Sabres Top 20 prospects, Spring 2009

By James Schwegler

Buffalo’s top 20 can be broken up into three groups.  One group (Jhonas Enroth, Chris Butler, Tim Kennedy, Nathan Gerbe, Mike Weber) are essentially NHL players today, and are either seeing time in Buffalo, or will be there next year as free agency clears out players.  Another group (Tyler Ennis, Tyler Myers, T.J. Brennan, M-A Gragnani, Philippe Gogulla, Luke Adam) show big upside, but still need some time to develop.  The third group includes the rest of the players 13-20, who all bring a respectable amount to the table, but need to continue to make progress or fix flaws in their game in order to see the NHL.

Top 20 at a glance

1. Jhonas Enroth, G 8.0B
2. Chris Butler, D 7.5B
3. Tyler Ennis, C 8.0C
4. Tyler Myers, D 8.0C
5. Mike Weber, D 7.0B
6. Nathan Gerbe, C 7.0B
7. Tim Kennedy, LW 7.0C
8. T.J. Brennan, D 7.0C
9. Marc-Andre Gragnani, D 7.0C
10. Philippe Gogulla, LW 7.0C
11. Luke Adam, C 7.0C
12. Paul Byron, C 6.5C
13. Dennis Persson, D 6.5C
14. Jacob Lagace, LW 6.5C
15. Felix Schutz, C 6.5C
16. Corey Fienhage, D 6.5C
17. Mark Mancari, RW 6.0B
18. Marek Zagrapan, C 7.0D
19. Bradley Eidsness, G 7.0D
20. Alex Biega, D 7.0D

1. (1) Jhonas Enroth, G 8.0B

Drafted: 2nd round, 46th overall, 2006

Enroth cooled down a bit this year, most likely due to the heavy workload with Portland. Despite the Pirates having used nine goaltenders, the 20-year-old nroth played the overwhelming majority of the time. He still projects as Buffalo’s top prospect.  The scouting report on Enroth is well-established at this point: agile, butterfly goalie, excellent glove side, comes up big in the clutch.  The knock on him is a lack of consistency, and tendency to give up too many rebounds. He is also only 5’10, which is quite small for a goalie these days. This season in the AHL, Enroth has a 18-17-5 record, with a .915 save percentage, 2.71 goals against, and three shutouts.  He is currently serving as Buffalo’s backup while Ryan Miller is out with an injury. 

2. (8) Chris Butler, D 7.5B

Drafted: 4th round, 96th overall, 2005

Shortly after HF’s feature on Butler in December, he was called up to the NHL and has remained there.  His reputation as a smart, consistent defenseman has proven to be accurate during his time in Buffalo.  In 27 games with Portland, the 22-year-old had two goals and 10 assists and was -3, and in 30 games with the Sabres he has added three assists.  Any young player will have some growing pains, and Butler’s mental fatigue seemed to come to a head in a late January game at Calgary, giving up several costly turnovers that led directly to goals.  Since then, he has settled back down, and has found a nice chemistry when paired with Buffalo captain and 15-year veteran Craig Rivet.

3. (11) Tyler Myers, D 8.0C
Drafted:  1st round, 13th overall, 2008

Myers and fellow 2008 first rounder Ennis are essentially interchangeable at No. 3 and 4, with very different reasons for their lofty ratings.  In an organization top-heavy with veteran college players who are close to breaking through full time to the NHL (Butler, Gerbe, Kennedy), Myers and Ennis represent a new wave of blue-chip talent to the fold.  Both players are having excellent seasons in the Western Hockey League, and both impressed in the World Juniors.  Myers has taken the step forward that was hoped for this season.  He has added about 10 lbs. to his 6’6 frame, improved his skating, and been a standout for the Kelowna Rockets.  He has registered 8 goals, 30 assists, and 101 penalty minutes in 52 games.  He has already doubled his point totals from last year.

4. (12) Tyler Ennis, C 8.0C
Drafted:  1st round, 26th overall, 2008

As an assistant captain for the Medicine Hat Tigers, Ennis is currently tied for seventh in WHL scoring, with 41 goals and 39 assists through 56 games.  His play has not slowed as the season has progressed, and in fact scored six goals in a single game on Feb. 27.  The 5’9, 164 lbs. prospect projects very similarly to the player he most admires, former Sabres captain Daniel Briere.  Ennis was recently named Prospect of the Month by Hockey’s Future.

5. (3) Mike Weber, D 7.0B
Drafted: 2nd round, 57th overall, 2006

Weber has not been able to build on the solid play he had toward the end of last season in Buffalo due to injuries this season.  The 21-year-old physical defenseman has seen seven games with the Sabres this year, going scoreless, and has  eight points (1 goal, 7 assists) and 94 penalty minutes and is +5 in 42 games with Portland.  Weber can still be a good NHL defenseman, perhaps a No. 3 or 4.  But he’s done for this season, with surgery scheduled on a separated shoulder.

