questionable decision making has worked against him.

NR – Mark Adams
RHD, Providence College Friars (HE)
6’3” | 210 lbs.
2009 (5th round, 134th overall)

After earning a medical red shirt a couple of seasons back, Adams will continue his NCAA career as a fifth-year senior for Nate Leaman’s rising program. It has been an injury riddled run for the Malden, MA product since arriving in Providence, and at this time it is difficult seeing much of a Sabres future for the big defender.
7/12/2014 | 3 comments | Read More

Another trio of invites tabbed for d-camp

Written By Kris Baker on Thursday, July 10, 2014 | 7/10/2014

With the Sabres 2014 Development Camp set for July 14-18, three more players have received a call to head to Buffalo as free agent invites. Drake Caggiula, Patrick Russell and Brandon Prophet join the previously reported Christian Hilbrich (Cornell) and Liam Pecararo (Maine commit) as players set to attend camp who are currently unclaimed by an NHL club.

Pickering, Ont. native Caggiula will make the short drive south to Buffalo following an excellent sophomore season with the University of North Dakota that saw him ring up 11 goals and 24 points in 42 contests. Prior to entering the NCAA, the 20-year old winger was ranked the 185th North American skater in Central Scouting's 2012 final ranking. This will be his first NHL development camp.

A product of the OJHL's Stoufville Spirit and 2011-12 league playoff MVP, the speedy Caggiula comes in at 5-foot-10 and 180 pounds but holds his own against the big boys with loads of energy and a willingness to play a physical game. There is high-end goal scoring upside in play (see below), so good on the Sabres for taking a closer look at the talented forward.




Joining Caggiula in the forward grouping will be Russell, a 6-foot-1, 205 pound native of Birkenrod, Denmark who posted 49 points last season as a member of the USHL's Waterloo Black Hawks. Russell's 29 goals were tops among all Waterloo skaters, and fifth-most in the entire league. He added another five markers in the Black Hawks' 12-game run to the Clark Cup Final.

An established goal scorer at every level he's competed at, Russell arrived in Waterloo after capping a four-year junior stint in Linkopings (SWE) with a 18-goal, 36-point effort at the J20 level. The move to the smaller North American ice seems to be paying off, as Russell is a big, strong body who gets into position to rifle the puck. He's strong on his skates, and while lacking high-end acceleration, gets to where he needs to be at both ends of the rink.

Russell, who turned 21 in January, is committed to St. Cloud State University this fall, where he'll join Sabres prospect Judd Peterson in the class of '18. If familiarity counts for anything, it should be noted that the right-handed Russell often skated on the same line in Waterloo with fellow camp invitee Pecararo.

Prophet, an 18-year old defenseman, played last season with the OHL's Saginaw Spirit alongside Sabres prospects Justin Kea and Eric Locke. The stout stay-at-home rearguard has netted five goals, 30 points, and a plus-nine rating through his first two years of major junior duty. He's not being rewarded for his offense, but rather his ability to play tough in the trenches.

Prophet (6'2", 202 lbs.) has the size and footwork to succeed, and is at his best when he plays a safe game that sees him quickly move the puck to more talented carriers. The simple style was best displayed late in the year when he was paired with the more mobile Jesse Graham (NYI). Lauded as a high character team-first player, Prophet answered the call for four fighting majors this past season.
7/10/2014 | 1 comments | Read More

Sabres add pair to d-camp roster

Written By Kris Baker on Tuesday, July 8, 2014 | 7/08/2014

While waiting for the official release of the Buffalo Sabres' 2014 Development Camp roster, it has been learned that two unclaimed forwards, Liam Pecararo and Christian Hilbrich, have earned invites to the mid-July gathering.

Pecararo is a slippery winger that played the past two years in Waterloo (USHL) as a teammate of Sabres goaltending prospect Cal Petersen. Committed to the University of Maine for 2015, Pecararo collected 61 points (20+41) last season, with just two of his markers coming with the man advantage. The confident playmaker continued to display his elusiveness, vision and finesse in the playoffs with another 14 points (4+10) in 12 contests as the Black Hawks made a run to the Clark Cup championship series. The season as a whole was a drastic developmental leap for the Canton, MA native, who stepped it up big time after absorbing the experience of playing as a 16-year old Junior A rookie in 2012-13 (36 GP 8-5-13).

Hilbrich, 22, recently completed his sophomore year at Cornell University, where he manned the left wing on the Big Red's second line en route to potting nine goals in 27 contests. A budding 6-foot-7, 216-pound power forward project, Hilbrich boasts a heavy wrist shot while using his massive frame to create traffic inside and bang home rebounds.The Indiana Ice product attended Washington's development camp in 2013, and is currently working in Anaheim before making his way to Buffalo.
7/08/2014 | 1 comments | Read More

Rounds 5-7: Sabres swing for the fences

Written By Kris Baker on Saturday, June 28, 2014 | 6/28/2014

After getting passed over in his first year of eligibility, 19-year old forward Max Willman finds himself with an investor as the Sabres called his name at the top of the fifth round.

I'm told that Willman (6'0", 180 lbs.) is a well-rounded winger with good skating ability and an understated power mentality. Northeast high school watchers have said his game really elevated this year in a preparatory season with the Williston Northampton School, where he potted 21 goals and 44 points in 25 contests. Those numbers are solid for the New England prep ranks, so many eyes will be watching when he arrives at Brown University this fall for his freshman season of ECAC action. Stepping his game up a notch when he participates in his first NHL development camp in a few weeks should only help in his preparation for the next level.

In round six, the Sabres tapped into NHL bloodlines once again with the selection of Chris Brown, a prolific high school scorer who is committed to Boston College for the 2015-16 season. Son of former Detroit Red Wings forward Doug and nephew of Greg, who was selected by Buffalo 26th overall in 1986, Brown torched his high school competition last season with the Cranbrook-Kingswood Upper School in Bloomfield, MI. Of course it came against a lower level of competition, but 26 goals and 84 points in 28 games speaks to his impressive offensive potential.

We've seen the Sabres comb the high schools in the later rounds in recent years, and with a lot of prospects entering the pipeline, it makes sense to grab some guys that they can develop at a much slower pace. With these two new adds, it looks like they're swinging for the fences. Why not? They continued that theme with their last pick as well.

The Sabres closed the day by turning to Swedish hockey factory MODO for the third year in a row. At 181st overall, Victor Olofsson arrives on the scene following a successful 2013-14 season that saw him score 32 times in 44 games at the J20 level while also appearing in 11 SHL contests with the program's top club. He's 5-foot-11 with blazing speed and accurate shooting skills. This was Olofsson's second year of draft eligibility, and it appears that the Sabres were on a mission to take fliers on long-term, high potential projects that could pay off years down the line. Olofsson is signed with MODO through the 2015-16 season.
6/28/2014 | 0 comments | Read More

Brycen Martin comes to Buffalo at #74

Thought of as a first-round pick entering the season, Brycen Martin arrives in Buffalo at pick #74 in the third round of the 2014 draft. Martin has good size and mobility, and makes excellent passes out of the zone. He's comfortable skating with the puck, and he has the ability to produce when the play flows up ice. On top of it all, Martin (6'2", 185 lbs., 5/9/96) has the recovery skills and high panic threshold against the forecheck that allows him to limit his errors. The big lefty played in all 72 games for the Broncos last season, compiling six goals and 37 points along with 42 PIM. Even if the offensive instincts do not translate, there is enough stay-at-home sense in his game to make this a great value grab in the middle of the draft.

