The Buffalo Sabres have been stockpiling assets for the past few years, but this season the team will put all of those accumulated prospects to good use. The 2014-15 outfit was laden with veterans, allowing the youngsters in the system to continue to develop without being exposed to the losing that the Sabres had become accustomed to.
This season, Buffalo is set to graduate several players to the main roster with more than a few playing prominent roles going forward. The Sabres haven’t been this heavy on homegrown talent since the league returned from a lockout in 2005. That team featured homegrown talent like Thomas Vanek, Ryan Miller, Jason Pominville and Derek Roy, who would together anchor a solid Buffalo team for years.
Despite being just 18 years old, Eichel is set to take both Buffalo and the league by storm. The number-two pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, he is ample competition for top pick Connor McDavid. He has explosive speed, great hands and already looks like he belongs in the NHL—picking up five points during the preseason in a prominent role for the Sabres.
Eichel has a lot of hype to live up to—he is the highest-drafted Sabre since Pierre Turgeon went first in 1987—and the hopes of the franchise hinge on his success. The team has not had a prospect like him since Gilbert Perreault, and it can be easy to forget his age. Still, Eichel is already a superstar and should be a favorite for the Calder Memorial Trophy as the league’s top rookie.
William Carrier, LW, Rochester Americans (AHL)
Carrier left the QMJHL last season as a 19-year-old, becoming one of the youngest players on the Americans roster. He had a typical AHL season for someone his age, showing potential but having his ups-and-downs.
Heading into year two, Carrier looks ready to have a big year. He has good size at 6-foot-1, 205 pounds and plays hard every shift. He has offensive ability, and teased a bit of it in 2014-15 by picking up seven goals and 21 points in his 63 games in Rochester.
Look for Carrier to take on a bigger role in 2015-16, showing why he was a second-round pick in 2013. He has the size and the talent to be a force on the left wing, and this season will be his chance to show it.
Jake McCabe, D, Rochester Americans (AHL)
It looked as though McCabe might crack the Sabres lineup in 2014-15 given the team’s lack of talent and the number of opportunities that would be available. The team instead opted to let McCabe continue his development in Rochester, where he played 57 games and racked up 29 points.
McCabe looks ready to grab an opening-night spot on the roster this season, showing top-four potential and a strong mental game. With Zach Bogosian and Josh Gorges battling injury already, the Sabres will lean on McCabe and fellow youngster Rasmus Ristolainen to anchor the defense until they can get healthy.
Sam Reinhart, C, Kootenay Ice (WHL)
Lost in the hype surrounding Eichel is the fact that the Sabres picked second overall last year as well. Hard as it is to imagine, but Reinhart—chosen second in 2014—has become somewhat of an afterthought heading into 2015-16. Granted, the Eichel train is rolling full force and Reinhart didn’t impress in his nine games with the Sabres last year, registering just an assist and looking generally unprepared for the NHL game.
Heading into 2015-16, however, Reinhart looks every bit like the high pick he was. He came into camp looking to be in the best shape of his young career and was a star for Buffalo in the NHL prospect tournament. He’s looked stronger physically and showed why he was considered the best forward in his draft class.
With the glut at center in Buffalo, Reinhart can be expected to slide to wing to begin the season and could make a name for himself in the Sabres’ top nine. Reinhart has a ton of talent of his own and could benefit from flying under the radar with Eichel taking all of the spotlight.
New Team for 2015-16
Justin Bailey, RW, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (OHL)
Bailey is ready to take on the pro ranks in 2015-16 as a member of the Rochester Americans. Bailey has been intriguing since his selection at 52nd overall in 2013. He has good size at 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds, though he doesn’t quite play up to that size all the time. He hustles and has tremendous skating for a player his size while showing good hands and a great shot.
In Rochester, Bailey will likely go through the transition from junior to the pros with the same ups and downs as everyone else. Still, if he can make better use of his size and establish that shot at the pro level, the Sabres could have themselves quite the prospect.
Unsigned for 2016-17
Vaclav Karabacek, RW, Baie-Comeau Drakkar (QMJHL)
Another of the seemingly many second-round picks the Sabres have had in recent years (49th overall in 2014), Karabacek isn’t nearly as flashy as some of them. He plays a very simple game, getting himself into proper position and the dirty areas when needed.
