Buffalo Sabres Prospects Top 25 Rankings - Spring 2009
Written By Kris Baker on Tuesday, March 3, 2009 | 3/03/2009
The 2009 Spring Top 25 doesn’t see much change at the top, leaving room for just some minor shuffling past the five spot. Aside from the clear cut #1, spots 2-5 in this edition of the "the list" present quite a challenge as skill sets at various positions have to be weighed to make the rankings work. The talent distribution assembled at the top is rather favorable, with a franchise defenseman, a pair of speedy scorers, a nugget of a goalie, and a solid, all-situations rearguard. The song remains the same for the most part, as placing the players in various developmental buckets reveals two clear needs: The Sabres must add scoring size at the forward positions. They have enough smaller, skilled players, and the time to get bigger while simultaneously adding goal production starts now. Secondly, the team would benefit from shifting its focus away from skating defenseman and find a way to add more aggressive blueline depth. Still, recent drafts have achieved better positional balance while amassing a fair amount of depth past the top cluster of players. Regarding the importance of added depth, it is worth noting that 22 of the 31 players to dress for the Sabres this season were acquired via the draft (this includes Tim Kennedy who was picked up in a draft day trade for a future pick). The Top 25 isn't a points competition, nor is it a measuring stick to see who's the closest to playing in the NHL this season. The list is constructed by slotting players by their overall potential impact, then moving them up and down based on their long range likelihood of reaching it. This is the only fair way to assess a pool of players ranging in age from 18-24.
The Top 25 at a glance:
1) Tyler Myers
2) Nathan Gerbe
3) Jhonas Enroth
4) Tyler Ennis
5) Chris Butler
6) Philip Gogulla
7) Mike Weber
8) T.J. Brennan
9) Luke Adam
10) Tim Kennedy
11) Drew Schiestel
12) Brad Eidsness
13) Marc-Andre Gragnani
14) Paul Byron
15) Jordon Southorn
16) Marek Zagrapan
17) Dennis Persson
18) Alex Biega
19) Corey Tropp
20) Corey Fienhage
21) Mike Kostka
22) Jacob Lagacé
23) Felix Schütz
24) Mark Mancari
25) Matt Generous
1 - Tyler Myers, RHD, Kelowna Rockets (WHL), 2008 1st round (12th overall)
Playing with Kelowna of the WHL, Myers was thrust into a larger role this season after teammate Luke Schenn stuck with Toronto out of training camp. Now measuring 6'7-3/4, the defenseman has steadied the Rockets blue by playing upwards of 30:00 a night for the playoff bound Rockets.
The Calgary native is a great skater who gets separation with his big first step, allowing him to quickly advance the puck out of his end. His long reach patrols a quarter of the defensive zone, and he's asserting himself physically with more confidence. After finishing -21 and -16 in his previous two seasons, Myers was sitting at +22 through February, while posting career offensive marks on the side.
His development as a shutdown style defenseman is taking shape with the increased role, and with that the expected occasional mistakes are still made. The next twelve months will need to see his command with the puck improve, along with more consistency with his decision making. Still, Myers has been a better overall player this season with added strength and exposure, and in fact was voted the Best "Stay at Home" defenseman during a mid-season poll of WHL players and coaches.
Most questions about Tyler Myers' status as an NHL prospect were answered during the medal round of the 2009 IIHF World Junior Championships when he was perhaps Team Canada's best defensive rearguard in wins over Russia and Sweden en route to winning gold.
2 - Nathan Gerbe, LW, Portland Pirates (AHL), 2006 5th round (142nd overall)
Speedy and always looking to shoot, the 5'6 Gerbe burst on to the AHL scene, leading all rookies in goals while being honored as an All-Star Game starter. The Boston College product has superior acceleration and sniping skills that, when coupled with energy, leverage, and the ability to drive the other team crazy, creates a savory package for any club regardless of the player's size.
After scoring 14 goals in 21 games with Portland, Gerbe's on-the-job learning of Lindy Ruff's system would move to Buffalo for a six-game call in December. The winger registered one assist and averaged 12:10 of time, while at times using his feet away from the puck by filling lanes and drawing dmen with him.
During his stay, the Michigan native suffered an upper-body injury when he was sandwiched between two Devils players in open ice. Rumored to be a concussion, Gerbe landed on the IR for six games before heading back to Portland. He would earn another brief call to Buffalo, skating four games before getting sent back to the Pirates.