6/28/2014 | 1 comments | Read More

#61: Sabres tab G Jonas Johansson

Jonas Johansson - G, Brynas IF J20 (Sweden), 6'4", 198 lbs.
 
I got a brief glimpse of Johansson over the summer at the USA National Junior Evaluation Camp, and was particularly impressed with his great size and simple positioning. He's s big, wide goalie with excellent athleticism and a great glove who forces you to pick corners by taking away the bottom shelf. His size and butterfly style are similar to Robin Lehner, whose Murray's Sens picked at a similar spot (46th overall) back at the 2009 draft, and he plays deep in his crease like fellow countryman Henrik Lundqvist. If Johansson sees it, he stops it. Much like Demko before him, Johansson can marinate for a few more years in a strong program and gain some valuable international experience before advancing up a level.
6/28/2014 | 1 comments | Read More

Vaclav Karabacek comes in at #49

Vaclav Karabacek – RW, Gatineau Olympiques (QMJHL), 6’0”, 190 lbs.

The hard-working Czech goes about his business efficiently with a north/south style and good offensive instincts. Karabacek was a consistent producer all season long in Gatineau (21-26-47), but really stepped up in the playoffs with 12 points (6+6) in the Olympiques’ nine games. He added more bling to his draft resume at the Under-18’s, where he notched three goals, three assists and a team-best plus-four rating, all the while managing an effective two-way effort highlighted by strong work in the corners and along the boards.

Tim Murray spent a lot of time in Ottawa (obviously) before arriving in Buffalo. With Gatineau right over the river, it's easy to think that he and his amateur scouts had a great read on what Karabacek is capable of. The strong playoff performance and U18s only cemented it for them. Strong pick. Blue collar. Fits right in.

6/28/2014 | 0 comments | Read More

Sabres grab Eric Cornel at #44

Eric Cornel (6'2", 184 lbs., 4/11/96) is a Buffalo Sabres prospect after being selected 44th overall at the 2014 NHL draft.

Cornel is smart, speedy and crafty, and he can succeed both at center and down the wing. He potted 25 goals and 62 points in the regular season, but really shined in the second half of the season on Peterborough's top line along with power forward Nick Ritchie (first round, Anaheim). When the calendar flipped into January, Cornel took off with seven goals and 18 points in 12 games. It was upward from there, with Cornel showing confidence and poise all the way through the playoffs (11GP 4-3-7).

Cornel is just hitting his potential, and this can be a very smart pick for the Sabres scouts following two more years of seasoning in the OHL.

6/28/2014 | 0 comments | Read More

Brendan Lemieux goes to Buffalo at #31

Brendan Lemieux – LW, Barrie Colts (OHL), 6’0.25”, 206 lbs.

Son of former NHL pest Claude, Lemieux totes the same peskiness and clutch scoring ability that made his father one of the greatest playoff performers of the past 20 years. Scouts tracking Ekblad regularly noticed Lemieux making things happen from between the hashmarks. His powerful cuts and heavy wrist shot helped him score 27 times last season, and his disturbing presence near the crease drew his share of attention from the opposition. When push came to shove, Lemieux dropped the gloves three times, taking on guys who averaged 6-foot-4 and 216 lbs.

Lemieux has the wide body, cut frame and fearless attitude to compete in the NHL, and it could happen rather quickly with another big year in Barrie. He's your prototypical pest who I'd love to have on my team (and would hate to play against).

6/28/2014 | 0 comments | Read More

Welcome to Buffalo, Samson

Welcome to Buffalo, Samson Reinhart.

If you have been following along, be it here or other media hubs over the last few weeks, this was the sensible pick for the Sabres if they stayed in the second spot (assuming that Aaron Ekblad went first overall). This is at all no slight to Sam Bennett or Leon Draisaitl, but we saw this Reinhart consistently outperform the other forwards in his peer group over the past three seasons to the point that it was the most comfortable talent for Tim Murray to select in his first draft rodeo as Sabres GM.

There is not much more you can say that hasn't already been said. Reinhart is a gifted playmaker and leader who can do a little bit of everything offensively, and he should work his way into NHL duty quickly. I'm not sure that it happens in 2014-15, but the door is certainly open for him to earn it with a great development camp, Traverse City showing, and NHL preseason effort.

If you look at what the Sabres have up front, you can't help but be excited for the future. We have already seen what Zemgus Girgensons is capable of. Joel Armia took his game up a notch in the AHL playoffs in his first year of North American hockey. JT Compher and Hudson Fasching are poised for dominating sophomore years in the NCAA, while William Carrier may very well be a player we see in Buffalo in his first professional season. And yes, let's not forget Nick Baptiste and Justin Bailey, who earned their team's MVP honors last season, and US NJEC invite Connor Hurley (heading to Notre Dame). All of a sudden there is less pressure on Mikhail Grigorenko, but we should expect him to perform as a top player when 2014-15 training camp begins.

But back to Reinhart. Smart, poised, MENSA IQ for the game. It leads to high level production. This kid is a gem on and off the ice.


6/28/2014 | 1 comments | Read More

Buffalo Sabres 2014 Draft Preview

Written By Kris Baker on Monday, June 16, 2014 | 6/16/2014

The Buffalo Sabres enter the 2014 NHL draft with their highest pick since 2003. That year, Darcy Regier and posse kept the fifth overall selection to select Thomas Vanek out of the University of Minnesota. They haven't held a pick in the top two since 1987, when Gerry Meehan made his first pick as general manager of the Sabres to select Pierre Turgeon first overall. There’s a new sheriff in town with Tim Murray, but regardless, the Sabres will once again get an impact player at the top.

The question on everyone’s mind is who does Murray like the most? There are always good players at the top of the draft, but this year’s grouping still has question marks. Lacking a consensus, sure-fire “stud”, the 2014 selection process is probably the most difficult to gauge in the past 15 years. It's also a situation that could see a flurry of trade action with teams outside of the top-10 jockeying for a juicier draft position. It would be very surprising if the top five spots go undisturbed. 

BLUEPRINT

1st round – 2nd overall
2nd round – 31st
2nd round – 39th (WPG via MIN)
2nd round – 49th (MIN)
3rd round – 61st
5th round – 121st
6th round – 151st
7th round – 181st

PICK CITY STRATEGY

In 2013, the Sabres had five picks in the first two rounds. 

In 2014, they have four picks in the first two rounds.

