Showing posts with label sabres prospect rankings. Show all posts
Showing posts with label sabres prospect rankings. Show all posts

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Buffalo Sabres Prospects Top 25 Rankings - Spring 2009

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

Monday, March 24, 2008

Sabres Prospects Top 20 Rankings - Spring 2008

It's late March, and the birds outside are whistling "Sabre Dance". This usually means one thing - that it's again time to rank the current crop of Buffalo Sabres prospects. With the deck being shuffled with another season of play, the Spring 2008 edition of the Sabres Prospect Rankings features some fresh faces at the top, while familiar names like Clarke MacArthur, Andrej Sekera, and Patrick Kaleta are no longer being ranked. MacArthur has played a total a 56 NHL games, and with his roots going all the way back to the 2003 draft, the soon-to-be 23 year old has graduated from the rankings exercise. Along similar lines, Sekera, a potential top-pair defender, and bottom-line agitator Kaleta have seemingly graduated to full-time status with Buffalo. The Top 20 isn't a points competition, nor is it a measuring stick to see who's the closest to playing in the NHL. The list is constructed by slotting players by their overall potential impact, then moving them up and down based on their long range likelihood of reaching it. Inside of 100 days until the 2008 NHL draft, the list is designed to serve as a needs assessment when building the Sabres selection strategy. The current top 20 features two goaltenders, eight defensemen, and ten forwards. Here's the list at a glance: 1 - Jhonas Enroth 2 - Nathan Gerbe 3 - Chris Butler 4 - Philip Gogulla 5 - Marc-Andre Gragnani 6 - T.J. Brennan 7 - Mike Weber 8 - Tim Kennedy 9 - Drew Schiestel 10 - Marek Zagrapan 11 - Dennis Persson 12 - Paul Byron 13 - Corey Tropp 14 - Brad Eidsness 15 - Jean-Simon Allard 16 - Benjamin Breault 17 - Mike Funk 18 - Felix Schutz 19 - Alex Biega 20 - Vjacheslav Buravchikov 1) Jhonas Enroth, G, Sodertalje (SEL), 2006 2nd round (46th overall) The 19-year old Enroth recently capped a strong rookie year in Elitserien that supports his status as a future NHL starter. Manning the pipes for a SSK club in its first season back in the top league, the agile netminder lead all regular starters with a 2.13 GAA and .932 save percentage while fending off SEL vet Bjorn Bjurling for total crease autonomy. The Stockholm native also pitched two shutouts in his 27 appearances. Sandwiched in between the SEL action was the World Junior Championships, where Enroth backstopped Team Sweden to a silver medal after an exciting overtime loss to Canada in the finals. His tourney numbers (2.33 GAA, .905 sv%) weren't as strong as his SEL numbers, yet did not nothing to disprove the notion that he can be a prime time professional in North America. With SSK failing to qualify for the playoffs, it is believed that the Sabres are talking contract with Enroth's camp. Jocelyn Thibault has been a sub-par backup, and Adam Dennis isn't quite ready for NHL pucks. It all adds up to Enroth offering a competitive nudge to Ryan Miller as the incumbent enters the final year of his deal. 2) Nathan Gerbe, LW, Boston College (Hockey East), 2006 5th round (142nd overall) The diminutive left wing continued to do what he has always done throughout his hockey career - erase doubts about his size by dominating the opposition with explosive skating and offense. The Oxford, MI native piled up 57 points this season for Boston College, including a sensational, Hobey-propelling stretch in December and January than saw him churn out 27 points in nine games. Entering the NCAA Tournament, Gerbe leads the nation in points, and is a top-10 finalist for the Hobey Baker Award. Some suggest his Hobey aspirations were tarnished when he was suspended for a butt-end earlier in the season. Whatever the case, Gerbe has accomplished loads this season while being the main focus of opposing checkers. He was the national leader in shots on goal, and a productive third-best in even-strength goals. Gerbe stands 5'5, but plays with enough heart, attitude, and skill to suggest that size doesn't matter. One might even argue that his smaller frame makes him harder to catch. As he moves up a level in talent and gains more space, expect the shifty forward to continue shedding detractors like has has Hockey East defenders the past few seasons. 