Scouts never question Gerbe's effort. Continuing to produce goals and maintaining an edgy, two-way game should keep the 21-year old in the Sabres mix for the foreseeable future. He didn't score in Buffalo, but he's destined to get his share in due time once the Sabres clear some pricey dead weight off the main roster.
3 - Jhonas Enroth, G, Portland Pirates (AHL), 2006 2nd round (46th overall)
The agile Enroth has made a seamless transition to the North American game as a rookie with Portland, relying on quickness and reflexes to cool any concerns about adjusting to the smaller NHL ice surface. With creasemate Adam Dennis put on the shelf for the season with a hip injury, the tune-up will continue at full throttle for the remainder of the year.
The 20-year old Swede benefited from a full 2007-08 season of pro action with Sodertalje in the SEL, where he finished among leaders in all of the major categories. He anticipates play very well, and is athletic enough to compensate for any concerns posed by his 5'10 frame.
A confident personality, Enroth will need to exhibit top-notch composure as his body and mind will be forced to stay sharp while playing loads of minutes down the stretch in Portland. When Ryan Miller went down with a sprained ankle on February 21st, a goaltender shortage put Enorth in Buffalo for the first time in his career. While it put Portland in a horrible position with no active netminders, it did give the Swede time to get exposed to the top club and actually gain a little rest as Patrick Lalime eased his way into the #1 spot. Earlier a rock for the Pirates, the tired Enroth was winless in nine starts prior to the recall.
4 - Tyler Ennis, LW, Medicine Hat Tigers (WHL), 2008 1st round (26th overall)
With quick feet and nifty puck skills, the gliding Ennis overcame a slow start in time to get it clicking for the World Juniors in December. The Edmonton product compiled just six points through his first nine WHL games before netting 16 over his next nine to get the season moving in the right direction.
Ennis is the main attraction with his WHL club in Medicine Hat, leading the Tigers in scoring for a second straight season while clearly being the focal point of the opposition's forecheck. Despite the increased hits, better consistency is seeing his production exceed the 1.3 points-per-game captured in 2007-08. Ennis failed to hit the scoresheet 18 times last season. At the same point in 2008-09, Ennis was quiet in just 11 contests.
With Team Canada, Ennis demonstrated creativity on an energetic bottom line, collecting three goals and seven points in the tourney's six games. He's willing to go to scoring spots on the ice, a trait that will be enhanced with added strength, while his tight stickhandling, blazing entry speed, and attention to digging loose pucks project him as a formidable top-6 forward despite his developing 5'9 frame. A February poll of WHL Eastern Conference personnel saw the trickster earn Best Skater honors for the second straight season, a skill that grants him a true finishing gear.
Ennis closed last season strong, scoring points in 20 of his final 24 games, and 2008-09 is no different. He compiled 26 goals in 24 games of January and February, highlighted by a spectacular six-goal eruption on February 27th to give him back-to-back seasons with 40+. Sure it's only juniors, but Ennis' torrid post-World Juniors stretch is making the Brian Campbell trade to San Jose look darn good right about now.
5 - Chris Butler, LHD, Portland Pirates (AHL), 2005 4th round (96th overall)
The smart, steady rearguard parlayed a fine training camp showing into a very successful rookie season. Paired up with Paul Baier to start the year in Portland, Butler quickly asserted himself as the team's top defender with his two-way proficiency and ability to handle all situations. On December 19th, Butler made his NHL debut, finishing +2 with an assist against Los Angeles to complete a somewhat seamless transition from the NCAA to the NHL. He hasn't looked back since.
Smooth and confident, the St. Louis native makes smart passes and doesn't mind skating the puck out of his end. At 6'1, 190 pounds, he's effective at sealing off bodies on the boards and good at tying up sticks near the net. The DU product has solid top-four potential, with sets of both offensive and leadership skills that should assert themselves more and more as the experience builds.
6 - Mike Weber, LHD, Portland Pirates (AHL), 2006 2nd round (57th overall)
The physical, stay-at-home Weber made a splash in 2007-08 after posting a +12 during a late-season call to Buffalo as 20-year old rookie. The Pittsburgh native looked poised to make a full-time play as a sophomore, but was sent to Portland out of camp where he endured some ups and downs as the Pirates set sail. Weber earned a brief, two game call in October while still atop the Pirates depth chart.