As of now, the Sabres enter the 2015 draft with five picks in the top two rounds, including three top-30 selections.

That’s a nifty way to acquire 70% of the 20 players needed nightly if you can do it right, but the chances of the Sabres deploying that strategy seem low. In fact, it makes excellent sense for the Sabres to bundle some of their picks – starting with the current draft – in an effort to acquire quality over quantity. 

The 2014 class can be considered somewhat “middling”, and it would be seem to be in Tim Murray’s personality to decisively pursue another player he feels good about without losing any traction in preparation for a strong 2015 group. With all the second-round artillery, getting back to the 12-18 range seems feasible.

A reasonable situation would see Buffalo stay at No. 2, and then stack their chips to get back into the first round much in the manner that Darcy Regier did in 2012 when he swapped No. 21 and No. 42 to move back up to No. 14 to grab Zemgus Girgensons.

I'd be eyeballing the Detroit Red Wings as a partner. Ken Holland and crew currently sit at #15, but don't have another selection until #76. They have traded down in recent years, moving back two spots in 2013 and then trading out of the round in 2011 and 2009. I suspect they'd listen if Murray called.

Or perhaps the Sabres can lessen the ante and get back into the later stages of the round much like Anaheim did in 2003, when a Ducks management team heavily influenced by Murray moved #36 and #54 to acquire the 28th pick to get Corey Perry. 

With that in mind, could it be possible that the Sabres offer #39 and #49 to Chicago in exchange in for the 27th overall selection? Like Detroit, Chicago is also without a second round pick.

Opening night strategy aside, the Sabres will no doubt be prepared to keep picking early on day two if deals don’t pan out. If in a position of managing greater numbers, the Sabres could stretch the pipeline and balance the number of entry-level contracts entering the system over the next few years. 

It’s well established that the Sabres are preparing for a youthful wave over the next three seasons, and if that deluge wasn’t enough, it’s reasonable to think that their top picks in 2014 and 2015 will be on the opening night roster in 2015-16. Staggering the development process for high-ceiling players by leveraging the NCAA and European ranks would give the club extra wiggle room and buy some time while stratifying the teeming young stable. 

***
The aforementioned pick load does not include the 12th, 14th and 44th overall selections from 2012 used to add Mikhail Grigorenko, Girgensons and Jake McCabe.

Add in two other high caliber prospects acquired via trade, William Carrier (2013, 57th overall – STL) and Hudson Fasching (2013, 118th overall – LAK), along with speedy, overachieving third-rounder Nick Baptiste (2013, 69th overall), and you have a pretty solid core to build around.

For the sake of a mock lineup, we’ll add the top picks from 2010 and 2011 to get an idea what Tim Murray might be looking at heading into the late-June selection process:

F
GIRGENSONS – GRIGORENKO – ARMIA
BAILEY – COMPHER – FASCHING
CARRIER – HURLEY/LARSSON – BAPTISTE
(CATENACCI – KEA – POSSLER)

D
ZADOROV – RISTOLAINEN
MCCABE – PYSYK

PROTECT THE HOUSE

Many fans and members of the media seem to think that there is no way that the Sabres take a defenseman early in the draft, and maybe they're right. After all, they chose two big rearguards with the 8th and 16th overall picks a year ago. 

The Sabres should be comfortable with their depth on the back line. With Tyler Myers (24), Mark Pysyk (22), Jake McCabe (20), Rasmus Ristolainen (19), and Nikita Zadorov (18), the club boasts perhaps the most impressive under-25 defensive stable in the entire league. The assessment is notable when considering how AHL All-Star Brayden McNabb (22) was scratched off the depth chart, but the remaining group offers a nice blend of mobility, physicality, and international experience.

You would think that the strength in numbers would preclude Barrie Colts workhorse Aaron Ekblad from the conversation at #2, but then again, the Sabres are just one trade away from needing another big, all-situations defender. And hey, if he’s the best player on the board you should consider taking him.

Not only that, but the Sabres could have a lot of youth on their NHL blueline next season, and it's not like they have too many in the system. If you’re truly building organizational depth, you need to keep the wave moving, so don't be surprised if the middle-to-late rounds see the Sabres add a couple of solid backend bodies.

If the Sabres are missing anything on defense, it’s that elite puck mover. Myers, Ristolainen and McCabe are capable in their own right, but there is no power-play ace like Prince Albert’s Josh Morrissey (WPG) or ex-Kitchener motor Ryan Murphy (CAR) in the system. They do not have a guy who can fly down the ice like former Moose Jaw standout Morgan Rielly (TOR). These types of players are often undersized, but pushing the pace is key part of any team’s attack strategy, and I'm thinking the Sabres have room to add a pure offensive motor given their cache of picks.

PAY IT FORWARD

A few years ago, the Sabres had perhaps the weakest center depth in the entire NHL. They addressed the dearth with the acquisition of Cody Hodgson and the selection of Mikhail Grigorenko, but with Hodgson looking more and more like a viable top-line winger and Grigorenko being driven down a longer route through the first two years of his contract, the top of the draft could yield an elite, character glue guy down the middle of the ice to blend in with the big-bodied wingers.

Down the wings, Joel Armia looks like he’s on the right track to becoming a legit NHL right winger. The deadline additions of Hudson Fasching (RW) and William Carrier (LW) added balance to the flanker depth, while 2013 third-rounder Nick Baptiste matched Fasching in performing beyond his draft spot to earn a pro deal. Justin Bailey led the Kitchener Rangers in goals, and with another offseason of strength development, is expected to take his game to a whole new level in 2014-15. 

Everyone has seen Girgensons’ engine, but it’s worth mentioning how J.T. Compher is cut from the same competitive cloth. The Michigan standout is expected to be a key contributor for Team USA at the 2015 World Junior Championship, but he’s not the only Sabres forward positioned well for a tourney gig. In addition to Fasching, who was a member of Team USA in 2014, Baptiste, Bailey, Connor Hurley and Sean Malone should also receive calls for summer evaluation camps.

The top pick should yield an elite offensive force and future a captain. From there, I'd expect them to round out the pick set with a batch of intelligent forwards with good frames and a hard-hitting mentality. The Sabres need to keep adding guys who create chaos in front of opposing goalies and have the hands to bury pucks behind them. 

NET PRESENCE

Ryan Miller is out of the picture, and while I like where the depth chart is heading and how the stage is set for a compeition over the next few years, I still wonder if "the next one" is in house. After all, it's not about the saves you make, but rather the goals you let in. 

Over in Sweden, 2012 sixth-rounder Linus Ullmark was awarded the 2014 Honken Trophy as the SHL’s top goaltender. He’s got the size and first-save ability that you like to see, but needs to get a little quicker on his feet to succeed at the NHL level. He'll remain in Sweden for another year before making his way over to the AHL.

Cal Petersen won the Dave Peterson Award as USA Hockey's Goalie of the Year following a strong season with the USHL's Waterloo Black Hawks. He'll be heading to Notre Dame in the fall, where he'll walk into a good situation right away that should see him pull the majority of starts. He's got the quickness and technique needed to succeed, but is at least three years away from determining his next career steps.

