Written By Kris Baker on Tuesday, September 30, 2008 | 9/30/2008
Written By Kris Baker on Sunday, September 28, 2008 | 9/28/2008
“It’s a big adjustment to this level,” Myers said. “The pace is a lot faster, the guys are stronger. They’re on you right away when you get the puck, so you have to adjust, and I think I’m doing a pretty good job of that.”
His quick adjustments have given him an extended stay in Buffalo. The Sabres sent the other junior players back to their teams last week, but they decided to keep Myers around a little longer.
“The reason we kept him around is to get some practice,” said Ruff, the Sabres’ coach. “He gets to spend a good period of time going against our NHL players, get the feel of how much stronger he has to get. At the same time, he’s played well through the scrimmage games. His size, his presence and the curiosity to see him in a game is enough of a reason to put him in.”
Myers’ obvious attributes are his size and tremendous skating ability. His height and long reach allow him to get in opponents’ way, and his footwork allows him to fit into the Sabres’ style of mobile defensemen starting plays.
Written By Kris Baker on Saturday, September 27, 2008 | 9/27/2008
Written By Kris Baker on Friday, September 26, 2008 | 9/26/2008
Written By Kris Baker on Thursday, September 25, 2008 | 9/25/2008
In the SEL, LD Dennis Persson (2 PIM, 2 SOG) continued his steady increase in shifts, logging a total of 16:15 of time as Timra fell to Brynas, 3-2. Much of tonight's spike is likely the result of Timra's other defensemen combining for six minor penalties. The loss drops the Eagles to 2-1 on the season.
Schiestel felt he more than held his own, particularly in the skating department where he finished third overall in an obstacle course drill designed to measure speed and agility.
"That turned out well, I was happy with that," he said. "I tried to show a little more this year. It was my second year and you want to make a bit of an impression."
Now that he's back with the IceDogs, Schiestel will attempt to do exactly what the Sabres have asked of him -- strive to get better each shift and each game.
That shouldn't be an issue for the mobile rearguad who has increased his points total each of his first three seasons in the OHL. He had eight goals and 37 points in 68 games last season.
"I think being well rounded and becoming a better player translates into better stats," he said. "If you pay attention to everything on the ice, you'll get more points and your plus-minus will go up. If you become a better all around player, it will help you in every other situation."
Niagara general manager Dave Brown has seen Schiestel make huge progress in a number of areas since drafting him in the third round of the 2005 OHL draft.
"When he came to our team he was a 160-pound, thin kid with his eyes wide open," Brown said. "He's improved head and heels physically and his maturity is helping him as well. It's just a matter of honing in on his hockey skills and developing more pro-like hockey skills."
Butler played his first professional game Tuesday night and looked like he had been with the Sabres for years. He played a quiet game that suited his style. He was solid in his own end, made smart decisions and effectively moved the puck. He played so well that Sabres coach Lindy Ruff barely noticed him in a 3-2 loss to the Montreal Canadiens.
“It’s always a good thing,” Ruff said. “Usually, a young defenseman gets noticed for a terrible giveaway or he gets beat. He showed a lot of composure. His positioning was sound. When you don’t notice a guy or you’re not worried about who you have him out there against, you’re pretty happy with the way things are going.”
Nathan Gerbe and South Buffalo native Tim Kennedy also played well against the Habs. Gerbe scored his first goal of the exhibition season when he nuked a slap shot into the top corner. Kennedy looked more comfortable as the game went along and was particularly effective on the penalty kill.
You know Gerbe and Kennedy. The book on Butler is as simple as his style. He’s not going to dazzle anyone with his speed or puck-handling, although he’s very good in both areas. He’s not going to overwhelm anyone physically, but he’s strong enough and plenty tough at 6-foot-1, 202 pounds. He’s also not one to make glaring mistakes.
