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July 11, 2011
Top 10 Prospects
Buffalo Sabres

by Corey Pronman

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Full list of NHL Organizational Rankings

The Buffalo Sabres Top 10 Prospects

1. Luke Adam, Center
2. Joel Armia, Right Wing
3. Zack Kassian, Right Wing
4. Drew Schiestel, Defense
5. Brayden McNabb, Defense
6. Marcus Foligno, Left Wing
7. Mark Pysyk, Defense
8. T.J. Brennan, Defense
9. Daniel Catenacci, Center
10. Jerome Gauthier-Leduc, Defense

Organizational Ranking: 18th

System Overview: Buffalo has a fine system that has above-average depth, but aside from Joel Armia, it lacks a prospect with top-end upside (I graduated Marc-Andre Gragnani rather quickly though, and he would fit that label). It's very plausible to see at least five NHL regulars coming out of this system and possibly more. Portland has several fine players in Luke Adam, Drew Schiestel, and T.J. Brennan while the next wave is coming from the junior ranks in Zack Kassian, Brayden McNabb, Marcus Foligno and Mark Pysyk. Most of these prospects aren't huge standouts, but Adam, Schiestel, McNabb, Foligno and Pysyk all definitely have the tools to do something in the league, but the degree of their future production is to be determined. In particular, Adam, Schiestel and McNabb have the potential to be above average NHL players—especially Adam.

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1. Luke Adam, Center
Date of birth: 06/18/1990
Age: 21
Height: 6'2''
Weight: 215
Shoots: Left
Statistics: 57 GP, 29 G, 62 P (Portland-AHL)
Acquired: Second round, 44th overall in 2008 by Buffalo

The Good: Luke Adam is a center with a plus physical game and a decent overall skill set. His frame is more than filled out and is ready to be a significant physical asset in the NHL. He protects the puck well and is a dangerous force when he drives to the net. Adam shows solid hands for a man his size. He can play a pro finesse game in regards to his hands and passing on top of his great power game. He has a fine shot and is able to score a couple from mid-distance but can get a lot of goals from the high percentage areas. Adam's hockey sense is fine and while I wouldn't say he overly impresses in that regard, it's certainly a solid tool and he's not one to try and go beyond his means; he consistently executes and is rarely at fault for significant errors. He shows decent work ethic and has improved his defensive game enough to the point he can play an average center in the NHL.

The Bad: There's not a ton to put in this area aside from the skating. He's a below-average mover who at times can look fine going straight but has a few kinks to iron out here. I wouldn't say Adam has high upside or a good chance of developing beyond what he is to a significant degree, but he is going to be a good player at what he does already.

Projection: A below average to average second line center, and pretty projectable to reach that.

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2. Joel Armia, Right Wing
Date of birth: 05/31/1993
Age: 18
Height: 6'3''
Weight: 190
Shoots: Right
Statistics: 48 GP, 18 G, 29 P (Assat-SM-Liiga)
Acquired: First round, 16th overall in 2011 by Buffalo

The Good: Joel Armia has plus puck skills and is well above-average for a 6'3", 190 lb. forward. Armia is very confident with the puck on his stick and he has good reason to be. He is able to execute above-average dekes with regularity and is very good in open ice. On more than occasion I've seen him execute a stick-handling move or a mid-distance pass through a tight space that left me saying "wow". He has an above-average shot with the ability to score from notable distances with the tool's accuracy and power.

The Bad: While he is a tall player, Armia still has a ways to fill out and loses a fair amount of battles that a man his size shouldn't. His hockey sense is decent in regards to his positional play in all zones, however his decision-making with the puck is poor and he too often tries to force the big play with cross-seam passes, by deking in dangerous locations, or by chucking the puck at the net with no traffic. His stride is good, but Armia's feet are heavy and the skating tool grades as fringe, but likely could get up a notch with attention to that area. Armia's intangibles and more specifically his consistency are also a question mark.

Projection: He has the raw tools to be a first line winger, if not an above-average one, but his development has a lot of "buts" about it that he could very well top out as a below-average second line player with coaching protection.

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3. Zack Kassian, Right Wing
Date of birth: 01/24/1991
Age: 20
Height: 6'3''
Weight: 215
Shoots: Right
Statistics: 56 GP 26 G, 77 P (Windsor-OHL)
Acquired: First round, 13th overall in 2009 by Buffalo

The Good: Zack Kassian is a tremendous physical specimen who projects as a plus if not an elite physical player at the next level. He has a tremendous frame, is very strong on the puck and plays a power forward game. Over time he has gotten more coordinated within his frame and with that his offensive game has steadily come along. Once considered a below-average skater, Kassian now arguably moves at a near above-average level and great for a player his size. His puck skills are deceivingly decent and while he doesn't have the image of a finesse player, he can flash a decent move with the puck or make a notable distribution and it looks like he has the chance to produce offense at the highest level. Kassian has decent mechanics on his wrist shot and can score some goals from outside the crease area.

