Saturday, July 12, 2014

Buffalo Sabres Summer 2014 Prospect Rankings

Disclaimer: The ranking exercise is not about compiling a list of who is closest to playing in the NHL. The prospects are first listed by their potential ceiling, and then slotted up or down based on their overall likelihood of achieving. This is the only fair way to assess a pool of players ranging 18-23 years of age.


3 - ZADOROV, Nikita
4 - GRIGORENKO, Mikhail
6 - ARMIA, Joel
7 - PYSYK, Mark
8 - MCCABE, Jake
9 - LEMIEUX, Brendan
10 - FASCHING, Hudson
11 - ULLMARK, Linus
12 - BAPTISTE, Nick
13 - CARRIER, William
14 - HURLEY, Connor
15 - LARSSON, Johan
16 - BAILEY, Justin
18 - CORNEL, Eric
19 - JOHANSSON, Jonas
20 - KARABACEK, Vaclav
21 - DESLAURIERS, Nicolas
22 - LIEUWEN, Nathan
23 - POSSLER, Gustav
24 - PETERSEN, Cal
25 - KEA, Justin
26 - MAKAROV, Andrey
27 - MARTIN, Brycen
28 - MALONE, Sean
29 - FLORENTINO, Anthony
30 - SCHALLER, Tim

Notes (conveniently a Baker's dozen):

1) The first two prospects were easy to rank sans formula. The fun started from there, including a serious debate about Compher vs. Grigorenko. I feel that Compher is a "sure thing" set to make an impact at the 2015 WJC and beyond, but Grigorenko has been hitting it hard this offseason. The work should see him inch closer to his higher-end potential.

2) I maintain the position that Armia has all the talent in the world to occupy that No. 2 spot, but he won't earn a higher qualifier to his grade until he shows that he can consistently produce to the best of his abilities. His season trajectory, which was capped with a fabulous playoff run, reminds me of the way Girgensons finished his rookie year on the farm. A full cultural adjustment should see his stock skyrocket this season.

3) Spots 11-15 were fun to navigate. If there is one guy in that cluster who has a chance to make a serious leap in the rankings, it's Hurley. We'll be monitoring his adjustment to the college game, but I have full confidence in him breaking out following a full run through the cycle.

4) The Los Angeles Kings continue to be the model franchise. Size isn't everything, but it rightfully holds a ton of weight (pun intended) in the modern NHL, along with the obvious key ingredient - skating. When scouting players, the tiebreaking trait is always desire. A consistent high level of engagement wins versus slick puck skills and questionable heart.

5) The Sabres acquired a slew of forwards at the 2014 draft, and all of a sudden they are running lighter on defensemen. Lacking strength in numbers is less of a concern when you've amassed quality depth at the position (four of the top 10).

6) Sabres prospects are going to be busy once development camp is out of the way. Compher, Fasching, Hurley, Malone and Florentino will attend USA's National Junior Evaluation Camp. Johansson (SWE) and Karabacek (CZE) are expected to participate for their respective countries in Lake Placid. Reinhart and Baptiste have been tabbed by Canada for August action. It's unknown if Russia will look to Zadorov for summer duty, but he's eligible.

7) Outside of thinking that Nine Eleven wings and Hamburg Brewing's No Lux Black IPA are two of the greatest things ever, I'm hardly a Buffalo homer. With that said, I truly believe in Bailey regardless of what USA Hockey thinks (or does not think) about his 2013-14 effort, and I'm very excited for Malone to come out blazing and push his way up the list.

8) Regarding goaltenders, I'm trying to find one who simply wins games. We can talk about technique all day, but this broken record insists that it's not about the saves you make, but the goals you let in.

9) Part of me thinks that Johansson has the goods to be a top flight NHL goaltending prospect (read: top 10 ranking), but the more sagacious half of my brain tells me to be conservative and let things happen. 

10) Makarov impressed in limited AHL duty, and I eagerly await to see how he responds moving forward. He likes to play a lot, and it'll be interesting to see if he can perform consistently in an AHL timeshare.

11) In a perfect world, a guy like Karabacek would be rated in the 12-15 range. Unfortunately, the Sabres prospect ranks is not a perfect world -- it's a loaded one.

12) With the Sabres having three more years to develop Possler before needing to sign him I'm not too worried about the knee injury. However, we should watch it closely when he is able to return.

