Despite improving their standing in the Northeast Division at the conclusion of the 2008-09 season, the Buffalo Sabres found themselves out of playoff contention for the second year in a row.
The organization was just two years removed from being crowned the NHL's best regular season team, but the departures of co-captains Chris Drury and Daniel Briere in 2007 left a significant void on the ice and in the locker room.
To replenish the roster, then-GM Darcy Regier turned to the draft, and with the team still featuring plenty of scoring ability with players such as Thomas Vanek, Derek Roy, and Brian Campbell, decided to take players who could help in other areas of the game. In 2008, the Sabres drafted 6'8 defenseman Tyler Myers, and during his Calder Trophy-winning rookie season, provided a physical defensive presence the team previously lacked. Regier would follow a similar strategy in 2009, taking three players who never shy away from physical contact.
Kassian already played two full seasons of OHL hockey heading into the draft. He was known as one of the league's biggest and toughest players, and gained notoriety for being the player who injured top pick John Tavares at the CHL Top Prospects game. With 24 goals and 13 fighting majors, Kassian was viewed as a power forward with above average stickhandling ability. He served briefly as captain of the Petes before being traded to Windsor, but developed a reputation for being undisciplined, both on the ice for dangerous, reckless hits, and off the ice for breaking team rules.
The Sabres took Kassian 13th overall, ahead of Guelph's Peter Holland (TOR), who was also seen as a big, skilled forward, but lacked the overall toughness Kassian possessed. Kassian played two more seasons of junior hockey – winning an OHL and Memorial Cup title – before turning pro, and seemed to have no problem scoring at the AHL level.
In the NHL, however, Kassian was ineffective. He played lazily when the puck was not on his stick, took far too many undisciplined penalties, and showed little improvement over the years. He lasted just 27 games with Buffalo in the 2011-12 season before he was traded to Vancouver in exchange for center Cody Hodgson, who was drafted 10th overall in 2008.
With the Canucks, Kassian has been productive for stretches, but not consistent enough to warrant regular minutes in the top-six.
Teams often find success in drafting defensemen from the WHL, generally considered to be the most physically demanding of the three CHL leagues. McNabb, a 6'4 defenseman who puts as much strength into his open-ice hits as his blistering, 102-mph slap shot, was coming off an impressive 10-goal, 140 penalty minute season with the Ice. A left-hand shot, McNabb was a former teammate of Myers when the "Twin Towers" played together at Notre Dame in Saskatchewan.
It has taken a little longer for McNabb to find his footing in the NHL, and he continues to struggle to get regular playing time, but the three-time AHL all-star will be an NHL regular soon. Often described as a lesser, left-shooting version of Shea Weber, McNabb's mix of size and skill will be a welcome addition to the Buffalo blue line. Though the team's future is uncertain at the moment, the 23-year-old, who will be a restricted free agent this summer, should have a role with the Sabres under new general manager Tim Murray.
Marcus Foligno, LW, Sudbury Wolves (OHL) – 4th round, 104th overall
Status: NHL Player
NHL Games Played: 110
Born in Buffalo, there is no denying that Marcus models his playing style after his father, Mike, who collected multiple 30-goal seasons and hundreds of penalty minutes during his time as a Sabre. Though he lacks the scoring prowess of his father, Marcus plays the same speedy, aggressive, and physical game. In the OHL, Foligno did not establish himself as a scorer until his overage season, when he managed 23 goals and 36 assists through 47 games.
When Foligno turned pro, he was expected to be a depth winger, but with enough discipline and consistency, he could eventually become a checking line winger in the NHL. He surprised everyone with 16 goals in his rookie AHL season, and later lit the NHL on fire with 13 points in 14 games during a late-season call up. Foligno was showing an offensive side that was rarely seen, and for a brief time, started to enter conversations as a potential second-line scoring winger. But the big winger has struggled since then, performing inconsistently and sitting as a healthy scratch in some instances. He still has time to grow, but seems to be having trouble figuring out exactly what kind of NHL player he wants to be.
Mark Adams, D, Malden Catholic (Massachusetts high school) – 5th round, 134th overall
NHL Games Played: 0
Drafted out of high school from Massachusetts, Adams played a year with the Chicago Steel in the USHL before heading to Providence College. A 6'3, 210 pound defenseman, Adams plays a stay-at-home style and possesses very limited skating and stickhandling ability. Adams appeared in 33 games as a freshman, but over the next three seasons played in only 31 games due to injuries. In his sophomore year, Adams appeared in 19 games, scoring just one assist, due to a concussion. In the seventh game of his junior year, he suffered a season-ending knee injury. This season, Adams has been limited to just five games due to a lingering lower-body injury.
When he plays, Adams is a key player for the Friars, a team that consistently ranks in top ten polls this year, but that has become a rarity. Now in his senior season, the Sabres will most likely relinquish Adams' rights at the conclusion of his collegiate career. Though the door has not been closed completely, the Sabres have drafted a number of young defensemen recently, which leaves Adams on the outside looking in. Should he want to extend his playing career, Adams may need to catch on with a minor pro team and prove his worth before any NHL team makes an offer.
Connor Knapp, G, Miami RedHawks (CCHA) – 6th round, 164th overall
NHL Games Played: 0
In 2008, the RedHawks were coming off a successful season, winning 33 of their 42 games behind strong goaltending from Jeff Zatkoff. After the season, Zatkoff turned pro with the Los Angeles Kings, leaving head coach Enrico Blasi's squad with a significant void in net. He elected to roll the dice with two freshmen goalies, one of which was Knapp, a lanky, 6'5 goalie who played Tier III Junior A the year prior. The RedHawks finished the season with 10 fewer wins, but bettered last year's performance by reaching the NCAA championship final, which ended in a heartbreaking overtime loss to Boston University. Though Knapp's play faded during the end of the season and Cody Reichard became the go-to guy for the NCAA tournament, Knapp was deemed to possess more potential, especially with his size.
Over the next three years, the RedHawks would split goaltending duties between Knapp and Reichard. Knapp was outstanding in his sophomore year, taking over starting duties for the NCAA tournament, but took a back seat again in his junior year when Reichard re-emerged as the number one goalie. In their senior seasons, Knapp proved to be the better goalie by a clear margin, when he was named the CCHA's goalie of the year with a 1.69 goals-against average and .933 save percentage.
Knapp is still a raw prospect at the moment due to his limited experience as a starter, and with the Sabres' glut of goalies, he has spent most of the past two years in the ECHL. With Ryan Miller's future with the Sabres uncertain, Knapp figures to play a role in the team's plans for the future. The New York-native is a restricted free agent this summer, and if re-signed, will have to fight for a job on the Amerks.
A big, right-shooting winger who likes to score goals, Legault was drafted as a 20-year-old after scoring 28 goals in 63 games during the regular season and 10 goals in 21 games in the playoffs. As an overage player in the QMJHL, Legault was expected to improve his goal totals significantly, but mustered just 17 in 43 games.
He turned pro with the Portland Pirates the following the season, and achieved moderate success with 24 points in 67 games, but did not earn a contract from the Sabres. In 2011, he was re-signed to a two-year AHL contract with Rochester and scored 19 goals over 122 games. Legault is currently in the ECHL, where he sits third in team scoring on the Gwinnett Gladiators. The 24-year-old has limited potential and will most likely remain a career minor league journeyman.
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