Sabres NCAA prospects update

By Stuart McDonald

Despite having only mid-round NCAA picks, the Buffalo Sabres have a couple of players who should make a future mark in the NHL and a couple more who will make a serious run at it. 

Chris Butler, D, 7.0 C

Drafted: 4th round, 96th overall, 2005
Univ. of Denver

Butler’s point totals have taken a hit this year as he has scored only twice and is tied for 11th among WCHA defensemen. Despite getting the shots, the pucks haven’t gone in for Butler who makes up for his lack of offensive production with his stellar defensive work. A St. Louis native, Butler scored 27 points in 39 games last season and looked to be following in the footsteps of explosive, former Pioneer and current San Jose Shark, Matt Carle. Unlike Carle, however, Butler’s offensive contributions rarely take him out of position and he is considered a legitimate two-way defensive prospect. A smart player, Butler continues to play a sound positional game and is not afraid to take the body.  

Nathan Gerbe, C, 7.0 C

Drafted: 5th round, 142nd overall, 2005
Boston College

As a junior, Gerbe continues to dominate Hockey East as he leads the league in goals with 22, and points with 44 in only 31 games. Questions about his small size are waning as his goal scoring consistency and grit are becoming indisputable. Gerbe has improved notably every year since he entered the NCAA.  A big fan of New Jersey’s pint-sized Brian Gionta, Gerbe doesn’t let his size prevent him from playing an aggressive game as he consistently racks up penalty minutes. He has 45 PIMs in 31 games in 2007-08, third most on the team, which is where he finished last year. As long as he keeps up his chippy game, he has a chance to carry some of his goals and points to the next level. It looks more and more like one day Gerbe can join his hero Gionta and other pint-sized wonders who have made a good living in a big man’s game. 

Tim Kennedy, LW, 6.5 C

Drafted: 6th round, 181st overall by Washington, 2005
Michigan State Univ.

Amazingly, Kennedy has actually improved on his breakthrough 2006-07 season when he led the NCAA tournament in goals and points as his Michigan State Spartans were the NCAA champs. Currently sitting seventh in CCHA scoring with 16 goals and 35 points, Kennedy leads his team in assists, points and plus/minus. A Buffalo native, Kennedy’s size is still a factor as the 5’11, 185-pound playmaker will have to fill out considerably for the inevitable challenges of the pro game. Although small, Kennedy is an aggressive player and has consistently racked up the PIM’s throughout his college career. 

Matt Generous, D, 5.5C

Drafted:  7th round, 208th overall, 2005
St. Lawrence Univ.

Generous was expected to be running the power play at this point of his development as a junior, however, he sits third in scoring among St. Lawrence defenders as his pro prospects dwindle. At 6’3, 205 pounds, Generous has NHL size and has ramped up his offense this season to reflect the team’s improved attack.  After scoring only nine points in 37 games last season, Generous has three goals and 12 points in 28 games so far this season. These are not the type of numbers that scream pro offensive defenseman, but Generous has the size, the smarts and perhaps just enough skill to give pro hockey a try.

Andrew Orpik, RW, 5.0D

Drafted: 7th round, 227th overall, 2005
Boston College

Orpik’s five goals and 10 points in 32 games don’t bode well for the Boston College junior right winger. At 6’3, 210 pounds, Orpik has only size and a desire to hit working in his favor. Because of his size and because he was a defenseman for most of his high school hockey, Orpik will be given more time to develop than most other college forwards.

Alex Biega, D, 7.0 D

Drafted: 5th round, 147th overall, 2006
Harvard Univ.

The speedy Biega’s scoring hasn’t improved this year due partially to mediocre support from the anemic Harvard offense. With two goals and 15 assists in 27 games, Biega sits fourth in team scoring and tied for eighth in the relatively weak ECAC. As an offensive defenseman and a sophomore, tied for eighth is not where Biega needs to be to pursue a pro career. Biega needs to improve his decision-making, especially when joining the rush, although his defensive reads are usually sound. 

Corey Tropp, RW, 7.0 D

Drafted: 3rd round, 89th overall, 2007
Michigan State Univ.

Tropp has made a smooth transition to the college game after two productive years with Sioux Falls in the USHL. A native of Grosse Pointe Woods, Michigan, Tropp has six goals and 15 points in 35 games this season which puts him eighth among Spartan forwards. Tropp, originally a right winger, played left wing for most of this season until recently when he was moved back to the right side to play with veterans Tim Kennedy and Justin Abdelkader.  Tropp’s improvement has been steady this year, but has really picked up after being teamed with the puck distributing Kennedy. It’s a match made in heaven as Tropp, a pure sniper, always looks to shoot. He continues to play with a physical edge which he needs to do to be effective. With balance to stay on his feet on the boards and in front of the net, and Kennedy dishing him the puck, Tropp and his long stick are starting to make some noise.

Nick Eno, G, 6.0 C

Drafted: 7th round, 187th overall, 2007       
Bowling Green Univ.

Being drafted out of the EJHL in the seventh round is not an auspicious start to an NHL career. To make matters worse, Eno was slated to start the season with Bowling Green who finished dead last in the 2006-07 CCHA season. Things have worked out as well as can be expected for Eno as the Falcons are fifth in the 12-team league, and Eno is the best freshman goalie in the CCHA. Eno has earned the No. 1 job in the Falcons net with a .917 save percentage and an 11-7 record which are sixth and fifth in the league respectively. At this stage of his career, Eno looks like a seventh-round steal for the Sabres.