Goaltenders highlight small NCAA pool for Buffalo Sabres

By Tony Musso
Photo: Bradley Eidsness is one of several collegiate goaltending prospects in the Sabres system. (Photo courtesy of Holly Gunning/HF)

As a matter of course, most of the Sabres collegiate prospects were drafted in the fourth round or later. The Sabres seem to find good value with these picks and while they draft heavily from the three major junior leagues, they also tend to select at least one college player a year.

Europeans are a different story as the Sabres haven’t drafted someone from outside North America since 2006 when they took Swedish defenseman Dennis Persson and goaltender Jhonas Enroth with their first two picks and German Felix Schutz in the fourth round. It’s safe to say that because of their reliance on video scouting the Sabres tend to stick closer to home.

NCAA

Connor Knapp, G, 20
Acquired: 6th round, 164th overall, 2009


It would be easy to say that Connor Knapp had a disappointing junior season at Miami University in 2010-11 but that wouldn’t be the whole story. As one half of the best goaltending tandem in college hockey, Knapp was able to put up similar numbers to his freshman and sophomore year. With a 2.03 goals against average and a .909 save percentage, Knapp was just about equal to his lifetime average in both categories, which is hardly a cause for concern. What is a bit alarming is that he started four less games than last year and until the end of the season, he wasn’t much of a difference maker between the pipes.

Next season will be an important one in determining Knapp’s future with the Sabres. He needs to try to outshine Reichard with every opportunity he gets. It can be a lot harder to stand out when you have an equally capable goalie on your own team. That being said he has a ton of potential and is still extremely raw so the Sabres may have a long term project with him especially considering their relative lack of quality goaltending depth after Jhonas Enroth.

Bradley Eidsness, G, 21
Acquired: 5th round, 139th overall, 2007

After playing 82 games in his first two seasons at the University of North Dakota Eidsness had a tough time beating out sophomore goalie Aaron Dell as the Fighting Sioux’s starting goalie. He finished his junior season with only eight games played and an abysmal 4.09 goals against average. Coming into the 2010-11 season the Sabres had high hopes for the junior net minder after he posted a 2.11 goals against and .914 save percentage in 2009-10.

Unfortunately Eidsness will go into his senior season at UND with a lot of uncertainty. In order to earn a contract from the Sabres at the end of his college tenure he will need to at least gain some playing time next season, even if it is an even split with Dell, otherwise it’s hard to imagine the Sabres investing in a player who is regressing. That being said, this season could turn out to be good for Eidsness as he hasn’t really faced any competition since taking over at North Dakota and it could be used as a learning tool moving forward. Either way, it’s safe to say that the 2011-12 season is a make or break year for the Sioux netminder.

Drew MacKenzie, D, 22
Acquired: 7th round, 209th overall, 2009

Considering the Sabres incredible depth at defense it is easy to overlook some of the quality prospects that don’t get as much media exposure like Drew MacKenzie. As a junior defenseman at the University of Vermont, Mackenzie has quietly put up a solid year on the back end for the Catamounts. He led the team in defensive scoring with five goals and 12 assists and played quality minutes on the power play. He has improved his point totals every year since joining UVM which is a sign that he is continually developing and he has done so on a mediocre Vermont team that hasn’t made it out of the first round of the Hockey East tournament since he was a freshman.

He will probably see time in Portland once he completes his senior season in 2011-12 and likely has a couple years before he can really challenge for a spot on the Sabres roster with all the players that are ahead of him right now.


Mark Adams, D, 19
Acquired: 5th round, 134th overall, 2009

As a fifth round pick in 2009, Adams has a long road before he becomes a legitimate NHL prospect. With three more year of college hockey left, the Sabres have the luxury of time with him. This is a good thing for Adams as well since that will give some time for the glut of defensive prospects in the Sabres system ahead of him to contribute or flame out.

In his freshman year at Providence in 2010-11, Adams contributed in all but one game for the Friars. Before arriving in Providence, Adams starred at Malden Catholic and spent a year with Chicago of the USHL. He possesses ideal NHL size for a defenseman at 6’3 and 210lbs and he plays a steady two way game.


Justin Jokinen, RW, 21
Acquired: 4th round, 101st overall, 2008

After mediocre freshman and sophomore campaigns where he was often a healthy scratch at Minnesota State, Justin Jokinen finally had a breakout season as a junior in 2010-11. He posted a pedestrian six goals and three assists combined in his freshman and sophomore seasons compared to his nine goal, 17 point outburst this season. Coupled with a tremendous shot and great balance, Jokinen’s new found confidence with the puck is encouraging.

His offensive improvements are certainly encouraging but he will need to continue to add elements to his game that are lacking. Most importantly is getting back defensively and shoring up his defensive zone play. His minus-12 this season put him dead last on the team in plus/minus. As a 6’3 right-winger, he possesses an NHL frame but at 185 lbs he has a lot of bulking up to do before he can withstand the rigors of the pro game. Both of these issues will come with time and maturity and there is a lot to like about the 21 year old Minnesotan.

He will return to MSU next season for his senior campaign where the Sabres hope he can continue to add more to his offensive game and while learning to play at both ends of the ice. Jokinen has plenty of time to develop and will likely get a deal from the Sabres after his senior season.

Europe

Felix Schutz, C, 23
Acquired: 4th round, 117th overall, 2006

In his first season back in his native Germany, Schutz put up mostly pedestrian offensive numbers while trying to get re-acclimated to the European game. His five goals and seven assists in 35 games are a departure from the progress he was making in Portland from 2008-2010 when his 28 goals and 41 assists in 145 games.

Schutz enters the offseason in limbo as his three year entry level deal with the Sabres expires on July first. He will become a restricted free agent and could either be re-signed by Buffalo or more likely, stay and play with Ingolstadt in the German Elite league. It seems as though Schutz will most likely stay in Europe, though the fact that he is a center prospect for a team lacking depth at the position means that he may get another shot in on North American ice.