Buffalo Sabres 2013-14 Preseason Prospect Rankings

Written By Kris Baker on Wednesday, August 28, 2013 | 8/28/2013

The 2013 Blue vs. Gold scrimmage showcased the depth
and balance of the Sabres prospect ranks.
Featuring six first-round picks and a quality cast backing them, the Buffalo Sabres organization boasts perhaps its deepest prospect stable since the 1990's when names like McKee, Brown, Sarich, Primeau, Biron, and Tallinder were being shuffled about. But while the teeming pool of talent offers plenty in terms of hope, it also brings tough decisions throughout when putting together a rankings list.

If Terry Pegula wants hard workers, he's got them. If he wants goal scorers, he has them too. A mix of toughness and mobility on the blueline? Yup. Goalie depth, check. Regardless of what you value most, the balance of size, speed, and skill is remarkable from top to bottom, giving the Sabres plenty of flexibility as the stage sets for compelling training camp battles over the next few years.

If competition is healthy, why not do it with strength in numbers? A whopping 42 players currently jam the Sabres University pipeline, creating a unique situation that should see quite a bit of movement in the next edition of the rankings, not to mention a ridiculous amount of games to watch (and coffee) over the next six months.

Let's get to it.

As usual, please review the rankings disclaimer:

The below rankings are formulated first by slotting each player based on top potential, and then modifying their position up or down based on their likelihood of achieving. This is the fairest method of doing side-by-side evaluations for players ranging in age from 18-23, and thus the order is not based on who's closest to appearing in the NHL.

For definition, a prospect is judged to be a player who begins a post-draft season between the ages of 18-23, whose NHL rights are owned by the Buffalo, and who has played fewer than 50 NHL games.

THE BUFFALO SABRES 2013-14 PRESEASON PROSPECT RANKINGS


1 - Mikhail Grigorenko
2 - Rasmus Ristolainen
3 - Joel Armia
4 - Zemgus Girgensons
5 - Mark Pysyk
6 - Nikita Zadorov
7 - Jake McCabe
8 - J.T. Compher
9 - Johan Larsson
10 - Dan Catenacci
11 - Connor Hurley  
12 - Brayden McNabb
13 - Corey Tropp
14 - Justin Bailey
15 - Matt Hackett
16 - Justin Kea
17 - Chad Ruhwedel 
18 - Kevin Sundher
19 - Nick Baptiste
20 - Linus Ullmark 
21 - Cal Petersen
22 - Jerome Gauthier-Leduc 
23 - Gustav Possler 
24 - Logan Nelson
25 - Andrey Makarov
-- - Matt MacKenzie
-- - Tim Schaller
-- - Phil Varone  
-- - Colin Jacobs
-- - Anthony Florentino
-- - Connor Knapp
-- - Nathan Lieuwen
-- - Brady Austin
-- - Sean Malone
-- - Judd Peterson
-- - Nick Crawford
-- - Eric Locke
-- - Christian Isackson
-- - Jonathan Parker
-- - Brad Navin
-- - Shawn Szydlowski
-- - Mark Adams

__________________________________________________________________________________________

1) Mikhail Grigorenko - LC, Buffalo Sabres (NHL)
6’3”, 215 lbs. | 5/16/94
2012, first round (12th overall)

A veteran of 25 NHL games, Grigorenko maintains his spot at the head of the table entering year two of his entry-level deal. The Russian playmaker experienced the much-expected ups and downs last season as a professional rookie, and while he didn't particularly dominate at his second development camp, Grigorenko has shown the talent, vision, and overall potential to represent a top line projection.

The key for both Grigorenko and the Sabres' coaching staff will be getting the will to match the skill, all the while building a balanced two-way game. Grigorenko will never enter the corners like a ball of fire, but better use of his size will see him win battles, and in turn allow his cerebral talents to produce points. While the X's and O's are executed, it's on the Sabres vets to keep his highs low and lows high while fostering a good work environment. If guys have each others backs, players like Grigorenko can have the space they need to operate and achieve.

__________________________________________________________________________________________

2) Rasmus Ristolainen - RHD, Rochester Americans (AHL)
6’4”, 224 lbs. | 10/27/94
2013, first round (8th overall)

A cool, all-situations asset, Ristolainen makes his rankings debut as the Sabres' top-rated defensive prospect. The big-bodied Finn has all the makings of a "can't miss" player, including two key tools that cannot be taught -- length and patience. Bundle in a thundering physical game with a knack for making the correct play with the puck, and it's very difficult to find a hole in the confident 18-year old's game.

Ristolainen has already logged two years of pro experience while using a smart defensive stick and strong pass out of the zone to post standout performances at two World Junior Championships. The coming season will see him be a full-timer in North America, where fellow countryman Teppo Numminen awaits to share the wit and wisdom accrued from seeing every NHL play thousands of times in hopes of grooming a steadying element on the Sabres blueline.

