Buffalo Sabres represented by small but talented group of NCAA and European prospects

By Jason Chen

Jake McCabe - Buffalo Sabres

Photo: Defenseman Jake McCabe had a breakout sophomore season with the Wisconsin Badgers. McCabe was drafted 44th overall in 2012. (courtesy of Fred Kfoury/Icon SMI)

The Buffalo Sabres tend to draft players out of the CHL, and as a result have fewer high-end prospects in Europe and the collegiate levels. Even when the Sabres elected to drafted European-born players with their first round picks, as they did twice in 2012 by taking Mikhail Grigorenko and Zemgus Girgensons, both players were playing in North American leagues at the time.

In Europe, Joel Armia is the Sabres' best prospect and considered one of the best young players who have yet to make the move overseas. Linus Ullmark has looked promising in limited playing time with MODO.

Jake McCabe, a standout for Team USA at the World Junior Championships, is the Sabres' best collegiate prospect and follows a growing crop of high-caliber defensemen to come from Mike Eaves' Wisconsin program. Christian Isackson, considered a project at the time of the draft, has emerged as one of Minnesota's top forwards.

NCAA

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

Christian Isackson was drafted as a project. He did not play much in his freshman year with the Golden Gophers, as is usually the case with freshman, but he has burst onto the scene as a sophomore with 20 points in 40 games. The Minnesota native is reaping the benefits of playing alongside older and more experienced forwards who elected to stay with the Gophers for one more year, including Kyle Rau (FLA) and Nick Bjugstad (FLA). He will likely stay with Minnesota for at least another year before considering turning pro.

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

Another late pick considered to be a project, Navin has not taken the step forward many expected him to. In his freshman year, Navin was primarily used as a checking line center. With Michael Mersch (LAK) and Nicolas Kerdiles (ANA), Navin's path to the top of the depth chart has been blocked. Through 34 games, Navin has one goal and three assists. Navin still has lots to prove if he wants to earn a contract from Buffalo.

Jake McCabe, D, Wisconsin Badgers (WCHA)
Drafted 2nd round, 44th overall, in 2012

Team USA's standout defenseman at the World Junior Championships, McCabe wowed scouts with his versatility at both ends of the ice and his knack for knowing when to jump up into the play. The Wisconsin Badgers have been churning out NHL-caliber defenseman like cheese in recent years and McCabe looks like he is going to follow in the footsteps of Jake Gardiner (TOR), Justin Schultz (EDM), and Ryan Suter (MIN). Despite his achievements this year, McCabe should be cautioned before turning pro too early. Gardiner and Schultz both played a third season for the Badgers and both became better hockey players for it. Suter is the exception, leaving after just one season.

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

Adams was limited to 19 games last year with a concussion and limited to just seven this year. Through 59 games with the Friars, Adams has recorded four assists and 40 penalty minutes as a defensive defenseman.

Europe

Linus Ullmark, G, MODO (Elitserien)
Drafted 6th round, 163rd overall, in 2012

A very talented but also very raw prospect, Ullmark was ranked as the seventh-best European goaltender by Central Scouting heading into the 2012 draft. He has since emerged as one of Sweden's more underrated prospects.

Ullmark has also been solid for Modo's U20 team, posting a 2.04 goals against average and a .904 save percentage. He will have to prove himself a little more and gain more experience before heading to North America.

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

Amid a season of disappointment, the Sabres can at least look forward to Joel Armia joining the team next year. The addition of Armia can help a Sabres offense and powerplay which has sputtered this season. Armia is currently second on his team with 19 goals in 47 games, no small feat for a 19-year-old playing in a men's league. His 19 goals are also good for 13th in the league.