3) Chris Butler, D, Denver (WCHA), 2005 4th round (96th overall) An excellent, all-situations defenseman, the 6'1, 190-pound junior anchored the back end for a Pioneers squad that iced only eight upperclassmen for most of the year. His solid season wearing an "A" was rewarded as the St. Louis native was named to the All-WCHA second Team. Entering college with the tag "offensive-minded", Butler has indeed been an effective puck mover while leading all Pio defenders in points the past two seasons. With all that in mind, his defensive work ethic has emerged as perhaps his best attribute. Butler has lead the team in blocked shots over the same span, all the while dictating an edgier physical game. Butler notched 49 points over his first two collegiate seasons, but increased leadership responsibilities in his own end have contributed to a decline in offensive production this season (3-14-17). He's the consummate team guy, and his consistent brand of hockey makes him a virtual lock to forego his senior NCAA season to instead head to his first NHL training camp in the fall. 4) Philip Gogulla, LW, Kolner Haie (DEL), 2005 2nd round (48th overall) Signing with Buffalo in June yet electing to head back to Europe, the 6'2, 198-pound wing asserted himself as a main cog in the Kolner Haie offense this season. He was the team's third-leading scorer, more than doubling his previous season's 21 point output, with 11 goals and 44 total points. In International action, he had three assists in three games for Germany in the Skoda Cup against Swiss, French, and Slovakian entries. The Dusseldorf native gets the puck deep, and has good control on the boards. Many of his points are assists generated from sheer effort. It's unclear at this time whether or not he'll move to North America in the second of his three-year deal, but his steady, three-year ramp-up in the DEL is indicative of a player ready to make the jump. 5) Marc-Andre Gragnani, LW, Rochester (AHL), 2005 3rd round (87th overall) The Gragnani blueline experiment that began back in the QMJHL is officially over. Drafted as an offensive defenseman, Gragnani moved to left wing midway through his first pro season and quickly ascended the ranks of developing Sabres forwards. The Montreal native has scored 11 goals and 34 assists with Rochester while still seeing time at the point on the power play.. Lacking the defensive strength necessary to handle aggressive AHL forwards, Gragnani soon abandoned his spot as the league's worst plus/minus rating once he switched positions. His talent and vision are well-served up front, as Gragnani quickly leapfrogged the team's leading scorer, Mark Mancari, to earn a brief February look with Buffalo. In two games, he revealed very little as a -2 with 4 PIM. With consistent hustle and better familiarity with the Sabres' system, Gragnani's skill set has the makings of a creative, middle-line forward. 6) T.J. Brennan, D, St. John's (QMJHL), 2007 2nd round (31st overall) The 6'0, 200-pound defenseman used a late-season surge to identically match his 16-25-41 stat line of a year ago with St. John's (QMJHL). Brennan carries the puck with energy, and often opts out of his defensive posture to go hard at the net. On the back end, he plays a physical game with an increased sense of defensive awareness. The New Jersey native closed well, scoring six goals and running up a +6 in the final eleven games. At one point a lowly -23, Brennan dug himself out to finish the regular season -15. Brennan has been very effective on the Fog Devils power play, using a well-controlled shot assortment to score nine of his 16 goals. For his efforts, he was twice rewarded with QMJHL Defensive Player of the Week honors, and should be a top-five defenseman in the league when the franchise moves to Montreal in 2008-09. 7) Mike Weber, D, Buffalo/Rochester (NHL/AHL), 2006 2nd round (57th overall) The first-year pro emerged as one of the few bright spots of a forgettable Rochester season before going up to Buffalo in March. A rugged defender who makes the simple play, Weber flexed his leadership muscle immediately at the AHL level by jumping out to the team lead in plus/minus and penalty minutes through January. He's proven effective during his two Buffalo call-ups, handling the game speed while racking up +12 in nine NHL games. His first NHL point, an assist, came on 3/12 in his hometown of Pittsburgh when he flicked a simple wrist shot at the Penguins net. The difference between Weber 'the pro' and Weber the 'OHL junior' is his improved footwork. When he keeps them moving, he's a rock in his own end. Weber projects to be a 4-5-6 guy at the NHL level, and is currently ahead of the curve in terms of reaching that potential. 