The Bad: Fringe hockey sense is Kassian's main weakness that will hold him back. He's a physical player but needs to be more selective in his physical play. He doesn't read the flow of the game that well and he makes questionable decisions at times. Despite his physical game, I'm not sure he has the awareness to play an average pro defensive game.

Projection: An average second line power forward, but likely ends up a below-average second line to above-average third line player.

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4. Drew Schiestel, Defense
Date of birth: 03/09/1989
Age: 22
Height: 6'2''
Weight: 193
Shoots: Left
Statistics: 45 GP, 5 G, 23 P (Portland-AHL)
Acquired: Second round, 59th overall in 2007 by Buffalo

The Good: Drew Schiestel is a solid skater who is very swift and agile with good edge work and he has a notable burst on his first few steps. He shows decent offensive ability moving the puck from a passing standpoint; he has the ability to be a fine rusher and can support the offensive zone attack with timely pinches. While Schiesetel has pro-average puck skills, I don't see it getting beyond that but he does have decent hands. He has shown notable improvement in his defensive zone work and was a player regularly trusted with big minutes and penalty killing time in the AHL.

The Bad: Schiestel still has a little filling out to do; although the frame has grown fine, he could use a little more muscle. He can be a little too overzealous getting involved offensively, but it's a minor glitch as opposed to a mistake done with high frequency. He suffered a major knee injury in mid-season and his recovery from that will be a key developmental factor going forward.

Projection: An average second-pairing defenseman, but likely end up a below-average second pairing to above-average third pairing defender.

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5. Brayden McNabb, Defense
Date of birth: 01/21/1991
Age: 20
Height: 6'4''
Weight: 218
Shoots: Left
Statistics: 59 GP, 21 G, 72 P (Kootenay-WHL)
Acquired: Third round, 66th overall in 2009 by Buffalo

The Good: Brayden McNabb got the tag of a solid physical defender with one way projection during his draft season, but since he has taken notable strides in his offensive game and shows significant two-way potential. He's a monster of a man with a big frame that he doesn't shy away from using; he projects as a plus physical player if not a grade higher. McNabb has pro-average hands and for a man his size that is an unusual feature. He has solid offensive awareness and regularly will make heads up distributions, plays with the puck or rushes. He is well-conditioned and played a very large amount of minutes on a nightly basis—when the playoffs rolled around, he didn't lose a step.

The Bad: His skating is fringe and his feet look very heavy at times. He was able to be a rusher at the WHL level, but he will never be able to do some of the things he tried in junior at the NHL level with his mobility. He can be a little too much of a gambler with the puck and has to rein in some bad habits. Also while his physical game and wingspan allowed him to be a good defensive player, he has the odd brain cramp defensively here and there.

Projection: An average second pairing defenseman, but could easily end up an average third pairing player to a depth player.

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6. Marcus Foligno, Left Wing
Date of birth: 08/10/1991
Age: 19
Height: 6'3''
Weight: 216
Shoots: Left
Statistics: 47 GP, 23 G, 59 P (Sudbury-OHL)
Acquired: Fourth round, 104th overall in 2009 by Buffalo

The Good: Foligno is a plus physical player who has already grown quite well into his frame and is the kind of player that throws his body at anybody with a pulse and an opposing sweater. He wins a ton of battles in the physical areas and is the type of player who plays well along the corners and in front of the net. He has a desirable work ethic, motoring up and down the ice on every shift. Foligno shows a fine defensive game and projects well into a defensive forward and penalty killing role at the highest level. While he's not a true offensive player, his offensive hockey sense has come along a bit since his draft year and he's not a complete null factor out there, as he can be okay with the puck and make fine distributions at times.

The Bad: Despite the fact that his offensive game has stepped up a notch, I wouldn't classify Foligno as an average offensive talent. His puck skills are fringe and he can sometimes try to go beyond his limited means offensively. His skating has shown some improvement, but I'd still classify him as a below-average mover who lacks a pro-level top gear.

Projection: An above-average third line player who safely projects somewhere onto a bottom six in the league.

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7. Mark Pysyk, Defense
Date of birth: 01/11/1992
Age: 19
Height: 6'1''
Weight: 188
Shoots: Right
Statistics: 63 GP, 6 G, 40 P (Edmonton-WHL)
Acquired: First round, 23rd overall in 2010 by Buffalo

The Good: Pysyk is an above-average skater, who might even show a grade beyond that with an easy and fluid stride that he extends well on with his long limbs and gets to a desirable top gear. He moves in all directions well and is quite an agile player. He makes decisions at an above-average pace, moving the puck quickly and being able to scan the ice well while quickly processing the flow of the game. Positionally, he plays a fine defensive game and has been a player who logged huge minutes for Edmonton the last few seasons. He has the ability to rush up the ice or make a solid first pass out of the zone, but his offensive projection is decent at best.

