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August 20, 2012
Top 10 Prospects
Buffalo Sabres

by Corey Pronman

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Full list of NHL Organizational Rankings

Buffalo Sabres Top 10 Prospects

1. Mikhail Grigorenko, Center
2. Zemgus Girgensons, Center
3. Joel Armia, Right Wing
4. Brayden McNabb, Defense
5. Marcus Foligno, Left Wing
6. Mark Pysyk, Defense
7. Daniel Catenacci, Center
8. Jerome Gauthier-Leduc
9. Jake McCabe, Defense
10.Kevin Sundher, Center

Organizational Ranking: 18th

System Overview: Buffalo has built a system based on talent, although a number of their top prospects have above-average uncertainty on their projections. There are quite a few players in this system that have pretty desirable upside. Buffalo has a somewhat top-heavy system and the amount of truly quality prospects falls off after their top tier.

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1. Mikhail Grigorenko, Center
2010-11 Ranking: N/A
Date of birth: 05/16/1994
Age: 18
Height: 6'3''
Weight: 200
Shoots: Left
Statistics: 59 GP, 40 G, 85 P (Quebec-QMJHL)
Acquired: First round, 12th overall in 2012 by Buffalo

The Good: Grigorenko is an exceptionally gifted prospect whose ceiling is as good as it comes. He's a well above-average puck-handler with elite hockey sense. Those two abilities translate to off-the-charts puck possession skill as he can simple dazzle with his puck control and playmaking skills, showing a unique ability to make plays. Grigorenko is also a good skater who accelerates well. He has an impressive shot, and while he's a passer, he can finish from mid-distance.

The Bad: Despite his size, Grigorenko is not all that physical, although he can still win some battles. His defense needs some work although it's notably improved from last season. His shift-to-shift work ethic has been raised from scouts as an issue although I only see it as a minor one.

Projection: He could be one of the league's best centers.

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2. Zemgus Girgensons, Center
2010-11 Ranking: N/A
Date of birth: 01/05/1994
Age: 18
Height: 6'2''
Weight: 198
Shoots: Left
Statistics: 49 GP, 24 G, 55 P (Dubuque-USHL)
Acquired: First round, 14th overall in 2012 by Buffalo

The Good: Girgensons is a pretty well-rounded player who has no real notable weakness. He's an above-average skater, with the same level of puck skills, and he might even flash a tick above in that area. Girgensons is a smart two-way player who was leaned on this year to play tough defensive minutes. He also shows the ability to be a solid passer. His best trait is his physical game, as Girgensons is an ultra-tough player who drives the physical areas and punishes his checks regularly.

The Bad: There is debate among scouts I've talked to about Girgensons' upside. I've heard scouts call him a potential #1 center, and some a #3.

Projection: He could be an above-average second line center, or even a notch above that.

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3. Joel Armia, Right Wing
2010-11 Ranking: 2nd
Date of birth: 05/31/1993
Age: 19
Height: 6'3''
Weight: 196
Shoots: Right
Statistics: 54 GP, 18 G, 38 P, 14:37 ATOI (Assat-SM-Liiga)
Acquired: First round, 16th overall in 2011 by Buffalo

The Good: Armia is a simply fantastic offensive talent who can wow observers on any given shift. He has well above-average if not elite puck skills that you don't see often in a 6'3" player. He has good vision with the ability to show some flash on his playmaking ability. Armia has a pretty good shot as well, and shows great finishing ability, be it from distance or putting away chances in tight.

The Bad: Armia isn't the most physical player and can also be pushed off the puck somewhat easily. His consistency is a problem as his effort level can waver. Armia can also be victim of trying to do too much offensively, as he will force passes or try to make one extra move. His skating looks better than last year, but probably could use slightly more improvement in that area.

Projection: Armia has top line tools, but is a bit of a risky projection.

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4. Brayden McNabb, Defense
2010-11 Ranking: 5th
Date of birth: 01/21/1991
Age: 21
Height: 6'5''
Weight: 212
Shoots: Left
Statistics: 45 GP, 5 G, 30 P (Portland-AHL)
Acquired: Third round, 66th overall in 2009 by Buffalo

The Good: McNabb is a pretty gifted big man. Standing at 6'5'', he projects as a high-end physical player because of his frame and how well he uses his size to separate opponents from the puck. He has decent hands, but his puck skills are way above average for a player of his size. McNabb has pretty good offensive instincts as well and can quarterback a power play at a solid level.