Nathan Lieuwen and Matt Hackett (RFA) had a nice battle in the Rochester nets, with the long-limbed Lieuwen stealing starts away from Hackett in the second half of the schedule. When both were re-called to Buffalo late in the year, it was Hackett who looked like the more capable goaltender before suffering a serious injury to his right knee. Lieuwen also ended the year on the mend thanks to a concussion, but is expected to continue his upward development in 2014-15, the final year of his entry-level deal.

Andrey Makarov stepped up when called upon by the Rochester Americans. Nice athleticism, a quick glove, and an ability to play the puck make the former free agent a compelling candidate. He’s proven to be a big game stopper in the past, but a Russian stigma still exists in NHL nets. To date, there have only been 11 goaltenders from Russia to grace the NHL.

Yes, Sergei Bobrovsky (undrafted) won the 2012-13 Vezina Trophy. Yes, Semyen Varlamov had a great season en route to being named a finalist this season, and yes, Andrei Vasilevskiy might be the best goaltender outside of North America. Evgeny Nabakov and Ilya Bryzgalov have had nice careers, but there’s a chance that Makarov pans out more along the lines of Anton Khudobin (or Andrei Trefilov) than he does Nikolai Khabibulin, who to this day is the only Russian to backstop a team to a Stanley Cup.

I'm not being ethnocentric here. Just pointing out numbers. If I have a chance at a quality, high end body with good reflexes and fundamentals in this draft, I just might go for it.

THE TREND THAT WON’T END?

Regular readers of this site are familiar with the draft trend that sees a goalie taken in the first round in even-numbered years since 2006.

2006 – 11th, 15th, 23rd, 26th
2007 – zero - first G taken 36th
2008 – 18th, 30th
2009 – zero - first G taken 31st 
2010 – 11th, 27th
2011 – zero - first G taken 38th, 39th
2012 – 19th, 24th
2013 – zero - first G taken 36th
2014 – ???

Bored with writing about this every preview, it's time to take a different angle.

Varlamov, Tuukka Rask, Carey Price, Kari Lehtonen and Marc-Andre Fleury were taken in the first round. Corey Crawford was a second round selection. Jonathan Quick, Ben Bishop, Steve Mason…all taken in the third round.

That’s nine of the top 14 goalies in the 2013-14 wins column. The list also includes all three 2013-14 Vezina Trophy finalists, and five of the last six starters on the Cup winner. 

Heck, if you go back to Cam Ward (25th overall, 2002) and Chris Osgood (54th overall, 1991), eight of nine Cup winners since the lockout were backed by a goalie selected in the top 90.

So yes, history suggests that it's in a team’s best interest to grab a backstop in the top three rounds. If that isn't enough, you need to consider how a new batch of up-and-comers in Vasilevskiy, Jake Allen, John Gibson and Robin Lehner were all taken in the top-40 of their draft years. We'll throw 2010 first-rounder Jack Campbell in there too, who despite injuries has been a big piece of the Texas Stars' run to the Calder Cup (12-2, four shutouts, .942 save%).

Was Tim Murray thinking about this trend when snagging Michal Neuvirth from Washington? Neuvirth, the 34th player taken in 2006, may just be the next hot reclamation project in the mold of Rask, Bishop, Lehtonen and Mason, who were all traded from the teams that originally drafted them.

And then there's this:


TEAMLAST G TOP 3 RDSTEAMLAST G TOP 3 RDS
ANAHEIM2012 (3rd)NASHVILLE2011 (2nd)
BOSTON2012 (1st)NEW JERSEY2010 (3rd)
BUFFALO2006 (2nd)NY ISLANDERS2013 (3nd)
CALGARY2012 (3rd)NY RANGERS2007 (2nd)
CAROLINA2012 (3rd)OTTAWA2013 (3rd)
CHICAGO2010 (2nd)PHILADELPHIA2012 (2nd)
COLORADO2013 (3rd)PHOENIX2010 (1st)
DALLAS2013 (2nd)PITTSBURGH2013 (2nd)
DETROIT2012 (3rd)ST. LOUIS2011 (3rd)
COLUMBUS2012 (2nd)SAN JOSE2007 (3rd)
EDMONTON2011 (3rd)TAMPA BAY2012 (1st)
FLORIDA2008 (2nd)TORONTO2005 (1st)
LOS ANGELES2011 (2nd)VANCOUVER2011 (3rd)
MINNESOTA2009 (3rd)WASHINGTON2006 (1st, 2nd)
MONTREAL2013 (2nd)WINNIPEG2013 (2nd)


MURRAYLYTICS

With a new GM at the helm, it's worth taking a dive into past history to study draft tendencies.

For instance, when Murray was Director of Player Personnel with the Anaheim Ducks from 2002-2005, he oversaw two drafts that yielded a total of 17 players. Seven of them went the NCAA route, three were European, and none of them were Russians.

Murray was part of two drafts with the New York Rangers while serving as Assistant Director of Player Personnel. Sole decision-making was not part of the gig in the Big Apple, but six of the 13 picks were of European descent. Two Russians were taken high during that time despite a lack of a transfer agreement in the form of Artem Anisimov (2006, 51st overall), and Alexei Cherepanov (2007, 17th overall).

The rising talent evaluator moved on to Ottawa from there. Of the 44 players taken between 2008-2013, no fewer than 11 (or 25%) of them were Swedes. The list includes highly regarded talents Erik Karlsson, Mika Zibanejad, Jakob Silfverberg, Robin Lehner and Markus Hogberg. They did not look to Finland, Russia, or the Czech Republic once during that time, while adding 14 players that were using the NCAA to advance their games.

And hey, Ottawa chose four goaltenders during Murray's time with the Sens. Among them was one second-rounder and two third-rounders. The other, who was taken outside of the top-90, is re-entering this year's draft.

SPREADING THE WEALTH

So what type of history is Murray inheriting in Buffalo? It may not matter much as the philosophy has shifted a bit over the years, but while adding a slew of new bird dogs, many of the same amateur scouts that have influenced the past are still driving this year's board.

The last seven drafts have seen Kevin Devine et. al. mix it up a bit when making 56 total selections. To date, 32 of them have been signed to NHL entry-level contracts, including three of the 11 players taken in the 2013 extravaganza. In the last five years, eight the 12 players taken in the sixth and seventh rounds were passed over in previous years of eligibility.


