2008 Draft produced two key players for Buffalo Sabres

By Jason Chen

Tyler Ennis and Tyler Myers - Buffalo Sabres

Photo: Forward Tyler Ennis (left) and defenseman Tyler Myers (right) were both selected in the first round of the 2008 NHL Draft. Both are considered key components of Buffalo's young core. (courtesy of Jerome Davis/Icon SMI)

It was clear by the end of the 2007-08 season that the Buffalo Sabres needed to reload. The team missed the playoffs after making it to the Eastern Conference Finals the year before and finished fourth in the Northeast Division, their lowest finish since the 2004-05 NHL lockout.

The Sabres knew there were going to be a lot of changes, though. The year prior, co-captains Chris Drury and Daniel Briere both left via fee agency. The team still had good players to build around like Jason Pominville and Thomas Vanek, but they lacked depth, especially on the blue line beyond Brian Campbell. The Sabres had to reload through the draft and had two first round picks, the extra one acquired in a trade that sent Campbell to San Jose.

Buffalo needed to hit home runs with their picks. In 2007, they dealt their first round pick to the Washington Capitals for Dainius Zubrus, and in the two previous drafts, the organization struck out with Dennis Persson in 2006 and Marek Zagrapan in 2005.

Not only did the Sabres end up picking the Calder Trophy winner in Tyler Myers with the first pick, they nabbed key forward Tyler Ennis with the second pick. Of their eight picks, six are still in the system, including a potential sixth round steal in Nick Crawford.

Tyler Myers, D, Kelowna Rockets (WHL) – 1st round, 12th overall
Status: NHL Player
NHL Games Played: 223

Many scouts will say that defense is the single most challenging position to play for rookies, but the towering, 6'7 Myers clearly missed the memo, recording 48 points in his rookie season while playing key minutes for Lindy Ruff en route to winning the 2010 Calder Trophy as the league's top rookie. The Sabres, who held the 13th spot in the 2008 draft, traded up a spot to nab Myers.

The road since has been rocky. Myers' numbers slipped in his sophomore season, a common occurrence for players coming off successful rookie campaigns. It looked like Myers was righting the ship in the third year when he was on pace to break the 40-point barrier again, but his play was inconsistent and erratic. He missed 19 games due to a broken wrist and when he came back; his shot and passing abilities were clearly hampered by its lingering effects. Combined with an up-and-down and emotionally trying season for the Sabres, Myers' frustration boiled over, resulting in a dangerous boarding play on Scott Gomez and a three-game suspension.

Myers played overseas during the lockout and suffered a knee injury but declared himself 100 percent. Even with the setbacks, he is still an immensely talented player who can play up to 30 minutes a night and in all situations. He is good enough to be a first pairing defenseman and will most certainly enter the conversation for Team Canada in the future.

Tyler Ennis, C, Medicine Hat Tigers (WHL) – 1st round, 26th overall
Status: NHL Player
NHL Games Played: 146

If Tyler Myers exploded onto the NHL scene, Ennis did the opposite. Drafted with San Jose's pick acquired in the Brian Campbell trade, Ennis was coming off a season in which he scored 91 points, a 41-point improvement from last year to finish fourth in WHL scoring. But he spent another year with the Tigers before moving on to the Portland Pirates, then Buffalo's AHL affiliate, for the 2009-10 season. Ennis impressed, finishing the year with 65 points in 69 games and later named the AHL's 2010 Rookie of the Year.

Ennis' play earned late season call-up in 2010 after an injury to Tim Connolly. He finished with nine points in his first 10 NHL games, then put up another four points in the first round of the playoffs, cementing his spot for next year. Since then, Ennis, at 5'9 and 157 pounds, has emerged as arguably the Sabres' top center. The Sabres are currently experimenting with different wingers on the left side, so right winger Drew Stafford is expected to be Ennis' linemate again.

Luke Adam, LW, St. John's Fog Devils (QMJHL) – 2nd round, 44th overall
Status: Prospect
NHL Games Played: 71

Even though he was drafted with limited offensive upside, Adam scored 90 points in his last QMJHL season and his 62 points in 57 games for the Portland Pirates to earn 2011 AHL Rookie of the Year honors.

He had an impressive start to the 2011-12 season, starting the season playing a top-six role in the NHL, posting 16 points in 24 games through October and November, but hit a severe cold spell and managing only four points the following 28 games.