13) Schaller turns 24 in November and will drop off the list at that point. I like the way he plays, and see him grinding out some plug minutes at the NHL level this season as an injury call-up. Pysyk, with 63 NHL games under his belt, is on the verge of graduation. Same with Deslauriers, 23, and his one-way contract


1 – Sam Reinhart
RC, Kootenay ICE (WHL)
6’1” | 186 lbs.
2014 (1st round, 2nd overall)

A masterful even-strength playmaker and all-around offensive talent, Reinhart enters the system as the Sabres’ top prospect following a 36 goal, 105 point season as an 18-year in Kootenay. The Sabres haven’t had a player with this type of hockey brain in a very long time.

Reinhart is smooth, calm, disciplined and efficient with an uncanny feel for where everyone is at all times. Detractors will harp on Reinhart’s lack of high-end wheels, but the same things were said about John Tavares, and well, we know how that turned out.

Future captain material is in play for the reigning WHL Player of the Year. It’s just a matter of when he’s able to earn the full-time gig. It’s a safe assumption that Reinhart will be in the starting lineup in 2015-16, but it’s either NHL or WHL next season with Rochester not being an option.

2 – Rasmus Ristolainen
RHD, Rochester Americans (AHL)
6’4” | 207 lbs.
2013 (1st round, 8th overall)

The big Finn progressively matured in his first year of North American hockey to properly lay the foundation to develop into a future top-pair workhorse. Ristolainen has it all - size, reach, skating ability, and a more than adequate hitting game that features a classic hip check. He adds motion to the power play, and is very capable of keeping his shots low on their way to the net.

Anyone who watched him take charge in the gold medal game at the World Junior Championship can tell you that he’s a big game player. Ristolainen should not only be a full-time NHLer in 2014-15, but a high performing one at that. It’s a numbers game right now, so we shall see.

3 – Nikita Zadorov
LHD, London Knights (OHL)
6’5” | 228 lbs.
2013 (1st round, 16th overall)

The massive, hard hitting rearguard logged a ton of minutes once he returned to the OHL in 2013-14, and he certainly benefitted from the exposure by being named a finalist for the Max Kaminsky Award, given to the league’s Most Outstanding Defenseman. His offensive production skyrocketed, thanks in part to his booming slap shot, and each point was seemingly matched with a crunching body check. His confident play against the top U20 players at the 2014 World Juniors showed that he learned from his brief NHL term.

What comes next for Zadorov will likely be an exercise in patience. The Sabres added some veteran depth to the blueline via free agency, so if he wants to be in the NHL next year it will have to be well earned. Zadorov looked a little gassed by the end of the playoffs thanks to a depleted Knights’ blue line, but you’d be too if you were playing more than 30 minutes a game on the heels of a very long season.

4 – Mikhail Grigorenko
LC, Rochester Americans (AHL)
6’3” | 200 lbs.
2012 (1st round, 12th overall)

The supposed ups-and-downs of Grigorenko’s first two post-draft seasons are well documented, but were there really many downs? Without knowing the producer’s name, I think most fans, even the impatient ones quick to throw out the “B” word, would be impressed by 45 goals and 93 points in 56 CHL contests since being drafted.

With the reset button hit, it’s on Grigorenko to work his way up to his high-end potential by responding to coaching and putting in the work. He didn't score but showed positive signs when he landed in Rochester at the end of the year. He was skating hard on the backcheck, and continuing to improve his play away from the puck. I’d love to see him on the power play halfwall where his creativity in space can make shooters look good. Aside from that, it’s a brave new world in Buffalo where culture matters. With the right attitude, everything should fall into place.

5 – JT Compher
RC, University of Michigan Wolverines (B1G)
5’11 | 184 lbs.
2013 (2nd round, 35th overall)

A well-rounded forward with an ultra-competitive motor, Compher led Michigan in scoring as a true freshman with 31 points (11+20), but earns this spot with his do-it-all effort and attitude.

Compher may not have the brilliant vision as some of his top-five peers, and there might be speedier players in the stable, but it doesn’t matter. Compher is simply a “hockey player”, and a damn good one. Leadership, desire and timely offense make him a sure-fire NHLer in my eyes.

Buffalo fans are going to love what Compher brings each and every night. He is equally effective at both ends of the rink, and he’s an up-tempo beast on both the power play and penalty kill (3 SHG). Compher’s ceiling is a blue collar 2C who can leverage his three-zone smarts and apply some timely scoring, but his value goes well beyond his already sparkling statistical resume.

