Portland Pirates 2008-09 season preview

By James Schwegler

After a long partnership with the Rochester Americans, the Sabres have transitioned to an exclusive agreement with the Portland Pirates of the AHL.  Last season was a disappointing campaign for the Buffalo farm club.  The deep pool of talented prospects that Sabres fans enjoyed over the past several years have made their way to the NHL, and now represent the core of the parent club. 

Thankfully for Sabres fans, the pipeline has been restocked with an infusion of young talent, particularly from the college ranks.  NCAA standouts Nathan Gerbe, Tim Kennedy, and Chris Butler will join the Pirates this season.  Coming over from Europe are top goaltending prospect Jhonas Enroth and solid center Felix Schutz

Forwards


Two college stars, Nathan Gerbe and Tim Kennedy, will be the headliners up front.  Gerbe distinguished himself in the pre-season, and will be one of the first call-ups if Buffalo is in need.  In the meantime, he has an opportunity to develop and show that he can dominate at the AHL level.  Kennedy can continue to refine his skills as a defensive forward and work to add some heft to his frame while he adjusts to the higher level of play.

Marek Zagrapan is a former first round pick with tantalizing skills that is running out of time, and needs to take a step forward with Portland.  After spending last season in Germany, Felix Schutz is looking to continue his progress as a well-rounded center.  Mark Mancari, an AHL veteran, is a big body who can be a force around the net. 

Other contributors will be scrappy winger Dylan Hunter, young enforcer Jimmy Bonneau, and accomplished Bowling Green product Derek Whitmore.

Tyler Bouck, Mathieu Darche, Colton Fretter, and Colin Murphy round out the group of forwards, although due to age they do not meet the Hockey’s Future criteria to be considered a prospect.

Defense

Mike Weber and Chris Butler will be counted on to anchor the defensive corps.  Last season, Weber was impressive with Rochester and as a late call up to the Sabres.  He was the final cut coming out of training camp this year, and will almost certainly be counted on in Buffalo.  Chris Butler saw a good amount of ice time in the pre-season, and will have time to adjust to the AHL after an excellent career at the University of Denver.

Mike Card, Marc-Andre Gragnani, and Mike Funk are faced with a numbers game in their path to Buffalo.  Although they all bring something different to the table, each player is not far from making the transition, but would need jump over Weber and Butler before looking to crack a solid top six with the big league club.  Funk is a finesse defender with a good stride, while Card and Gragnani show more balance in their game.

Mike Kostka will take some time to adjust to the AHL, but should be able to contribute on the power play if given the opportunity.  Paul Baier is an unheralded player, but may see some situational ice time. 

Goaltending

Jhonas Enroth is Buffalo’s top-rated prospect, and has all the requisite abilities to become a solid NHL goaltender.  His good positioning in the butterfly style, balanced demeanor, and quick glove hand make him a promising young talent.  He has an uncommon opportunity to take his time developing behind a gifted AHL team while the parent club is solid in net for the foreseeable future.

Adam Dennis showed his mettle in the crucible of last season in Rochester, and should be a capable backup to Enroth.