Heading into training camp, the Sabres are stable in goal, with young players lined up to step in on defense and a few openings for prospects to make the jump at forward. After signing entry-level contracts, proven college players like Nathan Gerbe, Tim Kennedy, and Chris Butler will seek to show the team that they belong in Buffalo. Top prospect Jhonas Enroth will be headed to new AHL affiliate Portland, but will try to show the team something for the future.
There is room on Buffalo roster for a prospect to make the jump to the NHL with a strong showing at camp. The Sabres have a group of eight or so forwards that they have shown confidence in at the NHL level. The other players on the roster have dealt with injury concerns (Tim Connelly), lack of production (Adam Mair), and maddening inconsistency (Maxim Afinogenov). Patrick Kaleta and Andrew Peters should be secure in their roles as spark plug/enforcer types.
The prospects with the highest likelihood of making the team are Clarke MacArthur, Nathan Gerbe, and Tim Kennedy. MacArthur has spent a significant amount of time with the team, and is on the outer fringes of still being considered a prospect. Gerbe is a shifty, highly skilled center who would not fit in well with primarily physical players. With a strong camp, he may push Paul Gaustad to the checking line, if Ruff is inclined to add some scoring pop to the third line. Tim Kennedy faces less of an issue breaking in at wing, since he has shown a strong presence as a checking forward, and would fit in well on a third or fourth line.
Other intriguing prospects in camp are 2008 draft picks Tyler Ennis and Luke Adam. Although they are still very young, Ennis has great offensive skill, and Adam can provide a big body in front of the net. Marek Zagrapan was a high draft choice in 2005, and needs to show effort and consistency in camp. Converted defenseman Marc-Andre Gragnani, along with emerging centers Felix Schutz and Paul Byron, will try to establish themselves in a good position for potential openings next season.
Although the Sabres have several prospects on defense who appear to be ready to contribute at the NHL level, they face a logjam coming into training camp. Buffalo returns their defensive corps from the second half of last season, along with acquiring Craig Rivet from the Sharks and bringing back Teppo Numminen for his 20th NHL season.
As it currently stands, prospect Andrej Sekera is penciled in with the top six, with 20-year-old Mike Weber and the aforementioned Numminen providing depth. After a strong career with the University of Denver, Chris Butler will be joining the professional ranks, and with an impressive camp and AHL performance, he can be one of the team’s first call-ups or be in line to make the permanent jump next year. T.J. Brennan is also highly ranked by Hockey’s Future, but will spend another year in the QMJHL unless he can impress in camp. Other notable youngsters include this year’s draft picks Tyler Myers, Corey Fienhage, and Jordon Southorn. Dennis Persson, Michael Funk, Drew Schiestel, and Mike Card will all be seeking to show the franchise that they may belong in Buffalo in the future.
With newly minted $31.25 million man Ryan Miller and veteran backup Patrick Lalime, Buffalo is comfortable in goal entering training camp. Top prospect Jhonas Enroth will be coming over from Sweden to spend his first professional season with the Portland Pirates. Similar to Miller’s situation six years ago, Enroth will have a strong opportunity to grow and develop with a talented young AHL team, while the Sabres are stable at the NHL level.