The 6'2, 200-pounder played through pain as the winter months hit before succumbing to a January knee scope. After a few weeks off, Weber would get a one-game tune-up on his healed knee before earning a second trip to Buffalo. He got another five NHL games under his belt until the Sabres returned to health. In March, the OHL product was forced to shut it down for the season with a separated shoulder.
Weber's value lays in making safe plays awhile displaying a nasty disposition beneath his circles. As his footwork continues to improve, so does his outlook as a solid NHL depth defender. In the meantime, putting forth a consistent, disciplined effort will make the transition easier while waiting for the opportunity to arise.
7 - Philip Gogulla, LW, Kolner Haie (DEL), 2005 2nd round (48th overall)
With leading scorer Ivan Ciernik departing for the KHL, the streaky 6'2 winger needed to be a more consistent scorer this season for Cologne. The fifth-year man responded with offensive bite, posting a career high in goals despite the Sharks abysmal fall from DEL finalist a year ago to second worst team in the league.
Gogulla, 21, is big enough, skilled enough, and experienced enough to bring his game to North America in 2009-10. The German's ability to control play by using his size is a ready North American attribute, and his long stride that gets him to finish has added polish. Questions about his desire to make the leap can be back-burnered until after training camp, but absent of contractual issues, there is nothing to be gained by Gogulla staying another year in the DEL.
8 - T.J. Brennan, LHD, Montreal Juniors (QMJHL), 2007 2nd round (31st overall)
The move from St. John's to Montreal has seen the New Jersey native take the necessary developmental strides with his defensive game, turning a wanderlust-driven -15 with the Fog Devils in 2007-08 to a plus rating throughout the course of 2008-09 with the Juniors. His goal scoring numbers are down as a result, but his overall value has increased as he gets ready to take his 90 MPH slapper to the AHL next season.
A good skater with excellent vision, the six-footer has looked like a more complete, mature player in his third-year of major junior By paying attention to the coaching being offered, he's focusing more on standing up against the rush, and less on driving up ice with puck. As is often the case, talented skating dmen need to be reeled in with a focus on basic defensive fundamentals before their natural skills can be a true team asset. Such has been the case with Brennan, but the process is still ongoing.
Brennan is hitting less, but is still a physical presence when he needs to be. The drop in registered hits can be attributed to better positioning and a less aggressive desire to go looking for the contact. However, all one needs to remember is the solid knock that sent Gatineau forward Craig England to the hospital (and Brennan to the pressbox for five games due to its aggressive nature) if they're wondering if there's an instinct in play.
9 - Luke Adam, LW/C, Montreal Juniors (QMJHL), 2008 2nd round (44th overall)
At 6'2, 203 pounds,Adam represents the best combination of size and scoring ability in the Sabres prospect rankings. A hard worker with good hands down low, the Newfoundland native was having a successful 2008-09 campaign before shutting it down for the season in mid-February due to a ruptured spleen. The 18-year old uses his body to initiate contact, guard the puck, and gain momentum en route to the net before letting his good hands complete his tasks. Packaged in is a sound defensive player to boot.
Upon a clean bill of health, Adam can get back to developing as a bull in a stable full of rabbits. His combination of size and hands were the reason the Sabres drafted him, and intense concentration on improving his skating will make him an instant candidate for NHL duty since Sabres squads of recent years have sorely lacked the big bodied scorer who earns his keep.
10 - Tim Kennedy, C/LW, Portland Pirates (AHL), 2005 6th round (181st overall - by WAS)
Liking his smarts and creativity, the Sabres converted the quick-footed Kennedy to the pivot spot after a three-year collegiate career as a wing. The experiment has proven successful, as the Michigan State product immediately clicked at the AHL level with his ability to take the puck to the net and find open teammates. Kennedy has quickly taken the next step as a professional, positioning himself for an NHL future as he continues to pile up points as the AHL's leading rookie scorer.
The Buffalo native was selected for the AHL All-Star Game but was forced to sit out due to reconstructive dental surgery after taking a high stick to the mouth. Kennedy returned from the injury with a vengeance, scoring 19 points in the following 16 games back. In the first year of a two-year deal, look for the Sabres to make the hometown product a part of their third-line plans once to free agent ins and outs are settled.