__________________________________________________________________________________________  
3) Joel Armia - RW, Rochester Americans (AHL)/Buffalo (NHL)
6’3”, 187 lbs. | 5/31/93
2011, first round (16th overall)

The top shooting forward in the Sabres' prospect ranks, Armia's size and speed have the look of the Sabres' next scoring line threat off the wing. With his SM-Liiga tour of duty complete, Armia will immediately compete for NHL minutes when he brings his scoring hands to North America in 2013-14.

We can talk about his quick release and ability to elevate the puck from in tight, but the greatest leap in Armia's development came in his dedication to the defensive zone through Assat's run to the 2013 league title. It's fair to think that the well-rounded tool kit can immediately translate, but the determining factor for success will be consistency. Armia would be the Sabres' top prospect had we seen full engagement over the last two years. Bringing it every night will unlock the good in his game and earn top PP time, where his one-timer, sense for open space, and tip skills should give him confidence to take on a rapid NHL learning curve.

__________________________________________________________________________________________

4) Zemgus Girgensons, C/LW, Rochester Americans (AHL)
6’2”, 194 lbs. | 1/5/94
2012, first round (14th overall)

A determined player with a balance of grit and two-way skill, Girgensons received strong consideration for the top overall spot thanks to his rapid adjustment to the speed and physicality of the pro game as an 18-year pro. The Latvian leader has the prototypical power forward elements. He stands out with a mature frame and effort, headlined by a consistent desire to get the puck to the net, and he's a tough competitor on the boards at both ends of the ice.

Girgensons has the skill and attitude to make a serious push at training camp, but it probably makes more sense to send him back to Rochester to gain more experience before unleashing him at the NHL level. With an underrated ability to see the ice with and without the puck, a possible switch to his natural center position makes another AHL start all the more reasonable.

__________________________________________________________________________________________  
5) Mark Pysyk - RHD, Buffalo Sabres (NHL)
6’2”, 188 lbs. | 1/11/92
2010, first round (23rd overall)

Pysyk's smooth skating and simple execution make him a steady, stabilizing piece of the future defensive core. After proving himself as a quick learner in Amerks colors, the Edmonton native proved to be one of Ron Rolston's more trusted options throughout his 19-game NHL stint to close out his rookie season.

Where Pysyk slots in 2013-14, be it in the NHL or back in Rochester to firm up the "new core", is really up to him. He's smart and extremely diligent with his footwork, has a high panic threshold, and makes a crisp pass out of the zone. Veteran contracts could present a challenge in year two of his entry-level contract, but there is little question that he'll play top-four minutes and a leading penalty killing role when he sticks for good.

__________________________________________________________________________________________

6) Nikita Zadorov - LHD, London Knights (OHL)
6’5”, 221 lbs. | 4/15/95
2013, first round (16th overall)

The hard-hitting Russian filled the Sabres' wishes for an intimidating blueline presence, so the next two years of the development cycle will be key as he betters his pivots and positioning to become a more complete player. Once the package is refined, Zadorov will mix with Myers, Ristolainen, Pysyk, McCabe, and McNabb to compose perhaps the league's deepest and most balanced fleet of defenders under the age of 25.

While Zadorov's offensive knack brings some two-way value, the safe projection is as a middle-pair shutdown force. He hits like a train in his half of the ice and likes to catch guys coming across the middle. Zadorov heading back to junior for the 2013-14 season is all but a done deal. He'll be a featured minute-eater for Team Russia at the 2014 World Juniors, and he'll get more pressure experience when the Knights host the 2014 Memorial Cup.

__________________________________________________________________________________________

7) Jake McCabe - LHD, University of Wisconsin Badgers (B1G)
6’1”, 200 lbs. | 10/12/93
2012, second round (44th overall)

A mobile warrior on the backend, McCabe's two-way proficiency projects to a versatile, dependable pro. McCabe can play in all situations, blending sound puck-moving skills with a hard-working defensive style. Perhaps the best example of his overall ability was at the 2013 World Junior Championship, where he notched three goals, six points, a team-best plus-nine rating, and plenty of blocked shots to help Team USA to the gold medal.

The Eau Claire, Wis. native is a high-effort competitor with great footwork and awareness. A candidate for key even-strength minutes as a pro, McCabe should make a seamless entry to the pros, but for now it's at least one more year of being a premier minute-eater for Mike Eaves' Badgers before bringing his decorated resume to an NHL training camp.

__________________________________________________________________________________________

8) J.T. Compher, C/LW, University of Michigan Wolverines (B1G)
5’11”, 184 lbs. | 4/8/95
2013, second round (35th overall)

The first of three second-round picks at the 2013 draft, Compher blends right into the attitude and work ethic that the Sabres are aiming to install in their re-vamped core. The Illinois product leads by example with creative offensive tools and pesky energy. His motoring feet apply heat on the forecheck and keep the play deep in the offensive zone where his opportunistic stick comes in handy.

The effort translates to the other end of the ice as well, where Compher sticks to his assignment and provides a formidable penalty kill. Compher will take his battle skills to the University of Michigan in the fall where he'll be counted on as a immediate contributor as a freshman. A potential third-line role on Team USA's 2014 World Junior entry is also expected following a favorable summer showing at the National Junior Evaluation Camp in Lake Placid, NY.

