Sabres Top 20 prospects, Fall 2008

By James Schwegler

Top 20 at a glance

1. Jhonas Enroth, G
2.  Andrej Sekera, D
3.  Mike Weber, D
4.  Clarke MacArthur, C
5.  Tim Kennedy, LW
6.  T.J. Brennan, D
7.  Nathan Gerbe, C
8.  Chris Butler, D
9.  Tyler Myers, D
10.  Marc-Andre Gragnani, LW
11.  Patrick Kaleta, RW
12.  Tyler Ennis, C
13.  Philippe Gogulla, LW
14.  Justin Jokinen, RW
15.  Luke Adam, C
16.  Marek Zagrapan, C
17.  Corey Fienhage, D
18.  Felix Schutz, C
19.  Paul Byron, C
20.  Vyateslav Buravchikov, D

The Sabres add several new faces to the list of Top 20 prospects. Four of the 2008 draft picks (Tyler Myers, Tyler Ennis, Justin Jokinen, Corey Fienhage) have been added to list, pushing a few players off the list. 

1. (1) Jhonas Enroth, G 8.0C

Drafted: 2nd round, 46th overall, 2006

Due to continued solid play, Enroth remains at the top of the Buffalo rankings, and stands to anchor the team’s new AHL affiliate Portland Pirates.  A classic butterfly goalie with an exceptional glove hand, Enroth displays very good reflexes.  He has also shown the ability to step up in big games, as displayed in his performance in Sweden’s run to the silver medal of the 2008 World Junior Championships. 

Like Ryan Miller before him, Enroth has an excellent opportunity to quietly grow with a talented AHL team while the Sabres are comfortable with their goalie at the NHL level. 

2.  (2) Andrej Sekera, D 7.5B

Drafted:  3rd Round, 71st overall, 2004

Sekera is a player with a well-rounded game and the intelligence to see the play developing on offense and defense.  Along with his finesse game, he also has solid toughness and ability to play the body.  He has been a captain in the past, and will have an opportunity to grow on a veteran-laden Buffalo defensive corps.  He is further along in defensive zone play that most young players, but there is always some adjustment as the level of competition improves. 

Sekera looked very comfortable in the NHL last season, and should spend most of the 2008-09 season with the Sabres. 

3.  (5) Mike Weber, D 7.5B

Drafted: 2nd round, 57th overall, 2006

Weber has moved up a bit after spending the tail end of last season in the NHL and not looking out of place.  He has always shown good toughness and willingness to sacrifice his body, and he has added better defensive zone awareness and improved his passing ability.  Barring injury, he likely won’t be able to become a regular on the Buffalo roster, but he will be a stalwart presence on the Portland blue line. 

The Buffalo coaching staff has stated their high regard for Weber, and although the blueline will be crowded, they have often called on their young defensemen to step up in recent years.  In the meantime, he can be an impact player at the AHL level. 

4.  (4) Clarke MacArthur, C 7.0B

Drafted: 3rd round, 74th overall, 2003

MacArthur possesses several good attributes, including respectable NHL offensive ability and a willingness to forecheck.  His prospect rating stands pat, and he is close to graduating as an NHL player.  He needs to develop a clearly defined role with Buffalo.  If he can bring a consistent effort in his own zone, he may be able to turn into a quality defensive forward with a surprising offensive touch. 

MacArthur will spend a good amount of time with the Sabres this season, and needs to show that he belongs there this training camp. 

5.  (10) Tim Kennedy, LW 7.0B

Drafted: 6th round, 181st overall, 2005 by Washington

The first thing that most Buffalo fans find out about Kennedy is that he is from South Buffalo, which immediately ingratiates him with the entire community.  He established a reputation as a defensive forward at Michigan State, and led his college team by example.  Like MacArthur, he needs to find exactly how he can contribute at the NHL level.  Although he could stand to add bulk, he projects as a chippy forward with a smart, opportunistic offensive game. 

He should start in Portland, but may be one of the first call-ups in the case of trade or injury. 