6 – Joel Armia
RW, Rochester Americans (AHL)
6’3” | 203 lbs.
2011 (1st round, 16th overall)

Still speculating this stock due to goal scoring potential, Armia simply needs to smooth out his consistency issues to keep a firm grip on his spot in the top five. Armia got a late start after suffering a busted hand in NHL preseason action, and it was a slow-cooking process once he was good to go, but he emerged as the Amerks best forward by the time the playoffs rolled around with three goals and six points in their first round loss to Chicago. If the season progression rings a bell, it's probably because the trajectory was a near match to that of Girgensons in his first AHL season.

If his excellent closing performance was any indication, Armia will be more than ready to get an NHL look in 2014-15. His size and skating are coveted assets down the right side, and it’s clear that his high-slot trigger on the power play will be utilized more moving forward. With more confidence comes a more physically engaged forward, so it’s on the gifted winger to keep the fire lit to bring out the best in his game in year two of his North American journey.

7 – Mark Pysyk
RHD, Rochester Americans (AHL)
6’2” | 188 lbs.
2010 (1st round, 23rd overall)

Very smart and equally mobile, Pysyk’s simple plays and level demeanor are attractive qualities for a depth NHL defender. He’s could probably afford to spread his wings more at times when carrying the puck up ice (he conservatively picks his spots), but his value comes in great exit passes to spark the transition game and strong positioning at both ends of the rink. Pysyk is the epitome of steadiness and low panic.

Pysyk keeps his gaps tight and communicates well with his partner, while countering a lack of an aggressive physical presence with diligent footwork and effective stick checks. His poise and work on the penalty kill should get him a full-time gig in 2014-15.

8 – Jake McCabe
LHD, Buffalo Sabres (NHL)
6’1” | 205 lbs.
2012 (2nd round, 44th overall)

A rock solid, two-way defender, McCabe’s footwork, sturdy frame and willingness to fill a lane on the rush make him an ideal candidate for middle pair NHL minutes in short order. His three years in Madison and international experience have him well prepared for an all situations role. He’s physical and mobile, and is basically a “can’t miss” prospect at this stage in his development.

The Wisconsin product has the pace down to remain in the NHL, but the upcoming season could see McCabe spend some time on the farm as the Sabres push for their new core to grow together. His leadership, diligence and team-first attitude not only round out the Sabres’ embarrassment of back end riches, but also add to the culture that Tim Murray is striving for over the re-build and beyond.

9 – Brendan Lemieux
LW, Barrie Colts (OHL)
6’1” | 206 lbs.
2014 (2nd round, 31st overall)

I always wanted Claude Lemieux on my team. Having his son in the system may very well be the next best thing. A grade “A” agitator as advertised, Lemieux hits the corners hard, draws attention after the whistle, and shows a strong two-way sense for the game. He plays tough and isn’t afraid to instigate. On top it all, Lemieux has the hands between the hash marks as evidenced by his 27 lamplighters in 2013-14.

The draft is complete, and Lemieux falling out of the first round could be the best thing that happened to the Sabres. You have to think that being left off Canada’s roster for the U20 summer evaluation camp put a sour taste in his mouth as well. If the chip remains planted on his shoulder, a motivated Lemieux could storm out of the gate and work his way into an NHL role rather quickly. For now, the focus is acting like a pro and achieving personal statistical goals over the next two OHL seasons while continue to sturdy up his wide, cut frame.

10 – Hudson Fasching
RW, University of Minnesota Golden Gophers
6’2” | 207 lbs.
2013 (4th round, 118th overall - LAK)

Appropriately called “Thor” by his teammates, Fasching exceeded his fourth-round draft position with a solid all-around freshman season to shoot up the prospect ranks. Fasching works his tail off beneath the goal line, and boasts perhaps the greatest net front presence in the system.  He has size, hands and sense to play at very high level, as evidenced by his 14 goals (tied for most on team) and 2.5 shots on goal per game.

Big bodies that can bang are appreciated by NHL staffs, and Fasching has the look of a middle-line power winger in two years time. Working on his explosive starts will only increase his chances of succeeding at the NHL level, but the B1G All-Freshman Team selection has plenty of time to make his feet lighter while adding even more mass to his impressive frame.

11 – Linus Ullmark
G, MODO Hockey (SHL)
6’3” | 198 lbs.
2012 (6th round, 163rd overall)

Perhaps the greatest breakout goalie in all of European hockey last season, Ullmark guided a goal starved MODO squad to the SHL playoffs with a league-best .937 save% while keeping his GAA under 2.00 for the majority of the year. It was Ullmark’s first full season of SHL duty, and he came away with flying colors to earn a spot on the Swedish media’s year end All Star team.

