If the CHL’s Subway Super Series is any indication, the Buffalo Sabres have a wealth of talent in the junior leagues. Five of the Sabres eight CHL prospects are playing for their respective league’s all-star squads against the visiting Russians this year.
There are five prospects split between the OHL, the WHL and the USHL, while the bulk of Buffalo’s nine junior prospects (four) play in the QMJHL. Positionally, they are divided pretty equally with four defensemen, two left wingers, two right wingers and a center. Only 5’11 Jacob Lagace is smaller than 6’1, a bonus for a Sabres team that is often thought to be lacking in stature.
None of the Sabres junior prospects currently have signed contracts, but Nick Crawford, Luke Adam, Lagace and Jordon Southorn will all need to be signed prior to June of next year should Buffalo wish to keep them in the organization. Furthermore, Maxime Legault, drafted as a 20-year-old, is playing in his final over-age season in the QMJHL this year.
Nick Crawford, D – Barrie Colts
Acquired: Drafted 164th overall (6th round) in 2008
DOB: February 23, 1990. 6’1, 183 lbs.
Originally heralded as a stay-at-home defender, Crawford has developed his offensive ability since being drafted. Currently scoring at over a point-per-game, the Caledon, Ontario native is on pace to blow his career totals from last season (42 points in 65 games) out of the water. In 23 games this season, Crawford has five goals and 26 points, placing him second in the OHL in defensive scoring. Seeing time in all situations, Crawford is also remarkably disciplined, putting up just eight penalty minutes so far this season.
Starting the year with the Saginaw Spirit, Crawford was recently dealt to the Barrie Colts, a deal which took him from the third-place team in the OHL‘s Western Conference to the third-place team in the league’s Eastern Conference. He joined a red-hot Barrie squad which is currently in the midst of an 11-0-0-1 streak. Crawford was named to Team OHL for the second game of the OHL’s portion of the Subway Super Series.
Marcus Foligno, LW – Sudbury Wolves
Acquired: Drafted 104th overall (4th round) in 2009
DOB: August 10, 1991. 6’3, 216 lbs.
Foligno is a name that already echoes loudly in the history of the Buffalo Sabres: Marcus’ father, Mike was an energetic forward who once served as the team’s captain. The enthusiastic checking style lives on in the younger Foligno. Playing in his third season for the Sudbury Wolves, Foligno never backs down from a challenge as his 74 penalty minutes, third in the league, attests to. But his undisciplined play does get him into trouble at times.
Posting a single goal and 11 points so far in 23 games, Foligno is on pace to barely pass his totals from the previous year, when he ended with 12 goals and 30 points in 65 games. Although Foligno may never be a scoring star, he needs to continue to improve his totals and shore up his play in his own end if he is ever going to live up to the burden of his father’s legacy.
Zack Kassian, RW – Peterborough Petes
Acquired: Drafted 13th overall (1st round) in 2009
DOB: January 24, 1991. 6’3, 215 lbs.
The Sabres first rounder in the most recent draft, Kassian has a reputation of playing a gritty in-your-face style and he couples that with solid offensive skills. Playing in his third season with the Peterborough Petes, Kassian is actually off pace from his breakout season last year. Despite scoring over a point per game in his draft year, Kassian currently has six goals and 15 points in 16 games.
His season was derailed by a separated shoulder that led to him missing most of October; Kassian has struggled in the games he has played. The captain in Peterborough, Kassian’s inconsistency has mirrored the play of the team, as they find themselves fifth in the OHL’s Eastern Conference. Channeling his frustrations into his game, Kassian is playing on the edge, on pace to eclipse last season’s penalty minute total with 39 minutes in his 16 games and already sitting out one game due to a suspension for slew-footing. Kassian will play for Team OHL in the second of the OHL’s two games in the Subway Super Series.
Luke Adam, C – Cape Breton Screaming Eagles
Acquired: Drafted 44th overall (2nd round) in 2008
DOB: June 18, 1990. 6’1, 210 lbs.
When Adam was dealt from the Montreal Junior to the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles over the summer, it was felt that the Eagles were making a final push with their current stable of players before starting a rebuild process. Paying a heavy price and sacrificing a bit of their future, Cape Breton took a gamble that Adam was worth it. So far, the results are promising. The Screaming Eagles are second in the competitive Atlantic Division with a 14-8-2-2 record.
Perhaps more importantly is the play of Adam himself. In 24 games for the Screaming Eagles, Adam has potted 15 goals and has 34 points, leading the team and placing him fifth in the QMJHL. His eight markers with the man advantage are second in the league as he is an important cog on the league’s sixth best powerplay unit. Adam also participated in the Subway Super Series as a member of Team QMJHL, scoring two goals and five points in two games. With Adam looking to go out with a bang and hoping for a pro contract as he plays in what could be his last season of junior hockey and the Eagles looking for that final piece to be a league contender, the pairing of the two is a match made in heaven.