The Bad: McNabb isn't the most graceful skater with somewhat heavy feet and he won't be a player to rush the puck up in the NHL. His decisions aren't always the best, as he will at times try to do too much.

Projection: He could be a good second pairing defender.

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5. Marcus Foligno, Left Wing
2010-11 Ranking: 6th
Date of birth: 08/10/1991
Age: 21
Height: 6'3''
Weight: 227
Shoots: Left
Statistics: 60 GP, 16 G, 39 P (Portland-AHL)
Acquired: Fourth round, 104th overall in 2009 by Buffalo

The Good: Foligno projects as a high-end if not an elite physical player in the NHL due to his big, developed frame and the tremendous physical energy he brings to every shift. Foligno hits anything that moves and drives the net consistently. He's a significantly improved skater over the last few seasons who is decent for a pro and solid for a bigger player. He also shows fine reads making good decisions and can be a defensive asset.

The Bad: The major question with Foligno is how much offense will he ultimately bring. He doesn't have pro-average puck skills and his offensive creativity isn't all that impressive.

Projection: He could be a great third line forward.

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6. Mark Pysyk, Defense
2010-11 Ranking: 7th
Date of birth: 01/11/1992
Age: 20
Height: 6'2''
Weight: 188
Shoots: Right
Statistics: 57 GP, 6 G, 38 P (Edmonton-WHL)
Acquired: First round, 23rd overall in 2010 by Buffalo

The Good: Pysyk is an above-average skater with a powerful stride who can bring the puck up pretty effectively while also having the mobility to stay with faster forwards. His best trait is his hockey sense as he consistently makes smart plays in both ends. He's what one NHL source calls a "clever passer" as he can read the play quickly and put the puck through tight lanes. While Pysyk makes a lot of safe plays, he has the instincts to make the nice passes, too. He's gotten stronger and looks physically ready for the next level.

The Bad: Pysyk's historical weakness has been his physical game and while he's not getting pushed around like two years ago, he's still not an overly physical player. He also isn't a real standout offensive player.

Projection: He could be a #4 defender.

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7. Daniel Catenacci, Center
2010-11 Ranking: 9th
Date of birth: 03/09/1993
Age: 19
Height: 5'10''
Weight: 185
Shoots: Left
Statistics: 67 GP, 33 G, 72 P (Owen Sound-OHL)
Acquired: Third round, 77th overall in 2011 by Buffalo

The Good: Catenacci is a well above-average and bordering on elite skater whose skates can sometimes be mistaken for rockets the way he flies all over the ice and accelerates with ridiculous ease. Catenacci is also a pretty skilled individual who can dangle and make flashy plays. He has a desirable on-ice work ethic and can pester opponents with his energy and speed.

The Bad: Catneacci's physical game is a concern, as despite his work ethic, he's a small, slight player who may not be able to play that style in the NHL and is probably a replacement-level physical guy. I'm also not completely sold that he has the hockey sense to play at a pro scoring level, although this year I heard he was better in that regard.

Projection: He's a bit of a project, but has top-six upside.

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8. Jerome Gauthier-Leduc, Defense
2010-11 Ranking: 10th
Date of birth: 07/30/1992
Age: 20
Height: 6'1''
Weight: 192
Shoots: Right
Statistics: 62 GP, 28 G, 74 P (Rimouski-QMJHL)
Acquired: Third round, 68th overall in 2010 by Buffalo

The Good: The QMJHL defenseman of the year is a very talented offensive player. He's a good skater with a solid top gear and great pushoff power. He's a high-end puck mover who makes crisp, accurate passes and has the ability to make the difficult feeds. Gauthier-Leduc has good hands on top of a booming shot from the point. When you combine all these elements, he is your prototypical offensive player from the blue line.

The Bad: He's not really much of a physical player, and when you combine that with a noticeable lack of strength, Gauthier-Leduc can be threatened in his own end by bigger players and those who have good physical games. While he's improved his defensive reads, he's still not all that good in his own end, be it because of his offensive aggressiveness or the aforementioned physical game.