Written By Kris Baker on Tuesday, September 23, 2008 | 9/23/2008
BUFFALO, N.Y. (September 23, 2008) --- Buffalo Sabres General Manager Darcy Regier announced today the team has returned the following eight players to their respective junior clubs: forwards Luke Adam (St. John’s, QMJHL), Paul Byron (Gatineau, QMJHL), Tyler Ennis (Medicine Hat WHL) and Jacob Lagace (Chicoutimi, QMJHL); defensemen T.J. Brennan (St. John’s, QMJHL), Nick Crawford (Saginaw, OHL), Drew Schiestel (Niagara, OHL) and Jordon Southorn (Prince Edward Island, QMJHL). This leaves the Sabres with 49 players still in training camp.As a side note, this author wonders if Lindy Ruff wants to get another look at Marek Zagrapan and Philip Gogulla this evening. Zagrapan looks poised to further his camp statement, and the club will benefit from as many views of Gogulla as possible given his contract situation with Cologne of the DEL. How the two react in a back-to-back setting can start to frame in their utility moving forward. Other prospects expected to dress tonight include forward Nathan Gerbe and defenseman Chris Butler.
Written By Kris Baker on Monday, September 22, 2008 | 9/22/2008
The coaches all-conference team has forwards Lee Jubinville (Princeton), Colin Greening (Cornell), Sean Backman (Yale) and Matt Beca (Clarkson); Caffaro and Alex Biega (Harvard) on defense; and Princeton goalie Zane Kalemba. The media all-conference team is Jubinville, Beca and Riley Nash (Cornell) at forward; Biega and Caffaro at defense; and Cornell goalie Ben Scrivens.
Written By Kris Baker on Sunday, September 21, 2008 | 9/21/2008
Written By Kris Baker on Saturday, September 20, 2008 | 9/20/2008
1) Tyler Myers, RHD, Kelowna Rockets (WHL), 2008 1st round (12th overall) It's not everyday that the opportunity comes along to draft a player of Myers' potential. A gliding skater, his 6'8 frame offers ideal reach for a defenseman while his physical side continues to ramp up. Five years of blending in a defensive understanding after developing as a forward have given the Sabres a potential steadying force from the backend as the stockpiling of defensemen continues. Myers isn't nasty by nature and WHL opposition is sure to test his composure in 2008-09. This will especially be the case if Rockets teammate Luke Schenn sticks with Toronto to start the NHL season. Either way, a professional training camp can do wonders for an 18-year old who's still finding his physical comfort zone. Myers seems fit for the challenge and should be considered a favorite to fill out Team Canada's blueline for the 2009 World Junior Championships. The word of the day is potential. If Myers hits his top end, he'll be a top-pairing defenseman that opposing teams will be unable to neutralize. Even if he's not there yet, the package is enough to edge out Nathan Gerbe as the Sabres #1 prospect heading into 2008-09. 2) Nathan Gerbe, LW, Portland Pirates (AHL), 2006 5th round (142nd overall) The darling of this summer's development camp, the 5'6 Gerbe displayed his explosive skills throughout in preparation of his first NHL training camp this fall. The mini-dynamo packs a tenacious desire to get shots on goal, and his superior foot speed should allow him space to excel at the next level. Like Myers, Gerbe is a unique talent, and should be considered a certain top-6 forward in the NHL. Furthermore, this may very well his last appearance on this list. Gerbe's size is of no concern. The 21-year old slasher played with a brass set while piling up 70 goals over three seasons with Boston College, and the thought of backing down doesn't enter his mind. Feisty, fast, and fun to watch, Gerbe is a cut above the rest of Buffalo's forward crop with his game-breaking package and fearless attitude. Last spring, the Hobey Baker runner-up and Frozen Four Most Outstanding Player scored a goal and an assist against Sweden in an exhibition skate with Team USA in preparation for the IIHF World Championships. It is possible that roster numbers alone could send the Oxford, MI native to Portland to start the 2008-09 season, but it won't be long before the NHL realizes that the little guy who dominated college hockey can compete with the world's best as well. The nod to Myers over Gerbe is not about draft position, as there were a few '08 first rounders that would not beat Gerbe out for the top spot. It's more about what Myers represents at the ripening age of 18. While Gerbe has easily been the most impressive, most productive prospect over the past twelve months, he didn't