Buffalo Sabres own small group of European and collegiate prospects

By Tony Musso
Photo: Defenseman Drew MacKenzie (center) was one of the few bright spots on a weak Vermont Catamounts team. (Photo courtesy of Fred Kfoury/Icon SMI)

The Sabres NCAA and European stable of prospects is relatively small and consisting mostly of mid-round prospects. Joel Armia is the first player since 2008 that the Sabres have drafted in the first three rounds of the entry draft who did not come from one of the three Canadian major junior leagues. He is also the first player since 2006 that Buffalo has drafted from outside of North America.

The highest player drafted from the NCAA ranks in the last five years was Corey Tropp in the third round of the 2007 draft so it is safe to say that Buffalo relies more on junior hockey than the NCAA. The Sabres had seven players in the NCAA last season including, one fourth rounder, two fifth rounders, a sixth rounder, and three seventh rounders.

Europe

Joel Armia, C/RW, Assat Pori (SM-liiga)
Drafted 1st round, 16th overall, 2011

In his second season with Assat of the Finnish Elite League, Armia was only slightly statistically better. He matched his goal total from a year ago with 18 and he nearly doubled his assist total with 20 as he finished the year third in team scoring. He also managed to more than double his penalty minutes, adding some toughness to his game that he displayed during the World Junior Championships when he lead the Finn's with 14 penalty minutes in seven games.

Unfortunately, Armia's missed the playoffs for Assat due to knee injury suffered while colliding with Sami Vatanen (ANH) during SM-Liiga play. The injury could be enough to keep Armia in Finland for one more season, as he will be out of action for six weeks, keeping him out of World Championship play this spring.

NCAA

Connor Knapp, G, Miami (Ohio) Redhawks (CCHA)
Drafted 6th round, 164th overall, 2009

There was a lot to gain for Knapp heading into his senior season at Miami University. After a very mediocre junior season in which he seemed to regress and lose playing time to fellow junior Cody Reichard, Knapp had to prove to Sabres management that he was worthy of an entry-level deal. It's safe to say that he far exceeded expectations by not only outplaying Reichard, but by winning the CCHA's Best Goaltender award for the 2011-12 season.

He posted the best numbers of his career with a 1.69 goal against average and .933 save percentage in 24 games. He helped the Redhawks by winning the last four of games of the regular season, two by shutout to close out the year as the eleventh ranked team in the nation. Knapp signed a two-year entry-level deal with the Sabres when the Redhawks were eliminated from the NCAA tournament. He reported to the Rochester Americans and has been backing up starter David Leggio.

Drew MacKenzie, D, Vermont Catamounts (Hockey East)
Drafted 7th round, 209th overall, 2007

There aren't many Sabres prospects that improved there stock more than University of Vermont senior, Drew MacKenzie. He was the best player on a very bad Vermont team that finished with a mere six wins on the season. His seven goals and 23 points in 32 games were second on the team in scoring and tops for defenseman. The only reason he hasn't been signed to an entry-level deal with the Sabres yet is that the club hasn't made decisions on impending restricted free-agents, Dennis Persson and Drew Schiestel. MacKenzie's spot on the team could come down to the Sabres electing not to sign one of these free agents. If he doesn't get an entry-level deal, expect MacKenzie to sign a minor league deal with the Amerks for 2012-13.

Bradley Eidsness, G, North Dakota Fighting Sioux (WCHA)
Drafted 5th round, 139th overall, 2007

Eidsness was able to put together a solid senior season after posting career worst numbers in 2010-11 and losing the starting job at the University of North Dakota to Aaron Dell. Though Dell remained the starter for the Sioux, he struggled this season and opened the door for Eidsness. In 15 appearances, Eidsness posted a 2.17 goal against average and a .920 save percentage while winning eight games. While Eidsness has a chance to catch on with the Sabres ECHL affiliate in Gwinnett, an immediate shot in the AHL is likely out of reach with the signing of Knapp and the likely re-signing of incumbent starter David Leggio.

Mark Adams, D, Providence Friars (Hockey East)
Drafted 5th round, 134th overall, 2009

Adams had a tough sophomore season in Providence as he only played 19 games due to injuries. The tough defensive defenseman will try to bounce back next season and should get ample playing time to do so. He has added some bulk to his 6'3 frame and will be looked upon to help anchor the Friars defense in 2012-13.

Justin Jokinen, RW, Minnesota-Mankato Mavericks (WCHA)
Drafted 4th round, 101st overall, 2008

Jokinen had a pedestrian senior season at Minnesota State. His offensive numbers were down from a season ago with only three goals and 13 points in 38 games, compared to nine goals and 17 points in 2010-11. Though his offensive numbers were down, his durability on the ice is commendable as he played every game for the Mavericks over his final two seasons. He also managed to improve on his team worst plus/minus rating from a year ago, no small feat on a team that went 12-24-2 on the season.

He hasn't signed an entry level deal with the Sabres but should get a legitimate shot in training camp to earn a minor league deal with the Amerks if he can stand out from what is sure to be a solid group of young players vying for a limited amount of spots.

Christian Isackson, RW, Minnesota Golden Gophers (WCHA)
Drafted 7th round, 203rd overall, 2010

It comes as no surprise that Isackson only managed to suit up for 11 games this year for the Powerhouse program at the University of Minnesota. The freshman winger played limited minutes in those games but showed a willingness to play in any role asked of him by coach Don Lucia. He showed at the USHL level that he is capable of contributing offensively, leading Sioux Falls in scoring with 44 points in 58 games in 2010-11 and the Sabres hope he can bring that scoring prowess to the collegiate level and eventually to Buffalo. Isackson is definitely a player to watch in 2012-13 as his playing time is sure to increase with five senior forwards graduating this year.

Brad Navin, C, Wisconsin Badgers (WCHA)
Drafted 7th round, 197th overall, 2011

There is a lot to like about the Sabres 2011 7th round pick Brad Navin, starting with his size. He is a 6'3 center that can fly and likely would have been drafted a bit higher if not for a knee injury that cut short his senior year of high school. Navin had a very productive freshman season for the University of Wisconsin in which he appeared in 36 of the teams 37 games. His three goals and six points were third in freshman scoring and two of his goals came on the power play.

Navin is a hard worker who wants to get better and has the tools to make it happen. The Sabres would like to see him play with more of an edge to his game and the hope is that with added bulk he can increase his physical play. The Sabres have the luxury of patience with Navin and will likely let him develop slowly under coach Mike Eaves but an increase in playing time is likely for 2012-13.