The 2015-16 season has been quite noteworthy for the Buffalo Sabres and their prospects. After two consecutive seasons of languishing at the bottom of the standings, the team got an infusion of youth this season and have seen positive results.
Centers Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart have been the most notable freshman additions. Eichel displays a blend of skill and speed that the Sabres may not have seen since the days of Alexander Mogilny and Pat Lafontaine and might be the most electrifying draft pick they’ve had since Pierre Turgeon or perhaps Gilbert Perreault.
Reinhart, meanwhile, has flown under the radar but is an elite prospect in his own right. He has added muscle since his short stint with the team last season and looks like the guy they selected with the second overall pick in 2014.
Beyond the NHL level, there are a plethora of promising prospects throughout the organization. From the AHL to the junior and collegiate levels, general manager Tim Murray has done an excellent job of stocking the cupboard.
20. (NR) Jonas Johansson, G, 6.5 C
Drafted 3rd round, 61st overall, 2014
Johansson has started 37 games for Almtuna IS this season, posting a 22-14-2 record (42 games played). He is currently ninth in the league with a .917 save percentage and sports a 2.33 goals against average. If he continues to play well, Johansson could find himself getting the promotion to the SHL in 2016-17.
Despite an 8-6-4 record, Kasdorf has been quite good for an RPI team that is near the top of the ECAC. Sporting a 2.11 goals-against average and a .935 save percentage, Kasdorf has put himself among the national leaders in the latter category. Though still a bit lanky and raw, Kasdorf has been playing too well to ignore. He has a lot of development left to do, but 2015-16 has been a good sign for his future.
18. (19) Vaclav Karabacek, RW, 7.0 D
Drafted 2nd round, 49th overall, 2014
Given his high draft status, Karabacek doesn’t seem to be quite on the same level as the Justin Baileys and Hudson Faschings of the Sabres world, but that doesn’t mean he can be written off either. Karabacek has had a change of scenery in the QMJHL, being dealt from Baie-Comeau to Moncton. It is his second move in as many seasons. His scoring rate is up slightly from last year, with eight goals and 18 points so far this season. He projects as more of a two-way forward in the future, but perhaps his new home will allow him to find his scoring touch and make the leap forward.
17. (16) Anthony Florentino, D, 6.5 C
Drafted 5th round, 143rd overall, 2013
Though he has slid down the rankings a bit, that’s not so much an indictment of Florentino’s play as it is the other prospects in the system. Florentino returned to Providence College as a junior in 2015-16 after having helped them to their first NCAA championship. He isn’t the biggest or the flashiest, but he brings a solid all-around game and a little bit of sandpaper to the back end.
16. (18) Sean Malone, C, 6.5 C
Drafted 6th round, 159th overall, 2013
Malone has been an interesting case thus far in 2015-16. He has performed well for Harvard as a junior, posting five goals and posting 11 points in 18 games. The problem has been the same for him, though: injuries. He battled them as a sophomore in 2014-15 and the injury bug seems to continue to follow him. If Malone can shake his injury concerns, he could wind up being a steal given where he was selected in the 2013 Draft.
15. (15) Brycen Martin, D, 6.5 C
Drafted 3rd round, 74th overall, 2014
Martin has all the tools to be a gem, but the 2015-16 season has been something of a step back for him. Like the aforementioned Karabacek, Martin was traded this season, marking the second time in as many campaigns for him. After posting 24 points in 25 games for Saskatoon, he has struggled with his new club, Everett. Martin has just seven points in 25 games and looks like a much different player than he was even half a season ago. Hopefully for Martin, he can find his groove in his new home and get back to being the dynamic offensive defenseman that he had previously been.
14. (17) Eric Cornel, C, 6.5 C
Drafted 2nd round, 44th overall, 2014
Cornel is a fast-riser in the Sabres organization. Already a strong two-way center with a good frame at 6-2, Cornel has really come into his own offensively in 2015-16 for the Peterborough Petes. Cornel has 22 goals and 55 points through 48 games so far, already close to matching his career highs of 25 goals and 62 points from two seasons ago. This season has been eye-opening on all levels for Cornel as he’s added size, taken on the captaincy of the Petes and become a better all-around player. Given his size, strong two-way abilities and burgeoning scoring skills, Cornel could be a prospect to watch going forward.
13. (14) Tim Schaller, C, 6.0 B
Signed as free agent, 2013
The 25-year-old forward is one of the older prospects in the ranks. and his slide in this set of rankings is due to his having likely found his ceiling. Though he has performed quite well since his demotion back to Rochester, Schaller found action in 17 games with the Sabres in 2015-16 and didn’t stand out. His role going forward is likely that of a fourth-line two-way center, providing energy and a checking role. Not every prospect can be an Eichel or a Reinhart and Schaller can provide that bottom-six presence should the Sabres need him going forward.
12. (12) Victor Olofsson, RW, 7.5 D
Drafted 7th round, 181st overall, 2014
Olofsson is already making Sabres brass look like geniuses with his performance for MODO of the SHL. Since making the jump to the men’s league, Olofsson has found a place on the top line and has performed admirably, posting 10 goals and 10 assists in 37 games this season. Like many smaller European forwards, he still needs quite a bit of seasoning before he is ready to move overseas, but the early returns on him have been promising. A continued strong showing for MODO and perhaps more time on the international stage could see a big jump in the rankings from Olofsson next time around.
11. (11) Connor Hurley, C, 7.5 D
Drafted 2nd round, 38th overall, 2013
On paper, Hurley might be the rawest yet most tantalizing prospect in the Sabres organization. He has good size for a youngster and has shown all the tools necessary to be a quality top-six contributor—but he is still learning and growing. As a sophomore at the University of Notre Dame, Hurley has four goals and a dozen points in 25 games this season. He’s already matched his goal total from his freshman campaign and is easily on pace to best the 14 points he posted last year in 41 games. Hurley is still very raw and finding his way in a physically tougher collegiate game, but he has all the tools to be a valuable NHL center.