It’s been said hockey teams need to build from the net out, and if that’s the case the Buffalo Sabres have a bright future with Swedish goalkeeper Jhonas Enroth sitting atop the team’s prospect rankings. The spring list includes 11 forwards, seven defenders and two goaltenders.
Top 20 at a glance
1. Jhonas Enroth
2. Andrej Sekera
3. Clarke MacArthur
4. Marc-Andre Gragnani
5. Mike Weber
6. Marek Zagrapan
7. T.J. Brennan
8. Nathan Gerbe
9. Chris Butler
10. Tim Kennedy
11. Michael Funk
12. Vyateslav Buravchikov
13. Philippe Gogulla
14. Dennis Persson
15. Mark Mancari
16. Jean-Simon Allard
17. Drew Schiestel
18. Corey Tropp
19. Felix Schutz
20. Nick Eno
1. (4) Jhonas Enroth, G, 8.0 C
Drafted: 2nd round, 46th overall, 2006
Helped by the graduation of Drew Stafford, Enroth takes over as the Sabres top prospect. This undersized butterfly goaltender put himself on the map at the 2008 World Junior Hockey Championships, posting a .905 save percentage and 2.33 GAA with his only loss coming at the hands of Canada in the finals.
He earned a nomination for rookie of the year in the Swedish Elitserien League following a strong performance with Södertälje SK, but Daniel Larsson (DET) bested him for the award. Enroth finished with 33 wins, 16 losses, including three shutouts and a .933 save percentage.
The next step for Enroth will be to prove himself on North American ice. A 2006 pick, he must be signed by June 1.
2. (3) Andrej Sekera, D, 7.5 C
Drafted: 3rd round, 71st overall, 2004
Sekera was the first call-up from Rochester when the Sabres needed defensemen this season and he earned himself several more tryouts with the big club. In 37 games with Buffalo, he tallied two goals and six assists with a healthy +5 rating.
The most memorable moment of his year was a 50-foot goal scored 39 seconds into overtime that sealed a 2-1 victory over the Boston Bruins, when the Sabres were fighting for a playoff spot in late March.
A dominant skater at the AHL level, the 6’0, 200-pound Sekera could find a niche with the Sabres in 2008-09, following the deadline trade of veteran Brian Campbell.
3. (2) Clarke MacArthur, C/LW, 7.0 B
Drafted: 3rd round, 74th overall, 2003
MacArthur continued to tease his offensive potential in the AHL this season, but struggled with inconsistency during a lengthy call up with the Sabres. In 37 games with Buffalo he scored eight times and collected seven assists. He also proved he can score in bunches with three multipoint games, including a two-goal contest against Montreal in mid-November. However, it’s the 25 games in which he didn’t make it onto the score sheet that are cause for concern. As an offensive player, he needs to find a way to compete on a nightly basis in order to nail down a full-time roster position with the big club.
Despite offensive struggles in Buffalo, MacArthur continued to be a strong force when lacing up for the Rochester Americans this year and was even leading the league in scoring at the time of his NHL call up in early November. The 6-foot, 191-pound forward finished with 14 goals and 28 assists in 47 games with the Americans.
4. (7) Marc-Andre Gragnani, F, 7.5 C
Drafted: 3rd round, 87th overall, 2005
A move to the forward position just before Christmas has opened up a new world of possibilities for this former defender. Gragnani played at nearly a point per game pace for the last three months of the season with Rochester, including a ten-game point streak in February that totaled five goals and nine assists. Overall, he finished second on the team in points with 14 goals and 38 assists in 78 games. His plus/minus was ugly, however, with a -24 on the year.
He had zero points and four penalty minutes in two games with the Sabres during a call-up in February.
At 6’2, 192lbs, he has unlimited offensive potential and decent size to boot. With his great work ethic and willingness to change positions after a four-year junior career, the ceiling is relatively high for this player.
5. (12) Mike Weber, D, 7.0 C
Drafted: 2nd round, 57th overall, 2006
Weber takes a big leap into the No. 5 slot of the rankings after proving this season that he has the ability to be a top-six NHL defenseman. He spent most of the year in Rochester, but did get a few games in with Buffalo early in the season before joining the team for the last 12 games of the year. Weber recorded three assists in 16 games with the Sabres, but most impressively finished with a +12 rating and averaged more than 19 minutes of playing time in March and April.