BUFFALO SABRES PICK DISPERSAL BY LEAGUE (2007-2013)

1ST2ND3RD4TH5TH6TH7THTOTAL
WHL3
3111110
OHL223221214
QMJHL121122110
USHS MW
111

36
USHL111
11
5
NCAA
1


1
2
USHS NE



2
13
FINLAND2





2
SWEDEN



11
2
AJHL



1

1
EJHL





11
TOTAL9795107956
BUFFALO SABRES PICK DISPERSAL BY POSITION (2007-2013)

1ST2ND3RD4TH5TH6TH7THTOTAL
C323222317
LW
1
11126
RW212121110
LHD13111
29
RHD3
3
2

8
G



2316
TOTAL9795107956

LATVIAN LOVEFEST

Since Buffalo has their hearts and hopes wrapped around the young Latvian Girgensons, it’s worth mentioning five of his fellow countrymen that are back in the draft after being passed over in previous years.

At the top of the list is Edgars Kulda, a breakout star for the Edmonton Oil Kings who recently was named the Most Valuable Player at the 2014 Memorial Cup. Kulda went 30+30 in the regular season and added another 10+12 in the Oil Kings’ march to the WHL title. A fearless winger, Kulda collected eight points in five games at the Memorial Cup tourney, including a goal and two assists in the championship games versus Guelph.

Roberts Lipsbergs, listed as a sleeper for the 2013 draft class, is available following a second 30-goal season with the Seattle Thunderbirds. Lipsbergs led the Latvians with six goals in five games at the IIHF Division I Group A World Junior Championship in December, and was a point-per-game player in the playoffs with two goals and seven assists in nine games. He finished his season at the IIHF World Championship, where he auditioned for current Sabres bench boss Ted Nolan.

Completing the WHL trio is Rihards Bukarts, a talented scorer who played the past season with the Brandon Wheat Kings. Bukarts is a 5-foot-9, 190-pound stick of dynamite with excellent quickness and flashy hands. He scored 28 goals (tops among WHL rookies) and 54 points while adapting to the smaller surfaces and defensive nuances of North American hockey, and I can see an NHL club grabbing him late as a possible depth scorer.

From the QMJHL, 6-foot-1, 198-pound winger Nikita Jevpalovs could be intriguing in the later stages of day two. The 19-year old, who amassed nine points (5+4) for Latvia at the Division I Group A World Junior tourney, scored 28 goals and 54 points this past season for Blainville-Boisbriand. He added another 10 goals in 20 playoff games for the Armada.

Last on the list is Elvis Merzlinkins, a big, athletic goaltender coming off an excellent season with HC Lugano of the Swiss National League. The 6-foot-3 stopper stepped into top league duty in 2013-14, notching a 2.13 GAA and .924 save%. His technique is solid, and it's possible he goes late as teams fish for some depth.

FATHER KNOWS BEST

As has been the norm in recent years, a quick scan of the draft list finds at least a dozen names very familiar to the sport. None of the top-30 NHL point producers in 2013-14 have fathers who played at the game's highest level, but that's sure to change down the road. The developmental playing field certainly levels out when players hit the age of 20, but I happen to think that bloodlines are important leading up to being drafted. 

Sam Reinhart (Paul), William Nylander (Michael), Kasperi Kapanen (Sami), and Brendan Perlini (Fred) are top-10 talents with fathers who played in the NHL.

Brendan Lemieux (Claude) and Ryan MacInnis (Al) are sons of former Conn Smythe Trophy winners, while Josh Wesley (Glen) also saw his dad raise the Stanley Cup. 

Ryan Donato (Ted) and Bobo Carpenter (Bobby) are Massachusetts boys with NHL roots.

And of course there’s a heavy Buffalo flavor with Daniel Audette (Donald), Dominic Turgeon (Pierre) and Jack Ramsey (Mike) all having fathers who were drafted by, and played for, the Sabres. And we can't forget Luc Snuggerud, whose Uncle Dave also put in a few good years in Buffalo.

THE PICKS

The first round has a core of four players at the top who are likely occupying the Sabres' top of mind awareness. Please refer to my first round rankings at the Sabres official website for a deeper dive into the top names.

Based on the assumption that the Florida Panthers select Aaron Ekblad first overall, let's just jump right in and make the pick:

Round 1 – 2nd overall

Samson Reinhart – C, Kootenay ICE (WHL), 6’0.75”, 185 lbs.


As mellow as they come off the ice, Reinhart is as smart as they come on it. Reinhart is a calm, poised distributor who has a special playmaking gift that you can't find elsewhere in the draft.

While a cerebral circulator, Reinhart ups his value with a keen finishing ability. The 18-year old tied for fourth in league scoring with 105 points this past season, along the way scoring the third-most even strength points in the entire league. The mastery rightfully earned the honor of WHL Player of the Year.

For fans, the Samson Reinhart vs. Samuel Bennett debate has raged on since the draft lottery. Both players produce consistent offense, and both can lead their teams through rough patches. While Bennett's high-tempo, edgy style makes him a fantastic two-way player, and while his year-over-year trajectory is nothing short of outstanding, Reinhart's smooth confidence and steadying influence displayed over the past three WHL seasons provides the right comfort level to invest.

For the Sabres, I might argue that the debate is more about Sam Reinhart versus Leon Draisaitl. The big German has an NHL body, great hands in tight and power around the edge that should see him advance his career rather quickly. Draisaitl matched Reinhart with 105 points, and was a quick-thinking, commanding presence down the stretch for the Prince Albert Raiders, but Reinhart's three zone wits, preparation, and consistency give him the edge in my books.

Reinhart doesn't make the high-energy highlight reels plays, and that's OK. He's crafty, disciplined, and exudes leadership qualities on and off the ice. His superb defensive positioning comes in handy on the penalty kill, and his uncanny ability to read and anticipate plays gets applied at both ends of the rink. I'll take a MENSA hockey IQ all day long, and the Vancouver-area product knows where everyone is at all times and rarely makes a mistake. You cannot teach that - you either have it or you don't - and Reinhart's body of work both in WHL and at the international level gives me all the confidence needed to call his name.

I'm not going to beat myself up over the next 10 years comparing his career trajectory to those of Bennett, Draisaitl, Dal Colle, Nylander, Ritchie or even Ekblad (who I believe goes #1 to Florida), especially if the Sabres walk away with one (or two - thanks, Garth Snow) of Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel or Noah Hanifin in 2015. This is a two-year re-build through the draft.



***

So with the mention of trading back up, it's worth noting four candidates who the Sabres could consider if they're able to get back into the middle of the round.

Ivan Barbashev - C/LW, Moncton Wildcats (QMJHL)

The first overall selection in the 2012 CHL Import Draft, Barbashev has carved out a reputation over the past two seasons as a highly skilled, hard-nosed worker who gets the most out of his linemates. The well-rounded Russian is strong on his skates, using his body to compete in the high traffic areas and step in front of shots in the defensive zone. Aside from his obvious high-end talent that sees him zip crisp passes and convert with a quality shooting arsenal, I'm drawn to Barbashev's heads-up awareness in all situations.

Some teams like to limit the Russian influence in their dressing room, and it's worth noting that the Senators selected a total of zero Russian players in six drafts with Murray involved, but I have no reservations about adding his work ethic to the mix. Consistency will come, but Barbashev looks like he can do a little bit of everything. I think that in the right situation he'd be able to step into the NHL right away.



