The Buffalo Sabres have seven junior prospects, five of whom were picked in the fifth round or later.
Seeing Byron skate with Buffalo’s regulars at their fall training camp was a painful experience. The tiny Byron looked like one of the coach’s kids skating alongside Derek Roy, Jaroslav Spacek, Alex Kotalik and Ryan Miller in the speed drills. Three steps off the line and Roy, Spacek and Kotalik were already two feet in front of Byron. Given how light he is he’ll have to add leg strength to the lengthy list of things to improve before he can even sniff pro hockey. He does have time on his side, a big heart and a genuine goal scorer’s touch which he has exhibited this year playing for the Gatineau Olympiques in the QMJHL. He has also added 10 pounds and one inch over the summer coming in at 5’9, 144 pounds.
Byron suffered a serious leg injury in a 4-2 victory in Moncton on Oct. 21. Despite missing 16 of his team’s 31 games with the injury, Byron has 10 goals and 16 points in 14 games. He remains fourth in goal scoring despite his lengthy absence.
Benjamin Breault, C – Baie-Comeau (QMJHL)
Drafted: 7th round, 207th overall, 2006
It has been a frustrating year for Breault. Despite averaging a point per game and having 10 goals in 20 games, Breault hasn’t been able to build on his breakthrough 2006-07 QMJHL season when he finished third in even-strength goals and 11th in plus/minus. Playing for the powerhouse Baie Comeau Drakkar, Breault, a fourth-year junior, needed more than a repeat of last season’s 80 points to prove he was a good NHL prospect. To compound matters, Breault was injured in a Nov. 3 home victory over Rimouski and has missed eight regular season games since. Named to Team QMJHL in the ADT Canada/Russia Challenge on Oct. 23, Breault’s injury opened up a spot on the QMJHL team for another Sabre CHL prospect, Jean-Simon Allard.
Jean-Simon Allard, C – St.John’s (QMJHL)
Drafted: 5th round, 147th overall, 2007
It’s been an eventful year for the 6’2, 200-pound Allard. Allard finished last season with 38 assists and 50 points in 69 games and set a franchise record for most assists in one game scoring five assists against Shawinigan on Feb. 14. Allard has continued his development as a setup man this season with 24 assists and 30 points in 27 games. He currently sits seventh in QMJHL assists despite playing for the offensively challenged Sea Dogs who are 14th out of 18 teams in goals. He leads the team in assists and points.
Allard was offensive player of the week ending Oct. 14, 2007. He scored 4 goals and 8 points in four games to capture the honor. After Breault’s injury, Allard was named to Team QMJHL in the ADT Canada/Russia Challenge but he was held pointless in the two games. With his good size and continued improvement the third year junior is progressing nicely and could potentially surpass the 100-point mark next season.
T.J. Brennan, D – St.John’s (QMJHL)
Drafted: 2nd round, 31st overall, 2007
Brennan’s goal for this year was to work on his defensive game. He is considered the defensive stopper for the Fog Devils despite a lowly -10 on the year. The problem is the Fog Devils are a weak team, currently 16th in an 18-team league. They also have the 16th most goals against which doesn’t reflect well on the 6’0, 205-pound New Jersey native. On the bright side Brennan is continuing his stellar offensive play from last season, as he’s 10th in scoring among QMJHL defensemen. His 6 goals and 19 points have him only one point out of a fifth-place tie.
Brennan was named QMJHL defensive player of the week on Nov. 12 as he scored one goal and five points in two games. He really shone in an 8-2 win over the Lewiston MAINEiacs notching four points. He was also a +2 in the two games.
Schiestel has struggled in his own zone so far this year. The Niagara IceDogs are two games over .500, have scored more goals than they have allowed but Schiestel is a team-worst -6. The IceDogs rely heavily on three defensemen and to make matters worse the other two defensemen are a combined +34. On the plus side, Schiestel is second among IceDog defensemen with five goals and 15 points in 27 games.
Schiestel is seeing a lot of time on the top pairing this season and it’s something he isn’t used to. He was frequently in the third pairing last season so his responsibility has increased considerably. Schiestel badly needs to improve his upper body strength and his defensive reads.
After being picked 12th overall in the first round of the USHL draft, MacKenzie has proven to be an extremely effective stopper for the offensively-challenged Blackhawks. Forwards Michael Fink, +3, and Paul Weisgarber, even, are the only regulars close to MacKenzie’s +4 on a team that averages -2. In 16 games the 6’2, 200-pound MacKenzie has also scored four
points in 16 games this season. The Blackhawks are 10-4-2 so far, good enough for fifth in the 12-team league.
The Hawks have the second best defense in the league thanks largely to MacKenzie’s steady game. He has made a nice transition from high school hockey to the USHL and will make a fine addition to the University of Vermont in the fall.
Bradley Eidsness, G – Okotoks (AJHL)
Drafted: 5th round, 139th overall, 2007
Eidsness led the Canada West squad to a gold medal in the World Junior A Challenge on Nov. 11 in Trail, BC. Eidsness was the best goalie in the tournament with a 4-1 record, a 1.89 GAA, and a .922 save percentage. He made 22 stops in a 4-1 victory against Canada East in the gold medal game. Just reaching the final was a challenging feat considering the Russians sent some of their best Under-20 players including Viatcheslav Voinov, Nikita Filatov and Evgeni Grachev.
Eidsness has also played well for his club team leading the Okotoks Oilers in the AJHL to the second best record in the 16-team loop. Only the No. 1 Junior A team in the country, the Camrose Kodiaks, has a better record than Okotoks. Eidsness is tied for first in save percentage with .931 and is fourth in wins and GAA with 9 and 2.36 respectively. After such a strong start, he should be ready for the competitive North Dakota Fighting Sioux program at the end of his junior career.
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