11 - Drew Schiestel, LHD, Niagara Ice Dogs (OHL), 2007 2nd round (59th overall)
With the ability to free-wheel with the puck, the fleeting Schiestel is the best skating defenseman in the Sabres pipeline. The 6'2 Hamiltonian couples his speed with a big slapshot to be one of the OHL's better power play threats from the back end. His puck moving style makes him more of a set-up man, as Schiestel doesn't always look for a coast-to-coast finish.
The story changes some at even strength, though. Despite doing a better job tying guys up and holding his ground physically, Schiestel has been among the bottom-10 players in the league in +/- throughout the season, at one point hitting the lowly depths of -25 for the .500 IceDogs. While some of the number can be attributed to excessive minutes with a weak forward cast and perhaps even questionable coaching, the fourth-year man has to be accountable for it being as low as it has gotten.
Schiestel will carry on to Portland next season where he'll take advantage of Assistant Coach Eric Weinrich's defensive expertise. Much like Brennan, he will be called upon to stay back more at the next level, as mastering his primary responsibilities will be the key to unlocking a pro-style similar to that of his favorite NHLer, Scott Niedermayer.
12 - Brad Eidsness, G, North Dakota Fighting Sioux (WCHA), 2007 5th round (139th overall)
Leading the NCAA in minutes played through January, the freshman netminder walked into the starting gig in Grand Forks and demonstrated quick adjustment on the rugged WCHA learning curve. With inconsistency plaguing the Sioux early in the season, Eidsness has battled his way to an impressive 20 wins, earning WCHA Rookie of the Weeks honors three times while hanging among the top-5 in goals against and save percentage all season.
The reigning MVP of the Junior "A" AJHL, Eidsness plays a tight butterfly style with quick side-to-side movement, and has penchant for the big save. He's an excellent reader of the developing play, and with better rebound control, the 5'11 backstop has the ability to be a top-tier goaltender in the NCAA ranks as a sophomore.
13 - Marc-Andre Gragnani, LHD, Portland Pirates (AHL), 2005 3rd round (87th overall)
Gragnani has settled back on the blueline this season in Portland, where he's continued to make an impression with his offensive-minded game. The talented Montreal product leads all Pirates blueliners in goals and assists, and earned a late January call to an injury-decimated top club.
Gragnani is benefiting from being able to focus on one position this season. With an eye for moving the puck, Gragnani is getting better at making the quick, simple decision to advance play out of his end at even strength while being a pivotal power play cog. The strength is present to make an NHL impact, so gaining steady defensive and statistical balance should keep him on the Sabres radar as the team assembles its future core.
14 - Paul Byron, C/W, Gatineau Olympiques (QMJHL), 2007 6th round (179th overall)
The slick forward overcame a slow start with new teammates by piling points over an impressive 19-game point streak to become one of the CHL's top players over the winter months. His 2008-09 total through January had already eclipsed his injury-effected finish from last season, and puts the speedy Ottawa native close to becoming the first Sabres prospect to hit the 100-point mark since Dylan Hunter hit triple digits in 2004-05 and 2005-06.
Entering January as the Q's 11th leading scorer, Byron used his 22.6 sniping % to put up a pair of hat tricks, including nights of five and seven points, to shoot up to the fourth spot. As Byron came to life, so did his Gatineau club who has played roughly .800 hockey since snapping a 13-game losing streak in November. Byron doesn't limit his game to scoring, for the 5'9, 170-pounder hits and blocks shots with equal aptitude.
With the help of the Sabres training staff, Byron's added strength has made him harder to check, affording him more one-on-one wins. The effort, skill, and heart are present, but questions about durability will linger until Byron shows that he can get inside against larger, more physical defenders than he's accustomed to dealing with in the Q.
After going undrafted in junior, he climbed out of Junior "B" to become a skilled enough playmaker to get a preliminary look from Team Canada. He's done everything to succeed at this point, and is worth a look to see if he can continue battling effectively while adding 15 additional pounds.
15 - Jordon Southorn, LHD, PEI Rocket (QMJHL), 2008 4th round (104th overall)
Anchoring the top pair and #1 power play unit, the 6'2, 200-pounder has blossomed into a top-notch defenseman on the Island this season for the Rocket.
The job of leader on a major-junior club has proven to be taxing at times for the 18-year old. Since returning from a team-imposed suspension in October that saw him lose the "A" from his sweater, Southorn has improved his overall play, but still endures stretches of inconsistency that limit his effectiveness.