immediately project to the extent that Myers currently does at the same age. Both should be excellent pros. 3) Jhonas Enroth, G, Portland Pirates (AHL), 2006 2nd round (46th overall) After leading the SEL in goals against average and save percentage in 2007-08 with SSK, the 20-year old Enroth will start laying groundwork for a North American career with Portland of the AHL this season. The 5'10 netminder brings sharp technique and agility to the crease, and his mind and attitude are poised for NHL duty in the not-too-distant future. Before he hits NHL goals, Enroth will need to adjust not only to the angles of tighter North American rinks, but also the more pressing down low game that the AHL and NHL present. With Ryan Miller cemented long term and Patrick Lalime in the fold for two years, the competitive Enroth can take his foot off the gas pedal as he enters the fray. He'll likely pull the lion's share of starts for the Pirates, and will only see time with Buffalo if something out of the ordinary occurs. Quick, skillful, and dedicated to North American hockey, his slip to #3 is not a reflection of anything negative, but rather what has taken place around him. 4) Tyler Ennis, LW, Medicine Hat Tigers (WHL), 2008 1st round (26th overall) Like Gerbe before him, the 5'9 Ennis employs a fearless approach that he uses to make things happen on nearly every shift. The flow of the WHL is the least "open" of the three CHL leagues, yet Ennis cuts through the grind to be a dominant figure with his agility and puck skills. Last season, the Edmonton native rode seven multi-goal games en route to racking up a total of 43 for the Tigers. The WHL hasn't seen a 50-goal scorer since Justin Keller in 2005-06, and Ennis may very well be the next. Hitting the half-century mark could become more difficult if he's tabbed for Team Canada at the 2009 World Juniors. Being one of the better forwards at camp, it's reasonable to suggest that his sweater is already stitched, causing him to miss four or five games in additional to those missed while in Buffalo. Fifty goals or not, it's one and done for Ennis in the WHL. He tough, skilled, and already exudes an aura of professionalism on and off the ice. He'll be eligible for AHL play in 2009-10, and there's not much sense in letting his talent fester in juniors. 5) Chris Butler, LHD, Portland Pirates (AHL), 2005 4th round (96th overall) Butler enters his first professional season with the makings of a dynamic NHL contributor. Smart and mobile, the St. Louis native bulked up while developing into an all-situations player over his shortened three-year stint with Denver (WCHA). His growth as a defenseman included a bevy of blocked shots, a favorable +/- rating, and key minutes on both sides of special teams play. "Buts" likes to contribute offensively, wisely picking spots to use an extra gear to get up-ice. Among the defensive prospects, the 6'1, 200-pounder gives Andrej Sekera a run for his money in terms of being the most complete backend package. As a byproduct of the Teppo Numminen re-signing, look for a Portland pairing of Butler and Mike Weber as the seeds get planted for the Sabres next shutdown pair. 6) Mike Weber, LHD, Portland Pirates (AHL), 2006 2nd round (57th overall) The second half of the proposed combo with Butler, Weber earned scores of fans when he was thrust into NHL duty midway through his first pro season. His simple play proved effective, and his physical nature addressed an area of concern on the Sabres blueline. Where the Teppo Numminen re-signing should have an effect on the slick Andrej Sekera, the Craig Rivet deal should do wonders for the lunch bucket toting Weber. Weber, 20, is likely off to Portland unless he outperforms Sekera in training camp. While the argument can be made that he is ready for prime time, there's no doubt that his leadership and toughness will be appreciated by his Pirates teammates. 7) TJ Brennan, LHD, Montreal Juniors (QMJHL), 2007 2nd round (31st overall) Brennan carried on his strong close to the season, showing marked improvement over the summer by standing guys up while focusing less on jumping into the offense. He certainly will continue skating the puck, but keeping that club in his bag more often offers the best building block towards a professional career. The Sabres will have little concern if he maintains the 41 points per season he has put up thus far. It's the plus/minus improvement they're looking for, and the package is there to make it happen. The New Jersey native's best asset is still his rifle from the point. Watching him skate into a 90+ MPH blast over the summer was truly a treat, and knowing that he finds spots to use it in game action made it even better. 