__________________________________________________________________________________________

9) Johan Larsson - LW, Rochester Americans (AHL)
6'0", 198 lbs. | 7/25/92
Acquired via trade with MIN 4/3/2013
originally selected 2010, second round (56th overall)

Aside from the first round pick that was converted into Zadorov, Larsson was the key piece in the deal that sent Jason Pominville to Minnesota. The Swede immediately clicked with Girgensons during their brief time in Rochester, matching his linemate's skill and work ethic to bring out the best in both players in the Amerks first-round loss to Toronto in the AHL's Western Conference playoffs..

Larsson's leadership pedigree along with his strength around the net should go a long way towards firming up the Sabres' middle-line depth. We'll know shortly whether or not he can stick with the top club out of training camp, but it's fair to think that fans will see him in blue and gold at some point during the regular season as the new core establishes its roots at the NHL level.

__________________________________________________________________________________________  
10) Dan Catenacci - LW/C, Rochester Americans (AHL)
6'0", 189 lbs. | 3/9/93
2011, third round (77th overall)

A speedy, polished scorer, Catenacci will spend the majority, if not all, of his rookie professional season on the farm in Rochester. The back-to-back 30-goal man at the OHL level consistently works his tail off, using straight-line wheels to beat guys deep on the forecheck and finish plays in traffic Add in the willingness to toss his weight around to compete for loose pucks, and the Sabres have a legitimate middle-line prospect who can do a little bit of everything.

Known primarily for his offense, Catenacci has rounded out his all-around game in his two post-draft years with added value on the penalty kill and at the faceoff circle. The mission in Rochester will be to keep playing his game and lighting the lamp while relying on his feet to limit stick infractions.

________________________________________________________________________________________


11) Connor Hurley - RC, Muskegon Lumberjacks (USHL)
6’1”, 174 lbs. | 9/15/95
2013, second round (38th overall)

Dominating the Minnesota high school ranks en route to a state title is one thing. Meeting the demands of the next level is completely different proposition. Based on what we've seen prior to him being able to vote, it's fair to say that Hurley's exceptional package of skating, strength, and endurance suggest he's well-equipped for the challenge.

The youngest player taken at the 2013 draft, Hurley's hard-driving, playmaking skills would likely have earned a legitimate first-round grade for 2014 if he was born one day later. He brings an accurate shot, but his standout skills reside in his vision and passing game. It's easy to think that Hurley will emerge from his commitment to Notre Dame with a well-honed blend of speed and power, but first the 17-year old will need to come away with high marks in his developmental USHL season before entering Hockey East in 2014.

__________________________________________________________________________________________

12) Brayden McNabb - LHD, Rochester Americans (AHL)
6’5”, 212 lbs. | 1/21/91
2009, third round (66th overall)

The rugged defender remains in the hunt for a spot on the top club despite losing key development time thanks to a knee injury late in the 2012-2013 season. The Saskatchewan native had fully shaken off an uneven start at time of his setback, showing improved skating and decision-making as a top-four anchor on the Rochester blueline. Much to the delight of Sabres brass, McNabb showed no lingering effects at the Sabres' summer sessions entering the final year of his entry-level contract.

A points machine at the junior level due in large part to his huge wind-up, McNabb's pro value lays in the defensive zone where his toughness and long reach makes forwards think twice before acting. The simpler the better, as playing big versus the rush, clogging lanes, and getting the puck to safety will allow him his share of both minutes and point opportunities.

__________________________________________________________________________________________

13) Corey Tropp - RW, Rochester Americans (AHL)
6’0”, 195 lbs. | 7/25/89
2007, third round (89th overall)

A versatile effort player, Tropp's return from a major knee injury provides one of the more compelling storylines entering training camp. The Sabres missed his grit and hustle last season, but Nathan Gerbe's departure creates an opening for a guy who can solidify a checking line wing or slide up to plug scoring line minutes if called upon.

When Tropp made his initial mark at the end of the 2011-12 year, he pinned defenders deep, slid to block shots, dropped the mitts, and scored goals around the net that one would normally expect from Thomas Vanek. In other words, Tropp showed flashes of the type of player that you can't win without. A return to form could make him the Sabres' greatest acquisition on the heels of a semi-tame offseason.

__________________________________________________________________________________________

14) Justin Bailey - RW/LW, Kitchener Rangers (OHL)
6’3”, 188 lbs. | 7/1/95
2013, secondround (52nd overall)

With a long skating stride and a soft touch around the net, Bailey has the base tools for a successful power forward once bulk gets added to his lengthy frame. The big winger can fly down the wing and get the puck going downhill to the net. He's good at taking it off the boards and getting into the high slot for better shooting angles.

Moving forward, it's all about staying aggressive with the puck on his stick and unleashing a more assertive physical style. The addition of upper body strength will make him harder to knock off the puck, while more developed legs will add more pop to his first three strides and make him more explosive coming out of the corners. The foundation and attitude are in place. The sky is the limit for a player with his mix.