The Pincourt, Quebec native is a fluid skater who uses his body, is very good in transition, and gets his shots through from the left point. The course of the season has seen Southorn sit in the top 10 for points, hits, and shots on goal for QMJHL defensemen. With another season of Q hockey in the forecast, the mid-rounder has a pro-style toolkit that looks to be in a great developmental position.
16 - Marek Zagrapan, C, Portland Pirates (AHL), 2005 1st round (13th overall)
Zagrapan's skill level continues to keep him lingering on the fringe of Sabres prospect relevance. Expectations are always high for first round draft picks, and the Slovakian has yet to hit his potential. Now 22 in the final year of his first deal, Zagrapan is still one of the more inconsistent prospects in the Sabres stable from an effort standpoint despite an ironic career statline (junior seasons of 82 and 85 points, and ppg averages of .54, .53, and .54 through his first three AHL years).
The song remains the same. Excellent vision, quick jump, and good raw skills are there, but inconsistency in paying the price have somewhat stalled his overall development. It can't be encouraging to see rookies Nathan Gerbe and Tim Kennedy, both of similar age to Zagrapan, get calls to Buffalo along with Mark Mancari.
Like what will happen with Ennis, a late birth date put Zagrapan into the AHL during his second post-draft season, whereas other members of his class are pro rookies or collegiate seniors. There have been two streaks over the past seasons where Zagrapan seemed on the cusp of getting a look, but for the most part, the pivot has yet to earn a call to Buffalo despite the belief that he may raise his level of play against better competition.
17 - Dennis Persson, LHD, Timra IK Red Eagles (SEL), 2006 1st round (24th overall)
Staying in the SEL with Timra after a 2007-08 split between Djurgarden and second division Nykopings, Persson has seen more time with the Eagles this season. His time-on-ice average has spiked to over 12:00 a night, up from an unacceptable 7:22 while part of a crowded DIK bunch last season. However, the bottom pair minutes have mostly been the result of injuries to others and not necessarily a reward for good play.
Dents of his own have hindered Persson's overall impact. He took a puck in the face early in the season, and also missed time at other points due to illness and a separated shoulder. Developmentally the season has been somewhat of a challenge, but Persson has fared positively when given opportunities. The Sabres bought time with the two-year deal over the summer, and while an obvious need for North American exposure is present, it may be appropriate to root the young defenseman in Sweden for one more season if Timra wants to re-sign him.
18 - Alex Biega, RHD, Harvard Crimson (ECAC), 2006 5th round (147th overall)
An engaged, all-situations defenseman, Biega leads the Crimson charge at both ends of his ice. The assistant captain gets good leverage with his 5'11, 205-pound frame, and gets the puck to the net nightly as evidenced by his 80+ shots on goal. The next closest defenseman on his team has just 30 through February.
The Montreal native is a great skater who has learned to pull back,while continuing to use his feet to force plays in his own end. The steady, mature game has made him a Hobey Baker candidate as a junior, and the current plan calls for a return to Cambridge as a senior where he'll form a family trio with junior-to-be Michael, and incoming freshman, Danny.
19 - Corey Tropp, RW, Michigan State Spartans (CCHA), 2007 3rd round (89th overall)
Corey Tropp and the Michigan State Spartans were enduring trying times even before the sophomore decided to temporarily shorten his "student/athlete" tag.
Earlier in the season, a bout with mono knocked the right wing out of commission for a few weeks, all but killing any chance he had to skate for Team USA at the World Junior Championships. Then the clincher came in January when Tropp, along with Andrew Conboy, were both exiled from the program after an on-ice attack on Michigan's Steve Kampfer. With hopes of reinstatement prior to his junior season, NCAA eligibility rules prevented Tropp from finishing 2008-09 with Sioux Falls of the USHL.
Tropp has modest finishing skills, a good release, and the willingness to mix it up to maintain his edge. His skill set combined with a solid work ethic makes him a middle-line prospect once he's able to resume his game experience.
20 - Corey Fienhage, RHD, North Dakota Fighting Sioux (WCHA), 2008 3rd round (81st overall)
Unlike his Sioux teammate Eidsness, Fienhage did not enjoy a developmental season of Junior "A" before hitting the collegiate ranks. Thought to be heading to Indiana (USHL) in 2008-09, Taylor Chorney's early departure to the Edmonton Oilers opened up the scholarship spot for the 6'3, 214-pound Fienhage to enter college immediately.