Karabacek has been a quality offensive player so far, though not the typical level of scorer we are used to seeing from top prospects out of the QMJHL. With the glut of forwards that the Sabres have ready to debut at the NHL level and stashed in Rochester, Karabacek will need to have a breakout offensive year if he wants to earn himself a contract and a spot in Rochester next season.
Cal Petersen, G, University of Notre Dame (Hockey East)
Petersen turned in a pretty good debut effort as a freshman at Notre Dame, starting 33 games while posting a 2.51 goals against average and .919 save percentage. At just 20 years old, he will return to Notre Dame to resume his role as starter and help lead the Irish back to the NCAA tournament.
Peterson has decent size at 6-foot-2, 190 pounds, but is more reliant on his quickness and athletic ability than anything else. He shows good lateral movement and covers the bottom of the net well while relying on a good glove hand to cover the top half.
He should continue to grow as a goaltender while getting the bulk of the starts at Notre Dame and honing the finer points of his game. Peterson is talented and athletic, separating him from a group of other younger collegiate players in the Sabres system.
Hudson Fasching, RW, University of Minnesota (WCHA)
Fasching is entering his junior season at Minnesota, where he will take on a leadership role as an alternate captain. Fasching is your prototypical power forward: 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds, solid skater for his size, good hands around the net, and a willingness to muck it up.
Fasching regressed a bit from his freshman season, scoring two fewer goals and four fewer points. Still, he looks primed for a big season in 2015-16 thanks to experience and a presumably larger role to come with the Gophers. Fasching still battles consistency issues, but when he’s on, it’s clear to see why the Sabres coveted him so much in a trade with the Los Angeles Kings.
Connor Hurley, C, University of Notre Dame (Hockey East)
A fellow freshman at Notre Dame with the aforementioned Petersen, Hurley’s impact was felt substantially less. He battled for ice time on a pretty good Irish team, picking up just four goals and 14 points in 41 games.
Heading into year two with the Irish, Hurley’s role should grow substantially. He has good size at 6-foot-2 and 190 pounds, shows excellent playmaking ability and is a very adept puck handler, using his reach to shield the puck from defenders. Hurley is still quite raw at this point, but should see a substantial jump in production as a sophomore.
Victor Oloffson, RW, MODO (SHL)
Oloffson made the jump to the men’s league in 2014-15 and did not look out of place with MODO, scoring 10 goals and racking up 18 points in 39 games there. This came on the heels of a tremendous 2013-14 campaign with MODO’s junior club, where he scored 32 goals and 53 points in 44 games.
The name of Oloffson’s game is speed. He is a terrific skater with very good speed to go along with his excellent hands. At 5-foot-10 and 176 pounds, he obviously isn’t the biggest guy on the ice, but he more than makes up for it with his skill. He likely still needs another year or two of seasoning against men much bigger and older than him before he is ready to make the jump to North America.
Linus Ullmark, G, MODO (SHL)
Back in 2013-14, Ullmark made his full-time debut in the men’s league and impressed—going 17-16 with a 2.08 goals-against average and .931 save percentage. Even more impressive was the fact that he was just 21 years old at the time.
Ullmark took a step back in 2014-15, his second year with MODO, going 12-20 with a 3.12 goals against average and .905 save percentage. He has the size (6-foot-3, 200 pounds) and the athletic ability to be a very good starter going forward and doesn’t succumb to pressure easily. He could challenge for a spot in Rochester in 2015-16, though as of this writing he is currently battling injury concerns.
Gustav Possler, LW, MODO (SHL)
Like Oloffson, Possler is a strong skater with a smaller than desired frame. With a good release and offensive instincts, Possler didn’t look out of place in his first full season in the SHL, scoring nine goals and 21 points in 47 games.
Possler, as is the case with most young players, still needs to work on his consistency especially as he finds a regular role playing against much bigger and more experienced opponents. He has the skillset and has shown very good offensive insticts with MODO’s junior team, so the talent is there for a big season in 2015-16.
Follow me on Twitter: @kindofawriter