8) Tim Kennedy, LW, Michigan State (CCHA), 2005 6th round (181st overall by Washington) The crafty Kennedy has been a point-per-game fixture on the left side of Michigan State's top line all-season long. After failing to hit the score sheet in the first two skates of 2007-08, the Bishop Timon (NYHS) product uncorked 13 goals and eight assists over his next 16 games to vault into the national scoring race. The well ran a little dry after his torrid run, as the junior went 13 games (12 in conference) without scoring a goal. His drought ended with a flood though, as the Buffalo native started clicking with C Justin Abdelkader (DET), notching a goal in six of seven games heading into NCAA tourney action. To date, he leads the Spartans with 40 points, three short-handed goals, and a +15 rating. Kennedy does his best work around the net with accurate shooting and passing skills. He projects out to a middle line contributor, and will need to execute with strength and speed to compete with players of equal skill at the professional level. 9) Drew Schiestel, D, Niagara (OHL), 2007 2nd round (59th overall) The steady Icedogs defenseman shook off a bumpy start to put together an impressive season with Niagara of the OHL. A quiet puck mover who gets the job done, Schiestel took control of his game in November and didn't look back. Rated a team-low -6 through November 1st, the Hamilton native ran up a +20 over the following four-plus months, paving the way for career offensive totals (8-29-37) in the process. He was one of only two IceDogs to play in all 68 regular season games. At 6'2, 190 pounds, Schiestel already has the strength and skating ability to suggest he'll be a bona fide NHL defenseman. He passes well, likes to start the rush, and effectively uses his long reach to keep his zone clean. Another season of steady OHL play makes his signing with Buffalo a no-brainer one year from now. 10) Marek Zagrapan, C, Rochester (AHL), 2005 1st round (13th overall) In his second professional season with Rochester, the Slovakian pivot continues to show flashes of the player the Sabres were hoping for when tabbing him with the 13th pick in 2005. Offensively skilled with a good burst, Zagrapan scored a goal and flipped a nice assist to Philip Gogulla in the Sabres preseason before being sent down to Rochester to start the year. At one point the Amerks leading goal-getter, the QMJHL product has lit the lamp 16 times in 65 games this season. He displayed his best hockey during a 19-game stretch in December and January when he scored 16 of his 33 total points to date. His scoring has since tapered though, with just six points in the following 30 games. Zagrapan was pegged as a forward in need of developmental patience, and the lack of veteran leadership with the Amerks this season underlies what could easily be perceived as a flat year for the former first-rounder. Still only 21 years of age, achieving consistency in both ends will go a long way towards Zagrapan elevating his game and getting a serious look from the Sabres brass. 11) Dennis Persson, D, Nykoping (HockeyAllsvenskan) 2006 1st round (24th overall) Persson started the season as a fringe player with Djurgardens of Elitserien, registering a point while seeing limited minutes in 21 games. With former NHLer Ossi Vaananen joining an already-crowded Djurgarden blue line, Persson moved down a level to HockeyAllsvenskan, skating with brother Robin for hometown club, Nykoping. Manning the second pair, the 6'1, 187-pound Persson started to spread his wings from the backend, posting one goal, three assists, and 14 PIM in 21 games. Persson, 19, hasn't had the best of luck since leaving the Vasteras program two years ago. Ice time has been hard to earn, minor injuries have been battled, and he was left off Sweden's entry in the 2008 World Juniors. A mobile rearguard who makes simple plays, the left-hander still has middle pair potential. He'll need to be signed this summer, and it's possible the Sabres retain his rights and keep him overseas for another season while they sort out their AHL affiliation agreement. 