__________________________________________________________________________________________  


15) Matt Hackett - G, Rochester Americans (AHL)
6'2", 179 lbs. | 3/7/90
Acquired via trade with MIN 4/3/2013
originally selected 2009, third round (77th overall)

A mature, athletic netminder, Hackett has the size, experience, and technique to break through to the NHL level in short order. His side-to-side quickness has improved since arriving in the AHL, so it's up to him to provide a consistent backbone for the Amerks in 2013-14 to start working his way into NHL duty. Hackett is penciled in to fill the Amerks' starting spot vacated by two-time team MVP David Leggio. It seems like big shoes to fill, but Hackett's body of work to date shows a more than worthy candidate.

__________________________________________________________________________________________

16) Justin Kea, LC, Saginaw Spirit (OHL)
6’4”, 213 lbs. | 2/7/94
2012, third round (73rd overall)

A hard working centerman who can win a key faceoff, Kea has the size and skating ability to someday fill a unsung checking role at the pro level. Following a breakout offensive season in 2012-13, Kea will again be counted on in his second post-draft year to provide grit, defend his teammates, cash a few goals, and play a leading PK role for Greg Gilbert's Spirit.

Kea's game isn't about dazzling with the puck, but more about flipping it deep, dominating the boards, and creating traffic around the goal mouth. If the Sabres are looking to be tough to play against, here is a guy who will happily show up and do the grunt work. The big pivot will only help his NHL chances by continuing to up the intimidation factor with an old time hockey approach when called upon.

__________________________________________________________________________________________

17) Chad Ruhwedel - RHD, Buffalo Sabres (NHL)
5’11”, 182 lbs. | 5/7/90
free agent (signed 4/13/13)

A smart, mobile defender who can get the puck out of trouble, Ruhwedel enters his first full professional season fighting for time on Sabres' bottom defensive pair. "Rudy" isn't the biggest skater on the blueline, but he has good core strength and is calculated in his ability to make the safe play as evidenced by his brief audition at the close of the 2013 schedule.

Whether or not Ruhwedel is an NHL regular or an organizational stopgap will be answered quickly. If the offensive upside that emerged in Hockey East can come through at the pro level, the California native can reaffirm his position as a depth defender who can support the play up ice, and in the process keep the NHL paychecks coming in.

__________________________________________________________________________________________

18) Kevin Sundher - LW/C, Rochester Americans (AHL)
6’0”, 181 lbs. | 1/8/92
2010, third round (75th overall)

A speedy playmaker at the junior level, Sundher was leveraging his feet and showing creative flashes midway through his rookie professional season being getting sidelined with an upper-body injury in February.

The Surrey, BC native will be looking to for a quick rebound in year two of his entry-level contract. He has the wheels and instincts to provide secondary scoring, but simply needs to remain healthy to get consistent reps. He's got the pace of play down, so now it's about added strength helping him absorb more hits and leading to more impact minutes.

__________________________________________________________________________________________

19) Nick Baptiste - RW, Sudbury Wolves (OHL)
6’0”, 191 lbs. | 8/4/95
2013, third round (69th overall)

Named the Most Underrated Player in the 2013 OHL Eastern Conference Coaches Poll, the physically mature Baptiste will be charged with taking on a greater leadership role for the Wolves following a strong finish to his 2012-13 campaign. It's too early to judge, but it's fair to consider the Ottawa native a candidate for Team Canada's World Junior entry in 2015 if expectations are met over the next 12 months.

Baptiste has all the tools to be a dominant player at the junior level. The rising winger plays an up-tempo 200-foot game, blending raw speed and aggression with excellent finishing ability around the net. He's tough to knock off the puck and plays a tight defensive style away from it. With a safe third line projection in play, Baptiste will move up the rankings quickly by showing his energy and skill each and every shift.


__________________________________________________________________________________________

20) Linus Ullmark - G, MODO (SHL)
6’3”, 198 lbs. | 7/31/93
2012, sixth round (163rd overall)

A big, flexible backstop, the 20-year old Ullmark will be put the test this season with a full-time role for MODO in Sweden's top division following his standout playoff performance in relief of since-departed starter Bernhard Starkbaum. Ullmark gets the job done with excellent timing and simple positioning. He's athletic with decent balance and body control. He'll rarely over-challenge or over-commit, instead being very economical while sealing the ice with a strong modern technique. With a quick glove hand rounding off a solid foundation, improving his post-to-post quickness will only assist his development.  

Ullmark is signed with MODO through 2014-15, but will need by inked to an NHL deal by June 1, 2014 to remain part of the team's go-forward strategy. For now, though, his flow and rhythm in the crease are enough to tab him as one of the Sabres' top goalie prospects. 

__________________________________________________________________________________________

21) Cal Petersen - G, Waterloo Blackhawks (USHL)
6’2”, 183 lbs. | 10/19/94
2013, fifth round (129th overall)

A scrappy competitor, Petersen's combination of size, quickness, and mental make-up have him poised to make dramatic leaps in these rankings over the next three years. It takes a lot to handle the pressure-cooker of an NHL crease, and the Sabres have the luxury of patience (five years) when it comes to developing the Notre Dame commit.