Ullmark is big and wide with a good glove hand. He’s a very reliable first-save goalie, so the sky’s the limit once he becomes quicker on his feet and improves his balance to stop second and third chances. Ullmark won the Honken Trophy as the SHL’s top goalie in 2013-14, and with an entry-level deal inked, will play one more year with MODO before coming to North America to continue building his resume. Works needs to be done before penciling in an NHL future, but the year-over-year progression has been remarkable.

12 – Nick Baptiste
RW, Sudbury Wolves (OHL)
6’1” | 190 lbs.
2013 (3rd round, 69th overall)

Speed kills, and when you can get to the goal mouth and finish plays, it’s relatively easy to forecast a bright future. The Ottawa native exceeded his third-round expectations last season, producing consistent offense to the tune of 45 goals to earn the Sudbury’s MVP award, and later his first NHL contract.

Baptiste’s gift for beating defenders deep is well established at the junior level, and it’s reasonable to suspect those “in your face” wheels will make him a versatile, useful checker at the top level even if his scoring doesn’t fully translate. Baptiste is off to Team Canada’s U20 World Junior Evaluation Camp, where he’ll aim for a third-line role among a talented forward grouping.

13 – William Carrier
LW, Rochester Americans (AHL)
6’1” | 194 lbs.
2013 (2nd round, 57th overall - STL)

If there is a dark horse to force his way into an NHL role quickly, Carrier is it, and it could happen before the calendar hits 2015. A gritty, instinctive producer who will hit the high traffic zones, the Quebecer’s track to the top league may come down to simply staying healthy. A high ankle sprain sidelined the winger in his draft year, and while staying healthy throughout 2013-14, he again battled the lower body blues in the playoffs.

Carrier has good speed, great hands in tight and proves tough along the wall. Most importantly, he launches a lot of shots at the net, many of them at rocket velocity. There is a reason the Blues packaged picks to move up to get him at the 2013 draft, and there is a reason Tim Murray insisted that he was included in the Miller/Ott return. Carrier plays the game the right way.

14 – Connor Hurley
LC, University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish (HE)
6’2” | 174 lbs.
2013 (2nd round, 38th overall)

Hurley, who won’t turn 19 until September, has the dynamic tool set to become an elite playmaking force once he gets his feet wet at the NCAA level with Notre Dame. He’s got the size, puck skills and impressive instincts to make it happen, so with added strength the Sabres could have a gem in the making down the middle.

Hurley's season got off to a slower start in Muskegon, but he came on after a trade to Green Bay at the holiday break to post 36 points (10+26) in the final 35 games. His man advantage mastery was showcased at the World Junior A Challenge, and further displayed with his 20 power play helpers ranking third in the USHL.
Jeff Jackson’s system at Notre Dame rewards defensively responsible players. If Hurley can put his nose to the grindstone in his own end while putting his gifts to work on the power play, the budding package should eventually be put into a position to flourish by the time his sophomore year rolls around.

15 – Johan Larsson
LC, Rochester Americans (AHL)
5’11” | 198 lbs.
2010 (2nd round, 56th overall - MIN)

Known as “The Bull”, Larsson gets by with a low center of gravity and good offensive smarts.  He’s not the speediest forward in the system, but he sees the ice extremely well and is very tough to knock off the puck. Larsson can do a little bit of everything, but it’s clear that his battle skills and work ethic fit right into to what the Sabres are looking to reward.

Honest and efficient, Larsson’s doesn’t post gaudy numbers but it’s worth noting that his production went up a notch last season. And hey, let’s not forget the chemistry he displayed with Girgensons two years ago in the AHL playoffs. Moderate offensive production is in play down the road, and it’s easy to think that Larsson’s combination of responsible defensive zone work and cool playmaking will plug into a third line NHL role, either down the middle or as a left winger.

16 – Justin Bailey
RW, Kitchener Rangers (OHL)
6’3” | 199 lbs.
2013 (2nd round, 52nd overall)

Mysteriously left off USA’s 2014 National Junior Evaluation Camp roster, the reigning Kitchener Rangers MVP is sure to come out in 2014-15 and show that he’s bigger, stronger, faster and ready to make a significant impact in his final OHL season. He started to impose his size and power more last season with a struggling Kitchener squad en route to collecting 25 goals, and he rounded out his resume with more “effort” plays along the way.

