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July 31, 2013
Top 10 Prospects 2013
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. Rasmus Ristolainen, Defense
3. Nikita Zadorov, Defense
4. Joel Armia, Right Wing
5. Zemgus Girgensons, Center
6. J.T. Compher, Center
7. Mark Pysyk, Defense
8. Johan Larsson, Center
9. Jake McCabe, Defense
10. Brayden McNabb, Defense

Organizational Ranking: 3rd

System Overview

The Sabres boast an elite farm system, anchored mainly by their past two draft classes. Grigorenko is a star prospect, and Buffalo's top five or six prospects are extremely strong. The system's depth is slightly above average, and their pipeline has a lot of players who are close to NHL-ready, which the struggling Sabres sorely need.

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1. Mikhail Grigorenko, Center
2011-12 Ranking: 1st
Date of birth: 05/06/1994
Age: 19
Height: 6'3''
Weight: 200
Shoots: Left
Statistics: 33 GP, 30 G, 54 P (Quebec, QMJHL) / 25 GP, 1 G, 5 P (Buffalo, NHL)
Acquired: First round, 12th overall in 2012 by Buffalo

Year in Review: Grigorenko was a top offensive force in the QMJHL again, and he was a top forward at the World Juniors. Still, he displayed significant struggles at the NHL level as an 18-year-old.

The Good: Grigorenko is a great puck possessor, and a well above-average puck handler, with elite hockey sense. He can simply dazzle with his puck control and unique playmaking skills. Grigorenko is also an agile, shifty skater. He has a big body, and he can protect the puck fine. He also has a top-end shot. His ability to produce offense is elite.

The Bad: Grigorenko, despite his size, is not all that physical, although he can still win some battles. His defense needs some work, and his top speed could be a little better as well.

Projection: He could be an All-Star center.

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2. Rasmus Ristolainen, Defense
2010-11 Ranking: N/A
Date of birth: 10/27/1994
Age: 18
Height: 6'3''
Weight: 207
Shoots: Right
Statistics: 52 GP, 2 G, 15 P (TPS, SM-Liiga)
Acquired: First round, eighth overall in 2013 by Buffalo

Year in Review: Ristolainen had a very good season, and he was a top defenseman for TPS in Finland, especially after the lockout. He logged tough minutes in a good league and was solid at the World Juniors.

The Good: Ristolainen is a very advanced and well-rounded defenseman. He is big and mobile, and he has good size. He is tough on his checks, wins battles, and makes a lot of defensive stops. Ristolainen also has above-average offensive abilities, be it leading the rush, moving the puck up, or manning a power play. He thinks the game at a very high level for his age, displaying great poise with the puck and overall good reads.

The Bad: Ristolainen does not have a true glaring hole, although his defensive positioning could use a little fine tuning.

Projection: He could be a top pairing defenseman.

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3. Nikita Zadorov, Defense
2011-12 Ranking: N/A
Date of birth: 04/16/1995
Age: 18
Height: 6'5''
Weight: 221
Shoots: Left
Statistics: 63 GP, 6 G, 25 P (London, OHL)
Acquired: First round, 16th overall in 2013 by Buffalo

Year in Review: Zadorov went through an adjustment period in the OHL, with flashes of top-end defensive play, but at other times, he struggled.

The Good: Zadorov is a great physical specimen with a lot of intriguing athletic abilities. He is a huge, strong player who consistently crushes opponents and displays the ability to separate pucks from forwards with his body. Zadorov also skates very well. Combining his mobility with his frame and physicality makes it easy to see why he is a nightmare for forwards.

The Bad: Zadorov's decision making could still use some work, as his reads and game processing can still somewhat lack. His offensive upside is not a hole, but it is not a strength either, as he is roughly average with the puck.

Projection: He could be a fringe top pairing defenseman.

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4. Joel Armia, Right Wing
2010-11 Ranking: 3rd
Date of birth: 05/31/1993
Age: 20
Height: 6'3''
Weight: 203
Shoots: Right
Statistics: 47 GP, 19 G, 33 P (Assat, SM-Liiga)
Acquired: First round, 16th overall in 2011 by Buffalo

Year in Review: Armia was fine during his last season in Finland, displaying some great periods, but previous inconsistency issues plagued him again.

