A quick reminder that all top 10 candidates must be no more than 25 years old as of October 7, 2015. The lists consider all skaters in that age group who have played in fewer than 40 NHL regular season games, with 25 games being the cut-off among netminders.
Buffalo Sabres’ fans have a reason to rejoice as two dismal NHL campaigns resulted in opportunities to make two second overall selections. The result is a shift in focus to building a pool of prospects with goal-scoring prowess, smarts and depth. Evidenced by the early success of young first-rounders Zemgus Girgensons and Rasmus Ristolainen, the emphasis for new General Manager Tim Murray and Director of Amateur Scouting Greg Royce is clearly on the development of young talent. Although Buffalo’s roster is dotted with established NHLers that include newcomers Evander Kane and Zach Bogosian, the Sabres are poised to introduce a green-looking lineup in upcoming seasons.
- Jack Eichel, C, Boston University (Hockey East) 6’1”, 196. 2nd overall, 2015
- Sam Reinhart, C, Kootenay (WHL) 6’1”, 185. 2nd overall, 2014
- Jake McCabe, D, Rochester (AHL) 6’0”, 195. 44th overall, 2012
- Justin Bailey, C, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL) 6’3”, 186. 52nd overall, 2013
- Hudson Fasching, RW, Minnesota (Big Ten) 6’2”, 213. 118th overall, 2013
- Brycen Martin, D, Saskatoon (WHL) 6’2”, 195. 74th overall, 2014
- Nicholas Baptiste, RW, Erie (OHL) 6’1”, 189. 69th overall, 2013
- Brendan Guhle, D, Prince Albert (WHL) 6’2”, 181. 51st overall, 2015
- Sean Malone, C, Harvard (ECAC) 5’11”, 183. 159th overall, 2013
- Chad Ruhwedel, D, Rochester (AHL) 5’11”, 181. UFA: April 13, 2013
Players likely to lose eligibility:
- Philip Varone, C, Rochester (AHL) 5’10”, 191. Originally: 147th overall, 2009 (San Jose)
- Jerry D’Amigo, LW, Rochester (AHL) 5’11”, 208. Trade: Dec. 16, 2014. Originally: 158th overall, 2009 (Toronto)
- William Carrier, LW, Rochester (AHL) 6’2”, 198. Trade: Feb. 28, 2014. Originally: 57th overall, 2013 (St. Louis)
- Giorgio Estephan, C, Lethbridge (WHL) 6’0”, 183. 152nd overall, 2015
In any other year, Jack Eichel would have been considered the consensus first overall pick. The man dubbed as a “generational talent” posted a 71-point season in 40 games with Boston University, had a trip to the national championships and concluded his historic NCAA season with a Hobey Baker trophy. The elite forward is characterized by an incredibly high pace of play, persistent scoring ability and impressive hockey sense given his age. After lining up against professional players at the 2015 IIHF World Championship, Jack Eichel certainly proved that he’s up to the pro challenge where he posted an impressive seven points in ten games. He is poised to be a highly productive power forward and Eichel represents the aforementioned shift in focus for Buffalo where he will be an elite, goal-scoring center for many years to come.
Sam Reinhart has NHL experience under his belt after playing nine games with the big club last season and Buffalo anticipates this will result in a seamless transition to the NHL. Although he had an understated season with the WHL’s Kootenay Ice, the highly intelligent centerman is poised for professional work. Like Eichel, Reinhart is a significant piece to Buffalo’s rebuilding plans and as a 1995-born player, could begin this season in the AHL if he doesn’t make the big club. Eventually, Reinhart is expected to be a top-six forward where he will be a consistent producer at the NHL level and could potentially be rewarded the captaincy at a young age given his leadership qualities.
With nine NHL games spanning two seasons, Jake McCabe is making a case to be a mainstay on Buffalo’s opening night roster. Characterized by his intelligence, strong decision-making and ability to control the pace of the play, the quarterback-like defenseman demonstrated this ability by posting 29 points in 57 games with Rochester of the AHL. Defensively, the former Wisconsin Badger has an active stick while holding the blue line and displays excellent work ethic in puck retrievals and battles. He has physical upside, but his game is almost entirely stick-based. While McCabe is certain to retake his place in Rochester, it will be interesting to see if the 22-year old can find a home in Buffalo. In all likeliness McCabe will split his time between the AHL and NHL this year.
Justin Bailey is an excellent example of a player who has shown significant improvement in both skill and production in every year of his development. Moving on from the Kitchener Rangers to the Soo Greyhounds, the athletic forward demonstrated that he can excel in any situation. The Buffalo-native has a tremendous shot, is a committed forechecker and has solid vision in the offensive zone. Offensively, Bailey beats his opponents using a combination of an explosive second gear and supreme stickhandling ability. Bailey has the option to play as an overager in Sault Ste. Marie but the power forward is most likely to take a spot in Rochester next season before moving on the NHL.