12) Paul Byron, C, Gatineau (QMJHL), 2007 6th round (179th overall) The dazzling Gatineau center has displayed equal parts skill and heart in the 2007-08 QMJHL season. Despite missing 18 games due to wrist and thigh injuries, the Ottawa native completed the regular season with 37 goals and 68 points in 52 games. An excellent finisher, Byron's .71 goals-per-game ranked second overall, while his 21.8 shooting percentage was seventh among the top-100 QMJHL scorers. The great thing about Byron's goal total is that 30 of his 37 markers came at even strength. Byron is speedy in transition, using an extra gear to find seams on the ice. With the up-tempo style, his 5'10, 140-pound frame often initiates contact with and without the puck. In fact, his thigh injury reportedly stemmed from a charley horse earned while delivering one of his 50 hits. He doesn't shy away from stepping in front of shots either, which further accentuates a workmanlike mentality. Byron has been a benefactor of playing roughly 30% of his games with touted prospect Claude Giroux (PHI), but he's clearly earned his own stripes all season long. He'll be counted on to be a go-to guy for Les Olympiques in 2008-09, a season that should tell a more compelling story of what are perhaps the best set of hands in the Sabres prospect stable. 13) Corey Tropp, RW, Michigan State (CCHA), 2007 3rd round (89th overall) The product of the USHL's Sioux Falls Stampede arrived at Michigan State this past fall, immediately displaying his touch around the net in early practice sessions. Coming off a 62-point junior campaign, Tropp began his freshman year at right wing with seniors Bryan Lerg and Chris Mueller, eventually spending time with the other set of Spartan guns, Tim Kennedy and Justin Abdelkader, at various points throughout the year. A frequent flyer in coach Rick Comley's line juggling routine, the 6'0, 185-pounder finished his collegiate entrance with six goals and 11 assists. Tropp is as gifted a passer as he is a finisher, making him a player with scoring line potential. He's projected to be a forward on the rise once he gains more strength and experience with another year of CCHA action. 14) Brad Eidsness, G, Okotoks (AJHL), 2007 5th round (139th overall) The Chestermere, AL native capitalized on his opportunities in 2007-08, leading all AJHL goaltenders in wins (29) and save percentage (.933), while missing the triple crown by .01 in the GAA category (2.12). Manning the pipes in just four regulation losses, Eidsness helped propel a deep Okotoks team into the AJHL playoffs, where a second-round goal shortage resulted in defeat at the hands of upset-minded Drumheller. The dominant season is appreciated even more when considering a two-week spat with mononucleosis that reared its ugly head at the onset of training camp. Standing 5'11, Eidsness uses supreme reflexes to play a tight butterfly style in the crease. His glove is quick, and like fellow Sabres prospect Jhonas Enroth, he has a penchant for the big save. With a World Jr. "A" Challenge gold medal, league MVP award, and dominating junior numbers in tow, Eidsness will enter the wild WCHA next season as he continues his development with a six-digit scholarship to the University of North Dakota. Chosen 139th in 2007, Eidsness marks the second time this decade that the Sabres used a fifth-round pick on a Junior "A" goalie on his way to the college game. Back in 1999, Ryan Miller was chosen 138th overall out of the NAHL. 15) Jean-Simon Allard, C, St. John's (QMJHL), 2007 5th round (147th overall) The 6'3, 192-pound center started the year strong for St. John's of the QMJHL. At one point on-pace for an 80-point season, Allard saw his production taper a bit during the final quarter of the year when he went 15 games without a goal. A two-way center who sees the ice well, Allard still finished as the Fog Devils second-leading scorer with career-high 60 points, including a team-best 44 assists. His greatest improvement came in the plus/minus department, where he topped St. John's with a +15 after a 2006-07 net of -30 (fourth to the last overall). The Quebec native employs a smart work ethic while using his teammates well, but could stand to get his nose a little dirtier. To be an effective mid-line player at a higher level, the big pivot should more than double the 25 hits produced this season. He wears #4 like his favorite player Vincent Lecavalier, and he has the skills to quickly ascend the prospect ranks once he develops an on-ice moxie similar to the Lightning's perennial All-Star. 16) Benjamin Breault, C, Baie-Comeau (QMJHL), 2006 7th round (207th overall) Breault recently completed his fourth QMJHL season with Baie-Comeau, posting totals of 36 goals and 41 assists. Centering the team's top line, he combined with one of the league's most prolific scorers, Francois Bouchard, to lead the Drakkar to a 2nd place regular season finish. Breault ended the season particularly strong, scoring 10 goals and nine assists in a nine-game stretch to boost his career point total to an even 265. Recently turning 20, Breault showed adequate playmaking skills last training camp to support his peers at the AHL level. Not known as a leader, the 5'11 Ontario native must continue to make plays with the puck and hold his own defensively in order to support his middle-line potential. 