The Good: Armia has top of the line potential, and he can make unique plays at any given moment. He possesses high-end to elite puck skills and unusual dexterity for a player his size. He has an above-average to plus shot as well, which couples nicely with quality playmaking ability, an element of his game that has developed well since he was drafted. He can protect the puck effectively, and he has gained enough strength to make the jump to North American pro hockey.

The Bad: Armia can be a victim of poor decision making, as he sometimes tries to do too much with the puck, or force passes. He needs to improve defensively, and he could also stand to use his body more in the physical game.

Projection: He could be a top line winger, but that projection has a lot of uncertainty.

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5. Zemgus Girgensons, Center
2011-12 Ranking: 2nd
Date of birth: 01/05/1994
Age: 19
Height: 6'2''
Weight: 194
Shoots: Left
Statistics: 61 GP, 6 G, 17 P (Rochester, AHL)
Acquired: First round, 14th overall in 2012 by Buffalo

Year in Review: Girgensons had an adjustment period as an 18-19 year old in pro hockey, but he got the hang of things in the second half of the year, as he ended up earning scoring responsibility.

The Good: Girgensons is a well-rounded prospect who can impact a game with his offense, defense, or physicality. He is hard working and he possesses off-the-charts character. He will grind through every battle, attack the high percentage areas, and forecheck as hard as he backchecks. Girgensons skates very well, has a good level of puck skills and puck protection ability, and he understands the game at an impressive level.

The Bad: Girgensons' numbers were low this season, but for an 18-year-old in the AHL, he more than held his own. The level of his offensive upside is debatable among scouts, with one saying he is a clear top-six player, and another not as convinced.

Projection: He could be a good two-way second line center.

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6. J.T. Compher, Center
2011-12 Ranking: N/A
Date of birth: 04/08/1995
Age: 18
Height: 5'11''
Weight: 184
Shoots: Right
Statistics: 52 GP, 18 G, 50 P (USA Under-18, USHL)
Acquired: Second round, 35th overall in 2013 by Buffalo

Year in Review: Compher was the top player on the USA Under-18 team. He was their best offensive threat, and he was also relied upon to play tough defensive minutes.

The Good: Compher is a versatile forward who can help in every aspect of the game. He is a good skater with great work ethic and he will engage in physical play. Compher has above-average to plus skill between his hands and his offensive instincts. He is a quality finisher as well. He has good intangibles, backchecks well, and makes good defensive reads.

The Bad: Compher is slightly undersized, and he needs to bulk up to survive playing a physical style at the top level.

Projection: He could be a good second line center.

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7. Mark Pysyk, Defense
2011-12 Ranking: 6th
Date of birth: 01/11/1992
Age: 21
Height: 6'1''
Weight: 193
Shoots: Right
Statistics: 57 GP, 4 G, 18 P (Rochester, AHL)
Acquired: First round, 23rd overall in 2010 by Buffalo

Year in Review: Pysyk's first pro season got off to a bumpy start, but for a good portion, he looked impressive for a rookie defenseman. He earned a callup to the NHL.

The Good: Pysyk is a highly mobile and intellectual defenseman whose defensive instincts and skating ability allow him to make a lot of stops while keeping the puck away from the danger areas. He is a very effective stick checker. He displays calmness with the puck, and he outlets well. Although he is not an aggressive offensive player, he has the ability to join the rush effectively.

The Bad: Pysyk is not an overly mean physical player who will push opponents off the puck or punish them in the crease. He also is not an offensive standout.

Projection: He could be a second pairing defenseman.

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8. Johan Larsson, Center
2011-12 Ranking: 5th (MIN)
Date of birth: 07/25/1992
Age: 20
Height: 5'11''
Weight: 198
Shoots: Left
Statistics: 69 GP, 16 G, 41 P (Houston/Rochester, AHL)
Acquired: Trade with Minnesota, drafted second round, 56th overall in 2010 by Minnesota

Year in Review: Larsson was one of Houston's better players at both ends, and while he did not blow the doors down, he looked like he was close to making the jump to the top level. He was traded at the deadline from Minnesota to Buffalo in the Jason Pominville deal.