Hudson Fasching, formerly a Los Angeles fourth-rounder, was considered a project player when he was originally drafted in 2013, and the Sabres sought his raw size, physicality and finishing ability in a trade that brought him to Buffalo in 2014. In his second attempt at an NHL development camp, Fasching demonstrated improved mobility and speed, and has a heavy nose for the net. Although he does not possess raw stickhandling skill, Fasching has the qualities of an NHL utility forward and power forward. He has two more years of NCAA eligibility and will likely finish up at the University of Minnesota before turning pro.
Brycen Martin is a smooth-skating, confident puck-moving defenseman who finished his season with the WHL’s Saskatoon Blades. The blueliner continues to improve offensively, posting his best production last year and Buffalo hopes this trend lasts. Martin is capable of quarterbacking a power play and boasts an offensive arsenal consisting of strong head-man passes and a penchant for rushing the puck. Contrasting his offensive skill, Martin’s calm demeanor shows when he is defending the blue line and could benefit from using his size and added physicality on defense. Although Martin is an intelligent defender and rarely makes foolish decisions, the two-way player could use some refinement and will likely play his 19-year old season in Saskatoon.
Nicholas Baptiste was given a second life following his early season trade from the OHL’s worst, Sudbury Wolves, to a league-leader, Erie Otters. On the puck, the potent goal-scorer has great puck protection skills and instincts, and can be quite creative in tight situations. Using his above-average north-south speed, Baptiste is often the first to loose pucks and is a relentless forechecker. The Ottawa-native also has some leadership qualities, being named captain of the Sudbury Wolves before his trade, and has excellent two-way capabilities as he shows effectiveness as a scoring and shut-down winger. He will likely start the season in Rochester, and like Bailey he is also eligible for an overaged season in the OHL.
Brendan Guhle is another puck moving, smooth-skating defenseman in Buffalo’s pool and has perhaps the rawest skillset with the most upside among this cohort. Guhle is an elite skater with tremendous top speed, agility and extremely light feet. At the major-junior level, Guhle plays with a ton of aggressiveness and is a fierce competitor. The blueliner frequently enters battles with gusto and uses sheer force to separate his opponent from the puck. Guhle also possesses a decent point-shot and can connect with teammates given little time and space. Despite his NHL-ready size, speed and physicality (which certainly appeals to Buffalo brass) his rawness and questionable decision-making will need further refinement. Regardless, the agitating defender will likely be a Raider next season and with further development, Guhle can be an exciting project for Buffalo.
Another prospect of interest in Buffalo’s system is Harvard Crimson Sean Malone. Malone has shown consistent and measured development in his two years with Harvard. The winger has made improvements in production, jumping from 0.65 points per game to 0.85. As a junior next year, he will continue developing and supplement the production of fellow Crimson Jimmy Vesey with his solid shot and nose for the net. The college player will likely finish his Harvard career before making the jump to professional hockey as he continues to develop and further define his game.
The final player on Buffalo’s list is San Diego product Chad Ruhwedel. The offensive defenseman was signed by Buffalo in 2013 and decided to forego his final year at UMass-Lowell to jumpstart his professional career. Ruhwedel was rewarded with an assistant captaincy in his second year with Rochester where he lead all defenseman in points while playing in just four games with Buffalo. There are concerns this undersized defender will not be able to take the physical abuses of the NHL, but the immediate impact Rudwedel had in Rochester forces Buffalo brass to continue taking notice. The 25 year old will need to act fast, so expect Chad to split his time between Buffalo and Rochester this year.
Pay attention to Buffalo’s sleepers including William Carrier, Phil Varone and Giorgio Estephan. Carrier suffered from injuries in his junior career but was able to piece together a near point-per-game average over his career. Although not an incredible skater, Carrier has the scoring skill to play a solid professional game. Similarly, Phil Varone is a consistent, high-producing AHL center with a small stature but a strong work ethic. He has yet to demonstrate his scoring ability at the NHL level, but with less than 30 games of experience it’s difficult to surmise that he will not reach his potential. Expect the 24-year old to get another chance at the NHL this year. Finally, Giorgio Estephan is a talented scoring forward with a history of inconsistency. Playing with a weak Lethbridge Hurricanes squad last year, Estephan burst onto the scene with an incredible run of 29 points in 20 games from December to January. If he can find consistency in his game and transfer that to the pros, the fifth round pick will be considered a steal for Buffalo.
Buffalo has built a prospect pool of talented goal-scorers, strong skaters and intelligent players. If there is any weakness to point out, it’s Buffalo’s lack of quality goaltending prospects. Most notably, goaltender Linus Ullmark has shown some inconsistency in his young career with Modo of the Swedish Hockey League, but is recognized as a deliberate, mechanical goaltender that plays a strong, conservative style. Regardless, Buffalo has done an excellent job at shoring up its prospect pool and preparing for improvement in the next few seasons with the few elite prospects they have been able to acquire.