6. (7) Nathan Gerbe, C 7.0B
Drafted: 5th round, 142nd overall, 2005

Gerbe is caught somewhere between the AHL and NHL for the time being.  When playing with Portland, he shows ultimate confidence on the ice, scoring 22 goals and 20 assists in 39 games.  In the showcase game at the HSBC Arena, he challenged the entire Albany bench before being tossed from the game.  While playing with the Sabres, the 21-year-old looks awkward more often than not, and hasn’t been able to capitalize on scoring chances with the same authority he shows against lesser competition.  The 5’6 forward had just one assist in 10 games before being reassigned to the AHL, but does look to be a part of the Buffalo squad heading into next season. 

7. (5) Tim Kennedy, LW 7.0C
Drafted: 6th round, 181st overall, 2005 (Washington)

Kennedy is often hyped for his South Buffalo roots, but the substance behind the storyline is a quality third-line forward for the 2009-10 Sabres roster.  In 55 games with the Pirates, he has scored 14 goals and 36 assists, with a -3 and 36 penalty minutes.  He was also able to make his Buffalo debut in a late December home game.  He was named AHL Player of the Week Feb. 16, based on scoring 10 points (5 goals, 5 assists) in four games.  The 22-year-old was also named AHL Rookie of the Month for February.  Kennedy can find a role in the NHL as a defensive forward with an offensive touch that has to be respected.  If he can show the consistency that Buffalo needs at forward, he should be a slightly better version of the Sabres’ Clarke MacArthur

8. (6) T.J. Brennan, D 7.0C
Drafted: 2nd round, 31st overall, 2007

This season, Brennan has played well on the top defensive pairing of the QMJHL Montreal Juniors.  In 54 games, he has five goals, 26 assists, and 55 penalty minutes.  Showcasing a nice wrister, a propensity toward physical play, and the ability to start the rush with a crisp tape-to-tape pass, Brennan has continued to emerge as a quality defenseman.  He will likely need to prove himself in the AHL before making the jump to Buffalo. 

9. (10) Marc-Andre Gragnani, D 7.0C
Drafted: 3rd round, 87th overall, 2005

Gragnani has been juggled between forward and defense at times in his career.  As one would expect, he looks very smooth with the puck for a defenseman, and carries it while waiting for the play to develop.  He spent four games with Buffalo when their blueline was decimated, but for the most of the season he has been a key player for Portland.  In 59 games with the Pirates, he has six goals and 33 assists.  He also has some feistiness to his game, with 53 penalty minutes.  Among Buffalo’s top defensive prospects, Gragnani is the purest offensive player, and can be an effective power-play quarterback at the next level.

10. (13) Philippe Gogulla, LW 7.0C

Drafted: 2nd round, 48th overall, 2005

Gogulla is a rangy forward (6’2, 176 lbs.) who has progressed nicely this season with the Cologne Sharks of the German elite league.  In 48 games, he has scored 17 goals, while adding 21 assists and 58 penalty minutes and is +2.  With a reputation as more of a playmaker than a goal scorer, the 21-year-old has stepped his scoring up this season, already topping his career high of 11 goals in a season.  Like Buffalo’s other prospects playing in Europe, he will need to prove himself stateside before cracking the NHL.

11. (15) Luke Adam, C 7.0C
Drafted: 2nd round, 44th overall, 2008

Adam is a player with a stocky build (6’1, 210 lbs.) who can be a force in front of the net.  This season with the Montreal Juniors (QMJHL), he has 22 goals, 27 assists, and 59 penalty minutes through 47 games.  As the stats indicate, he has really thrived this season, scoring seven goals on the power play.  The knock on Adam is his skating ability.  Even though his skills are essentially from the blue line in, he will have to remain serviceable as a skater as his competition improves.  While his talent is not at the same level, there are shades of Dave Andreychuk in his game, given his ability to use his size in front of the net. 

12. (19) Paul Byron, C 6.5C

Drafted: 6th round, 179th overall, 2007

Byron has defied draftniks by emerging as a big scorer in the QMJHL.  This season with the Gatineau Olympiques, he has 31 goals and 57 assists in 59 games played, good for fifth in league scoring.  He is another affirmation of the Sabres organizational view that prototypical size is not a prerequisite to success.  He was top goal scorer in his league’s 2008 playoffs, a member of the 2008 Canada-Russia Challenge, and was named QMJHL player of the month for January with 15 goals, 13 assists, a + 17 rating, and two game-winning goals.  It is also notable that he is currently listed at 5’9, 170 lbs., a considerable increase from his draft-day measures (5’8, 135 lbs.)