8) Luke Adam, C, Montreal Juniors (QMJHL), 2008 2nd round (44th overall) Needing a banging scorer down low, the Sabres looked east to Newfoundland to get their guy. Luke Adam turned 18 years old the week of the draft, and already stands at 6'2, 203 pounds. Couple in the fact that he scored 36 goals last season in the QMJHL, and the Sabres have themselves a bullish forward who should fill nets aplenty over the next two QMJHL seasons. Like Ennis, reaching the 50-goal milestone is within reason for the third-year man. Adam has few detractors, and for good reason. He goes hard every shift, keeps his stick on the ice, and knows how to use his body. Overlooked while developing on "The Rock", Adam is sure to be a more well-known commodity as major junior hockey returns to Montreal for the first time since 2003. 9) Drew Schiestel, LHD, Niagara Ice Dogs (OHL), 2007 2nd round (59th overall) The Hamilton native returns to Niagara (OHL) where he'll shoulder a greater load whether Alex Pietrangelo sticks with the Blues or not. Workmanlike in his 6'2, 190-pound frame, the defender worked his way through ups and downs in early 2007-08, ultimately steadying himself in the winter months with a good attitude and sound defensive play to justify his 59th slot in the 2007 draft. Schiestel has a set of wheels that he'll use to rush the puck more often this season. Like many rearguards his age, limiting giveaways will be a key developmental component moving forward. He's stronger, more physical, and more responsible than he was a year ago, and can no longer be considered one of the OHL's most underrated players. Consider him a no-brainer signing after the season. 10) Philip Gogulla, LW, Kolner Haie (DEL), 2005 2nd round (48th overall) Gogulla has the makings of an excellent two-way player, but for now the Sabres will wait for his full committment to a North American career. Adding size and muscle to his long stride, the winger was a key cog for the DEL's Haie in 2007-08, more than doubling his previous year's production with 44 points (11-33-44). The 6'2, 198-pounder looked poised to exercise his contract with the Sabres when he gelled with Marek Zagrapan and Nathan Gerbe at this summer's development camp. Upon return to Germany however, he revealed that he'd be skating in the DEL for a fifth season in 2008-09. With rumors of some DEL clubs (including Cologne) looking to jump to the newly formed KHL at some point, it's possible that the allure of a more competitive (and lucrative) landscape closer to home keeps him there for an extended period. 11) Marc-Andre Gragnani, LW/D, Portland Pirates (AHL), 2005 3rd round (87th overall) Kick-started by a move to LW, the QMJHL product countered an abysmal +/- by posting a team-high 38 assists in his first season with Rochester. His positional flip-flopping a la Mark Streit and Christoph Schubert has been well documented at this point, but his optimum value lays up front. The Montreal native was kept back as a defenseman through most of the summer conditioning camp, and is likely to see plently of power play time from the Pirates blueline. He's a sharp puck mover who, with more intensity and less nonchalance, has enough offensive upside to crack an NHL lineup one day regardless of position. 12) Marek Zagrapan, C, Portland Pirates (AHL), 2005 1st round (13th overall) The Slovakian center enters the final frame of his three-year deal after a season of flat statistical growth, and a summer that saw him skate in a KHL camp with Spartak Moscow. It was a tough 2007-08 all the way around in Rochester (Zagrapan was a -22), and the lack of veteran leadership did very little towards putting the nifty passer in a position to succeed. A bulked-up Zagrapan will look to strike chemistry with Nathan Gerbe as the Sabres try matching their top farm pivot with a complementary scorer in their first season in Portland. There is still time for Zagrapan to get it clicking, and there's reason to think he'll get a look at some point from the Sabres this season as they assess the future of the former first round pick. Zagrapan has the vision and the kick to play in the NHL. As written here before, his success is built on finding consistency. 