The Buffalo Sabres have a long-term plan, and despite the pain and suffering the team has experienced this season, the team has been continued to lay down the foundation for the next two decades.
The Sabres tend to dip into the NCAA and European ranks in the later rounds of the draft, preferring to take their top picks from the CHL. Case in point: Other than Connor Hurley and JT Compher, most of the organization’s NCAA and European prospects were taken in the fifth round or later.
The Sabres can retain the rights of players drafted from the NCAA or Europe for much longer than their CHL peers. It allows players to develop over a longer period of time, and even though most late-round draft picks never turn pro, a bit of patience comes at no extra cost to the Sabres.
Kasdorf was believed to be a sentimental pick when he was drafted in the sixth round by his hometown Jets in 2011, and despite a very strong freshman year for the Engineers, has struggled over the past two years. He was an afterthought in the trade that landed Evander Kane in Buffalo, but the upside is that the Sabres can afford to be patient with Kasdorf, who is clearly still bothered by a bad shoulder that limited him to just two games in his sophomore year. Given the Sabres’ goaltending depth, Kasdorf has an uphill battle ahead of him. The 22-year-old should return to RPI for his senior season.
Cal Petersen, G, Notre Dame (HE)
Drafted 5th round, 129th overall, 2013
Petersen spent an extra year in the USHL and went 27-7-4 before moving to Notre Dame this season. The freshman is Notre Dame’s starter, winning the job over sophomore Chad Katunar, who was the primary backup the previous season, and he has a .919 save percentage in 33 appearances. Petersen made headlines recently with a record-breaking 87-save performance in a five-overtime thriller against UMass-Amherst. Consistency is something Petersen needs to improve on, but such performances indicate elite talent and an ability to battle through adversity.
Connor Hurley, C, Notre Dame (HE)
Drafted 2nd round, 38th overall, 2013
While Petersen tends the net, the future of Notre Dame’s offense will likely be built around Hurley, a lanky playmaker who was ranked the best American high school player in 2013. Despite a good start, Hurley has had trouble scoring of late with only 14 points and a plus-6 rating in 41 games. He currently sits third in scoring among the team’s freshmen behind Jake Evans (MTL) and Anders Bjork (BOS). Strength and physical maturity will be two significant factors in judging Hurley’s readiness to turn pro. There is no need to rush Hurley, who possesses elite playmaking ability.
JT Compher, C, Michigan (Big Ten)
Drafted 2nd round, 35th overall, 2013
Compher was the Big Ten’s Rookie of the Year and Michigan’s top scorer the previous season. While 23 points in 31 games is good production, it falls short of what he accomplished last year. Compher lost playing time to Dylan Larkin (DET) and was also held pointless with Team USA at the World Juniors. A stronger season might have given the Sabres more impetus to sign Compher, but they risk little by leaving him to play his junior year. Compher has to improve if he wants to be considered an elite prospect.
Hudson Fasching, RW, Minnesota (Big Ten)
Acquired via trade with Los Angeles, March 5, 2014
After a 30-point effort in his freshman season, Fasching is no longer flying under the radar, which does explain his slight dip in production with 25 points in 35 games on the year. He is more physically mature than Compher, which means that Fasching may turn pro sooner, but he will likely return to Minnesota for his junior season. The Sabres’ pool of prospects is deep, but few bring a mix of size of skill like Fasching, which makes him unique within the organization. He is certainly a player that can move up and down the lineup, making him a versatile player. Fasching helped the Gophers claim the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten tournament.
Christian Isackson, RW, Minnesota (Big Ten)
Drafted 7th round, 203rd overall, 2010
Currently wrapping up his senior season, Isackson has very good hands but has not made the most of his opportunities. A strong sophomore year with 20 points in 40 games was supposed to translate into a breakout junior season, but that did not happen. Sometimes sitting as a healthy scratch, or otherwise planted on one of the bottom two lines with the occasional power play appearance, Isackson has scored just four goals in his past 55 games. He tickled the Sabres with some hope of a potential seventh-round gem, but Isackson is unlikely to get a contract offer.
Brad Navin, F, Wisconsin (Big Ten)
Drafted 7th round, 197th overall, 2011
Navin has been a steady presence for the Badgers, playing at least 34 games in each of his four seasons and serving as team captain this season, but his prospects of turning pro are distant with just 11 career goals. Navin is a player with ideal size at 6’3, but does not have a particular standout skill.
