It's Christmas Day across the world. While eagerly awaiting the puckdrop for the World Junior Championship and for schedules to resume in the CHL and NCAA ranks, please enjoy some mid-season thoughts. A Baker's Dozen, if you will....
1) Lost in all the 2011 injury madness is the fact that Drew MacIntyre, who stopped 17 of 18 shots over 43-minutes of action in two November appearances, is now the Sabres all-time franchise leader in goals against average (1.40) and save percentage (.944) for goalies who have faced a minimum of one shot on goal while wearing blue and gold.
2) By the way, the injury epidemic hasn’t been limited to just the top club. From the CHL and NCAA ranks alone, Mark Pysyk, Kevin Sundher, Steven Shipley, Alex Lepkowski, Drew MacKenzie, Cedrick Henley, Mark Adams, and Colin Jacobs have all missed time with various dings. The total is roughly 50-man games for the bunch, but when packaged with previous hurts to Paul Szczechura, Drew Schiestel, Dennis Persson, T.J. Brennan, Jon Parker, and Mike Ryan in Rochester and it’s easy to see that the injury bug is a top-to-bottom issue.
3) There are two clear observations you can make about Derek Whitmore – he has seen a lot of hockey, and he likes to shoot. The 27-year old rookie, who scored 70 goals in a four-year career at Bowling Green and another 70 in 272 AHL games, has shown solid awareness in his brief term with the Sabres while doing a good job making himself available in the offensive end. Now if folks in Webster could just get his name right...
4) Vermont senior Drew MacKenzie may be one of the better two-way defensemen in Hockey East, but his chances of getting an entry-level deal by the Sabres could still be slim unless some trades are made. Tyler Myers, Robyn Regehr, Christian Ehrhoff, Mike Weber, Andrej Sekera, Jordan Leopold, Mark Pysyk, Brayden McNabb, Matt MacKenzie, Nick Crawford, and Joe Finley are all under contract for next year. Marc-Andre Gragnani, T.J. Brennan, Drew Schiestel, Dennis Persson, and Alex Biega are restricted free agents, while Rimouski ace Jerome Gauthier-Leduc will need to be signed by June 1st.
5) Along with MacKenzie and Leduc, the Sabres will also face contract decisions this summer on Shipley, Henley, Justin Jokinen, Gregg Sutch, Brad Eidsness, and Connor Knapp. There’s a lot on the line in the second half for some of these players, including Henley, who barring a gigantic spike in production could make for a “developmental project” signing. Project in the sense that he could be inked yet still be assigned another year of QMJHL duty as a 20-year old after seeing the bulk of his 2010-11 campaign washed out due to wrist surgery.
6) After getting four points through his first four games, Amerks rookie forward Jonathan Parker has failed to get a point in his last 17 contests. Granted a hand injury caused him to miss three games, but a player brought in because of his shooting ability needs to have more than 18 shots on goal through his first 21 professional games.
7) Maybe there is something to Shipley needing to be “the man” wherever he plays. After asking out of Owen Sound a year ago because he didn’t want to play second fiddle to Joey Hishon, Shipley was mired in mediocrity in Niagara for a season-and-a-half until recently when four teammates (Ryan Strome, Freddie and Dougie Hamilton, Mark Visentin) left for the 2012 World Juniors. In their absence thus far, the 2010 fourth rounder has collected goals in four straight games, points in five straight (5+6), and a +4 rating. He’ll play at least three more games on the Dogs top line while his teammates skate with Team Canada.
8) I know a few people who were upset when the Sabres didn’t offer a contract to Andrew Orpik (2005, 7th round) when he completed his years at Boston College. After two years of drifting between the AHL and the coast league, Orpik hung up his skates this season after receiving a job offer he couldn’t refuse back in Beantown.
9) My guess is that the Sabres knew on November 1st that they needed to lock Sundher up to an early bird signing. It was on that date in 2010 that they inked ‘09 first-rounder Zack Kassian after watching him stack seven goals and 20 points through his first 11 games in Windsor. Through October of this season, Sundher had amassed an equally impressive 11 goals and 32 points (17 games).
10) The Sabres did not have a single prospect hit either of the 30-goal and 80-point plateaus last year. This year it looks they could have three who hit both – Sundher, Leduc, and Daniel Catenacci.
11) Leduc currently leads all CHL defensemen with 19 goals and 50 points. His next closest competitor, Dougie Hamilton of the OHL’s Niagara IceDogs, checks in with 12 goals and 45 points. Leduc is fleet of foot and can pound the puck, but his own-zone abilities weren’t enough to make it past the initial cuts for Team Canada.
12) Catenacci, who enters the break with 19 goals and 40 points, is worth some special second half attention due to his previous body of work. The speedy center shot out of the gates a season ago with 18 goals and 45 points at the holiday break, but scored just 23 points in 30 games after January 1st.
13) Assuming Joel Armia plays out the final year of his contract with SM-liiga’s Assat Pori, he’ll be 20-years of age when the Sabres can look to get him over to North America. Scanning the list of Finland’s all-time great forwards in relation to their age when making the jump, you can see why the Sabres don’t need to bring him over as a teenager: Jari Kurri (20), Olli Jokinen (20), Saku Koivu (21), Mikko Koivu (21), Teemu Selanne (22), Jere Lehtinen (22). I'm ok with a 2013-14 arrival.
Wishing you and yours a safe and joyous holiday season. Thank you for making SabresProspects part of your hockey news routine!