The foundation for success is in place. He's aggressive when challenging, does well with down-low pressure, and has a fast glove hand. Coaches note his ultra-competitive nature and focus. The agile stopper will return to Waterloo as the undisputed number one goalie in 2013-14 with an excellent chance to achieve his goal of leading the league in all statistical categories.

__________________________________________________________________________________________

22) Jerome Gauthier-Leduc - RHD, Rochester Americans (AHL)
6’1”, 192 lbs. | 7/30/92
2010, third round (68th overall)

A candidate for the power play specialist role vacated by T.J. Brennan, Gauthier-Leduc looks stronger and more confident entering the second year of his entry-level deal. The former 28-goal man in the QMJHL has much to prove in 2013-14. At the top of the list is showing the coaching staff that his strength and conditioning is up for grinding battles in the pressure areas while being quick and decisive with the puck.

Leduc had a late start to his rookie season while dealing with an injury, but he's good to go for year two. Coaching and patience will be key to bringing out the best in the Quebec City native. The "best" is likely a #5/6 NHL defender who can fill a lane on the even-strength rush, but he'll first need to build out from his own zone out to fortify the base.

__________________________________________________________________________________________

23) Gustav Possler - LW, MODO (SHL)
6’0”, 183 lbs. | 11/11/94
2013, fifth round (130th overall)

A skilled shooter who finds space on larger European sheets, Possler is primed for a breakout in both Sweden's top league and at the 2014 World Junior Championship. The Sabres would benefit from developing more natural scoring depth down the wings, and here is a "right place/right time" sleeper potential who gets four years to refine his craft before the Sabres have to pull the trigger on a contract.

Possler has an average frame but makes his money with an above-average release that sees him fetch rebounds from close range and convert off the rush. He works hard defensively as well, showing good awareness, a desire to block shots, and smart use of his stick to disrupt passing lanes. It's hard to crowbar him in to the top 20 at the moment, but expect Possler to make a move up the chart a year from now.

__________________________________________________________________________________________

24) Logan Nelson - C/W, Victoria Royals (WHL)
6’2”, 187 lbs. | 9/9/93
2012, fifth round (133rd overall)

With breakaway speed and quick hands to project out to an organizational depth scorer, Nelson got one step closer to earning a contract with the Sabres with a strong showing at the Sabres' 2013 Development Camp.

The Minnesota native was a main offensive catalyst for Victoria last season, showing a downhill mentality in the offensive zone while not shying away from playing the body. Nelson has the energy and skill to produce points but will need to show a full two-way improvement to give the Sabres confidence in punching his ticket to Rochester. Otherwise, he could find himself back in juniors for one final trial.

__________________________________________________________________________________________

25) Andrey Makarov - G, Rochester Americans (AHL)
6’1”, 178 lbs. | 4/20/93|
free agent (signed 9/14/12)

A two-time MVP in Saskatoon, Makarov shined for the second consecutive year at the 2013 World Junior Championship before riding the momentum back to the WHL to uncork a club record 18-game winning streak, along the way fueling the Blades to a division title before running out of gas in the first round of the playoffs.

A nimble, hybrid netminder, Makarov’s skill, puckhandling ability, and big game resume have him in good position to immediately compete for the Amerks' backup role. He makes himself big to block the puck, likes to bait shooters by giving his glove side, and isn't afraid to use his noggin to make a save. Because of his base, Western League clubs often flooded the middle to capitalize on second and third opportunities. Along with smoothing out some consistency issues, improving rebound control and balance coming off the first save will be keys to success moving forward.


NOT RANKED
__________________________________________________________________________________________  

Matt MacKenzie - RHD, Rochester Americans (AHL)

6’2”, 198 lbs. | 10/15/91
2010, third round (83rd overall)

A tough defender with dependable two-way skill, MacKenzie will look to assert his position as a dark-horse NHL caliber prospect in the final year of his entry-level deal. The logjam on the blueline will have the WHL product fighting for minutes, but he should be able to break through and secure a regular role once the Amerks wrap up training camp.

The recipe for a success reads reps, reps, and more reps. MacKenzie made quick progress prior to his injuries as a rookie, and began his second season in the Amerks top-six alongside Joe Finley. Consistency will need to come around, but for now the Sabres have a defender who skates well, plays tough in his own zone, and possesses adequate up-ice vision. MacKenzie's mission is to simply earn a regular AHL workload and start getting the pieces in place to press for an NHL look.

__________________________________________________________________________________________

Tim Schaller - C, Rochester Americans (AHL)
6'2", 205 lbs. | 11/16/90
free agent (signed 3/28/13)

Named Hockey East's Best Defensive Forward in 2012-13, Schaller was signed as a 22-year old free agent following a four-year stay at Providence College. The Merrimack, NH native collected eight goals, 23 points, and a plus-seven rating as a senior while carving out a niche as a hard-working, two-way centerman with timely offensive instincts.