17) Mike Funk, D, Rochester (AHL), 2005 2nd round (43rd overall) The mobile defenseman rebounded from a November shoulder injury to help a struggling Amerks club stay afloat on the back end. A net of -11 in 50 total games for Rochester, Funk was getting some wind to his AHL sails before earning a mid-March call-up to the injury riddled Sabres. In four games with Buffalo, Funk made good first passes and stayed deep while rating -3. Near completion of his second pro year, the lanky Funk could stand to add 10-15 pounds of mass - even better if it comes in the form of a weighty fire in his belly to spike his physical game. He skates well, and is best when he plays within himself. The former Portland Winter Hawk doesn't have top-end potential, but looks to be serviceable depth defender with a little more seasoning. 18) Felix Schutz, C, ERC Ingolstadt (DEL), 2006 4th round (117th overall) The pesky forward with knack for making plays returned to Germany for his first professional season in the DEL, scoring 12 goals, 13 assists for a mediocre Ingolstadt club. The gritty Schutz was 8th in team scoring, while leading all forwards with 91 PIM. Standing 5'11, 187 pounds, Schutz was named DEL Rookie of the year as a 20-year old after two seasons of North American junior hockey in the QMJHL. Schutz plays a "pro style" game, using speed and physicality to get to the net. He plays like a third-liner, and will need to jump back over the pond once the space is available to start creating some upward pressure on the current Sabres crop. 19) Alex Biega, D, Harvard (ECAC), 2006 5th round (147th overall) A preseason all-conference pick by the media, the stocky Biega helped lead a late-season surge for the Crimson, scoring 13 points in their final 13 games. It was a welcome turnaround after starting his sophomore year with just nine points through his first 21 outings. Biega is an excellent skater with a big shot, and he uses good leverage to effectively play the body. Biega was the Crimson's fourth-leading scorer en route to being placed on the All-ECAC Third Team. Biega could be a dangerous weapon when paired with a stay-at-home type. It's safe to think that Biega returns to Harvard in 2008-09 to pursue his education, and more points from the Crimson blue. 20) Vjacheslav Buravchikov, D, Ak-Bars Kazan (RSL), 2005 6th round (191st overall) Drafted with an offensive reputation, the 6'1, 190-pounder has slowly patched the positional holes in his defensive game with Ak Bars of the RSL. The 20-year old got off to a bumpy start in 2007-08, but reacted to an October benching with improved poise, and his confidence took over from there. Buravchikov stepped up his game down the stretch and into the playoffs, moving the puck, creating opportunities for Kazan forwards, and continuing his responsible play in his own end. He had one point, a goal, in 46 regular season games, and has posted a goal and an assist in six playoff games to date. Rounding into form, Buravchikov remains the biggest question mark in the Sabres prospect stable. Missing The Cut Nick Eno, G, Bowling Green (CCHA), 2007 7th round (187th overall) A late-summer commitment landed Eno in Bowling Green, where he put forth solid numbers while enduring a year of "on-the-job training" in the competitive CCHA. Drafted by Buffalo out of Green Mountain in the EJHL, the Howell, MI native began the season 4-0 while splitting time with junior Jimmy Spratt (CAL). Earning the most wins and total playing time of nine freshman netminders in the CCHA, Eno was named to the conference All-Rookie team. His goals against average (2.79) ranked seventh in the CCHA, while his save percentage (.905) placed sixth. Eno compiled a 12-10 record to earn 70% of the Falcons' 17 wins, yet was just 4-7 against teams .500 or better. Covering a lot of space with decent glove work, the 6'3, 190-pound goalie would benefit by working on his puckhandling skills in the offseason. Dylan