2010 NHL Draft: Buffalo Sabres squander draft year on busted defensive prospects

By Jason Chen
Photo: Mark Pysyk missed the last two months of this season after collapsing during a pickup basketball game. (Courtesy of Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire)

Photo: Mark Pysyk missed the last two months of this season after collapsing during a pickup basketball game. (Courtesy of Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire)

 

 

The Buffalo Sabres needed a facelift at the 2010 NHL Draft. Once a high-flying scoring machine, the Sabres never adequately addressed the departures of co-captains Chris Drury and Danny Briere in 2007. With a potential franchise defenseman in Tyler Myers and the emergence of Ryan Miller as an elite goaltender, the Sabres nevertheless decided that they needed to re-tool from the back end out. It was a strange move, given that the team’s 207 goals allowed in 2009-10 season were the fewest in seven years—a big reason why they managed to capture a division title after failing to make the playoffs in the two previous seasons.

The 2010 draft was known for its goal scorers, not defensemen. By the time the Sabres made their first selection at 23rd overall, the more vaunted defensive prospects had already been selected, including Cam Fowler and Brandon Gormley. Still, this did not deter the Sabres from drafting three defensemen among their first four picks. In retrospect, the 2010 draft is one to forget for the Sabres, who have gotten little out of the nine players they drafted. There is little doubt the team’s hit-or-miss drafting record in the 2000’s contributed to the state of the franchise today.

Mark Pysyk, D, Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL) – 1st round, 23rd overall
Status: NHL Player
NHL Games Played: 70

If Myers was to be the aggressive, physical force, then Pysyk was to be the calm presence on defense with his hockey smarts and two-way play. That was the team’s original plan for its potential first pairing, but a lot has changed since then. Myers has moved on to Winnipeg, while Rasmus Ristolainen and Nikita Zadorov have been anointed the team’s new franchise defensemen.

Pysyk’s pro career was off to a good start, scoring 18 points in 57 games with the AHL’s Rochester Americans and another five points in 19 games with Buffalo in his rookie season. Big things were expected the following year, and it looked like the Sabres had unearthed another gem defenseman, but inconsistency and a lack of a standout skill meant Pysyk was never able to keep a firm foothold on a roster spot. This season, it looked like Pysyk was ready to become a full-time NHL player, but he suffered an injury late in training camp, and a subsequent roster squeeze sent him back to Rochester.

After spending three seasons riding the minor league shuttle, Pysyk is as ready as he will ever be for the NHL. The Sabres have played him occasionally, usually as an injury replacement, but with 142 AHL games and 70 NHL games already under his belt, it is time to put Pysyk to the test. He looked comfortable in his second call up, scoring two points and a plus-4 rating in three games. With the Sabres looking to get younger, it is unlikely they will retain their veterans who are eligible for free agency, but Pysyk will still have to battle other prospects to claim a spot. His season was again cut short after he collapsed during a pickup basketball game, but he should be ready to start the 2015-16 season.

Watch this 2010 NHL Draft Look Back video featuring the Sabres’ first round pick, Mark Pysyk.

Jerome Leduc, D, Rouyn-Noranda Huskies (QMJHL) – 3rd round, 68th overall
Status: Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

Leduc broke out in his draft year with 20 goals and 46 points in 68 games, a 29-point improvement over his rookie season in the QMJHL, and was projected to be an offensive defenseman with a rare right-hand shot. Though he had the height and range to play in the NHL, one particular concern was his lack of physical strength. Leduc was a player who clearly needed a few seasons in the AHL before making the big jump.

He made some good headway in his first pro season with seven points in 48 games, but his development stagnated in his second year, finishing with just 10 points in 51 games with a minus-15 rating—a career-worst. At one point, he was demoted to the ECHL for eight games.

Leduc took a big step forward this season, establishing new career-highs across the board in games played (76), goals (6) and assists (19) despite a non-playoff finish for Rochester. The Sabres have not decided if they will retain Leduc, but given his significant improvement, the team may keep him for a few more years. He is still considered a prospect, but will be hard-pressed to make an NHL roster in the upcoming season.

Kevin Sundher, F, Chilliwack Bruins (WHL) – 3rd round, 75th overall
Status: Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

Sundher was a player who showed that he could score goals and play with an edge consistently in the WHL, but since turning pro, much of what made him an attractive pick in the third round has disappeared. After scoring at least 20 goals in three consecutive seasons and totalling 257 penalty minutes during that span, Sundher managed just 10 goals and 63 penalty minutes over three seasons with Rochester.

His lack of size and strength was a detriment in the pros, where the players are much bigger and stronger, but the aggressiveness that he displayed in the WHL was also rarely seen. He was assigned to the ECHL’s Elmira Jackals to start the season. After getting recalled, he managed to play just 31 games for Rochester, often sitting as a healthy scratch in the second-half of the season. He is unlikely to be retained by the Sabres and his future prospects look rather bleak.