13) Tim Kennedy, LW, Portland Pirates (AHL), 2005 6th round (181st overall - by WAS) After leading Michigan State in scoring the past two seasons, the 22-year old Buffalo native signed a two-year contract in June. Kennedy doesn't have blazing speed, but he's nifty in traffic and has been a quality finisher since his days at Timon/St. Jude. Nearly half of the 38 goals that Kennedy scored over the past two seasons came on the power play. Special teams proficiency is needed on the farm, but being a solid two-way contributor will be the key to unlocking his NHL potential. The 5'10 forward will continue his development in Portland, where he immediately improves Buffalo's AHL scoring depth. Maintaining his tendencies against stronger, faster players could earn the hometown product good standing on the emergency call-up pecking order by mid-season. 14) Paul Byron, C, Gatineau Olympiques (QMJHL), 2007 6th round (179th overall) Perhaps the fastest skater in the QMJHL, the buzzing Byron has set the stage to be one of junior hockey's premier goal scorers in 2008-09. Paired with Flyers prospect Claude Giroux (51 pts), the 5'8 Byron piled up 21 goals in 19 games last spring as Gatineau staked the QMJHL's spot in the Memorial Cup. With Giroux gone, Byron is the prime engine for first-year coach Mario Richer. Being zeroed-in on by opposing checkers is nothing new to the speedster, so his statistical success this season will be built more on how well he manages his supporting cast. Byron is a proven junior star with his speed and scoring instincts, and his pro projection is relative to how well his undersized frame reacts to being targeted physically. Expect to hear his name in early season trade talks as teams look to acquire known scoring commodities. 15) Corey Tropp, RW, Michigan State Spartans (CCHA), 2007 3rd round (89th overall) Collegiate scorers often demonstrate significant growth in their sophomore year. Ex-Spartan Tim Kennedy saw a 24-point increase in year two, while Nathan Gerbe enjoyed a 30-point bump at BC. Kennedy is an especially good measuring stick for gauging Tropp's progress. Both put up similar numbers in their two USHL seasons, and were used in similar capacities as Spartan freshmen. After netting six goals and 17 total points last season, the bar has been set for Tropp to at least add 20 in 2008-09. With six of their top-10 scorers gone, Tropp will have ample ice time to brew offense with a fresh set of linemates. A stronger Tropp will naturally become more physical this year, helping him win battles to use his quick release. A hot start for Rick Comley's squad should further his case to represent Team USA at the World Juniors after making a good impression this summer in Lake Placid. 16) Brad Eidsness, G, North Dakota Fighting Sioux (WCHA), 2007 5th round (139th overall) MVP of the competitive AJHL a season ago, the gifted netminder moved to Grand Forks over the summer in preparation for his freshman year with the Sioux. Eidsness, 19, is quick, agile, and does a good job of anticipating play in preparation of each shooter. He made some impressive stops at the summer development camp, and will immediately get a shot at beating out senior Aaron Walski and 21-year old freshman Graeme Harrington for NoDak's #1 goaltending spot. 17) Dennis Persson, LHD, Timra IK Red Eagles (SEL), 2006 1st round (24th overall) The 6'1 defenseman earned a contract from Buffalo in June despite a pair of frustrating post-draft seasons in Sweden. Persson began last season in a limited role with Djurgardens (SEL) blueline, but was later dispatched to Nykoping of second tier HockeyAllsvenskan. Things appear to be on an upswing for the Swede, as he will remain in Europe in hopes of solidifying a top-six spot with Timra. A sound skater who sees the ice well, Persson showed a knack for jumping to the net at development camp. A fresh start with increased ice time should better his defensive play and decision making, ultimately setting the table for a move to North America in 2009-10. 18) Corey Fienhage, RHD, North Dakota Fighting Sioux (WCHA), 2008 3rd round (81st overall) A stay-at-home type with high upside, Fienhage appeared to be heading to the USHL for a developmental season, but will instead join fellow freshman Ben Blood in bringing an element of toughness to the Sioux blueline corps. The Minnesota native offers a desirous blend of quick feet and a rugged edge, but will have to play his way into the lineup with seven quality defenders in the mix. Fienhage played safety for the Eastview High football team, and that mentality spills over to the ice. After Weber, the 6'3, 214-pounder is the Sabres best developmental option when it comes to patroling the backend with a crease clearing attitude and limited offensive capabilities. 