More development time will be needed once he’s through with junior, but I believe in Bailey’s long-term ability as a professional power forward. He's smart enough to know what he needs to do to make the dream happen. The turning point will come once he realizes how strong he is compared to his level of competition. From there, confidence should build and unlock all the good in his game.

17 – Dan Catenacci
C/LW, Rochester Americans (AHL)
5’10” | 186 lbs.
2011 (3rd round, 77th overall)

Most comfortable playing the center position, Catenacci took excellent strides in his first year of farm duty in Rochester. He used his speed to pressure the puck and became acclimated to the need for quicker decisions when it hit his stick. His improved defensive commitment kept him in the lineup, and the reward arrived in 10 goals and 20 points.

Moving forward, Catenacci should continue to counter his lack of size by finding space to exploit AHL defenders with his wheels and stickhandling. He has plenty of offensive polish and a good work ethic to make it happen, so the NHL dream is alive and well for the versatile forward – be it as a checking centerman or platooning 2W.

18 – Eric Cornel
RW/C, Peterborough Petes (OHL)
6’2” | 185 lbs.
2014 (2nd round, 44th overall)

The third overall pick in the 2012 OHL draft, Cornel is crafty, heads-up forward with great playmaking skill and room to add mass to his frame. He doesn't play overly physical and can afford to up his overall intensity, but he's a fast and agile skater that adds another quality right-handed shot to the organization.

A second half riser leading up to the NHL draft, Cornel will need to add some serious mass and dial in his game-over-game consistency over the next two seasons, whether it comes down the right wing or at his natural center position. Solid all around tools and a robust skating game will certainly help his cause as he rounds off his three-zone play.

19 – Jonas Johansson
G, Brynas IF Gavle (SEL)
6’4” | 198 lbs.
2014 (3rd round, 61st overall)

The front-runner to man Sweden’s nets at the 2015 World Junior Championship, Johansson is a big, athletic blocker style goalie who, like so many young Swedes, models his game after Scandanavian goaltending king Henrik Lundqvist. He plays deep in his crease, leveraging his size, positioning and wide butterfly to force shooters to beat him high.

Signed to an SHL contract through 2015-16, Johansson will compete with former MODO netminder Bernhard Starkbaum for the starting role over the next two seasons. Being pushed by a veteran is a healthy situation while developing in one of Sweden’s stronger programs, and I'd love to see a friendly rivalry develop between he and fellow countryman Ullmark over the next few years.

20 – Vaclav Karabacek
LW, Gatineau Olympiques (QMJHL)
6’0” | 190 lbs.
2014 (2nd round, 49th overall)

A straight line, north/south forward who works hard at both ends of the rink, Karabacek could easily carve out an NHL future if he maintains the level of consistency that he showed this past season in Gatineau and at the World U18s. Karabacek plays a simple, no nonsense game. He gets into scoring position and makes the most of his chances while managing good board work and a responsible sense on the other side of the puck.

The Sabres can afford to take their time monitoring Karabacek’s progress. He has two years of Quebec league action left in him before needing to be signed. Elements of a third-line winger with second-line upside are apparent, giving the Sabres another solid depth piece to work with for the foreseeable future.

21 – Nicolas Deslauriers
LW, Buffalo Sabres (AHL)
6’1” | 230 lbs.
2009 (3rd round, 84th overall - LAK)

Upon his arrival in Buffalo at the trade deadline, Deslauriers used his big frame and competitive spirit to slot himself into a full-time place in the show for 2014. Not too shabby for a converted defenseman who was playing his first full season as a forward.

It’s hard thinking that Deslauriers' 18 AHL markers last season are indicative of scoring prowess at the world’s highest level, but his willingness to battle during his brief NHL stint proved that he’s a serviceable, heavy checker who can claim his share if he goes to the net with his stick on the ice. In my opinion, his final landing spot is likely that of a fourth-liner on a competitive club.

22 – Nathan Lieuwen
G, Rochester Americans (AHL)
6’5” | 191 lbs.
2011 (6th round, 167th overall)

The tallest goalie in the Sabres pipeline, the 6-foot-5 Lieuwen took excellent developmental leaps in 2013-14 by overcoming Matt Hackett for the top job in Rochester, and later earning his first career NHL start. Lieuwen’s ascendence started at the 2013 d-camp, where you noticed improved focus and more economical movement. He shined in Traverse City with solid, consistent play, and the momentum saw him win the Amerks’ backup job outright.