Hunter, LW, Rochester (AHL), 2004 9th round (273rd overall) Hunter has scored an impressive 18 goals this season, with just five of those coming on the power play. With NHL bloodlines (his father is former NHL pest Dale), Hunter has always had playmaking eyes, and was generally a one-weay offensive performer. He's gaining consistency in his third AHL season, but his speed is average, and he'd benefit by tapping deeper into his father's nasty side to garner more respect on the ice. As a professional under Randy Cunneyworth, the former London Knight has rounded out his game defensively to the point where he has positioned himself in a small cluster of players who can keep some of the greener Sabre forwards honest. Mark Mancari, RW, Rochester (AHL), 2004 7th round (207th overall) Despite being the Amerks leading point-getter with 48, the 6'4, 225-pound wing has plateaued a bit in his third AHL season. The points come for the AHL All-Star, but the overall effort has been somewhat inconsistent. The Sabres would no doubt like to see Mancari raise his physical play and develop into a power forward type. A little more vigor may have earned Mancari a better look when guys like MacArthur, Kaleta, and Gragnani were getting dialed by Buffalo. Mancari made waves by shattering the AHL skills competiton record for a 102.8 MPH slapshot, but has rarely been able to fire his rocket in normal game speed. To date, he has just three goals in his past 24 games while being the only Amerks player to appear in all 69 contests. Just 22 years of age, Mancari's case is far from closed, but for now it appears to be an uphill battle to the NHL for the former Ottawa 67's star. Matt Generous, D, St. Lawrence (ECAC), 2005 7th round (208th overall) The smooth-skating junior turned in another solid season for St. Lawrence of the ECAC. Producing 15 point of offense (3-12), the New England native also posted a team-leading +12 on a club with a .405 winning percentage. A steadying force on the Saints' blueline, Generous' size and skating ability were sorely missed as injuries derailed the defender on two separate occasions. It's likely the Sabres stash him in the NCAA for another season before deciding his future fate. Adam Dennis, G, Rochester (AHL), 2005 6th round (182nd overall) The former London Knight has gotten better as his second professional season has progressed, but still has more to prove before making a run at an NHL backup gig. Being a goaltender on the league's worst team is never an easy task, yet Dennis has posted three shutouts and .903 save percentage in 39 starts for Rochester while earning 16 of the team's 20 wins. Andrew Orpik, RW/C, Boston College (Hockey East), 2005 7th round (227th overall) The Boston College forward has proven his value as an effective checker in the competitive Hockey East rotation. A former high school defenseman, Orpik provides uses a bangers mentaility up front to impose his large frame around the opposing net. His style has generated six goals and six assists this season, while spending much of his time on an energy unit with Kyle Kucharski and Matt Lombardi. The brother of Penguins defenseman Brooks, the younger Orpik will likely finish his bachelor's with the Eagles next season. Drew MacKenzie, D, Waterloo (USHL), 2007 7th round (209th overall) Signed to attend the University of Vermont in 2008, the 19-year old Connecticut native packed up his gear and headed to the defensive-friendly system of Waterloo for the 2007-08 season. A steady performer in his own end, MacKenzie mixes a welcome element of toughness to his mobile style. At various points in the season, the 6'2, 200-pound rearguard has lead the Black Hawks in both plus/minus and penalty minutes while producing two goals and 12 assists in 51 games. With an extra year of Jr. "A" under his belt, MacKenzie will turn 20 during his freshman year in Hockey East. Mike Card, D, Rochester (AHL), 2004 8th round (241st overall) A product of the rugged WHL, the Amerks defenseman looked to be positioning himself beneath Andrej Sekera and Mike Weber on the re-call totem pole before getting rocked by a pair of serious concussions. After missing over a month due to his initial blow, Card had his head smashed against the glass on January 4th against rival Manitoba in just his second game back and has been out of action since. To that point, Card was -8 with a goal and four assists in 23 games. The 6'1, 190-pounder is currently undergoing rehabilitation treatment, with his playing future currently unknown.