In 59 games with the Americans, Weber collected one goal and 13 assists with a -8.
He is 6’2, 205 lbs and plays with a mean edge that leads to a lot of penalty minutes. A 2006 pick with a December birthday, he was one of the youngest players in the AHL this year.
6. (9) Marek Zagrapan, C, 7.0 C
Drafted: 1st round, 13th overall, 2005
Zagrapan avoided a sophomore slump and posted decent offensive totals in his second year of pro hockey. Playing in 76 games with Rochester, this slick playmaker found the back of the net 18 times and collected 22 assists along the way. That’s only two points over his rookie season, but he is improving and will eventually be a solid player.
Zagrapan is 6’1, 198 lbs and is known to take a bad penalty here or there when his emotions get the best of him.
He’s yet to get a chance in the Sabres line-up, but it’s likely he will get that opportunity during the 2008-09 season.
7. (5) T.J. Brennan, D, 7.0 C
Drafted: 2nd round, 31st overall, 2007
Right now it seems you need to take the good with the bad when it comes to this young defender. He had another strong offensive year with the St John’s Fog Devils of the QMJHL, but finished with the second-worst plus/minus on the team at -15. His offensive talents are obvious, 16 goals and 25 assists in 65 games, but he continues to struggle defensively and has a lot to learn before making the next step in his career.
Brennan is listed at 6’0, 205 lbs and has the talent and drive to turn things around. He will play his third year of junior hockey in Verdun, Quebec, as the St. John’s franchise is being relocated.
8. (11) Nathan Gerbe, C, 7.0 C
Drafted: 5th round, 142nd overall, 2005
Gerbe put up huge offensive numbers with Boston College this year, a contrast to his less-than-huge 5’6, 160-pound frame. In 45 games he had 35 goals and 33 assists, proving he might indeed be the most skilled player on this list. His future will all depend on whether his hands and quickness can overcome his lack of size.
More than just scouts are recognizing his talents as he earned All-America first-team honors and was one of three finalists for the 2008 Hobey Baker award, handed to college hockey’s top player.
9. (14) Chris Butler, D, 7.0 C
Drafted: 4th round, 96th overall, 2005
Butler suffered an off year offensively with University of Denver, down ten points from last season’s totals, finishing with just three goals and 14 assists. However, it’s not a cause for concern, as he’s just too solid an all-around player to fall off the radar. This was evidenced in his selection as one of only 24 All-Americans for the 2007-08 season.
He could also be a Lady Byng candidate — the 6’1, 190-pound defender didn’t receive a single penalty all season long.
Butler will not return to college next year, opting to skip his final year of NCAA eligibility to sign with the Sabres.
10. (16) Tim Kennedy, LW, 7.0 C
Drafted: 6th round, 181st overall, 2005 by Washington
Kennedy finished tied for fifth in CCHA scoring with 20 goals and 23 assists in 42 games with Michigan State University. He’s another Buffalo prospect who has been dogged for his small stature. He’s been listed from 5’9 to 5’11 and if he’s 5’9 he’s no Patrick Kane. Regardless, Kennedy does have NHL potential and will likely win a role in the big leagues at some point in his career.
Kennedy plays a rough brand of hockey and is known for hard hitting, especially for his size.
11. (8) Michael Funk, C, 6.5 C
Drafted: 2nd round, 43rd overall, 2004
Funk drops two spots on the list after showing very little improvement in his second year of pro hockey. He racked up 104 penalty minutes, and managed just ten points, all assists, in 58 games with Rochester. His -15 on the season was far from the worst on the team.
In four games with Buffalo, this March, he averaged just over 11 minutes of ice time per game, recorded one shot on goal and rated -3.
He really needs to fill out his 6’4, 210-pound frame to become a stronger physical presence and prevent future injury.
12. (13) Vyateslav Buravchikov, D, 6.5 C
Drafted: 6th round, 191st overall, 2005
Buravchikov is an enigma. He is thought to be much better than his numbers suggest and it’s unknown when, if ever, he will sign with Buffalo and try his hand on North American ice. In 46 games with Kazan Ak-Bars in the Russian Super League he recorded just one assist, along with 12 penalty minutes and a +1 rating.
He is a slick skater and is projected as a future power-play quarterback, but a lot about his future will remain a mystery until he decides to cross the ocean.