An aggressive stopper in junior, Lieuwen’s athleticism is still present but the biggest factor in his rise has been his composure, which has led to crisper move-to-move sequences. He’ll be challenged by Andrey Makarov, but smart money is on Lieuwen being the Amerks’ opening night starter.

23 – Gustav Possler
LW, MODO Hockey (SHL)
5’11” | 183 lbs.
2013 (5th round, 130th overall)

A Swedish version of former Sabres captain Jason Pominville, Possler is of average build but brings good speed and a knack for finding space to leverage his quick wrist shot. While getting off to a hot start in the goal scoring column, Possler also proved to be a solid penalty killer last season before getting sidelined with a knee injury in early December. The rehab will keep him off the ice at the 2014 development camp.

The Swedish scorer, who was on course to be a major contributor at the World Juniors before getting shelved, will spend two more seasons with MODO before eyeing a jump across the pond. He's a player with a second-line ceiling, but the Sabres are hoping that he continues to work hard away away from the puck to offer greater versatility down the road.

24 – Cal Petersen
G, University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish
6’2” | 183 lbs.
2013 (5th round, 129th overall)

A scrappy goalie with great quickness and a sharp glove, Petersen’s consistent play earned a Second Team All-USHL selection, and later USA Hockey's Dave Peterson Goalie of the Year Award as the top American-born goaltender in junior hockey. With his junior days complete, Petersen is walking into a good situation at Notre Dame that, in my opinion, should see him pull the majority of starts ahead of returning sophomore Chad Katunar.

The Iowa native started the year in Waterloo with wins in six of his first seven starts before backstopping Team USA to a gold medal at the World Jr. A Challenge in November.  With confidence and a strong defensive system, Petersen logged some dominant stretches this season with the Black Hawks, including an impressive mid-season run of 12 consecutive victories in regulation. The full body of work netted 27 wins (t-1st in USHL), a 2.50 GAA (6th) and a .915 save% (8th).

25 – Justin Kea
LC, Rochester Americans (AHL)
6’4” | 206 lbs.
2012 (3rd round, 73rd overall)

A long-limbed defensive forward and reliable faceoff specialist, Kea has an excellent opportunity to work his way into a fourth line forward role by the time his second NHL deal rolls around. He’s a hard worker who chips the puck deep and pursues with speed and power, and he knows what to do when he gets the puck around the net. Being tough to knock and showing a willingness to step in front of shots are solid traits for a Sabres club looking for character players.

The Sabres will exercise patience when it comes to watching a potential shutdown, unsung worker mature. The next three years should see him hit the weights while adding a touch of quickness to make his strong skating game all the more effective. Emulating Tim Schaller’s on-ice demeanor will only accelerate his development.

26 - Andrey Makarov
G, Rochester Americans (AHL)
6’1” | 178 lbs.
Signed as free agent 9/15/12

Makarov should be proud of what he was able to accomplish in 2013-14. His year began with a poor showing in his only Traverse City start, allowing five goals on 32 shots in an overtime victory over the Rangers. He struggled with side-to-side plays, and he appeared to overplay at times. He was assigned to the ECHL’s Fort Wayne Komets from there, getting off to an average statistical start before being challenged for time following a January concussion.

Surviving on sheer athleticism, Makarov rose to the occasion during a late-season recall to guide a struggling Amerks squad to a Western Conference playoff spot. Small sample size no doubt, but he was sharp and at times flashy while doing a better job controlling his rebounds to win seven of 10 starts and post a .927 save%. The Russian stopper is not out of the woods yet, but his rookie year progression was an encouraging sign as the Sabres search for a future No. 1 goaltender.

27 - Brycen Martin
LHD, Swift Current Broncos (WHL)
6’2” | 185 lbs.
2014 (3rd round, 74th overall)

Martin’s size and mobility blend right in to what the Sabres are looking to build on the blue line. He’s a confident puck lugger who can get shots through from the point. While at his best when he keeps things simple, Martin’s overall effectiveness is right where it needs to be moving forward. Defensively, he’s calm in the face of pressure but he’ll want to up his physical game over the course of the next years in the WHL to round out the appealing package.

28 - Sean Malone
LC, Harvard University Crimson (ECAC)
5’11” | 183 lbs.
2013 (6th round, 159th overall)

An up-tempo creative worker, Malone excelled as a true freshman at Harvard en route to being named the All-Ivy League co-Rookie of the Year. He showed speed around the edge and an unselfish ability to hit his teammates with sharp passes, while showing the smarts and dedication defensively to keep himself on the top line. I entered the season wanting to be impressed with Malone, and the times that I saw him play left me satisfied with where he was at on his developmental curve. His six goals were evenly split, with two each coming at even strength, on the power play and while short handed.