Jared McCann - C, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (OHL), 6'0", 179 lbs.

Smart both ways with a great skating game and attention to detail, McCann is a polished, high-skill playmaker with an elite caliber shot and honest two-way work ethic. His hands and vision are excellent, and his sense of the action has him hounding the puck with regularity. He produced just shy of a point-per-game this past season, but McCann's speed and determination gives him value even when he's not piling up the offensive stats. I really like this player.

The Sabres are looking to get the best players on the board, and I think McCann is a lock to be a bona fide NHL forward in just a few short years. His three-zone reliability and offensive work gives him the look of a solid second-liner with first-line upside. Targeting McCann would up the level of competition while adding some character to the dressing room.


Kevin Fiala - LW, HV 71 (SHL), 5'10", 194 lbs.

Tim Murray likes big forwards that play a "heavy game", and while Fiala doesn't pack that massive, hard hitting frame, he certainly competes like a much larger player. The whole size issue seems to give Fiala a chip on his shoulder. Scouts like that, and if the fearless attitude continues, he'll get the room to put his excellent offensive instincts to use. Fiala's meteroric rise has been remarkable, and the next 12 months should see him emerge as an elite European force. If he can work on his consistency in his own end, he'll level out the boom or bust projection and possibly work his way into form as a top end NHL scorer.



Julius Honka - RHD, Swift Current Broncos (WHL), 5'11", 178 lbs.

Honka is a highly skilled offensive defenseman who models his game after Erik Karlsson. A willingness to play the body shows up in his defensive game, but Honka's smooth mobility and ability to quickly cut up ice and gain the offensive zone make him one of the better puck movers in his class. He was solid all the way around during Finland's run to World Junior gold, where he showcased his improved defensive smarts as the team's youngest player.

Honka has a natural NHL look to him (thinking more along the lines of Kimmo Timonen), but some folks think he's set for a slide come draft day thanks to a dropoff in production over the final two months of the season. With the Sabres set to go young on the blueline, Honka could arrive on the scene in two years and blend his scoring in among the bigger guys already in house. Targeting him as a trade-up, even if somewhere in the 20's, could make sense for a rebuilding team.


-----------------------------
Round 2 – 31st overall

Thatcher Demko – G, Boston College (Hockey East), 6’3”, 192 lbs.

Do I think the Sabres will take a goaltender in this spot? No, probably not. 

Do I think Demko will slip into round two? Maybe, if he gets past teams like Chicago and New Jersey.

Do I think the Sabres should take him if he does slip? I’d heavily consider it, especially if it means getting both the top forward and goalie in the class.

Demko is that big goalie with sound fundamentals that I keep harping on. He has a similar frame and composure to fellow NTDP product John Gibson, and he's the front-runner to lead Team USA in the crease at the 2015 World Juniors. You can read my Sabres.com write up on Demko and decide for yourself, but I'm not sure I see 30 other prospects better than Demko in this class.



Conner Bleackley – C/LW, Red Deer Rebels (WHL), 6’0.25”, 192 lbs.

Teams can win with highly competitive players that do everything well, and Bleackley does just that without having one top-notch standout skill. Bleackley shined as a 17-year old captain in the Western league, using his strong two-way skills to ring up 29 goals and 68 points for a mediocre Rebels squad. A strong skating game, ultra soft oft passing hands and a willingness to finish hits round out a potential middle-line package that coaches love, and I would rush to the stage to take him, especially if Demko is already off the board. He kind of reminds me a guy who went 33rd in 2009.



Nick Schmaltz – C/W, Green Bay Gamblers (USHL), 6'0", 170 lbs.

There is a slight chance that Schmaltz drops out of the first round, and if he does, the Sabres will have a very difficult time passing up his playmaking skill. Schmaltz is calm, smooth and effective, using his great hands to find teammates in tight spaces and snap quick rising shots. He paired with Sabres prospect Connor Hurley to form a dominant duo at the World Jr. A Challenge, potting a tourney record 12 points in four games. With a little maturity and some time to iron out his defensive zone play, Schmaltz has the makeup of an NHL caliber forward following his NCAA tour with the University of North Dakota.


Roland McKeown – LHD, Kingston Frontenacs (OHL), 6’0.75”, 195 lbs.

A smooth two-way defenseman with a solid frame and superb skating, McKeown could potentially go as high as 25th overall, making him a real option for Buffalo anywhere after. McKeown can lug the puck up ice, but he really shines in the passing game with strong exit feeds and distribution on the power play. He’s not a soft player, as he’s slowly starting to play the body more. Continuing to get more involved in the physical battles should round out a very solid prospect, but for now we like his overall foundation and offensive motion. 



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Round 2, 39th overall

Brendan Lemieux – LW, Barrie Colts (OHL), 6’0.25”, 206 lbs.

Son of former NHL pest Claude, Lemieux totes the same peskiness and clutch scoring ability that made his father one of the greatest playoff performers of the past 20 years. Scouts tracking Ekblad regularly noticed Lemieux making things happen from between the hashmarks. His powerful cuts and heavy wrist shot helped him score 27 times last season, and his disturbing presence near the crease drew his share of attention from the opposition. When push came to shove, Lemieux dropped the gloves three times, taking on guys who averaged 6-foot-4 and 216 lbs.

Lemieux has the wide body, cut frame and fearless attitude to compete in the NHL, and it could happen rather quickly with another big year in Barrie. He's your prototypical "bastard" who I'd love to have on my team (and would hate to play against).




Anton Karlsson – RW, Frolunda Indians J20 (SWE), 6’1.25”, 187 lbs.

If Lemieux doesn't make it to this spot, then Karlsson would be the next best thing.

A physical forward with a very capable offensive dimension, Karlsson’s versatile mix of agitation and puck skills fits right into what the Sabres are looking to build. His determination on the forecheck makes for a tough assignment, and his strong skating makes him hard to handle when he gets momentum with the puck.

Karlsson played a grind role at the U20 Worlds and was blanked offensively at the U18s, but his size, two-way grit/energy/sandpaper/(enter other adjective to denote his toughness in battle), and hands down low should see him occupy many different roles down the road. Karlsson adding to his international resume over the next two years should make for a strong North American candidate when he’s ready to take the leap.



Jack Dougherty – LHD, United States NTDP (USHL), 6’1”, 186 lbs.

Doughterty is heading to the University of Wisconsin in the fall, where his assertive, well-rounded mix should make an immediate impact in B1G play. He's an efficient puck mover who exhibits excellent passing skills and sound defensive awareness. He limits his mistakes in the face of pressure. On top of it all, the Minnesota native is very much engaged physically. Adding strength and polishing up his skating game should see the Minnesota native realize his NHL potential rather quickly.


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Round 2, 49th overall

Jake Walman – LHD, Toronto Junior Canadiens (OJHL), 6’1”, 170 lbs.