19) Felix Schutz, C, Portland Pirates (AHL), 2006 4th round (117th overall) The 5'11 Schutz is a crafty player who looks to have benefitted from a season of pro hockey in the DEL. The German forward compiled 12 goals and 25 points to earn Rookie of the Year honors with Ingolstadt, and has the makings of an efficient two-way player as a North American professional. We like his checking ability, and he knows what to do when the puck hits his stick. A veteran of international competition, Schutz projects as a third liner in the NHL. He adds a sneaky ingredient to the Pirates mix, and could position himself favorably on the call-up list by leveraging his experience and smarts early on. 20) Mike Funk, LHD, Portland Pirates (AHL), 2004 2nd round (43rd overall) Not yet a mark for the Sabres top-six, Funk has steadily grown into a support role with better decision making and a physical spike over his first two AHL seasons. The 22-year old, who has earned brief call-ups in each of his two campaigns, enters the final year of his contract looking to stabilize an inexperienced Pirate blueline with added strength and smart first passes. By continuing to make safe plays, the British Columbia native will remain in the mix and likely get tendered a qualifying offer next summer. Plenty of others have the talent to bang their way into the Top 20. Here's a glimpse at the rest of the Sabres developmental chips. Alex Biega, RHD, Harvard Crimson (ECAC), 2006 5th round (147th overall) Fast, aware, and strong on his feet, Biega will wear the "A" for an emerging Harvard squad as a junior in 2008-09. The Quebec native has elements of Trevor Daley to his game when comparing body type, skating ability, and puck movement. Biega's differentiator is his booming slapshot, which he's used to average 20 points through his first two years in Cambridge. The 5'11, 205-pound defenseman is a prime candidate for a contract when his college days are done. His style supports a professional flow, and he has the leverage to compete physically. His overall value will rise once he shows what he can do against better competition. We anticipate a smooth transition, but the talented blueliner sits at #21 until it takes place. Justin Jokinen, RW, Minnesota State Mavericks (CCHA), 2008 4th round (101st overall) At 6'3, 180 pounds, Jokinen is a lanky, flashy playmaker with good finish. Jokinen should thrive with the Mavericks once he's able to move back to his natural spot down the right side. He scored a total of 90 points over his final two high school seasons, but only 39 of those came while manning a center spot as a senior. While there is no doubting his swift skating and overall scoring package, the Sabres are hoping that his strength and defensive awareness are addressed during his time in Mankato. His frame has a lot of real estate to develop. He's at least eight inches taller than Gerbe, yet he weighed the same 165 pounds when drafted. Continuing to get bigger over the next 18 months (he's already gained 15 pounds since June) could go a long way towards translating Jokinen's game into a professional platform. The sky is the limit once his strength catches up to his skating and skill, and his current ranking could very well be higher if he was able to be evaluated with his peers at the summer camp. Mike Kostka, RHD, Portland Pirates (AHL), undrafted free agent Undrafted in his eligible years, the former University of Massachusetts captain was scooped up at the close of his senior season. Kostka has a solid pro build at 6'2, 210 pounds, and plays a smart two-way game. A native of Ajax, Ontario, the smooth skating defender isn't overly physical, but is strong and responsible in his own end. He'll play in the AHL in 2008-09, where he'll hope to see time on special teams after leading all NCAA defensemen with seven power play goals last season. Jordon Southorn, LHD, PEI Rocket (QMJHL), 2008 4th round (104th overall) The Quebec native will remain in PEI for two more years where he'll be counted on to guide a shaky Rocket blueline. Standing 6'2 and closing in on 200 pounds, Southorn can easily hit the 41-point mark that T.J. Brennan has achieved in his past two Q seasons after posting 31 in his draft year. As the physical and defensive attributes start to emerge, keep an eye on the rearguard as he has the makings of a sleeper in waiting. Jean-Simon Allard, C, Quebec Remparts (QMJHL), 2007 5th round (147th