Max Willman, F, Brown (ECAC)
Drafted 5th round, 121st overall, 2014
The former Massachusetts high school star has three points and a minus-13 rating in 30 games with Brown, but the most important thing is that he is getting opportunities to play. He had a hot start with two goals in his first two collegiate games but was held without a goal for the rest of the season. Willman has always been considered a project, and he is headed in the right direction.
Sean Malone, C, Harvard (ECAC)
Drafted 6th round, 159th overall, 2013
Malone has battled through injuries this season, but when he does play, he is one of the Crimson’s best players. He dressed in just 18 games, but his 17 points have led to some intrigue about how high Malone’s ceiling can be. His junior season is one that will be highly anticipated. The two-way center has the ability to be one of the best players in the conference and could turn into a second or third-line center in the NHL.
Judd Peterson, W, St. Cloud State (NCHC)
Drafted 7th round, 204th overall, 2012
The Sabres can retain Peterson for another three seasons, giving him plenty of time to build on his freshman season—during which he appeared in 33 games and scored three goals and six points. Peterson did not make major strides in his second year in the USHL, but he has handled himself well at St. Cloud State. Peterson is a goal scorer, so with more experience will come more confidence on offense. He finished the season with just 39 shots on goal and was held without a shot in seven games.
Anthony Florentino, D, Providence (HE)
Drafted 5th round, 143rd overall, 2013
Florentino is not a particularly big defenseman, but he can make a difference at both ends of the ice. He is a very physical player who can move and shoot the puck well, making him a very well rounded defenseman. The Sabres usually wait until the junior year before making any decisions, so Florentino will probably return to Providence—but his chances of turning pro look good.
Mark Adams, D, Providence (HE)
Drafted 5th round, 134th overall, 2009
A series of concussions and knee injuries have prevented Adams from reaching his potential as a big stay-at-home defenseman, and he was granted an extra year of eligibility due to games missed. However, Adams finishes off on a strong note in his fifth season with a plus-8 rating in 28 games played, twice as many as he has played over the two previous seasons. Perhaps Adams has more hockey left in him, but the Sabres are unlikely to offer him a contract.
Jonas Johansson, G, Brynas (SHL)
Drafted 3rd round, 61st overall, 2014
It has been a tough year for Johansson. During the winter he suffered an injury that kept him out of the World Juniors, and upon his return had tough stints with Brynas’ junior and senior teams. He was then loaned out to Almtuna in the Allsvenskan in late January. A tall goalie that covers a lot of space, Johansson will try to bounce back next year and should still be considered a very exciting prospect.
The Sabres signed Ullmark after he was named the SHL’s best goaltender at 20 years old, but has languished near the bottom of the league in save percentage and goals-against average this year. Despite this, Ullmark is still considered one of Sweden’s top young goalies, and having signed last summer, is free to move to North America as soon as he wishes.
Victor Olofsson, W, MODO (SHL)
Drafted 7th round, 181st overall, 2014
One of two talented wingers the Sabres have drafted from MODO, Olofsson caps off a season in which he seemed to get better and better. At the international level, Olofsson skated in seven games for Sweden at the WJC, collecting one assist. During the regular season, Olofsson scored 10 goals in 39 games, good enough to finish third on the team. He was later loaned out to Timra for their playoff push, scoring another two goals in eight games. He is a promising player who needs more time developing in Europe.
Gustav Possler, W, MODO (SHL)
Drafted 5th round, 130th overall, 2013
Possler had a strong start for Modo last year before suffering a knee injury, and in 47 games this season, seemed to still be suffering from the effects. He managed just nine goals after scoring eight in 22 games the previous season. Like Olofsson, Possler is a speedy winger who scores a lot of goals off the rush, but may need a little more time to come back from his injury and re-establish himself. It may make sense for the Sabres to bring both wingers over to North America at the same time, though it may not happen until after the 2015-16 season.
Prospect of the Month – Hudson Fasching
Fasching put the Gophers on his back in the final two games of the season, helping to secure the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten and a bye to the tournament semifinals. The budding forward saved his best game for last, scoring a career-high four points in the season finale. This big-game performance helped the Gophers to their second consecutive Big Ten title, as they attempt to avenge last year’s semifinal loss.