Saturday, November 26, 2011

McNabb takes well-traveled path to Buffalo

The Buffalo Sabres have recalled rookie defenseman Brayden McNabb from Rochester of the American Hockey League. The 20-year old, who gets the call thanks to Robyn Regher becoming the ninth Sabre to hit the injury list, will make his NHL debut Saturday against Washington.

From the Sabres press release:

McNabb (6’5”, 212 lbs., 1/21/90), who is playing in his rookie AHL season, has played 19 games for the Americans this season and has tallied 10 points (1+9).

The Davidson, Saskatchewan native was selected by Buffalo in the third round (66th overall) of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. In four full seasons (2007-11) with the Kootenay Ice of the WHL, McNabb had 176 points (50+126) in 258 games, along with 419 PIMs. The Sabres signed McNabb to a three-year entry level contract on May 18.

Here is my profile on McNabb from last spring's prospect rankings:

4) Brayden McNabb, LHD, Kootenay ICE (WHL), 2009 3rd round (66th overall)

A 2009 third rounder who has performed like a player befitting a higher pick, McNabb has logged major minutes with the Ice over the past two seasons, playing as physical as his 6'4, 218-pound frame suggests while finishing among WHL blue line scoring leaders (6th in 2009-10, 3rd in 2010-11).

After getting preseason NHL exposure this past fall, the ICE captain returned to set single-season and all-time franchise marks in goals, assists, and points for a defenseman while earning a spot on the WHL's Eastern Conference First All-Star Team. He took his game to a different level in the playoffs, shutting down the likes of Brayden Schenn, Curtis Hamilton, Linden Vey, and Emerson Etem while setting even more franchise offensive marks including a solid 11-game point streak to lead the Ice to the league finals. His 24 points in the 2011 postseason were the most for a Sabres prospect since Paul Byron ripped off 21-11-32 in 19 games back in 2007-08.

A bona fide point machine at the junior level, the economy-minded McNabb provides offense by making good pinches,
finding sticks with slap-passes, and most importantly by getting lots of shots to the net. He's best when keeping it simple and limiting the chance for a turnover. Not possessing a quick first step, he may see spots to lug the puck up ice here and there as a pro (by comparison though, Mike Weber is probably the better skater at this stage), but his impact will be that of a point-contributor who block shots and plays tough in front of his goalie. 

Expect McNabb to be signed and off to Portland next season where he can ease his way in. If his feet adjust quickly to the AHL pace, it's fair to think he could position himself for a stop-gap call-up by Christmas. Until that happens, becoming a stronger skater should remain the focal point of his development.

Well I was close on that "spot call-up by Christmas" part, although I thought we'd still be weeks away. As of now it's unclear how long McNabb or any of the other Amerks call-ups will remain with the Sabres, but they're here and it's time to win some games.

Just like when Tropp, Brennan, and Kassian arrived from Rochester, the immediate issue is who to pair McNabb with. My earliest guess is that McNabb steps in for Regehr in a stay-at-home role on a pair with vet Leopold, leaving Brennan/Gragnani together while elevating Ehrhoff/Sekera to top-pair minutes.

As a side note, it is interesting that the Sabres opted for McNabb instead of Drew Schiestel, who has looked solid lately after recovering a from a minor knee injury at the start of the season. Schiestel is an excellent skater with more experience, but there's no question that McNabb has the more rugged style. I imagine it was that ingredient that served as a tiebreaker as the Sabres again get a chance to gauge where some of their prospects stand on the NHL development curve.