overall) Uncertainty surrounding a jaw injury coupled with an influx of drafted talent drops Allard out of the fall top 20. The centerpiece of an offseason deal that sent Angelo Esposito to Montreal, Allard recently started skating after getting hit up high on the first day of Remparts camp. The 6'3, 192-pound forward posted a career best 60 points last season and will be set-up nicely on Quebec's second line once fully healed. Despite his upward offensive production as a junior, Allard will need to pay a higher price in the corners and on the way to the net to reach his full NHL potential. Nick Eno, G, Bowling Green Falcons (CCHA), 2007 7th round (187th overall) When Josh Unice opted to forego his NCCA eligibility to play for Kitchener (OHL), Eno walked into a scholarship and immediately paid dividends for the Falcons with 12 wins in 21 starts. A member of the 2007-08 CCHA All-Rookie team, the 6'3 Eno will again begin the season sharing the crease with Flames prospect Jimmy Spratt, but is likely to emerge as "the guy" once he secures a few W's against quality opponents. He was pleasantly consistent as a freshman, and with three more years of development, has plenty of time to backstop his way back into the top 20. Mark Mancari, RW, Portland Pirates (AHL), 2004 7th round (207th overall) Despite leading the Amerks in scoring and being named an AHL All-Star, the 6'4, 225-pound Mancari actually saw his production dip in 2007-08. Expect his point totals to increase this season though, as veterans have been assigned to Portland, allowing the fourth-year man to simply play without taking on the role of leader. Mancari will linger around the Sabres final cuts, but he projects to be nothing more than an injury gap filler for the top club. Instead, he'll be a nice transition player on his second contract while forwards like Gerbe, Kennedy, Schutz, and Whitmore navigate their way through their first professional seasons. Derek Whitmore, LW, Portland Pirates (AHL), undrafted free agent Like Kostka, the Rochester, NY native inked a free agent deal with the Sabres following a four year collegiate career. The 5'11 Whitmore is a natural goal scorer, finding the back of the net 70 times in a Bowling Green uniform. The 23-year old rookie will play in the AHL for the foreseeable future, adding some finish to an AHL grouping that produced the least amount of goals in the league last season. Andrew Orpik, RW, Boston College Eagles (Hockey East), 2005 7th overall (227th overall) The 6'3 forward will return to the maroon and gold for his senior season in 2008-09 after a seven goal, 13 point campaign as a junior. An effective checker, Orpik teamed with Matt Lombardi and Kyle Kucharski to compise a key grinding element to BC's national title run last season. Skating may hold him back some, but we like his responsible play and overall make-up enough to put him in the mix to get a deal after the season. Matt Generous, RHD, St. Lawrence Saints (ECAC), 2005 7th round (208th overall) The two-way anchor of the St. Lawrence blueline returns for his senior season of ECAC hockey in 2008-09. A +18 through his first three stanzas, the mobile New Englander has battled shoulder issues since late last year, but will ready to go when the Saints hit the ice for fall practice. Another in a long line of steady, adequately physical rearguards in the pipeline, the 6'2, 195-pounder could provide future AHL depth once his college days are done. Jacob Lagacé, LW, Chicoutimi Sagueneens (QMJHL), 2008 5th round (134th overall) Lagacé proved a solid offensive contributor in his first Q season with 23 goals and 62 points. With Francis Pare graduated from the Q, the pressure will be on Lagacé and fellow 2008 draft picks Nicolas Deschamps and Joel Champagne to carry the offensive load for the Sagueneens. His 5'11, 190-pound frame allows him to play a physical, puck-control style in juniors. Continuing to grind his way to the net to produce offense will go a long way toward earning a look from the Sabres two summers from now. Mike Card, RHD, Portland Pirates (AHL), 2004 8th round (241st overall) Card appears to be fully healed after back-to-back concussions ended his 2007-08 season midstream. The 6'1 showed steady defensive awareness and puck control skills reminsinscent of his WHL days at this summer's conditioning camp, but there wasn't much physical play to speak of. Keep a close eye on how he reacts to bumping bodies in training camp scrimmages. He was showing positive developmental growth before his injuries last