Buffalo Sabres have balanced group of prospects in NCAA and Europe

By Jason Chen

Hudson Fasching - Buffalo Sabres

Photo: Hulking forward Hudson Fasching (24) has been a standout in his freshman season with the University of Minnesota, managing 12 goals and 16 assists. Fasching was traded to the Buffalo Sabres on March 5th, 2014. (courtesy of Brian Ekart/Icon SMI)

There is no doubt the Buffalo Sabres have one of the deepest prospect pools in the league. Their prospect pool is extremely balanced, with players at various levels of competition from every corner of the hockey world.

Among their European and collegiate prospects, they have an extremely promising goalie, two top-notch NCAA defensemen who play vastly different styles, and four quality forwards, all of whom will have a chance to be significant contributors at the NHL level.

Yet, none of the players listed below were first-round picks, a testament to Buffalo's ability to find quality talent in the later rounds. This is a good sign going forward, because rebuilding teams need to find value throughout the draft, not just in the early rounds.

NCAA

Jake McCabe, D, Wisconsin Badgers (Big Ten)
Drafted 2nd round, 44th overall, 2012

McCabe returned to Wisconsin for his junior season, and while the Badgers recently lost 5-2 to North Dakota, the young defenseman nonetheless had a successful season. McCabe had seven multi-point games this year and set career-highs with eight goals, 25 points, and 53 penalty minutes, and was a no-brainer choice for the All-Conference first team. There is still a lot of room for improvement on the defensive side of the puck and he will certainly be tested at the AHL level. With or without a national championship, the Sabres intend on signing him this summer after failing to do so last year.

Brad Navin, F, Wisconsin Badgers (Big Ten)
Drafted 7th round, 197th overall, 2011

Navin does not have a particularly high ceiling, but he has at least managed to stay in the Badgers lineup this season, and set career-highs with four goals, five assists and nine points. But through 106 career games, Navin has scored just 19 points and is rarely used outside his regular checking role. A versatile yet hard-working forward, his skating needs more work. Navin will likely return for his senior season.

Anthony Florentino, D, Providence Friars (Hockey East)
Drafted 5th round, 143rd overall, 2013

On most nights, the Friars' chances of winning depend on sophomore goalie Jon Gillies (CGY) and a stalwart defense. Despite being just 19 years old, the hard-hitting Florentino is playing a big role on the team's defense. Drafted from a high school selects team, Florentino appeared in 30 games and registered 11 points, tied for third among the team's defensemen despite being the youngest. A well-rounded but undeniably raw defensemen, Florentino will stay at Providence for a few more years.

Mark Adams, D, Providence Friars (Hockey East)
Drafted 5th Round, 134th Overall, 2009

Hampered by a series of injuries, Adams has appeared in just 33 games over the past three seasons, which is also equivalent to his freshman total. Adams suffered a concussion in his sophomore year, limiting him to just 19 games, and further concussion issues limited him to just seven games the following year. In his senior season, he suffered a season-ending knee injury, limiting him to seven games again. The lack of playing time hurt his development, and with already so much competition in Buffalo's system, it is unlikely the Sabres will sign him. Adams' future, whether with the Sabres or elsewhere, is unclear at this point.

Hudson Fasching, RW, Minnesota Golden Gophers (Big Ten)
Trade with Los Angeles Kings, March 5th, 2014

A fourth-round pick by the Kings in 2013, Fasching and Nicolas Deslauriers were acquired in a trade for Brayden McNabb, Jonathan Parker, and two second-round picks. The price alone is an indicator of what both sides thought of Fasching, the 6'2, 213-pound forward who finished second in rookie scoring in the Big Ten with 28 points. At the time of the draft, it was believed that Fasching would need a few years in the NCAA, but his recent play suggests he could make the NHL sooner than expected. He is noted for his scoring ability as well his intangibles, and his character off the ice is often praised.

Christian Isackson, RW, Minnesota Golden Gophers (Big Ten)
Drafted 7th round, 203rd overall, 2010

The vast majority of seventh-round picks do not pan out, but Isackson has been particularly disappointing for not realizing his potential or taking advantage of the opportunities given to him. After a sophomore year that saw him score 20 points in 40 games, Isackson struggled to get regular ice time with a talented incoming freshman class, and despite seeing some power play time as a checking line player, managed just a goal and four points in 19 games. The skilled forward is unlikely to be offered a contract this summer, but does have at least one more year of NCAA eligibility left to turn things around.

JT Compher, C, Michigan Wolverines (Big Ten)
Drafted 2nd round, 35th overall, 2013

Named the inaugural Big Ten Rookie of the Year after leading Michigan in scoring with 31 points in 35 games, the Sabres have a gem in J.T. Compher. Speedy, tenacious, and consistently able to make good decisions with the puck, he missed out on a chance to shine on the international stage at the World Junior Championships after suffering a left foot injury. The Sabres would be thrilled to have a strong two-way center in their lineup, but the time is not right for Compher to turn pro, and he is therefore likely to return for his sophomore season.

Sean Malone, C, Harvard Crimson (ECAC)
Drafted 6th round, 159th overall, 2013

Despite being one of the lesser-heralded players from the NTDP's list of 2013 graduates, Malone also turned in a fine freshman season, finishing second on the Crimson with 20 points. It took Malone a few months to get into a groove, but from January to March, he was an offensive force, scoring 14 points in 18 games. A high school lacrosse player at the Nichols School in Buffalo, Malone has good hands, but sets himself apart with a strong work ethic. He was a late addition to the NTDP in 2012-13, but in just one year's time has turned into an intriguing prospect. He is likely to stay at Harvard for a few more seasons.

Europe

Linus Ullmark, G, MODO (SHL)
Drafted 6th round, 163rd overall, 2012

There is a wave of young Swedish goaltenders slowly emerging in the NHL, and Ullmark has the potential to be one of the best. Considered the one of top Swedish prospects not playing in North America, he uses his 6'3 frame effectively and tracks the puck very well. Backing up Anton Forsberg (CLB) to start the season, Ullmark ended up winning the starting job and made 35 appearances, finishing first in the league in save percentage (.931) and seventh in goals-against (2.08). In the playoffs, MODO blew a four-goal lead in an elimination game against Linkoping and lost in overtime, despite a 45-save effort from Ullmark. With six goalies in their prospect pool, the Sabres can afford to let Ullmark gain more experience in Sweden, and there is no denying he possess immense potential.

Gustav Possler, LW/RW, MODO (SHL)
Drafted 5th round, 130th overall, 2013

MODO's scoring leader with eight goals through the first 22 games of the season, Possler is a promising goal scorer who uses his speed both on defense and offense. He jumps into passing lanes well, and once he takes away the puck and takes a few strides, defenders have a hard time catching him.

Unfortunately, Possler's season was cut short by a knee injury that required surgery, although it is not expected to affect his play long-term. Along with Ullmark, Sabres fans have good reasons to tune into a few MODO games next year with both players expected to play expanded roles.

Follow Jason Chen on Twitter via @jasonchen16

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