Nathan Gerbe, LW, 22
5th Round, 142nd selection
There is no doubt that Gerbe took some big steps forward this year as far as confidence. The 2008-09 AHL rookie of the year struggled at times last year when he was called up to the Sabres. However this season Gerbe managed to show why he is such a dynamic player to watch, injecting energy into the team every time his 5’6 frame stepped onto the ice. Gerbe battled through injuries this year and consequently had trouble finding a groove in Portland.
He really shined when called up to Buffalo at the end of the season and in the playoffs. The obvious improvement in his confidence along with his attention to playing a good two-way game will go a long way to helping him make the Sabres next year. It will be very surprising if Gerbe isn’t a full-fledged NHLer in 2010-11.
Philippe Gogulla, LW, 22
2nd Round, 48th selection 2005
If it weren’t for Tyler Ennis, Sabre watchers might be talking about the respectable rookie year of Gogulla. The lanky winger managed to put up a solid 15 goals in 76 games for Portland and maintained a +7 rating for the regular season. Gogulla has been tapped by Uwe Krupp and the German National Team to represent his country in this year’s World Championships in Germany.
Next year will be a pivotal development year in the AHL for Gogulla. He needs to step up his game by shooting the puck more and gaining more experience on the power play and penalty kill. If Gogulla continues to develop at the pace he is going then we can expect to see him wearing the blue and gold as early as 2011-12.
Tyler Ennis, C, 20
1st Round, 26th Selection 2008
Ennis is having the kind of year worthy of a first-round pick. He was named the AHL rookie of the year, was second on the Pirates in points to Mark Mancari and he managed to lead the Sabres in scoring in his playoff call-up to the NHL. Now all he has to do is continue to show his dynamic offensive skills in training camp. The most telling attribute for Ennis is his willingness to go into the “dirty” areas and retrieve pucks. At 5’9 and a 155 lbs, he is very undersized, but he does not back down from anybody.
That being said, one of the most important things for Ennis to work on in the offseason is bulking up without losing his speed. He has shown his commitment to winning and stands as the No. 1 prospect in the Buffalo Sabres system. Barring an injury, Ennis will be playing in Buffalo next year as a top-six winger.
Paul Byron, C, 21
6th Round, 179th selection 2007
Byron showed in the QMJHL that he can put up big-time points, now he needs to show it at the AHL level. At 5’9 and only 155 lbs, Byron joins Gerbe and Ennis in the uphill climb to exist in a big man’s league. Byron had a steady rookie year for the Pirates by putting up 14 goals and 33 points in 57 games. He needs to improve those totals next year and show that he can be an effective playmaker at the pro level.
Byron will need to make some very big strides if he wants to see ice time in Buffalo next year. A more likely scenario is another year of seasoning in the AHL and depending on his development he could have a shot at making the Sabres in 2011-12.
Felix Schutz, C, 22
4th Round, 117th selection 2006
Schutz will be suiting up for Germany at the World Championships, joining teammate Phillip Gogulla. Schutz’s offensive numbers regressed this season but he has really displayed his defensive grit as a two-way centerman in his two years so far in Portland. He has a non-stop motor and could be a useful third or fourth-line centerman in Buffalo someday. His entry -level contract is up at the end of the 2010-11 season.
Right now Schutz will be playing out next year in Portland unless he has an unbelievable training camp in Buffalo. His limited offensive upside and size could be his biggest impediment to someday making the Sabres.
Derek Whitmore, RW, 25
Free Agent Signing, 2008
After two full seasons in Portland, Whitmore has established himself as good role player and leader in the AHL. But he has yet to display the talent to move on to the next level. While steadily improving his point totals from 2008-09 to 2009-10, he needs to continue to improve and show his willingness to play down low in the offensive zone and keep bettering his goal totals. If he can continue to improve in those areas, he could be a late-season call-up in the coming years.
Whitmore can be a solid third liner in the NHL someday especially if he can show a little more scoring touch. Next year he will more than likely play in Portland.
Mike Weber, D, 22
2nd Round, 56th selection 2006
After a disappointing 2008-09 season in which he was oft-injured and ineffective, Mike Weber came back and showed why he just missed making the Sabres this year as their seventh defenseman. Weber established himself as the Pirates blue line leader and his physical presence anchored the back end. His skill set as a tough hard-nosed defenseman is just what the Sabres are in need of. While the Sabres are absolutely stacked with defense prospects, it is safe to say that Weber will be the next one to join the big club as a regular.