Adam started the 2012-13 season playing on Rochester's top line but his play has since tailed off and he is currently trying to work his way back up from the third line. When it comes to scouting Adam, people who watch him cannot describe the way he plays without mentioning his inconsistency. The most frustrating part is that he teases coaches and scouts with what he can do.

Adam was not invited to the Sabres camp and will need to climb out of the hole he dug for himself to get the Sabres' attention again.

Corey Fienhage, D, Eastview (Minnesota High School) – 3rd round, 81st overall
Status: Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

The Sabres always knew Fienhage was going to be a project. Like most big, shutdown defensemen, Fienhage needed to work on his skating and puck-moving ability. After being named a Mr. Hockey finalist in Minnesota, he suited up for North Dakota in 2008-09. As is customary for most collegiate teams, as a freshman, Fienhage saw little to no playing time, appearing in just nine games. He appeared in 30 games his sophomore year, though Fienhage still was not getting enough ice time, so his development was fast-tracked in the WHL where he played for the Kamloops Blazers in 2010-11.

Fienhage turned professional the year after but spent most of the season in the ECHL with the Gwinnett Gladiators, where he showed some previously un-showcased offensive moxie with 13 points in 32 games. He did receive a call-up to the AHL that season, but was unspectacular in 20 games.

Fienhage started the 2012-13 season again in the ECHL, and only now with the lockout over will he join the Amerks. He is expected to fill a bottom-pairing role for Rochester.

Justin Jokinen, RW, Cloquet (Minnesota High School) – 4th round, 101st overall
Status: Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

A high school hockey standout and Mr. Hockey finalist, Jokinen played for Minnesota State at Mankato. His first year was promising. As a true freshman, a first year player coming straight out of high school, Jokinen played in 24 games and collected five points. His sophomore year was forgettable, but by his junior and senior seasons Jokinen became a regular in the lineup. However, his talent and ability did not progress the way the Sabres hoped and he was not signed. The Alaska Aces invited Jokinen to a tryout but he failed to make the team. Jokinen is currently not signed with any team.

Jordon Southorn, D, Prince Edward Island Rocket (QMJHL) – 4th round, 104th overall
Status: Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

A former first round QMJHL draft pick, Southorn was one of the rare big, physical defenseman in the league. He emerged as a force, improving his point totals in two consecutive seasons. There were holes in his game and he certainly needed seasoning in the minors, but given his size it looked like he could find a spot on the Sabres blue line.

Then Southorn had an awful final season with the Rocket in 2009-10. Though his defensive play improved, his point totals fell from 41 to 23. He went unsigned by the Sabres and the Trenton Devils picked him up. Other than a two-game AHL call-up, Southorn has spent the majority of his career in the ECHL will he most likely stay for the rest of his career. He is currently one of the Elmira Jackals' top defensemen.

Jacob Lagace, LW, Chicoutimi Sagueneens (QMJHL) – 5th round, 134th overall
Status: Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

An offensive player in junior hockey, Lagace is still transforming into a checking line player with a more physical game. The change had a promising start with Lagace pitching in 10 goals with 34 penalty minutes in his first season with Portland in 2010-11. Though the Pirates demoted him to the ECHL that year, it was a short stint.

The following year, Lagace spent the entire season in the AHL, where he matched his rookie goal total. But his consistency was still an ongoing problem and being a healthy scratch led him to appear in just 58 games.

This season, with the 2012 lockout and the subsequent roster logjam, Lagace did not make the Amerks and was assigned to Bakersfield in the ECHL. He currently has 11 goals for the Condors but has not performed well enough to earn an AHL call-up.

Nick Crawford, D, Saginaw Spirit (OHL) – 6th round, 164th overall
Status: Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

There are a surprising number of sixth round picks from the 2008 draft who have ended up in the NHL. Crawford has not yet joined the likes of Jared Spurgeon (MIN), Cam Atkinson (CLB), Ben Smith (CHI), or Zac Rinaldo (PHI), but the feeling is that he will be soon. Crawford averaged over a point-per-game in his final season of junior hockey, putting his skating and puck-moving ability on full display.

His transition to the AHL was smooth, putting up 31 points in 2010-11 as a 20-year-old rookie. Crawford's play regressed in his second season as his point totals dropped. He has had difficulty getting into the lineup this season as well, having appeared in only 17 games so far.