The jump from Minnesota high school to the WCHA takes some time, and Fienhage, 18, has struggled some with the pace of the game. Stout and aggressive with good foot speed, the athletic rearguard still made a rugged statement with 28 PIM in his nine appearances. The encouraging sign is the nature of the calls - six roughing minors, one high stick, one check from behind, a misconduct from a fight, and another for interference.
He wasn't intimidated, and he wasn't taking hooking and tripping calls as one would expect from an inexperienced defender. Aside from Weber, the former high school safety's fierce demeanor represents the best option for toughness in the Sabres pipeline.
So while on the surface the WCHA freshman may appear to be a disappointment to most Sabre fans, a season of limited exposure while letting the pace marinate in practice was almost foreseeable. Dressing in roughly a quarter of his teams contests, the rookie has earned the praise of coaches with his continued hard work in practices.
21 - Mike Kostka, RHD, Portland Pirates (AHL), undrafted free agent
Signed after a successful career at Massachusetts, Kostka, 23, has brought a seasoned defensive element to the Pirates blueline in year one. One of three rookies in Portland to start the year, Kostka acquitted himself nicely as he was thrust into monster minutes when injuries mounted up in the winter months.
The 6'2, 210-pounder has handled the high-paced transition with ease, carving out a reputation as one of the hardest workers on the farm to limit the usual rookie mistakes. Calm with puck, his strong skating game is marked by safe plays, making him a consistent plus player throughout the course of the year.
Strong enough to hold his own yet not overly aggressive, Kostka is good with his stick defensively but can also be an effective point man when applying pressure offensively. The work being put in on the farm has been noticed, making Kostka a firm support player for the foreseeable future.
22 - Jacob Lagacé, LW, Chicoutimi Sagueneens (QMJHL), 2008 5th round (134th overall)
Lagacé showed up to play in his first post-draft season, leading the Sagueneens in goals and points all season long. In addition to being the offensive pace-setter, he's also been the Sags' top two-way forward. The 5'11 winger gets pucks to the net, grinds out penalties, and is generally noticeable even when he's not scoring by working hard on every shift. His work ethic is best illustrated by his being among the league leaders with five short-handed goals.
He's not overpowering, but is best described as a persistent battler with finish. A leader who can capitalize on his opportunities, Lagacé has the skating, low center of gravity, and crafty hands to develop into a role player (3rd/4th) with some solid AHL work.
23 - Felix Schütz, C, Portland Pirates (AHL), 2006 4th round (117th overall)
A two-way checker with good offensive skills, the QMJHL product returned to North American after taking DEL Rookie of the Year honors with Ingolstadt in 2007-08. Schütz has brought smarts and craftiness in his initial AHL foray, compiling 10 points (5+5) in November to assert himself as a solid support player for the Pirates. With a few ramp up years in the AHL, Schütz's two-way coolness projects him to be a middle-line depth player.
At 5'11, 187 pounds, Schütz isn't a banger, but his hard-nosed, competitive instinct provides a solid foundation to work off of moving forward. Keeping a pesky edge to his game will eventually earn increased minutes and a greater role as the development cycle continues for the 21-year old German.
24 - Mark Mancari, RW, Portland Pirates (AHL), 2004 7th round (207th overall)
The big-bodied Mancari has continued to be an effective clean-up hitter at the AHL level, getting himself into position to lead the Pirates in scoring with a point-per-game pace. Now 23 in his fourth AHL season, the Sabres would like to see his emotion equal his production, as he too often lets the action come to him instead of taking it to his opponent.
At 6'4, 225 pounds, Mancari has a big shot with a nice touch for rebounds around the net. Despite the numbers, Sabres brass seems more intrigued by the creative efforts of first-year players Gerbe and Kennedy as more viable options moving forward. Mancari has maxed his tools at the AHL level, and looks to be an up-and-down journeyman type of player who may need a different situation to succeed in the NHL.
25 - Matt Generous, RHD, St. Lawrence Saints (ECAC), 2005 7th round (208th overall)
An anchor on the Saints blueline, Generous has proven to be one of the more underrated players on the depth chart since his drafting. With shoulder issues set aside, the Cheshire, CT native returned as a senior leader to post a career high seven goals on 54 shots. Good on both sides of special teams, Generous has a 6'3, 200-pound frame built for the pro game and the skating and physical ability to succeed.