6.  (7) T.J. Brennan, D 7.0B

Drafted: 2nd round, 31st overall, 2007

Brennan may be Buffalo’s most intriguing prospect, given his unique set of skills and raw talent.  He brings good speed and physical play from his lacrosse background, along with a hard shot and the ability to pinch in on the offensive play.  Brennan does need to improve on the defensive fundamentals, and learn the nuances of playing the angles in his own zone. 

Unless he makes a miraculous jump in training camp, he will spend one more season in juniors.  After that, he will be poised to make an impact at the professional level in 2009-10. 

7.  (8) Nathan Gerbe, C 7.0B

Drafted: 5th round, 142nd overall, 2005

This speedy forward continued to showcase his star power during Boston College’s run to the NCAA championship.  Gerbe’s mature offensive game forces defenders to give him space and respect his stickhandling ability.  Despite a lack of height, he uses skill and awareness to create scoring chances.  He was known for bringing a spark to his college team, and setting the tone for an aggressive offense. 

Gerbe is signed to a three-year entry-level contract, and may be able to spend some time in Buffalo this season due to his seasoning in college.  Even if he spends the season in Portland, he will have the chance to develop with a well-stocked roster.

8.  (9) Chris Butler, D 7.0B

Drafted: 4th round, 96th overall, 2005

Butler is a mature defenseman who is ready to contribute professionally.  He is a reliable player that understands the game and knows when to jump in on offense.  On defense, he works well in tight spaces and makes a crisp first pass out of the zone.  The University of Denver benefited from his leadership this past season. 

Butler will start the season in Portland, but could easily see some ice time with the Sabres if there are injuries.  Given his great intangibles, he is an ideal player for a young AHL team. 

9.  (NR) Tyler Myers, D 7.5C

Drafted:  1st round, 13th overall, 2008

Myers is an tough player to rate.  Players of his height (6’7) can often be boom or bust prospects.  While Myers is not quite that risky, he does have to steadily develop his passing ability and awareness as a point man.  With strong skating already in his pocket, he can likely have an NHL career even if his progression stalls, but without adding maturity and grit to his game and some size to his lanky frame, he will not live up to his high draft slot.  He projects as an offensive defenseman. 

He will continue with the Kelowna Rockets of the WHL next season.  Because of Buffalo’s quality NHL depth on defense, he will have ample time to improve. 

10.  (4) Marc-Andre Gragnani, LW 7.5C

Drafted: 3rd round, 87th overall, 2005

As a converted defenseman, Gragnani is still making the transition to playing regularly as a forward.  He brings the traits one might expect from a former blueliner, including good intelligence in the defensive zone, solid passing, and toughness.  He is a capable player on offense, but will contribute more with effort than touch. 

He appears to be stuck behind some quality forwards, but may be called up to Buffalo if the team needs toughness on the wing.  Gragnani has played well with Rochester, and should be able to continue that performance in Portland. 

11.  (NR) Patrick Kaleta, RW 5.5A

Drafted:  6th round, 176th overall, 2004

Kaleta has arrived as an NHL scrapper.  He brings energy to the lineup by throwing his body around, and has endeared himself to the fans as a local product.  Although he is not afraid to fight, he is not a typical enforcer, and can be a serviceable player on offense.  He will graduate as a prospect this season, and should spend the year in Buffalo.

12.  (NR) Tyler Ennis, C 7.0C

Drafted:  1st round, 26th overall, 2008

Buffalo’s other first-round pick, Ennis comes in just behind his counterpart Myers.  He is a quality center with undeniable skills on offense, but is still too much of a wild card at this stage in his development to supplant proven collegiate stars like Gerbe and Kennedy. 

After landing a big defenseman early, the Sabres were able to select the best player available later in the round, which turned out to be Ennis.  While all players under 6’0 must get tired of being compared to one another, the Daniel Briere/Derek Roy template does fit.  At 5’8, he uses excellent skating, vision, and a quick shot to be a force on offense. 

Ennis soon turns 19, and will continue in the WHL for the time being. 

13.  (13) Philippe Gogulla, LW 7.0C

Drafted: 2nd round, 48th overall, 2005

Gogulla is big player who uses his size effectively along the boards and in the corners.  He has the ability to see the play develop and to be a playmaker for his teammates.