As of now, I expect Malone to remain in school for the remaining three seasons. He’ll get his degree from a prestigious institution and emerge as a very mature player with a good amount of NHL upside. He'll frustrate defensemen with his feet and jam, and he can quickly convert turnovers into offensive opportunities. Hard work and instincts present a good combo, and with a few years to beef up his frame, he'll remain in contention as a dark horse NHL prospect.

29 - Anthony Florentino
RHD, Providence College Friars (HE)
6’2” | 210 lbs.
2013 (5th round, 143rd overall)

A raw two-way talent with a heavy defensive style, Florentino got off to a hot start as a true freshman in 2013-14 with seven points in his first eight games before recording just one in his next 10. An upper-body injury in mid-January provided a minor setback in his development, but the New England native has clearly staked a claim to big collegiate minutes moving forward.

The situation ahead should afford Florentino plenty of opportunities to polish off his set under the guidance of Providence coach Nate Leaman. Florentino's skill set was rightly rewarded with a invitation to Team USA's U20 National Junior Evaluation Camp, a development that could boost his confidence and take his game to the next level in 2014-15.

30 - Tim Schaller
LHC, Rochester Americans (AHL)
6’2” | 210 lbs.
Signed as free agent 4/2/13

Schaller has a legitimate shot at getting a look as a fourth-line NHL character player and shutdown defensive forward. He’s a speedy, determined checker who doesn’t hesitate to take the puck hard to the net. He can win draws, kill penalties, and cover a lot of ground on the backcheck.

As a whole, the former Hockey East Best Defensive Forward is a selfless player that every team can use to plug grind-line minutes. You're never going to count on Schaller for steady offense, but you can look to him for smart execution with effort and detail while applying pressure on the opposition with a high level of defensive aptitude.

NR – Phil Varone
LHC, Rochester Americans (AHL)
5’11” | 186 lbs.
Signed as free agent 3/9/12

A consistent, reliable AHL point producer, Varone’s skating and sharp passing skills keep him in the running as a solid depth performer. His career path. though, is likely as a key farm hand that can do his part in developing the next wave of scorers while plugging small doses of NHL minutes as needed. It would be wise for the Sabres to keep him well compensated for his AHL work if Varone is agreeable to that role moving forward upon expiration his entry-level deal following the 2014-15 season.

NR – Brady Austin
LHD, Rochester Americans (AHL)
6’4” | 225 lbs.
2012 (7th round, 193rd overall)

Austin’s size and mobility make for a compelling organizational depth defender. He sees the ice well from the back end with an ability to hit guys in stride with long stretch passes. He uses his frame well to shut down his half of the ice, and he's become more aggressive when clearing out the front of his net.  Continuing to assert his physical dominance and holding his ground in the face of the speedy rush will be keys to becoming a sturdy stay-at-home force at the pro level. Signed to a three-year ELC, Austin has time to ease his way in.

NR – Kevin Sundher
LW/C, Rochester Americans (AHL)
6’0” | 181 lbs.
2010 (3rd round, 75th overall)

Sundher is one of the more puzzling prospects in the Sabres ranks. A fantastic junior player who excelled with a target on his back, Sundher’s has received uneven playing time while managing his way through the odd injury here and there through the first two years of his contract. He has the requisite speed and improved fire in his belly to succeed, but he’ll need to emerge from the numbers game in Rochester to play a bigger role in the final year of his deal.

NR – Jerome Gauthier-Leduc
RHD, Rochester Americans (AHL)
6’1” | 192 lbs.
2010 (3rd round, 68th overall)

I have been stressing coaching and patience through the first two years of Leduc’s ELC, and the song remains the same moving forward. Leduc excelled in the role of mobile offensive booster in his QMJHL days, and he has shown flashes of his puck-moving skills in his first two seasons of pro hockey, but he has yet to develop the consistent defensive fortitude required to keep pace with his professional peers.  

We know he can be a valuable asset, as evidenced by him stepping up his game in Traverse City following Chad Ruhwedel’s shoulder injury, so with 99 AHL games under his belt, it’s time for him to show the adjustment and do a better job handling strong forwards while making the most of his opportunities up ice.