A decorated scholar athlete, the senior stalwart has never been a healthy scratch in his four years at SLU, and while working under the tutilige of former Sabres property Mike Hurlbut, looks like a steady organizational depth player once his degree is earned. Clouding the picture is a sprained MCL suffered in his final regular season weekend that could throw caution to the wind depending on the severity.
Nick Crawford, LHD, Saginaw Spirit (OHL), 2008 6th round (164th overall)
Forming a solid back end unit with T.J. Brodie (CAL), Adam Comrie (FLA), and highly touted netminder Eddie Pasquale ('09), Crawford quietly assumes his role with a mobile, stay-at-home style in his third OHL season. The 6'1 product of the Don Mills Flyers has leveraged his excellent passing skills and power play opportunities into a career offensive year by doubling his 20-point output from 2007-08.
Adding 10-15 pounds of muscle will be on the agenda for the next two seasons to help win more battles and gain stronger puck control. With a return to Saginaw clearly in the cards for 2009-10, working on his shooting while pushing a more aggressive tone will put the mild mannered defenseman in a better professional posture.
Andrew Orpik, RW, Boston College Eagles (Hockey East), 2005 7th overall (227th overall)
The senior checker continues to lead by grinding, all the while chipping in the occasional point with a career high output. After executing as one third of a tight forechecking unit that helped BC to a 2007-08 national title, Orpik was again placed with Kyle Kucharski and Matt Lombardi to form what on most nights is the most consistent, energetic line for the Eagles. Kucharski has been especially good for the Eagles this season, and his linemates have held their own around him.
Orpik became a healthy scratch for one game during a post-holiday slid, but it was questioned to be more of a motivational tactic by Jerry York to spur his club than it was punishment of one of his senior leaders for one miscue or lazy penalty as is usually the case on Chestnut Hill.
The E. Amherst, NY native had a good conditioning camp over the summer, scoring goals down low in scrimmages while forcing the opposing carrier to make quick decisions. Continuing to skate through his hits will be the key to employing his 6'3, 215-pound body at the AHL level for the next few seasons.
J.S. Allard, LW/C, Quebec Remparts (QMJHL), 2007 5th round (147th overall)
The centerpiece of the trade that sent Angelo Esposito back to Montreal, Allard has had an off statistical year on a loaded Remparts roster while shifting from center to wing. Surrounded by the talents of Mikhail Stefanovich (TOR), Kelsey Tessier (COL), Dmitri Kugryshev (WAS), and former Sabres property Benjamin Breault, Allard was put into position to demonstrate growth over his .90 points per game in 2007-08 with St. John's, but instead failed to surge past the 60 point benchmark.
Still, his playmaking skills and overall team play make him an attractive player to develop for the middle lines in Portland. Replacing some finesse with a little more attitude could build up some confidence for the heady forward. To date, the 19-year old has averaged .5 hits per game whereas a player like Lagacé is around one per outing.
Allard was knocked out with facial injury on the first day of training camp, and it's easy to think that it has effected his willingness to get his hands dirty. Better positioning would lead to more consistent numbers, but regardless, Allard has yet to take that next step toward finishing plays with authority.
Justin Jokinen, RW, Minnesota State Mavericks (CCHA), 2008 4th round (101st overall)
The youngest player on the Mavericks roster, Jokinen, 18, will need some physical maturation to his 6'3, 180-pound frame before making any sort of impact in Mankato. The Minnesota high school product has been in and out of the lineup for the majority of his freshman year while his older, stronger teammates held down regular roster spots against the bigger skaters of the WCHA.
Jokinen did score the game winning goal in the season opener, one of two goals scored through February, but the need for a smarter two-way adjustment has been present. Hard work in the weight room while building better chemistry with his teammates should go a long way towards Jokinen's skill coming to the forefront next season. The growing frame and base talents are apparent, so being receptive to coaching should help translate his skating and shooting skills to the higher level of competition.
Drew MacKenzie, LHD, University of Vermont Catamounts, 2007 7th round (209th overall)
Unlike Fienhage, the 6'2, 200-pound Mackenzie took a developmental season with the defense factory in Waterloo (USHL) to better prepare for battle in competitive Hockey East, and the move paid off. A stay-at-home type with good eyes up ice, MacKenzie has been a left-side mainstay in the Catamounts lineup, eating quality minutes while earning time on the power play unit.
