The 2015-16 season has been an interesting one for the Buffalo Sabres and their prospects. More than a handful have graduated to the NHL full-time, including uber-prospect Jack Eichel, fellow second-overall pick Sam Reinhart, and standout defenseman Jake McCabe.
Like most teams that languish near the bottom of the standings, the Sabres have had the opportunity to get extended looks at more than a few prospects. Goaltender Linus Ullmark had the opportunity to get an extended look thanks to multiple injuries to starter Robin Lehner. Faces like Hudson Fasching and Justin Bailey have also gotten time on the main roster to show just where they are in their development.
Hardest Worker: Nicholas Baptiste, W, Rochester Americans (AHL)
Initially, the pick here was going to be center Tim Schaller as his role, in general, is based on hustle and effort. After seeing Baptiste live on a few occasions, he became the easy pick.
Baptiste has the talent to become a quality offensive player, but the thing that stands out the most about him is that he is constantly moving at 100-percent. His feet are always moving and he gives maximum effort with each shift.
Baptiste will get his extended look in Buffalo sooner rather than later and his motor could give him a longer look than others.
Hardest Shot: William Carrier, W, Rochester Americans (AHL)
Though his development hasn’t taken the path most thought it would when he was acquired in the trade that sent Ryan Miller to the St. Louis Blues, Carrier still possesses the most lethal shot in the Sabres prospect pool.
His offensive skills aren’t quite where everyone originally thought, but when he unleashes that shot, it’s hard and heavy. A power forward in every sense of the word, Carrier’s shot keeps goaltenders on their toes from any angle because of how heavy it is.
Best Defensive Prospect: Brendan Guhle, D, Prince Albert Raiders (WHL)
The Sabres second-round pick in 2015, Guhle had another outstanding season in 2015-16. The 18-year-old defender nearly made the Sabres out of training camp before returning to Prince Albert for the remainder of the season.
In Prince Albert, Guhle hit double-digits in goals for the first time in his junior career and looked to be slightly ahead of the pace in terms of points as well. He is currently finishing out the 2015-16 campaign with Rochester of the AHL, though it is clear that he will return to the WHL for 2016-17.
Fastest Skater: Justin Bailey, W, Rochester Americans (AHL)
Though Bailey has had something of an up and down campaign in 2015-16, he has the skill set that stands out when seen live. His size is what you notice about him first, but what jumps off the page is his ability to hit top speed so quickly despite that size.
Bailey might be the most talented prospect in the Sabres pool now that Jack and Sam have graduated to becoming full-time NHLers and his speed might be his greatest asset. Expect to see Bailey burning up the ice on the NHL level sooner rather than later
Prospect of the Year: Hudson Fasching, W, University of Minnesota (Big Ten)
Faschingmania took hold at the end of 2015-16 and for very good reason. Despite playing the fewest amount of games he’s played in any one season for the Gophers, Fasching hit career-bests across the board with 20 goals, 18 assists, and 38 points. On top of that, he finished out the season in Buffalo, where he flashed that power forward skillset that general manager Tim Murray sought out at the trade deadline a few seasons ago.
Fasching could be a candidate to begin 2016-17 on the main roster or he could wind up getting a little seasoning in Rochester. Either way, his future in Buffalo is extremely bright and the fan base is waiting excitedly for Faschingmania to take hold in Buffalo permanently.
Breakout Player for 2015-16: Hudson Fasching
This was a bit of a toss-up as there were more than a few prospects who enjoyed standout seasons in 2015-16. Eric Cornel of the Peterborough Petes and Giorgio Estephan of the Lethbridge Hurricanes are both more than worthy of this honor, but it is Fasching that stood above the rest.
Though he was among the top 10 prospects in the Sabres organization coming into the season, he elevated himself in 2015-16. With career-highs across the board and a solid late-season stint in Buffalo, Fasching has become one of the most valuable prospects the Sabres now have.
Most Improved Prospect: Eric Cornel, C, Peterborough Petes (OHL)
This was something of a toss-up with the aforementioned Estephan, but Cornel has had one of the biggest leaps forward among Sabres prospects in 2015-16. The Petes center not only took on the role of captain, but he hit career-bests across the board. His 27 goals bested the 25 he posted in his sophomore season and absolutely destroyed his previous bests in assists (56 compared to his previous best of 38) and points (83 to 62).
The Sabres selected Cornel because of his size and skill, but until 2015-16, he was more of a “what if” than anything else. This season saw Cornel elevate himself to the upper-echelon of Sabres prospects and he’ll get his chance to make a full-time impact in Rochester in 2016-17.
Overachiever: Cal Petersen, G, University of Notre Dame (Hockey East)
After a solid if somewhat unspectacular freshman campaign at Notre Dame in 2014-15, Petersen became a full-fledged star as a sophomore in 2015-16. Backing a Notre Dame team that not only made the NCAA tournament but finished third in the Hockey East, Petersen shined. With a 19-11-7 record, Petersen hit a 2.20 goals-against (significantly better than the 2.51 he put up last season) and improved upon the .919 save percentage he posted last season by hitting an outstanding .927.
The Sabres goaltending prospect pool has become a bit crowded, but Petersen did everything possible this season to put his name near the top of the list.
Underachiever: Connor Hurley, C, University of Notre Dame (Hockey East)
The 38th overall pick in 2013, many in the Sabres organization had very high hopes for the lanky pivot coming into the 2015-16 season. As a freshman at Notre Dame, Hurley suffered the freshman struggles of finding ice time consistently, posting just four goals and 14 points in 41 games.
As a sophomore, with expectations much higher, Hurley failed to really improve. Sure, he bested his totals from 2014-15 (6-12-18 in 2015-16) but he failed to deliver on the tremendous potential he has.
Hurley’s junior season will be a make or break one. It is time for him to deliver on the potential that made him an early second round pick or he could become a case of what could have been for the Sabres.
Highest Risk/Reward Prospect: Connor Hurley
As mentioned above, the Sabres made Hurley a fairly high pick when they selected him with the 38th overall pick in 2013. It’s clear why they made that call: with a sizeable frame, good hands and strong skating ability for a player of his size, Hurley appeared to have the total package for a young center.
Unfortunately, two lackluster seasons at Notre Dame later and there are more questions than answers when it comes to Hurley. The Sabres took a chance on a few prospects of this ilk like Hurley and Bailey, so failing to get one to pan out is a blow to the Sabres prospect pool.
Prospect of the Month: Hudson Fasching
Fasching finished out the best season of his collegiate career at Minnesota, though unfortunately he could not help them to the NCAA tournament. Still, Fasching was a force that gained steam over the course of his final college season and continued that momentum into the NHL.
What puts Fasching over the top is that he finally made his NHL debut with the Sabres over the last seven games of the season and more than flashed that immense power forward potential that many feel make him special. He picked up his first NHL goal in highlight-reel fashion and leaves a legitimate question as to whether his future in 2016-17 is in the NHL or honing his craft in the AHL.
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