The Good: Larsson is a versatile player who is also a fine puck possessor. He has good, if not great hockey sense, and he can set up his teammates well. He has the creativity to create scoring chances individually to boot. He can excel as a scoring or defensive forward, playing a skilled or gritty game, and he plays all the forward positions. His intangibles are great, and he projects as an average physical player despite being a little undersized.

The Bad: Larsson's skating has gotten better, to the point where he is roughly average, but he will not blaze by anyone. His offensive creativity was not on display as much this year, and if that continues, his upside may be in question.

Projection: He has top-six potential, but he may end up as a third line forward.

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9. Jake McCabe, Defense
2011-12 Ranking: 9th
Date of birth: 10/12/1993
Age: 19
Height: 6'1''
Weight: 205
Shoots: Left
Statistics: 38 GP, 3 G, 21 P (Univ. of Wisconsin, NCAA)
Acquired: Second round, 44th overall in 2012 by Buffalo

Year in Review: McCabe had a great sophomore season, as he was named to the third All-WCHA team and to the All-Star roster at the World Junior Championship, where he captained the USA to the gold medal.

The Good: McCabe has great two-way hockey sense, with his defensive skills being his best trait. Combine that with his good physicality, and he projects as an above-average player in his own end. He closes gaps well, makes stops with his body and stick checks, and his reads tend to put himself in position to stop high percentage chances. He has fine offensive instincts, flashing good passing skills, and a hard shot from the point.

The Bad: Like Larsson, McCabe's skating has gotten better to where it is roughly average, but he is not a speedster. His offensive skill is also not bad, but he is not a standout in that area.

Projection: He could be a second pairing defenseman.

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10. Brayden McNabb, Defense
2011-12 Ranking: 4th
Date of birth: 01/21/1991
Age: 22
Height: 6'4''
Weight: 205
Shoots: Left
Statistics: 62 GP, 5 G, 36 P (Rochester, AHL)
Acquired: Third round, 66th overall in 2009 by Buffalo

Year in Review: McNabb really struggled in the first half but picked up his play after the lockout. A knee injury in March ended his season.

The Good: McNabb is a huge, skilled defenseman. He is between 6'4" and 6'5", and he plays a tough brand of hockey, capable of winning one-on-one battles. McNabb is also a good puck mover, with the skill and passing ability to put up points and be a quality player on the power play. He also has a big shot.

The Bad: McNabb's decisions are a notable question mark, as he can make poor reads, and he is a worrisome player at times with the puck. His skating is also below average.

Projection: He has second pairing tools, but he may have to be sheltered.

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The Next Five

11. Daniel Catenacci, Center: Catenacci is an elite skater with skill, but in recent years, he has become very adept at killing penalties and playing defense. He has expanded the possible outcomes for his path forward into pro hockey.

12. Connor Hurley, Center: Hurley is a highly-talented forward with good speed, great hands, and a penchant for creating offense. His physical game is inconsistent.

13. Chad Ruhwedel, Defense: Ruhwedel does not have the highest ceiling, and he is small, but he skates well, and he thinks the game at a quality level in both ends.

14. Justin Bailey, Right Wing: Bailey is a toolsy forward with size, skill, and a good shot. He is raw, however, and he could improve his footwork.

15. Jerome Gauthier-Leduc, Defense: He has above-average NHL potential due to his offensive tools, but it is questionable if he can ever defend at an NHL level.

The Sleeper:Gustav Possler, Right Wing

Possler went under the radar a bit as a U19, possibly due to not being on Sweden's World Junior Championship team after looking good as a U18. He is a skilled player who skates well, and he has pro scoring potential.

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Buffalo Sabres Organizational Top 10

Players 22 or under as of 09/15/2013 or still considered a prospect as defined here.

1. Mikhail Grigorenko, Center
2. Rasmus Ristolainen, Defense
3. Nikita Zadorov, Defense
4. Joel Armia, Right Wing
5. Zemgus Girgensons, Center
6. J.T. Compher, Center
7. Mark Pysyk, Defense
8. Marcus Foligno, Left Wing
9. Johan Larsson, Center
10. Jake McCabe, Defense

Foligno was impressive during the lockout at the AHL level, and he was decent during the NHL season. He is a top-end physical forward with offensive tools, although the latter aspect of his game is still debatable. He could end up as a fine second line winger.

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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Top 10 Prospects 2013 (08/01)
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Top 10 Prospects 2013 (08/01)

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