Buffalo Sabres draw heavily from NCAA talent pool

By Ryan Womeldorf
Photo: Will Borgen helped St. Cloud to an impressive third-place finish in the NCHC Conference before the playoffs began, building an impressive +17 rating along the way. (Courtesy of Richard T Gagnon/Getty Images)

Photo: Will Borgen’s +17 rating helped St. Cloud State to an impressive .729 win percentage this season and the team sat in third place before the NCHC playoffs began. (Courtesy of Richard T Gagnon/Getty Images)

 

 

 

Perhaps more than almost any other team in the NHL, the Buffalo Sabres have invested heavily in both the collegiate and European hockey scenes. A whopping 13 prospects from both factions inhabit their rankings, and that isn’t even including recent graduates like Boston University’s Jack Eichel and European Linus Ullmark.

It is interesting to note that the Sabres have a good mix on the collegiate side, from high-end prospects like Connor Hurley and Hudson Fasching to late-round draft picks like Ivan Chukarov and Max Willman.

On the European side of things, Victor Olofsson is clearly the best prospect from across the pond. He is accompanied by talented, but still raw performers such as Gustav Possler and Jonas Johansson.

NCAA

Cal Petersen, G, Notre Dame Fighting Irish (Hockey East)
Drafted 5th round (129th overall), 2013

The more time that passes, the more it seems like the Sabres have a star in the making in Petersen.  As a sophomore for the Irish, Petersen has been nothing short of fantastic. He sports a 19-8-7 record in 34 appearances while sporting an outstanding 2.08 goals-against average and .932 save percentage, both ranking in the top 20 among goaltenders in the NCAA. The Irish continue to find themselves near the top of the standings in Hockey East and much of that can be attributed to the play of Petersen.

Jason Kadorf, G, Rensselaer Polytech Institute (ECAC)
Trade with Winnipeg Jets, 2015

Despite a somewhat average 12-11-5 record, Kasdorf has been quietly pretty good for an RPI outfit that continues to float somewhere in the middle of the ECAC standings. With a 2.20 goals against average and a .933 save percentage, he is statistically right there with Petersen in terms of individual numbers despite RPI not having the same success that Notre Dame is having in Hockey East. Kasdorf doesn’t seem to have the same star quality that Petersen does, but is shaping up to be a solid goaltender in his own right.

Hudson Fasching, RW, Minnesota Golden Gophers (Big Ten)
Trade with Los Angeles Kings, 2015

The 2015-16 campaign, Fasching’s junior season with the Gophers, has been the standout season everyone has been expecting. In 33 games with the Gophers this season, Fasching has 35 points, second on his team and good enough to get him in the top 40 nationally. Fasching had all the tools on paper when Tim Murray sought him out in trade, now it seems like he is starting to deliver on all of that promise on a regular basis.

Judd Peterson, RW, St. Cloud State (NCHC)
Drafted 7th round (204th overall), 2012

Though he is already 22 years old, Peterson is just a sophomore with St. Cloud State of the NCHC. Compared to his freshman campaign, Peterson has already come leaps and bounds. In four fewer games than in 2014-15, Peterson has already quadrupled his goal total (four to 16) and more than tripled his point total (seven to 23). Peterson is still quite raw and needs to work on his consistency and overall game, but a huge jump forward in year two for St. Cloud State is definitely a positive sign in his development.

Max Willman, LW, Brown University (ECAC)
Drafted 5th round (121st overall), 2014

Through nearly two seasons of college hockey, Willman still seems to be a nearly blank slate. He shows good speed and skating ability, but hasn’t been able to display much of the offensive ability he showed in high school. Part of that is still finding his place in the lineup at Brown, where he has improved by tripling his goals (one to three), quadrupling his assists (two to eight) and nearly quadrupling his points (three to 11). Willman still has a ton to prove as a prospect and it seems as though his collegiate career has yet to really get going.

Connor Hurley, C, Notre Dame Fighting Irish (Hockey East)
Drafted 2nd round (38th overall), 2013

Despite good size for his age and a skill set that translates to the next level, Hurley’s sophomore season has been one of frustration rather than expected growth. After dealing with the usual freshman struggles, it was expected that Hurley would take on a bigger role in 2015-16 and take a leap forward both as a prospect and as a contributor to the Irish.

Thanks to injury and inconsistency, neither has happened. In eight fewer games, he has two more goals and points than he did last season, but that is not the kind of growth that was expected of him. The hope is that he can finally establish himself as a junior in 2016-17 and take that next leap forward in his development.