While Schaller's three-zone work with the Friars should translate well, the EJHL product also brings aptitude to the face off circle, winning 56-percent of his 564 draws as a senior. Bringing a player of Shaller's makeup into the mix strengthens the team's blue-collar foundation, and allows them to go out and find more skilled scorers to run up and down the wings. Schaller remained off ice for most of the offseason while recovering from shoulder surgery, so expect some time to get his game legs going before hitting his stride.

__________________________________________________________________________________________  
Phil Varone - LC, Rochester Americans (AHL)
5’11”, 186 lbs. | 12/4/90
Free agent (signed 3/19/12)

A great skater and stickhandler, Varone entered the pro ranks with a bang in 2011-12, overcoming a slow start to ultimately lead the Amerks in points as a rookie and earn an entry-level contract with the Sabres. While not the biggest or fastest player on the ice, Varone can get space for himself and make nifty passes that bring out the shooting skills of his linemates.

With the arrival of Kevin Porter and Cody Hodgson in Rochester, Varone found himself bumped down the center ice pecking order, but he got his game going once the league thinned out post-lockout. It’s hard to project Varone out to anything more than a strong AHL producer, but continued growth in all areas could make him an outside candidate for spot duty as an injury fill-in at the NHL level.

__________________________________________________________________________________________  
Colin Jacobs- RW/C, Rochester Americans (AHL)
6’2”, 207 lbs. | 1/20/93
2011, fourth round (107th overall)

A talented forward with good size and puck skills, Jacobs completed his junior career by leading the WHL's Prince George Cougars in scoring with 53 points (25+28) in 66 games while adding 98 penalty minutes. The Coppell, Texas native, who tied for 15th in the league with 13 power play goals, was rewarded with the team's Player of the Year honors at season's end.

A powerful skater with an excellent shot, Jacobs landed in Rochester last spring and scored a goal in his first AHL contest. He'll need to improve his acceleration with the puck to unlock his potential at the pro ranks, all the while showing dedication to the defensive system. In the meantime, bringing out the physicality that was present in his junior days will only help carve out a deeper role as he digs into his professional career.

__________________________________________________________________________________________

Anthony Florentino - RHD, Providence College Friars (HE)
6’1”, 227 lbs. | 1/30/95
2013, fifth round (143rd overall)

A mean, hard-hitting defender from the Selects Academy program at the South Kent School, Florentino is very raw yet competent with few weaknesses to his game. He is a strong skater who locks in defensively while catalyzing the offense with crisp passing and a heavy shot. For now, his professional projection blends energy with a blue-collar work ethic.

A vocal leader with a fearless demeanor, Florentino will gain valuable experience when he joins Nate Leaman's rising Providence program this fall as a true freshman. The Sabres will be patient as Florentino polishes his game for the next four years while sorting out the crowded blueline ahead of him.
__________________________________________________________________________________________

Connor Knapp - G, Rochester Americans (AHL)
6’6”, 225 lbs. | 5/1/90
2009, sixth round (164th overall)

The 6-foot-6 backstop spent the first half of his rookie year mostly watching, winning one of six AHL starts while studying behind reigning team MVP David Leggio before getting dispatched to Greenville of the ECHL.

The final year of Knapp’s entry-level deal will best be spent looking  to become a consistent, competent, and quicker  pro netminder. Improving rebound control and exhibiting better puck tracking skills, all the way from the shooter’s stick to his body, will better Knapp’s chances of getting into a groove. The real mission is getting minutes. Despite closing his NCAA career with wins in 14 of his final 19 starts, Knapp played a total of just 84 games over his four years in Oxford, and made a scant 19 appearances in 2012-13.
__________________________________________________________________________________________

Nathan Lieuwen - G, Rochester Americans (AHL)
6’5”, 191 lbs. | 8/8/91
2011, sixth round (167th overall)

With the Sabres looking to balance goalie development with AHL backup minutes, Lieuwen began his career in the ECHL with a plan of being shuttled to Rochester at some point. Lieuwen endured an uneven start before settling in with a good run through the winter months to get the February call to Rochester. His first AHL starts were encouraging, but the Hackett acquisition had him relegated to a practice goalie for the balance of the year.

Lieuwen's big frame and athleticism provide a functional base, allowing him to make some acrobatic saves, but for the most part his composure has been good since turning pro. He tracks pucks through screens and remains in position. Focusing on technique while improving his footwork and lateral movement will be keys moving forward in order to shorten what many feel could be longer road to the NHL.
__________________________________________________________________________________________

Brady Austin - LHD, Belleville Bulls (OHL)
6'3", 232 lbs. | 6/16/93
2012, seventh round (193rd overall)

A mobile defender with good puck carrying skills, Austin covers a lot of ground in his own zone with a good set of feet and a long reach. Austin is strong positionally, with his size, toughness, and improvement in all three zones being a key factor to the Bulls defense being the stingiest in the OHL in 2012-13 with a league-low 167 goals against.

After spending time as a wing during his time in Erie, Austin's game was stabilized with a permanent move to on the blueline upon his arrival in Belleville for the 2011-12 season. He has simply flourished as a full-time rearguard, employing a shutdown mentality while seeing his hard work rewarded with an "A". Austin is somewhat buried with 14 defensemen under contract ahead of him, but he's one to watch this season given his all-around tools.