A speedy run-and-gun defender, Walman’s move back to defense (after a brief stint at forward) coincided with a six-inch growth spurt that has left scouts drooling at his long-term potential. His all-around game, which includes some nasty, edgy tones, saw him shoot up the draft rankings prior to earning the CJHL Rookie of the Year (past winners include Claude Giroux).

Walman is aggressive moving the puck up ice, combining a good handle with excellent vision and agility, and he’ll get plenty of time to fill out his frame throughout his commitment to Nate Leaman’s rising Providence College program. The Sabres might be over-investing a touch at this spot in the draft, but their impressive stable gives them an opportunity to be patient while monitoring Walman’s long-term development. 



Ryan Donato – C, Dexter School (NE Prep), 6’1”, 180 lbs.

With a lofty offensive ceiling and hustling, team-first mentality, Donato has shredded the New England prep ranks with 66 goals in 58 games the past two seasons, many of them being “NHL” caliber. He doesn’t possess blazing wheels, but he doesn’t need to with the style that he plays. He’s very strong on his skates with elite playmaking sense, and his natural instincts see him read and react quicker than many players in his age group. Donato will get a chance to play for his father, former NHLer Ted, at Harvard in the fall of 2015, setting up the potential for a dynamic duo with current Sabres prospect Sean Malone while adding quickness to his tantalizing skill set.



Jonas Johansson - G, Brynas IF J20 (Sweden), 6'4", 198 lbs.
 
I got a brief glimpse of Johansson over the summer at the USA National Junior Evaluation Camp, and was particularly impressed with his great size and simple positioning. He's s big, wide goalie with excellent athleticism and a great glove who forces you to pick corners by taking away the bottom shelf. His size and butterfly style are similar to Robin Lehner, whose Murray's Sens picked at a similar spot (46th overall) back at the 2009 draft, and he plays deep in his crease like fellow countryman Henrik Lundqvist. If Johansson sees it, he stops it. Much like Demko before him, Johansson can marinate for a few more years in a strong program and gain some valuable international experience before advancing up a level.



Nick Magyar, RW, Kitchener Rangers (OHL), 6’1.75”, 194 lbs.

After backing out of his commitment to Ohio State, Magyar decided to head north to Ontario and join current Sabres prospect Justin Bailey in Kitchener. The move paid off, with the Cleveland Barons product catching on quickly en route to potting 20 goals and a team-high 46 points to earn the Rangers' Rookie of the Year award. Magyar boasts a robust power game and a nice touch around the net. He can dish the puck accurately, and he isn't afraid to use his size to advance the play. Scouts like his work ethic, 200-foot game and team-first attitude, and it's fair to think that his stock will keep rising with what should be a breakout campaign for an improved Rangers squad in 2014-15.



Nicolas Aube-Kubel – RW, Val-d’Or Foreurs (QMJHL), 5’11, 187 lbs.

An emerging secondary scorer, Aube-Kubel saw his stock rise with a strong performance in the Memorial Cup semifinal that showed that, despite his lack of ideal size, he has the seam-splitting speed and acceleration to develop into a difference maker. He has excellent all-around offensive skills, including a good handle on the puck and a swift release, and he keeps his feet motoring in the defensive zone with tight turns and attention to detail. The parts are in place for a versatile forward with a second line ceiling.


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Round 3, 61st overall

Shane Eiserman – C/LW, Dubuque Fighting Saints (USHL), 6’1.5”, 200 lbs.

Committed to the University of New Hampshire, Eiserman is natural wing prospect who plays with speed and power. He’s tough on the puck, using his size to win battles and jam things up around the net. The NTDP product played a preparatory year in Dubuque, scoring 16 goals and 40 points in 53 games with Fighting Saints. He also knocked in two goals in four games at the World Jr. A Challenge. His strength was apparent at the NHL Combine, with 18 bench press reps at 150 pounds (2nd most), and you just get the feel that he’ll be able to step into a big league role after a few years of ironing out his consistency in college.



Vaclav Karabacek – RW, Gatineau Olympiques (QMJHL), 6’0”, 190 lbs.

The hard-working Czech goes about his business efficiently with a north/south style and good offensive instincts. Karabacek was a consistent producer all season long in Gatineau (21-26-47), but really stepped up in the playoffs with 12 points (6+6) in the Olympiques’ nine games. He added more bling to his draft resume at the Under-18’s, where he notched three goals, three assists and a team-best plus-four rating, all the while managing an effective two-way effort highlighted by strong work in the corners and along the boards.



Juho Lammikko – RW, Assat Pori Jr. (FIN), 6'2", 190 lbs.

A intelligent and reliable two-way forward, Lammikko lacks highlight reel skills but instead works his tail off to get to the net front, produce points and support his defenders the other way. He sees the ice well and isn't afraid to use his size to make a play. The blue collar package popped for 17 goals and 42 points for Assat's junior squad, and looks poised to make a dent full time in Liiga action moving forward. The straight-line Finn produced six points (2+4) at the U18s, and could end up as a blue collar diamond in the rough after a few more years of seasoning on Finnish soil with the same program that developed Sabres 2011 first-rounder Joel Armia.


Johnathan MacLeod – RHD, United States NTDP (USHL), 6’2”, 200 lbs.

A hard-hitting defender with good own zone awareness, MacLeod’s upside as a mobile and rugged middle pair performer should see him go in the middle rounds. He’s simple and effective, using his size and snarl to clean up around his net and get the puck out of the zone with quality passes up ice. He handles the puck well, but his game is all about using his body and executing open ice hits. Committed to Boston University, MacLeod will have ample time to advance his all-around game and grow into a more pro-ready style.



Lucas Wallmark – C/W, Asploven (SHL-2), 6’0”, 170 lbs.

Wallmark, a Sept. 5 birth date, went through his first draft unclaimed but won’t go through a second time around. He’s a solid offensive performer with great vision, but his lack of explosion out of the blocks may hold him back a bit when he graduates up a level when things happen at a quicker pace. Still, his body of work against his peer group makes him worth a look in a draft short on skill. The Swede looked very good in top-six minutes at the 2014 World Junior Championship, posting three goals and eight points in seven tourney tilts. 




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Heading into the fifth round, my process hopes that one of five prospects somehow drops down.

Round 5, 121st overall

Julius Bergman – RHD, Frolunda Indians J20 (SWE), 6’1”, 196 lbs.

An offensive-minded rearguard with a physical element to his game, Bergman’s up-tempo style makes for a compelling NHL prospect. His skating and vision saw him rack up an impressive 13 goals and 34 points with Frolunda’s junior squad, and there’s a chance that he sneaks on to Sweden’s 2015 World Junior Championship entry with a strong start in 2014-15. He’s a bit of a long term project, but his size and two-way foundation would make for a good value pick if he slips past the top 100.



Axel Holmstrom – C, Skelleftea AIK (SHL), 6’0”, 194 lbs.