Projection: He has top four upside, but as of now he's tracking as a third pairing defender and a PP specialist.

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9. Jake McCabe, Defense
2010-11 Ranking: N/A
Date of birth: 10/12/1993
Age: 18
Height: 6'0''
Weight: 195
Shoots: Left
Statistics: 26 GP, 3 G, 12 P (Univ. of Wisconsin-WCHA)
Acquired: Second round, 44th overall in 2012 by Buffalo

The Good: McCabe is a smart two-way player who historically had been known for his smart and effective defensive play combined with a good physical element. This season, though, he showed a better offensive element to his game as he was a consistently solid playmaker, and while he won't wow people, he can make a good first pass, occasionally stretch the ice and move the puck fine on the power play. McCabe has a decent shot from the point as well.

The Bad: His skating needs work as he doesn't generate much power from his stride.

Projection: His ceiling borders between a #4 and #5 defenseman.

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10. Kevin Sundher, Center
2010-11 Ranking: Unranked
Date of birth: 01/18/1992
Age: 20
Height: 6'0''
Weight: 177
Shoots: Left
Statistics: 58 GP, 26 G, 75 P (Victoria-Brandon-WHL)
Acquired: Third round, 75th overall in 2010 by Buffalo

The Good: Sundher is a high-end skater who can simply fly when he's bringing the puck up in transition. His top gear is his best asset, but he has good edgework and gets a good burst from his first step. Sundher has some possession skill, too, as he's got above-average vision on top of nice hand eye coordination. He makes good off-puck reads as well.

The Bad: Sundher could use his body a little more as at times he tends to drift off to the perimeter. His consistency isn't always there. He also needs to continue bulking up as well.

Projection: He has scoring line skill, but has an uncertain projection.

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The Next Five

11. Brian Flynn, Right Wing: Flynn's got impressive vision and a good shot, but his skating is underwhelming.

12. T.J. Brennan, Defense: Brennan skates well and has skill, but I'm not sure if he'll ever be any better than a PP specialist or a low-tier player.

13. Drew Schiestel, Defense: Schiestel has the talent to be a decent pro but he hasn't looked the same since his knee injury.

14. Matt MacKenzie, Defense: MacKenzie isn't an overly-talented played, but he's got decent enough mobility and hockey sense to project as a depth player.

15. Logan Nelson, Center: Nelson is a tough customer with okay touch and good defensive value.

The Sleeper: Colin Jacobs, Center

Entering his draft season, Jacobs was touted as a tough center with size and skill but as of now he's yet to put it all together.

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Buffalo Sabres Organizational Top 10

Players 22 or under as of 09/15/2012 or still considered a prospect as defined here.

1. Tyler Myers, Defense
2. Mikhail Grigorenko, Center
3. Tyler Ennis, Center
4. Zemgus Girgensons, Center
5. Cody Hodgson, Center
6. Joel Armia, Right Wing
7. Luke Adam, Center
8. Brayden McNabb, Defense
9. Marcus Foligno, Left Wing
10. Mark Pysyk, Defense

Myers has gone through some bumps in his pro career, but he's also been quite good for a significant period of time, and considering he's only 22, his performance so far in his career is pretty rare for a young defender. With his size, skating ability, and talent, there is every indication he could be a star for many seasons. Ennis has performed well from a counting numbers perspective, although it's been either with sheltered minutes or shooting luck. Despite that, his talent level shows good indicators for the future as a long time top-six forward who should be able to pick up tougher minutes soon. Hodgson was given easy minutes with Vancouver and is still adjusting to the NHL. He's got the hockey sense to play at the top level and I think he could succeed, but there are question marks on his skating and physical game. Adam took a step back this year as his physical game and defense drew question marks and he wasn't showing the ability to generate offense like he did last season.

Corey Pronman is an author of Hockey Prospectus. You can contact Corey by clicking here or click here to see Corey's other articles.

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<< Previous Article
Summer Skate (08/18)
<< Previous Column
Top 10 Prospects (08/17)
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Top 10 Prospects (08/22)
Next Article >>
Top 10 Prospects (08/22)

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