Photo: After playing the past three seasons in Finland, defenseman Sami Vatanen made his way to North America and currently plays for the AHL affiliate of the Anaheim Ducks. (Rick Stewart/Getty Images)
Below is the middle section Hockey’s Future’s NHL Team Rankings. The teams are ranked in terms of the quality of their overall prospect pool as voted on by the staff of Hockey's Future. For reference, just the top five prospects are listed. To be eligible, a prospect must meet HF's prospect criteria. The rankings are done twice a year, with the second scheduled to be published in the Spring.
Photo: Forward Colin Jacobs has been spectacular since he was traded to the Prince George Cougars. Jacobs spent the previous three seasons with the Seattle Thunderbirds. (Marissa Baecker/Getty Images)
The Buffalo Sabres have eight prospects playing in the CHL, including Quebec Remparts center and 2012 first round pick Mikhail Grigorenko. Only Grigorenko, Daniel Catenacci, and Andrey Makarov are under contract with the organization. The others will be using the rest of the season to showcase their skills. While the most recent draft picks have a little more time to spare, others like Colin Jacobs are playing in their last year of eligibility with the Sabres.
Photo: Defenseman Brayden McNabb (81) is one of several Buffalo Sabres prospects who would be competing for a spot in the NHL right now if not for the ongoing lockout. (Bill Streicher/Icon SMI)
The Buffalo Sabres have traditionally taken the long and steady approach to developing their projects, giving their prospects as much time as needed to develop into an NHL player. That patience has paid off, with many players drafted in the past five years making contributions at the NHL level last year, and are ready to this year, if or when the NHL lockout ends. Corey Tropp, Luke Adam, Brayden McNabb, Marcus Foligno, and a few others are among those who have proven that they can play in the NHL.
Photo: Headed into his sophomore season with the University of Wisconsin, Jake McCabe will be relied on heavily to provide offense from the blue line. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
The Buffalo Sabres addressed their biggest organizational need by selecting two marquee centers, Mikhail Grigorenko and Zemgus Girgensons, at the 2012 Draft. Both have signed entry-level contracts and it is now a waiting game for the Sabres, as they continue to reap the benefits from the continuing development of their young players.
Photo: Finnish forward Joel Armia is among the many promising young prospects in the Buffalo Sabres' system. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Slowly, the Buffalo Sabres are shedding their reputation for being an undersized team severely lacking in the toughness department. At the 2012 NHL Draft, GM Darcy Regier selected two marquee centers, Mikhail Grigorenko and Zemgus Girgensons, with the 12th and 14th overall picks, giving them size, depth and versatility at that position.