season, and a good camp can go a long way for the youthful Pirate blueline. Vjacheslav Buravchikov, LHD, Ak-Bars Kazan, 2005 6th round (191st overall) Still offensive minded at heart, the Russian reargaurd has paid close attention to the holes in his defensive game since joining Kazan in 2006. He's done a better job at limting errors, and in turn has gained better levels of consistency and confidence. With the D focus in the bag, expect the skilled defenseman to slowly start branching out offensively in the open-style KHL. How it all relates to an NHL career is still unknown at this time. Drew MacKenzie, LHD, University of Vermont Catamounts, 2007 7th round (209th overall) The Connecticut native heads back east to Vermont after a successful developmental season with Waterloo of the USHL. MacKenzie, 6'2, 200 pounds, is steady in his end, plays a physical brand, and doesn't mind skating the puck up ice. Turning 20 midway through his freshman year, he is expected to immediately log quality minutes in the highly competitive Hockey East. The experience gained with the Cats should see the late-rounder move up in the next sets of rankings. Nick Crawford, LHD, Saginaw Spirit (OHL), 2008 6th round (164th overall) Putting his game together in relative anonymity in the OHL, Crawford goes about his business quietly and efficiently. Neither flashy or overpowering, making smart, simple plays is a trait that teams will look for in the late rounds. While the 6'1, 182 pounder will benefit from rounding out his frame, there is plenty of time to do so. He'll be in the OHL for two more years, and remember, Chris Butler was a similar 6'1, 185 pounds when he was the same age. Dylan Hunter, LW, Portland Pirates (AHL), 2004 9th round (273rd overall) Possessing average speed and strength, the former London Knight sees the ice well and continues to display the skills of a solid AHL contributor. The wing upped his production to 69 points in 2007-08 after a 42-point rookie campaigna year earlier. Hunter, 23, supports his teammates well and could still go the Michael Ryan route to the NHL (four AHL years before getting a sniff), but for now looks in danger of getting buried as incoming talent of a higher profile muddies the Portland waters this season. Adam Dennis, G, Portland Pirates (AHL), 2005 6th round (182nd overall) Dennis handled himself well given the team in front of his last season in Rochester. He earned 17 of the Amerks 24 wins while backstopping a team that surrendered the most goals against in the AHL. Moving forward, the OHL product will share the crease with heralded prospect Jhonas Enroth, and is likely the second option if the Sabres need an emergency doorman in 2008-09.
Written By Kris Baker on Friday, September 12, 2008 | 9/12/2008
Written By Kris Baker on Thursday, September 11, 2008 | 9/11/2008
Written By Kris Baker on Monday, September 8, 2008 | 9/08/2008
Written By Kris Baker on Saturday, September 6, 2008 | 9/06/2008
BG's former tri-captain gained experience in his degree field this summer when he served as a strength and conditioning coach during an internship with Puckmasters Hockey Training Center in Buffalo. Whitmore also attended a Sabres summer training session with current Falcons Jake Cepis and Nick Eno - the Sabres' 2007 seventh round draft pick. The former Falcon teammates worked out together from June 25 to July 1 with other Buffalo players and prospects. "His goal, since he was signed, is to solidify his position with the Sabres and keep improving to give himself a chance to play in the NHL," said Scott Paluch, Whitmore's former coach at BGSU. "He has an opportunity to play with the world's elite, and he needs to continue to progress to that level." At five feet nine inches, the 23-year-old forward is the second smallest player on Buffalo's roster, but he said he's not intimidated by that because "so many small players have gone on to successful NHL careers." So is he the next Brian Gionta, the New Jersey Devils' forward who stands five feet seven inches and has more than 250 NHL points in six seasons? Rochester is about all the two players currently have in common - both were born there. But Whitmore does feel confident heading into his first NHL training camp. He said he thinks that by working out every morning before his afternoon internship with Puckmasters, he is in prime physical condition.After a four year collegiate sheet that saw him pile up 70 goals and just 32 assists, Whitmore will begin his pro career finishing plays with Portland of the AHL.