13. (NR) Philippe Gogulla, LW, 6.5 C
Drafted: 2nd round, 48th overall, 2005
Gogulla doubled his offensive numbers with the Cologne Sharks in the German league this year. He scored 11 times and assisted on 33 in 51 games.
He has a lanky build, 6’2, 176 lbs, and will need to focus on filling out to be effective in North America. He has strong skating and board play and with a bit more muscle could turn out to be a decent power forward.
14. (10) Dennis Persson, D, 6.5 C
Drafted: 1st round, 24th overall, 2006
Persson split the year between tier one and tier two hockey in Sweden. He turns 20 this summer and still hasn’t proven he can play top level Swedish hockey and that’s the reason he slips three spots in the rankings.
In 21 games with Djurgardens IF Stockholm of the Swedish Elite League, he managed just one assist and six penalty minutes. He tallied one goal and three points with Nykoping following his demotion.
He still has time to develop but has fallen behind other top Buffalo defensive prospects.
15. (17) Mark Mancari, RW, 6.5 C
Drafted: 7th round, 207th overall, 2004
His offensive production plateaued in Rochester this season despite playing in 16 more games than the year before. In 80 games, Mancari had 21 goals and 36 assists with 78 penalty minutes.
He has average skating, but a rocket-hard shot, which he proved when he won the AHL’s hardest shot competition this year, shattering the AHL record with a blast that registered 102.8 mph.
If he keeps improving the 6’4, 225-pounder might find some fourth line duty with Buffalo next year.
16. (NR) Jean-Simon Allard, C, 5.5 B
Drafted: 5th round, 147th overall, 2007
Allard managed decent production for a third-year junior player, scoring 16 times and setting up 44 goals in 67 games and was a star with the St. John’s Fog Devils.
The 6’2, 185-pound center skates well for his size, but needs to learn how to bring his A-game on a nightly basis. He is a work in progress but shows good potential.
He will have an easier schedule next season as his junior team is moving from Newfoundland to Quebec and travel time will be less of a burden.
17. (15) Drew Schiestel, D, 7.0 D
Drafted: 2nd round, 59th overall, 2007
Schiestel is a good-skating offensive defenseman who takes a lot of risks. In 68 regular season games with the Niagara IceDogs, the defender collected eight goals, 29 assists and 40 penalty minutes with a +15. In the playoffs he scored at an even higher level with a goal and six assists in just ten games. He was voted the most sportmanlike on his team.
Schiestel showed durability, playing in all 68 games this season and is working on better awareness. He is 6’2, 190lbs and will be back in Niagara to close out his OHL career next season.
18. (18) Corey Tropp, RW, 7.0 D
Drafted: 3rd round, 89th overall, 2007
Tropp had a solid rookie year playing a small role on an excellent Michigan State team. He scored six and assisted on 11 in 42 games.
Tropp is a sniper with a quick release, but will need to develop a stronger physical edge in order to be truly effective.
He should see his playing time increase next season as the team lost one of its top scorers, Justin Abdelkader (DET), to the pro game.
19. (NR) Felix Schutz, C, 6.5 D
Drafted: 4th round, 117th overall, 2006
After two years in the QMJHL, Schutz decided to move closer to home and lace it up in the German league with Ingolstadt ERC. He fills a top-six forward role with the team and is performing well against players that are a lot bigger and a lot more experienced.
In 45 games he potted 12 goals, along with 13 assists and 76 penalty minutes. At 5’11, 187 lbs, Schutz is a pass first and shoot later center, but he does possess a quick and accurate shot.
20. (NR) Nick Eno, G, 6.5 D
Drafted: 7th round, 187th overall, 2007
Eno came out of nowhere and played a lot of hockey as a freshman for Bowling Green University. He compiled a record of 12 wins and 10 losses with a .905 save percentage and 2.79 GAA.
He is a big goaltender at 6’3, 190lbs and possesses a great glove hand.
Missing the cut
Benjamin Breault, C, 6.5 D
Drafted: 7th round, 207th overall, 2006
Breault didn’t improve his offense in his fourth year with the Baie-Comeau Drakkar in the QMJHL. He finished the season with 36 goals and 41 assists in 62 games, which seem like strong numbers but really aren’t that unusual for a player of his age.
However, he is smooth skater with good vision and solid offensive instincts. The 5’10, 183-pound center has a wild card future, but he will be eligible to play in the AHL for the 2008-09 season and must be signed by June 1.