Jacob Lagace, LW – Chicoutimi Sagueneens
Acquired: Drafted 134th overall (5th round) in 2008
DOB: January 9, 1990. 5’11, 196 lbs.
A QMJHL rookie in his draft year, Lagace’s totals were enough to attract the attention of the Sabres. Now in his third year in the Q, Lagace has steadily improved. The Beloeil, Quebec native went from .92 points per game in his draft year, to 1.08 last season and now, with 14 goals and 30 points in 20 games, he’s scoring at a 1.5 points-per-game pace so far this season. Lagace was also a member of Team QMJHL in the Subway Series, playing alongside Adam and posting a goal and four points in his single game of action. These numbers will help him make a case for a contract from the Sabres, as the 19-year-old could turn pro next season.
Despite his individual accomplishments, Lagace’s team, the Chicoutimi Sagueneens have not experienced a similar growth and improvement. Currently 10th in the 18-team league, the Sags have found themselves perennially stuck in the middle of the pack, without much post-season success for the extent of Lagace’s QMJHL career. With both Lagace and Nicolas Deschamps (ANA) expected to be in the last year of their junior careers, the Sagueneens could decide to deal one or both of the offensively talented forwards during the league’s trade period in an effort to build for the future.
Maxime Legault, RW – Shawinigan Cataractes
Acquired: Drafted 194th overall (7th round) in 2009
DOB: March 28, 1989. 6’2, 195 lbs.
Drafted as a 20-year-old, the Sabres took a flyer on Legault with their last pick in the 2009 draft. After suffering through injuries during his first two years in the QMJHL, Legault was finally healthy enough in 2008-09 to break out offensively and it earned him the pleasure of hearing his name at the draft. Now he is in search of a pro contract after his junior career comes to a close.
An over-ager in the QMJHL, Legault was delayed in his return to the Cataractes after the Sabres opted to first assign the forward to the AHL, where he played five games with the Portland Pirates. A heart and soul player, the forward has played just 10 games this season for Shawinigan, as a bout of the H1N1 virus postponed five of the team’s games in the month of November. The Cataractes had 13 days off and just recently returned to action. A co-captain for the Cats, Legault has six goals and 10 points in those 10 games.
Jordon Southorn, D – PEI Rocket
Acquired: Drafted 104th overall (4th round) in 2008
DOB: May 15, 1990. 6’2, 194 lbs.
Playing in his fourth year in the QMJHL, Jordon Southorn has been asked to be a leader on the Rockets blue line. But opinions and results are mixed. The 19-year-old has made an about-face in plus/minus, going from a -13 last season to a team-leading +5 so far this year. On the other side of the coin, he has experienced a drop in his offensive production with his three goals and 10 points in 22 games, off pace from his 0.64 point-per-game average of the previous year.
Possessing all the tools, but lacking the toolbox, the chief complaint against Southorn is his questionable decision-making, both on and off the ice. Southorn was suspended by the Rocket during this year’s training camp for violating team rules. As a result, Buffalo decided that he would not participate in the Sabres training camp. In the end, Southorn’s poor choices coupled with the logjam of defensemen that Buffalo already has signed may lead the Sabres to make a decision of their own: to not offer the Montreal native a contract.
Brayden McNabb, D – Kootenay Ice
Acquired: Drafted 66th overall (3rd round) in 2009
DOB: January 21, 1991. 6’4, 210 lbs.
Already playing in his third full season in the WHL, McNabb has spent his entire junior career with the Kootenay Ice. A bruising defenseman who can also move the puck well, McNabb is on pace for the best totals of his career. Posting 36 points in 67 games last season, the Saskatchewan native already has three goals and 16 points in just 18 games so far this year. It is little wonder that he was named to play for Team WHL for the second game of the Subway Super Series. Unfortunately, McNabb might not get the chance to enjoy that honor. He has been out of the lineup since Nov. 1 with a knee injury.
Playing in all situations for the Ice, McNabb is a bright spot on what might be a trying season for Kootenay. Currently ninth in the WHL’s Eastern Conference, the Ice have struggled to put the puck in the net all season long, with their 72 goals tied for last among all teams in their conference and their power-play unit operating at just 14.1 percent, second to last in the league.
Mark Adams, D – Chicago Steel
Acquired: Drafted 134th overall (5th round) in 2009
DOB: May 23, 1991. 6’3, 207 lbs.
Drafted out of high school, it could be another five years before the Buffalo Sabres have to even offer Mark Adams a contract. Playing this season in the USHL as a member of the Chicago Steel, Adams is expected to play for Providence College next season.
Already NHL-sized, Adams moves the puck well, but is playing a supporting role in Chicago. In 15 games for the Steel, he has three goals and five points. Two of his goals have come with the man advantage. In fact, he scored both of those power-play markers in the same game. Adams is also the only minus player on the Steel’s roster with a -3 ranking.