Sean Malone, C, Harvard University (ECAC)
Drafted 6th round (159th overall), 2013

Malone was a late-round flyer in 2013, and though his numbers don’t necessarily jump off the page, he is showing all the qualities of a two-way contributor down the line. His offense has taken a step back from a sophomore campaign where he dealt with injuries, something that has plagued him in his junior season.  Malone is not expected to ever be an elite scorer, but his injury history has got to be a concern for both the Crimson and the Sabres. He needs to shake that injury bug before he can really continue further in his development.

Anthony Florentino, D, Providence College (Hockey East)
Drafted 5th round (143rd overall), 2013

Florentino doesn’t have the size or skill that jumps off the page at you, but he is the kind of quality all-around defenseman that has a lengthy NHL career. Florentino has battled injury at times during his junior season at Providence, but his numbers actually seemed to improve a bit over his sophomore efforts. He already has more goals in 27 games this season than in 40 last (five to three) and is close in points (12 this year to 14 last).

Florentino does not predicate his game on offense, showing a physical, defensive side that has brought him this far. Still, the ability to chip in offense with a heavy shot from the point has been a bright side to his game that not many expected.

Ivan Chukarov, D, University of Massachusetts (Hockey East)
Drafted 7th round (182 overall), 2015

A recent draft pick of the Sabres and a freshman at UMass, Chukarov is still quite raw as a prospect. He has good size and showed a strong offensive ability in the NAHL last season, but has struggled to find the ice with consistency as most first-year collegiate players do. Through 36 games this season, he has just three goals, five assists, and an ugly minus-17 rating.

It is tough to gauge most freshmen at the collegiate level unless they are dynamos of the Jack Eichel ilk. Chukarov has the size and the talent to make an impact in college and will likely be given more of a chance to do just that as he enters his upperclassmen years.

Will Borgen, D, St. Cloud State (NCHC)
Drafted 4th round (92nd overall), 2015

Judd Peterson’s teammate at St. Cloud State, Borgen has had a little bit more of an impact as a freshman than the aforementioned Chukarov. Granted, he has no goals and 12 assists in 32 games, but it still better than Chukarov and his eight points.

Borgen is never going to be the most talented defenseman on the ice, but he plays with the tenacity and drive it takes to overcome that. Though he shows good offensive instincts it will likely be his two-way game that propels him upward in the hockey ranks.

Europe

Jonas Johansson, G, Almtuna IS (Allsvenskan)
Drafted 3rd round (61st overall), 2014

After a brief and ugly tenure with Brynas IF of the SHL in 2014-15, it was hoped that Johansson could stick full time in the SHL this season. Unfortunately, that was not to be. Instead, he returned to Almtuna IS to take over the starting role and has not disappointed. Appearing in 42 games, he turned in a 24-17 record while posting a very solid 2.39 goals against average and .913 save percentage. Johansson has been merely okay in three playoff games to date, with a 2.68 goals against average and .905 save percentage.

Johansson is still as raw as it gets and needs to stick in the SHL before he can move forward but has shown good progress in Sweden’s junior leagues. The hope is that he can finally stick with Brynas IF in 2016-17.

Victor Olofsson, RW, MODO (SHL)
Drafted 7th round (181st overall), 2014

This season has been something of a breakout season for the young Olofsson. After a solid showing in his first full season with MODO in 2014-15, Olofsson earned a promotion to the top line and has delivered in 2015-16. In 48 games with MODO, he leads the team in goals (13) and points (28), while tying for the team lead in assists with 15.

Though his size will likely always be an issue, Olofsson has delivered on the offensive promise that got him drafted in the first place. Look for him to return to MODO in 2016-17 for a last strong run in the AHL before departing for North America.

Gustav Possler, LW, MODO (SHL)
Drafted 5th round (130th overall), 2013

Like the aforementioned Olofsson, 2015-16 has been a solid campaign for Possler. He is third on the team in points with 24 in 51 games and is tied with Olofsson for the team-lead in assists with 15. The difference between the two is that, while Olofsson is leaps and bounds improved from last season, Possler has only slightly improved. This isn’t a bad sign necessarily, but it definitely puts him behind Olofsson in the pecking order. Possler still shows an abundance of talent offensively and it’s good to see that he is finding consistency scoring at the highest level in Sweden.

Prospect of the Month: Eric Cornel

Eric Cornel - Buffalo SabresThough there is stiff competition from a few of the notable prospects in the Sabres organization, perhaps no one has come as far as Eric Cornel.  From the last time we checked in back in January, Cornel has registered a point in 19 of his last 24 games, picking up 32 points in that span.

Cornel has really come into his own in 2015-16, showing an improved playmaking ability, consistency, and strong leadership qualities. It was always known that Cornel possessed the size and ability to succeed at the next level, but this season has been the one where Cornel has finally put it all together.

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @kindofawriter