13. (NR) Dennis Persson, D 6.5C

Drafted: 1st round, 24th overall, 2006

Persson has been with Timra IK of the Swedish Elite League this season.  In 46 games played, he has 1 goal, 5 assists, and 24 penalty minutes.  While he has not developed into the dynamite offensive defenseman that one would expect with the 24th pick, he is still a strong skater with good size (6’1, 181 lbs.)  The 20-year-old will likely make the jump to the AHL next season.

14. (NR) Jacob Lagacé, LW 6.5C

Drafted: 5th round, 134th overall, 2008

Lagacé has been a pleasant surprise this season.  In 60 games with the Chicoutimi Sagueneens of the QMJHL, he has 31 goals and 33 assists, with seven goals on the power play.  He was named Player of the Week on Feb. 2, having scored five goals and three assists, with a +5 rating.  At 5’10, 195 lbs., he is a creative player who is tough to check in space.  He is still years away from the NHL, but is looking like a late-round find.

15. (18) Felix Schütz, C 6.5C
Drafted: 4th round, 117th overall, 2006

Schütz has made the leap from Germany to the AHL.  As a rookie with the Portland Pirates, he has 11 goals, 18 assists, and 45 PIM in 60 games and is a very good +9.  He is an average jack of all trades type of center, for better and for worse.  With the group of forwards who will be jumping into Buffalo’s lineup next season, Schütz needs to define a role for himself, or he will be left behind as new talent enters the pipeline.

16. (17) Corey Fienhage, D 6.5C

Drafted: 3rd round, 81st overall, 2008

It has been a long time since Buffalo has had an intimidating defenseman, and Fienhage is a player who can ultimately fill that void.  He has not been able to see consistent ice time on a loaded North Dakota defensive corps, but is in an excellent position to learn, and has the size and toughness to be a force as a pro.  In nine games this season, he has one assist and 28 penalty minutes.  His abilities on offense are limited, but as we see each year, Stanley Cups are won with relentless players of his ilk. 

17. (NR) Mark Mancari, RW 6.0B
Drafted: 7th round, 207th overall, 2004

A very likeable player with good size (6’3, 225 lbs.), Mancari’s dubious skating is a big handicap moving forward.  That being said, the 23-year-old can fill a role for someone with his big slapshot.  It does not appear that he has the temperament to consistently mix it up as a banger, but when he does drive to the net, he is very effective.  In 55 games with Portland, he has 23 goals, 31 assists, 55 penalty minutes and is +6.  He spent seven games in Buffalo after a fast start with the Pirates, and scored a goal and assist.  He did not appear out of place, but did look fairly unimpressive against NHL competition.  He is currently 13th in AHL scoring. 

18. (16) Marek Zagrapan, C 7.0D
Drafted: 1st round, 13th overall, 2005

Zagrapan is a decent-sized forward (6’1, 198 lbs.) with some of the best talent in the Sabres organization.  In 62 games with Portland, he has 15 goals and 18 assists and is -4.  However, the 22-year-old seems aloof and disinterested on the ice far too often.  Zagrapan needs a serious change in attitude to ever contribute to a serious NHL team.  Coach Lindy Ruff has dealt with mercurial forwards in the past, and it’s unlikely that he would be interested in Maxim Afinogenov redux going forward.

19. (NR) Bradley Eidsness, G 7.0D
Drafted: 5th round, 139th overall, 2007

Eidsness has settled in to the college game well as the starting goalie for the University of North Dakota.  At 6’, 173 lbs., he has a 21-8-4 record, with 2.46 goals against average, a .908 save percentage, and one shutout.  He has been on a roll in the new year, with a 12-1-3 record.  While he has a very solid defense in front of him, taking the mantle of starting job for a powerhouse program is a solid accomplishment. 

20. (NR) Alex Biega, D 7.0D
Drafted: 5th round, 147th overall, 2006

A leader for Harvard in this, his senior year, Biega will be an intriguing prospect to watch next year in the AHL.  In 29 games for the Crimson, he has four goals, 16 assists, and 44 penalty minutes.  He has shown nice awareness concerning when to pinch in on offense, and has improved his mechanics on defense.

Missing the cut

Justin Jokinen, RW 7.0D
Drafted: 4th round, 101st overall, 2008

Jokinen still projects as a skilled goal scorer, but has struggled this season for Mankato State.

Drew Schiestel, D 7.0D
Drafted: 2nd round, 59th overall, 2007

Schiestel is currently 10th among defensemen in OHL scoring with nine goals and 37 assists in 57 games.

Jordon Southorn, D 6.5D

Drafted: 4th round, 104th overall, 2008

At 6’3, 181 lbs., Southorn has the size to hold his own against NHL forwards.