NR – Max Willman
LW, Brown University Bears (ECAC)
6’0” | 181 lbs.
2014 (5th round, 121st overall)

A tenacious, downhill offensive player, Willman grinding work ethic and goal scoring skill fit the bill for what the Sabres are looking for in terms of building quality organizational depth. He plays a pressuring up-tempo style, and he'll plenty of time to perfect his craft away from the puck before deciding on a pro future. A bright student who nearly gave up on hockey a year ago, Willman will make the leap from high school to the ECAC this fall when he enrolls at Brown University.

NR – Chris Brown
RC, Green Bay Gamblers (USHL)
6’0” | 189 lbs.
2014 (6th round, 151st overall)

A prolific scorer at the Michigan prep school level, Brown will get a chance to marinate longer with a ramp-up season with the USHL’s Green Bay Gamblers before a multi-year term with perennial NCAA powerhouse, Boston College. Bloodlines are in play, with Brown’s father Doug being a proud veteran of over 800 NHL games. We may not see the younger Brown for a while, but the potential is in play for a home run prospect following strength development and sound coaching over the next four years.

NR – Victor Olofsson
RW, MODO Hockey (SHL)
5’11” | 176 lbs.
2014 (7th round, 181st overall)

A speedy winger with a bullet of a shot, Olofsson shredded the Swedish J20 ranks in 2013-14 with 32 goals and 53 points in 44 games. The production led to Olofsson getting a late December call up to the SHL club for 11 games, where he went without a point in the 12th/13th forward role before continuing his elite production at the junior level with another five goals and nine points in five playoff contests. Olofsson is inked for two more years in MODO, and with the Sabres having four years to make a signing decision, he'll have plenty of time to work his way on to the NHL radar as sleeper/sniper.

NR – Colin Jacobs
RC, Rochester Americans (AHL)
6’1” | 211 lbs.
2011 (4th round, 107th overall)

Following a four-assist effort in Traverse City, Jacobs struggled to find regular minutes in his rookie year on the farm. The pace of play at the AHL challenged his decision-making ability out of the box, and getting jumped in a thug move by Utica’s Darren Archibald in his second game of the season did little to get him moving in the right direction. The Dallas native got into just games after the holiday break, instead spending most of his time with the ECHL’s Elmira Jackals.

NR – Judd Peterson
RW, St. Cloud State University Huskies (NCHC)
6’0” | 184 lbs.
2012 (7th round, 204th overall)

Committed to St. Cloud State University this fall, Peterson connected on nearly 19 percent of his shots over his two year stint with the USHL’s RoughRiders. The former Minnesota high school standout is a strong skater with a quick release, and he isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty and initiate contact when chasing 50/50 pucks. If he can catch fire with his stick and really beef up his body over the course of his collegiate career, he could feasibly work his way into pro consideration.

NR – Eric Locke
LW, Saginaw Spirit (OHL)
5'10 | 184 lbs.
2013 (7th round, 189th overall)

With good speed and pro-style release of the puck, the 20-year old Locke proved himself as a multi-dimensional scorer at the junior level.  A model for his long range upside would be a player like Varone - an undersized forward who will need to skate hard and regularly stack points to get a look. Continued puck pressure, three-zone diligence, and finding space to operate offensively will get him moving in the right direction as he carves out a pro niche, be it with the Sabres or another organization.

NR – Brad Navin
LW, University of Wisconsin Badgers (B1G)
6’3” | 200 lbs.
2011 (7th round, 197th overall)

Midway through his third collegiate season, Navin turned a bit of a corner to garner a greater role for Mike Eaves' squad. He plays the game hard on the wall and in the corners, and uses his frame to create traffic in front of the net and jam at rebounds. The traits allowed him to excel as a checker in his first two years, and helped lay a foundation for what should be a strong senior season in Madison.

NR – Christian Isackson
RW/C, University of Minnesota Golden Gophers (B1G)
6’2” | 190 lbs.
2010 (7th round, 203rd overall)

With an endless line of talent being fed into the Gophers’ program, Isackson has had a difficult time finding regular ice over his first three collegiate years. He’s a big guy with quick hands around the net, but questionable decision making has worked against him.

NR – Mark Adams
RHD, Providence College Friars (HE)
6’3” | 210 lbs.
2009 (5th round, 134th overall)

After earning a medical red shirt a couple of seasons back, Adams will continue his NCAA career as a fifth-year senior for Nate Leaman’s rising program. It has been an injury riddled run for the Malden, MA product since arriving in Providence, and at this time it is difficult seeing much of a Sabres future for the big defender.