Weber has the makings of a solid second-pairing defenseman. Until he gets more experience in Buffalo he will probably be relegated to the Sabres sixth or seventh defenseman role.
Drew Schiestel, D, 21
2nd Round, 59th selection 2007
Schiestel is another future Sabre that had a promising rookie year in the AHL in 2009-10. Despite low offensive totals, Schiestel is regarded as a good two-way defenseman who is not afraid to join the rush. Schiestel needs to add weight to his 6’2 frame, but at 21 he has time to add it.
Schiestel’s biggest strengths are his smooth skating style and steady board play; however, he gets caught out of position after the rush at times and needs to pick his spots better. With the likely graduation of at least one Portland defenseman to Buffalo, 2010-11 will be an important year for Schiestel. He should benefit from more playing time with the Pirates.
T.J. Brennan, D, 21
2nd Round, 31st selection 2007
As one of the most intriguing Sabres prospect because of his unique skill set, Brennan had a great development year in 2009-10. With a blistering point shot and a nasty attitude, he is a player with good upside. After a slow start, his work ethic improved and his commitment to getting better in his own end showed on the ice. While his goal and point totals dropped, it was an acceptable developmental risk that is sure to be corrected in 2010-11.
Once Brennan learns to put all of his physical tools together, he could potentially be a top -four defenseman in the NHL. Obviously his development process has been slow, but the Sabres have the luxury of time with him due to their great defensive depth. He will probably spend all of next season in the AHL, where he could really become a force on the Pirates power play.
Dennis Persson, D, 21
1st Round, 24th selection 2006
It is hard to believe that a player could so quietly become the biggest draft bust in the last 10 years for a professional hockey team, but Dennis Persson has managed to become Mr. Irrelevant in the Sabres farm system. In his rookie season in Portland he managed to put up one goal and six assists in 60 games. These are not very good numbers for a player who was touted as an offensive defenseman when he was drafted in the first round in 2006.
Persson needs to make some tremendous strides in the next year as his contract expires after the 2010-11 season. With the Sabres great minor-league depth at defense, it will be an uphill battle for him to work his way into the Sabres future plans.
Marc-Andre Gragnani, D, 23
3rd Round, 87th selection 2005
Gragnani’s development could not be coming to fruition at a better time than now as far as the Sabres are concerned. They could really use his power play help. He potted 12 goals this year from the blue line, six of those coming on the power play. The Sabres need a power-play quarterback and Gragnani fits the bill. Besides Weber, Gerbe, and Ennis, Gragnani is the most NHL-ready player in the Sabres farm system. After a year in which he was bounced from forward to defense, he has been able to focus on developing his defensive duties and thus is becoming a better defenseman for it.
The 2010-11 season will likely feature a hotly-contested battle for roster spots on the blue line in Buffalo and Gragnani is definitely in the mix for the top six. However, a more likely scenario would see Gragnani as the Sabres seventh defenseman next year.
Matt Generous, D, 25
7th Round, 208th selection 2005
Generous is the type of player every team needs. He is a steady presence in the locker room and has all the intangibles of an NHL defenseman. The only thing he is short on is the skill to get him there, However because of the intangibles he could find a spot on an NHL team as a seventh defenseman. More than likely he will continue in Portland next year and could be a career AHLer.
Jhonas Enroth, G, 21
2nd Round, 46th selection 2006
Improving on his numbers from last year, with a GAA of 2.37 and a save percentage of .919, Enroth has shown that he can handle the heavy workload of a No. 1 goalie.
The real question is what the Sabres will do with him next year. There is a real possibility that they could elect to bring him up to Buffalo to back up Ryan Miller as Patrick Lalime will most likely depart in free agency. While he would not get very much playing time in Buffalo, it could really benefit his career to get the valuable experience of working under Miller. The other option would be to keep him in Portland for one more year and then bring him up as a backup for the 2011-12 season. It will be something to watch in the offseason. Judging by the way the Sabres usually handle goalies though, bet on Enroth in Portland for one more season.