A February bout with mononucleosis put MacKenzie on the shelf for the regular season stretch run. At the time of illness, the Taft alum was +1 with three assists in 24 games. Playing as a 20-year old freshman, the Connecticut native looks like a shutdown guy in the making as the Cats carry on their strong tradition.
Vjacheslav Buravchikov, LHD, Ak-Bars Kazan, 2005 6th round (191st overall)
The 21-year old Russian has taken the next step during his fourth elite league season with Kazan. Maturing into a steady defenseman who can move the puck, the youngest regular on the team has logged career highs in points and minutes while making making fewer mistakes overall. He's become quite confident with the puck, and is getting more shots through from the point.
With Ak Bars finishing as the #2 team in the KHL's inaugural regular season, the experience of playing for a winning organization will bode well if the 6'1, 186-pounder decides to try his game on North American soil in the coming years. For now, any thoughts surrounding Buravchikov's contract status can be ignored until one party shows an interest in the other, or until a transfer agreement between the NHL and Russia comes into play.
Nick Eno, G, Bowling Green Falcons (CCHA), 2007 7th round (187th overall)
The Sabres' high ankle blues started in Bowling Green this past fall, as Eno was on the shelf into 2009 due to a sprain of his own suffered in the Falcons opening week of practice. Still a tad limber, Eno returned for his first action against Ohio State on January 9th, but did little to spark the last-place Falcons. Through February, the sophomore went winless in six appearances.
The 6'3 stopper covers a lot of net, and while not particularly crisp, he moves well for a big goalie. In the last edition of the top 20, Eno's puck handling was pointed out as something he could improve and it appears to have been addressed. The Michigan native managed an assist in two of his first three starts.
Dylan Hunter, LW, Portland Pirates (AHL), 2004 9th round (273rd overall)
Hunter continues to bean adequate contributor in the AHL, playing center and wing as needed for most of his three professional seasons. Hunter, who missed an early chunk of the season after taking a puck to the foot, possesses solid vision to create and finish, but comes up short as a skater in terms of taking it to the next level. For now, the 23 year-old looks to be an AHL support player until he finds a higher gear and more regular goal production.
Derek Whitmore, LW, Portland Pirates (AHL), undrafted free agent
Another product of the Sabres attention to the college game, Whitmore has been a pleasant contributor in his first AHL season. Signing after his senior year at Bowling Green, the 24-year old has been a steady worker as he tries to find his scoring groove at the pro level. The 5'11 wing is strong on his skates as he enters corners and heads to the front of the net to create activity, and looks to provide organizational depth while putting the pieces of a pro game together on nightly basis.
Mike Funk, LHD, Portland Pirates (AHL), 2004 2nd round (43rd overall)
The 21-year old defender ran into some bad luck in 2008-09, being limited to just 13 games after a pair of concussions derailed his season. After getting knocked on to the injury list with his first concussion in training camp, the Portland Winter Hawk product was cleared for a return to action in November.
The 6'4, 210-pounder had a goal and two assists before getting viciously hit from behind on December 6th by Lowell's Ansii Salmela. The second serious blow to the head put his season on ice, and Funk has yet to return to skating. Prior to the season's developments, Funk appeared on the road to being retained past his entry deal.
Adam Dennis, G, Portland Pirates (AHL), 2005 6th round (182nd overall)
The 24-year old Dennis was further cementing himself as solid organizational depth option before a mid-December hip flexor forced surgery and a shut down to the season. Dennis stops the puck, but has neither the reflexes or quickness to make an NHL run. He does have a winning pedigree going back to juniors that allows for good experience in an AHL landscape that is more developmental than ever before.
Mike Card, RHD, Portland Pirates (AHL), 2004 8th round (241st overall)
Returning from two serious concussions in 2007-08, Card looked to have made some progress while skating at the Sabres summer camp. He was moving well in preparation for his third pro season, even dangling a bit in scrimmages while making crisp passes out of his end.
After a run through training camp, the Kelowna product skated to a +3 through 13 games in Portland before being concussed again in November. The defenseman would briefly return nearly two months later, lasting just six games before shutting it down with lingering post-concussion symptoms.
Now 23 with a series of head injuries, the future isn't looking all that bright for the once promising rearguard. The precipitous slide down the rankings in the final year of his deal leaves many a fan wondering how much longer he'll be appearing on the list.