__________________________________________________________________________________________  
Sean Malone - C, Harvard University Crimson (ECAC)
5’11”, 183 lbs. | 4/30/95
2013, sixth round (159th overall)

The quick and agile Malone broadened his horizons with the United States National Team Development Program in 2012-13, including 13 points (5+8) in 15 games of USHL action, while also gaining valuable international experience.

A product of Nichols School, Malone has carved out a reputation as intense competitor at both ends of the ice, combining excellent edge speed and puck control skills with a sound back-checking game. Malone, whose package of skill and character could fill an energy role as a pro, will have his work ethic tested off the ice as well when he enrolls at Harvard University this fall.
__________________________________________________________________________________________

Judd Peterson - RW/C, Cedar Rapids RoughRiders (USHL)
6’0”, 190 lbs. | 9/27/23
2012, seventh round (204th overall)

An accurate shooter with good acceleration, Peterson made steady improvement in his first Junior “A" season following a prolific 47-goal, 83-point season with Duluth-Marshall (MN) High School. Peterson's year was interrupted with an arm injury in February, but not before connecting on 16% of his shots to hit double-digits in goals for a RoughRiders squad that missed the playoffs for the first time since 2000.

Peterson, who can play center but likely projects as a winger at the next levels, has a solid frame, good speed, and an ability to make tough plays, making him a compelling pro candidate once strength and quickness are added to the package. Committed to St. Cloud State, Peterson will play one more year with Cedar Rapids before entering college.

__________________________________________________________________________________________  
Nick Crawford - LHD, Rochester Americans (AHL)
6’1”, 191 lbs. | 2/23/90
2008, sixth round (164th overall)

The 2009-10 runner-up for the OHL’s top defender, Crawford has settled in as a shutdown blueliner who executes with patience and steadiness. The Sabres organization has seen an influx of young defensemen over their last five drafts, giving the Caledon, Ont. native plenty of competition for minutes, but Crawford quietly gone about his business, posting 13 goals and 53 points in his first two seasons while peers like Myers, McNabb, Pysyk, and Brennan grabbed a greater mindshare.

Crawford projects as a solid AHL depth defender moving forward. He adds to both sides of the special teams coin while using his skating to make making safe, easy plays at even strength. There is no flash or overwhelming physical presence to Crawford's approach, but his smarts and experience make him a stabilizing veteran piece to the defensive corps entering his second professional deal.

__________________________________________________________________________________________

Eric Locke - LW, Saginaw Spirit (OHL)
5’10”, 183 lbs. | 11/1/93
2013, seventh round (189th overall)

An undersized speedy playmaker who will turn 20-years old this fall, Locke re-emerged on the scouting scene in 2012-13 with nearly 100 points of offense and a clear dedication away from the puck. The combination of energy and shooting earned him the Most Improved Player in the OHL's Western Conference coaches poll.

Undersized but scrappy enough to get to the net, Locke's complete game is coming around at just the right time. If the battle skills hold up and he can get shots to the net, there is a fair chance he gets a long look by the Amerks out of camp. If not, he'll return to Saginaw to continue building his sleeper potential. Win/win.
__________________________________________________________________________________________

Christian Isackson - RW/C, Univ. of Minnesota Golden Gophers (B1G)
6’2”, 190 lbs. | 1/20/92
2010, seventh round (203rd overall)

After dressing in just 11 games as a freshman, the versatile Isackson was active in every Gophers contest in 2012-13, shuffling up and down a forward lineup featuring eight NHL draft picks. The native Minnesotan got his year off to a strong start, scoring a pre-season hat trick prior to notching his first three collegiate points in an opening weekend sweep of Michigan State.

Strong on his skates with good playmaking skills, Isackson works hard to create, excelling when using his body to protect the puck and finding teammates with short passes. He has quick hands and vision in the slot area, setting the table for a larger offensive role as the Gophers head to the newly formed Big 10 Hockey Conference in 2013-14.

__________________________________________________________________________________________

Jonathan Parker - RW, Rochester Americans (AHL)
5’10”, 195 lbs., 9/25/91
free agent (signed 10/6/11)

Signed two years ago as a free agent following a 45-goal year with the WHL’s Prince Albert Raiders, Parker is still looking to find his range as a professional. His standout skill is his release of the puck, but bigger, quicker pro defenders have presented a challenge when finding opportunities to fire.

Parker moves well enough and possesses a bit of a bulldog mentality when fully engaged, willingly mucking for loose pucks and absorbing punishment to get chances. The compete level is there so the hopes is that he can get into a groove and develop some chemistry that brings out the best of his shooting skills.

__________________________________________________________________________________________

Brad Navin - LW, University of Wisconsin (B1G)
6’3”, 200 lbs. | 6/5/92
2011, seventh round (197th overall)

A big, grinding forward who dominated the Wisconsin high school ranks before being drafted, Navin settled into a checking role over his first two years in Madison. He uses his frame along the wall and finishes his checks, but while showing an ability to get to the net and bury rebounds at his first Development Camp (July 2011), the Waupaca, Wis. native has yet to find his scoring knack at the NCAA level.