Holmstrom is a powerful, gritty forward that surged up draft boards late following an excellent World U18s that saw him collaborate with William Nylander to snag three goals 11 points in the tourney’s seven contests. He worked hard along the boards and made some heady defensive plays as well in his U18 performance. Injuries hampered his start of the year, but he eventually got it firing with 15 goals and 38 points in 33 junior contests to cement his status as a middle-round candidate. If his skating sees him drop past the fourth, the Sabres should seriously think of pulling the trigger. Holmstrom recently signed a three-year extension with Skelleftea, giving any interested suitor plenty of developmental flexibility.



Michael Amadio – RHC, North Bay Battalion (OHL), 6’1”, 190 lbs.

An evolving worker at both ends of the ice, Amadio has strong playmaking instincts with the potential to develop into a future shutdown middle. He collected 12 goals and 38 points this past season in a second-line role, but Amadio showed vast improvement away from the puck in North Bay's run to the OHL Championship series by pitting his tight defensive style against the opposition's top forwards. There is two-way, third line upside in play given his opportunistic scoring and willingness to make the "effort play". In my mind, his size and long-term projection belong in the 80-100 range, but if he slips I'd gladly grab him.  




Keegan Iverson – C/RW, Portland Winterhawks (WHL), 6'0.75", 219 lbs.

The MVP of the 2014 All-American Prospects Game with a goal and an assist, Iverson is a strong, heavy forward who plays an intimidating brand. The edgy Minnesota native scored 22 goals and racked up 70 PIM last season on Portland’s third line, giving scouts confidence that his size and speed can translate to role player that can pop off his hard shot for some secondary scoring. His big frame and low center of gravity makes him tough to move from the center lane, and he likes to hit hard when applying pressure. 




Justin Kirkland – LW, Kelowna Rockets (WHL), 6’3”, 190 lbs.

A product of the Notre Dame Hounds, Kirkland is a budding power forward with an emerging hitting game and a team-first mindset. He's good in battle along the boards, and he's got the feet to take the puck to the net. Scrapping really isn't his thing, but he'll defend himself when he needs to. His consistent work ethic saw him elevate his game as 17-year old, potting 17 goals and finishing strong with 15 points in the final 16 regular season games, all the while supporting both sides of the special teams coin. I'm not sure he lasts to this spot following his five-goal, five-assist performance in 14 playoff tilts, but he's a worthy call if available.



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Round 6, 151st overall

Blake Clarke – LW, Saginaw Spirit (OHL), 6’1”, 196 lbs.

Thought of as a first-round prospect entering the season, Clarke endured a massive slide throughout the 2013-14 campaign. Clarke potted 19 goals in 2012-13 as an OHL rookie, but responded with just two goals in his much anticipated follow-up. With the disappointing season behind him, Clarke’s north/south power game and heavy wrist shot still make for a sensible pick for a team already loaded at forward. Why not take a player who could very well get his game back over the next two years? Bonus.



Nelson Nogier – D, Saskatoon Blades (WHL), 6’2.25”, 191 lbs.

Smooth and safe, Nogier showed the poise and shutdown discipline that scouts crave prior to undergoing season ending surgery to correct a torn labrum in December. A sure top-90 prospect prior to the injury, it is hard forecasting how much the down time will impact his draft stock. His size is a plus, he plays an excellent positional game, and he gets around the ice quickly with ease. 



Jacob Middleton – LHD, Ottawa 67’s (OHL), 6’4”, 208 lbs.

Size, mobility, toughness, heavy shot – Middleton has it. The 67’s were not very good in 2013-14, but Middleton was afforded opportunities to play in different situations and even earned a spot in the CHL Top Prospects Game. There were spans of inconsistency throughout the season, but the experience should springboard to greater things down the road. Tim Murray has scouted his share of junior games, and with much of his past year spent in the Ottawa region, you have to wonder if his viewings have an impact on the process.



Ryan Foss – LW/C, Windsor Spitfires (OHL), 6’3”, 183 lbs.

Foss was signed by Windsor as an undrafted free agent and went on to produce 13 regular season goals to thrust his name into NHL draft contention. An honest, rock-solid forward in all three zones, Foss uses his frame to compete beneath the goal line and in front of the net. The size, skating and commitment are in place, so it’s all about getting stronger and faster over the next two seasons if Foss wants to work his way into third or fourth line professional role down the road.



Ryan Mantha – RHD, Indiana Ice (USHL), 6’5”, 225 lbs.

A long-limbed stay-at-home defender, Mantha plays a simple yet effective game. Goals aren’t really Mantha’s thing despite packing a blistering point shot (he potted just four in 105 USHL games over the last three seasons), but the foundation to be a safe, crease-clearing pro is in place. Improving his footwork and employing a nastier edge will help him achieve his top end potential. He could play one more year in the USHL before continuing his development at the University of North Dakota.



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Round 7, 181st overall

Austin Carroll – LW, Victoria Royals (WHL), 6’3”, 216 lbs.

The fact that the Phoenix-area product (who was born in Canada) has not yet been signed is a little perplexing. Sure, Carroll is in his third year of draft eligibility, but after participating in a development camp with Phoenix and later the main camp with Anaheim, it seems he should be on the radar. At 6-foot-3, 214 pounds, Carroll hits, fights, and skates well with a strong net presence. Western Conference style hockey is en vogue, and Carroll fits the bill. His 34 goals this season in Victoria prove that the hands are there, making him totally worth a flier in the later stages. He'd step in and play for Rochester right away if you needed him to. Bonus points for Claude Lemieux being his agent.




Kyle Wood - RHD, North Bay Battalion (OHL), 6'5", 229 lbs.

Wood overcame a regular season knee injury to put forth a strong second half and eventually shine in the OHL playoffs with 10 points (2+8) in the Troop's run to the league final. He has the desirable size and intriguing offensive package that teams look for in a rearguard, but it was really his all-around smarts that backboned his late-season surge. Wood was ranked the 191st North American skater by Central Scouting, but his playoff performance was a revelation to many scouts, and should see him selected anytime after the third round. 



Nick Wolff – LHD, Eagan (US HS), 6’4”, 201 lbs.

A solidly built enforcer type on the blueline, Wolff’s raw athleticism came through with an encouraging showing last summer at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial. Many see Wolff getting picked as early as the third or fourth rounds, but I'd hesitate investing that high in a player who, outside of the Select 17 Hockey Festival and subsequent international tourney, has rarely been tested beyond the Minnesota high school ranks. The hard-hitting defender will enroll at Minnesota-Duluth in 2015 following a year with the USHL’s Des Moines Buccaneers.



Olivier Leblanc - LHD, Saint John Sea Dogs (QMJHL), 6'0", 160 lbs.

The Sea Dogs struggled this season, but the undersized defender showed his vision and puck moving skills with regularity to keep his name among late-round draft hopefuls. Like so many of his peers, he'll need to add some serious muscle mass to his frame over the next two season to prepare for the next level, but there's no doubting his sharp passing and confidence with the puck. Leblanc is well worth a late-round lottery ticket given his skating and playmaking skills.

6/16/2014 | 14 comments | Read More