The Bad: I saw Pysyk engage on occasion along the physical areas this year, but he's still a fringe physical player in several ways. His frame is thin and is really lacking in strength. He also does not engage his checks nearly enough and looks shy at times when he should be closing his gaps. His shot is below-average and on the power play he needs to be a distributor as opposed to a trigger. Pysyk has a conservative feel to his game and really lacks the offensive instincts to thread tight lanes with mid-distance passes, out-angle defenders with his hands or get players backpedaling with his speed.

Projection: A below-average second pairing to above-average third pairing defenseman, but there's too much tools and smarts to think he won't play in the league in some capacity.

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8. T.J. Brennan, Defense
Date of birth: 04/03/1989
Age: 22
Height 6'0''
Weight: 205
Shoots: Left
Statistics: 72 GP, 15 G, 39 P (Portland-AHL)
Acquired: Second round, 31st overall in 2007 by Buffalo

The Good: Brennan is an above-average puck-moving defenseman with good technique on his distributions and a fluid crispness to his passes. He sees the ice well and can make very quick snap passes up the ice and one-touches on the power play. Brennan is a fluid skater with a nice little jump in his step. He's not a blazer, but he skates rather well. He has an above-average slap shot and can be a triggerman on the power play as well as the main distributor.

The Bad: Brennan is a very lean player and despite the 205 pound listing, his frame is thin and doesn't really have a pro-level muscle mass. He isn't the best in the corners, and seems to have topped out as a fringe physical player. He has shown some progression in his defensive game, but he is still notably below-average in his own end and if he makes the NHL, he will likely have to be protected via zone starts and quality of competition faced.

Projection: An above-average third pairing defenseman who is an above-average power play man but is protected by his coach at even strength. Depending how his NHL transition goes, he could end up in a specialist role, but the power play skills can get minutes in the league.

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9. Daniel Catenacci, Center
Date of birth: 03/09/1993
Age: 18
Height: 5'10''
Weight: 183
Shoots: Left
Statistics: 67 GP, 26 G, 71 P (Sault Ste. Marie-OHL)
Acquired: Third round, 77th overall in 2011 by Buffalo

The Good: Daniel Catenacci is a near elite level skater who can fly around the ice with solid agility and the kind of acceleration that lets him hit full gallop after a couple of steps. His skating drives his value and Catenacci knows it—every chance he has to take off with the puck and attempt to push defenders back he does. His puck skills are above-average to plus, with good coordination and quick, nimble hands that he can use very well in motion. His passes tend to be accurate and he can make some pretty good dishes.

The Bad: His hockey sense right now is fringe and despite his distribution abilities, he tends to try to overdo it with the puck too much and makes bad decisions. There are occasions, though, where he flashes top-level vision that it's possible that aspect of his game is fixable. His physical game is below fringe level, with a frame that's small, thin and lacks muscle. It seems every time a defender touched Catenacci he would lose the puck, or lose his footing. He still shows a notable work ethic in all zones and will attempt to get into the physical areas, but is overwhelmed instantly and likely projects as a winger at the next level.

Projection: An average second line winger, but he is so far away, that there's a good chance it simply doesn't happen.

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10. Jerome Gauthier-Leduc, Defense
Date of birth: 07/30/1992
Age: 18
Height: 6'2''
Weight: 194
Shoots: Right
Statistics: 61 GP, 18 G, 56 P (Rimouski-QMJHL)
Acquired: Third round, 68th overall in 2010 by Buffalo

The Good: Gauthier-Leduc is an above-average offensive talent from the backend and is a significant scoring prospect. He is a solid skater with a fluid stride that picks up speed well. He doesn't shy from using his skating tool as he frequently pushes the pace up the ice as a rusher. He is a good passer who can control a power play well on top of being able to get the puck up and out of his zone quickly and effectively. His shot is above-average and he can dial it up on his one-timers. Gauthier-Leduc has a fine frame, and showed notable improvements in regards to his muscle mass from last year, tacking on nearly 20 pounds. He can at times be a dynamic offensive player and his offensive talent alone could have justified him as a top 45 talent in last year's draft but…

The Bad: Gauthier-Leduc is a one-dimensional player. In the words of one scout, he "looks exactly like a specialist." Despite the nice frame, he doesn't show much physicality in his own end and could be labeled as below fringe in that regard. Defensively, his game is poor in several regards. He doesn't follow the puck that well, is not hard on his checks and loses battles consistently.

Projection: If something just "clicks", you're looking at a below-average second pairing to above-average third pairing defender who is a top power play option. Chances are though that he might not play in the league and if he does it may be in extremely small and guarded minutes.

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The Sleeper: Third round pick in 2010 Matt MacKenzie is a fine defensive defenseman with a decent physical game. I've heard a fair amount of praise for MacKenzie and if he transitions to the pro game well, he has the ability to fly up the Sabres defensive depth chart.

Extra Notes: Buffalo's 2006 first round pick Dennis Persson shows a pro-level mobility and frame, but beyond that I don't see any of his other tools getting to pro average, especially his hockey sense which hampers the decent offensive ability he shows at times. I think any hope years ago that he would be an NHL regular has faded. As of this writing, the Sabres have not signed the Restricted Free Agent to a contract.

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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