Navin is a lumbering skater who gets a lot of momentum once he gets going. He has average playmaking ability, instead relying on athleticism and power to work his assignments on every shift. The scoring potential is still there, so the Wisconsin staff will be counting on Navin to produce offense when given a bigger role as an upperclassman.

________________________________________________________________________________________

Shawn Szydlowski - RW, Rochester Americans (AHL)
6’0”, 208 lbs. | 8/5/90
free agent (signed 4/8/11)

Snakebitten with just one goal in his rookie professional season, the Michigan native was charged to get his game going in 2012-13 by beginning the year with the CHL’s Forth Worth Brahmas. Szydlowski has been mostly looked to as a foot solider, using his skating and checking blend to produce a dependable two-way game.

You want to see players with NHL contracts scoring when on assignment. A former 41-goal scorer in the OHL, Szydlowski put together a four-game goal streak in late January that led to his eventual re-call to Rochester as the Sabres dipped into the Amerks pool to plug roster needs. Projecting to an organizational role player, Szydlowski will enter the final year of his entry-level deal looking to contribute as an AHL checker.

________________________________________________________________________________________

Mark Adams - RHD, Providence Friars (HE)
6’3”, 210 lbs. | 5/23/91
2009, fifth round (134th overall)

A mobile defender with good size, Adams has battled the injury bug in his last two seasons at Providence. First it was a concussion that cut short his sophomore year. Last season, he played just seven games before suffering another season-ending knee injury. Prior to injury, the Malden, MA native spent the majority of his time in the top-six paired with Pens prospect Alex Velishchek.

Adams has played a simple all-around game since joining Hockey East, using his above-average size and skating to chip the puck to safety while adding basic offensive elements from his blueline post. With a medical redshirt in place, Adams will have two more years to make his mark with a much-improved Friars program.

9 comments:

Boogie said...

Finally! Great work Kris, as usual. It is a little disconcerting, however, that even with this incredible depth, the Sabres really only have one top 6 winger in the system, and he's a true boom or bust prospect. It seems like a real organizational weakness, although veteran scoring wingers are possibly the easiest free agents to find. It sure looks like the Sabres' team building plan involves accumulating depth up the middle and on the blue line, which has a history of paying dividends, (see Boston, Chicago, Detroit, LA, Pittsburgh).

BTW, It's crazy to think that at least a couple of the guys that didn't crack the top 25 (imho, Austin, Jacobs, and Peterson) will probably at least play in the NHL at some point. Amazing depth.

Moto said...

i'm with you on the winger-thing, boogie...but i like it...

in the past the sabres built a prospect pool with very little backbone and supposedly a bunch of skill, especially on the wing...

it would seem as if they've done a 180 going with tons of two-way compete, especially down the middle, and working in the skill incrementally...

i think that this quote from bakes about shaller sums up how they're approaching things:

"Bringing a player of Shaller's makeup into the mix strengthens the team's blue-collar foundation, and allows them to go out and find more skilled scorers to run up and down the wings."

well done, kris...love this stuff

Kris Baker said...

The need for natural scorers down the wing is something to keep an eye on (it makes guys like Possler all the more interesting), but at this point we should just call them all "forwards". Lots of interchangeable parts in play. I will always say that any guy can up and down a wing.

You'll notice in the depth chart how guys like Catenacci, Larsson, Jacobs, and Peterson were officially moved out to the wings to add balance. Even though Catenacci was one of the best faceoff men in the OHL last year, I expect to see his speed used down the left side at Traverse City and beyond.

Anonymous said...

Agree on the wing v. center issue. The old adage, talented centers can be converted to wing, but rarely the other way around. Scoring ability is the thing to watch.

Anonymous said...

Love the article Mr. Baker. A very enjoyable read!

I understand the concerns about scoring on the wing, but between Catenacci, Bailey, Baptiste, Possler, and Sundher, I think it's fair to say that some of them may end up being scoring line NHL wingers. Not to mention guys like Larsson and Hurley who may end up being wingers.

Again, great work. You're the best in the business at this stuff, and a role model for us young guys that dream about doing what you do some day.

Anonymous said...

Amazing article! A huge tip of the hat for the time and effort that an in depth prospect ranking article like this takes to assemble. Definitely a labor of love. I think you are bang on with your observations/analysis.

THis team doesn't always have the elite/top prospects, but no organization drafts more prospects that go on to pro careers either with the Sabres or another organization. Right now the pro player prospect depth is off the chart with 20-25 kids I could see legitimately having a shot at seeing playing time in the NHL during their career. That will only be added two with the next 2 years of stock piled picks. If a few of these kids can top out their potential then this will be a very exciting team to watch down the road. Keep up the awesome work BAkes!!

Rob Wise said...

Who do you think have the potential to be the biggest leaders....Girgensons?

Larsson should be ahead of Cat at LW based on your numerical ranking.

Anonymous said...

Great job as usual Kris. Do you know if the Traverse games will be shown online?

Anonymous said...

Is Luke Adams still a Sabre?

Post a Comment