Matt MacKenzie, D, Calgary Hitmen (WHL) – 3rd round, 83rd overall
Status: Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

Like Sundher, MacKenzie has not quite translated a successful WHL career into a pro career, but he has been more consistent and was able to carve out a small role for himself in Rochester on the team’s third pairing. A physical defenseman who is not afraid to drop the gloves, MacKenzie was not re-signed by the Sabres after his entry-level contract expired, but was retained by Rochester on an AHL contract.

This season, he collected six points and 77 penalty minutes, similar to his totals last year, but not enough to get the Sabres’ attention. Rochester may opt to keep MacKenzie around for depth reasons, but he has not made a compelling case for the Sabres to re-sign him.

Steven Shipley, F, Owen Sound Attack (OHL) – 4th round, 98th overall
Status: Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

After five years in the OHL, including two 20-goal seasons and one 30-goal season, Shipley never turned pro, opting to play in the CIS with St. Mary’s University instead. Shipley had the size to become a scoring power forward at 6’3 and 212 pounds, but he never quite dominated at the major junior level.

He was a raw but very promising prospect in his draft year, finishing second in team scoring with 63 points in 68 games despite being only 17 years old at the start of the season. Afterwards, a trade request that sent him to a much stronger Niagara IceDogs squad saw him get buried on the depth chart, and he never quite moved into the spotlight again.

Gregg Sutch, RW, Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors (OHL) – 5th round, 143rd overall
Status: Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

Chasing a dream of hockey glory can be an exhilarating ride, even for those who may never make the NHL, but that was not the case for Sutch. The 11th overall pick in the OHL Priority Selection, Sutch never quite adjusted to life in the OHL. He was traded three times in his career, and suffered a rash of injuries (concussions, shoulder separations, ankle problems) that drained him, never allowing him to play a full season.

Being 6’2 and 200 pounds, he was often tasked by coaches to play a physical role, something he felt limited his ability to contribute on offense. After five years in the OHL and a brief stint in the CIS with York University, Sutch retired from competitive hockey in 2013, citing a loss of passion for the game.

Cedrick Henley, F, Val-d’Or Foreurs (QMJHL) – 6th round, 173rd overall
Status: Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

Following a five-year career with Val-d’Or, for which he served as team captain in his final year, Henley retired from competitive hockey due to recurring back problems. A lanky, 6’5 forward, Henley had trouble staying healthy throughout his major junior career, scoring just 30 goals through his first four seasons. He missed just four games in his final year, however, and collected 31 goals and 90 penalty minutes, ending his stint with the Foreurs on a high note. He joined Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières in the CIS soon afterwards, but never suited up for them.

Christian Isackson, F, St. Thomas H.S. (Minnesota H.S.) – 7th round, 203rd overall
Status: Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

Isackson had the hands to become a skilled sniper, but was never able to maintain a high level of play or consistent production. In his draft year, he was a high school star and a finalist for Minnesota’s Mr. Hockey award as the state’s best senior.

The following season, he had a one-year sojourn with the USHL’s Sioux Falls Stampede, scoring 44 points in 58 games before joining the University of Minnesota in 2011-12. There, Isackson struggled, and despite his offensive talents scored just eight goals in 109 career games with the Golden Gophers.

He is still considered a prospect because the Sabres could sign him before he becomes a free agent, but it is unlikely that any NHL team will come knocking.

Riley Boychuk, F, Portland Winterhawks (WHL) – 7th round, 208th overall
Status: Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

At 6’4 and 215 pounds, Boychuk was a big power forward who was starting to develop a scoring touch, with 14 goals in 66 games during his draft year. His stats improved marginally the next year, but he still managed to land an entry-level contract with the Sabres. He spent most of his pro career in the CHL and ECHL before getting traded in 2013 to the New Jersey Devils for Henrik Tallinder. The Devils did not re-sign Boychuk and he did not play professionally this season.

Notable Playoff Performances

Nick Baptiste was a part of Erie’s run to the OHL Finals. There, the Otters fell short in a five-game loss to the eventual Memorial Cup Champion Oshawa Generals. In 19 games, Baptiste scored 12 goals and 23 points, finishing sixth in playoff scoring.

Prospect of the Month: Justin Bailey, RW, Soo Greyhounds (OHL)

Justin Bailey - Kitchener RangersThe Greyhounds’ quest for the OHL title fell short after falling to the Erie Otters in six games in the Western Conference Finals, but without Bailey the Greyhounds may have never gotten that far. Acquired from Kitchener for David Miller and four draft picks in preparation for a lengthy playoff run, Bailey delivered—scoring seven goals and seven assists in 14 games, tied for third on the team in both goals and points. At 6’3, 200 pounds and climbing, Bailey has the ideal size to be a big scoring forward in the NHL, though there is still a chance he will return to the OHL for his overage season.