After playing well in the top German league this past season, Gogulla needs to make the jump to the AHL level if he wants to ultimately contribute in the NHL. 

14. (NR) Justin Jokinen, RW 7.0C

Drafted:  4th round, 101st overall, 2008

Buffalo’s fourth-round pick this year, Jokinen immediately breaks into the top 20 due to his high upside.  He possesses the skills of a much higher pick, but needs to add more muscle to his tall frame.  Scouts rave about his skating, vision, shot, passing, and ability to finish.  He does need to improve his defensive play, and will have the opportunity to do that with Minnesota State University, Mankato.  With some time in the weight room, he may fly up the rankings in the upcoming seasons.

15. (NR) Luke Adam, C 6.5C

Drafted:  2nd round, 44th overall, 2008

Another 2008 draft selection, Adam is a big forward who fits the Dave Andreychuk mold.  He earns his keep in front of the net, and is able to use his size to screen the goalie and chip in loose pucks.  Although he is not a good skater, he only needs to be adequate to fulfill his role on the ice.  By working in the corners and playing the body, Adam can put his mark on a game. 

Adam is expected to continue in the QMJHL.  He does have some NHL-ready traits as a mucker, but does need to expand his game if he wants to be a first or second line NHL forward. 

16.  (6) Marek Zagrapan, C 6.5C

Drafted: 1st round, 13th overall, 2005

Zagrapan slips to this point due to a lack of maturity and consistency.  Despite obvious natural gifts, he has stalled in his development and has not lived up to the expectations that being the 13th pick in the draft brings.  Physically, he has excellent skating ability and balance, including quick hands around the net.

Zagrapan is expected to start the season in the AHL, and may be passed by as the Buffalo pipeline reloads with talented young forwards.  Consistency and effort need to be displayed if Zagrapan is to make the permanent jump to the NHL. 

17.  (NR) Corey Fienhage, D 6.5C

Drafted:  3rd round, 81st overall, 2008

Fienhage breaks into the Top 20 ahead of similarly ranked players due to his unique profile.  He is the rugged defenseman that the Sabres have been waiting for.  Even at 18 years of age, he has great size, toughness, and leadership ability.  Fienhage will not win any skills competitions, but he shows an adequate ability to chip in on offense.  His skating stands to improve, but his passing is serviceable.  The physical presence is already there, and despite mediocre skating he is a force in his own end. 

The young defenseman will be in good hands with the University of North Dakota program.  With room to develop on a stocked team, Fienhage should cut an imposing figure when he turns professional. 

18.  (19) Felix Schutz, C 6.5C

Drafted: 4th round, 117th overall, 2006

Schutz has worked to develop into a reasonably promising prospect.  His willingness to muck in the corners belies his smooth skating and solid passing abilities.  He is more of a playmaker than a pure scorer, though he can also contribute with a quick wrist shot.

Schutz will be moving to the AHL Portland Pirates, after agreeing to an entry-level professional contract in May. 

19.  (NR) Paul Byron, C 6.5C

Drafted:  6th round, 179th overall, 2007

Byron finds his way into the Top 20 after leading the QMJHL in playoff scoring, and continuing to develop as an offensive threat. 

Byron is the lightest of the Gerbe/Ennis/Byron undersized triumvirate.  As with the other players, he brings good agility and acceleration, along with a goal scorer’s touch. 

20.  (12) Vyateslav Buravchikov, D 6.5C

Drafted: 6th round, 191st overall, 2005

Buravchikov is a bit of an anomaly.  He was brought into the organization with a reputation as an offensive defenseman, but made a name for himself in the Russian Super League as a safe, reliable blueliner.  He does have good skating ability and a sound shot from the point, which are useful traits no matter what the style of play. 

Buffalo retains his rights due to the lack of IIHF agreement with Russia

Missing the cut

Although these three remain strong prospects, a talented draft class and move up the rankings by players in the system (Kaleta, Byron) pushed them out of the Top 20. 

Michael Funk, D 6.5C
Drafted: 2nd round, 43rd overall, 2004

Dennis Persson, D 6.5C
Drafted: 1st round, 24th overall, 2006

Corey Tropp, RW 6.5C
Drafted: 3rd round, 89th overall, 2007