Sabres Top 20 prospects, Spring 2010

By Tony Musso

Top 20 at a glance

1. Tyler Ennis, C
2. Jhonas Enroth, G
3. Zack Kassian, RW
4. Luke Adam, C
5. Mike Weber, D
6. Brayden McNabb, D
7. Nathan Gerbe, LW
8. Corey Tropp, RW
9. Philippe Gogulla, LW
10. T.J. Brennan, D
11. Drew Schiestel, D
12. Jacob Lagace, LW
13. Connor Knapp, G
14. Nick Crawford, D
15. Vyateslav Buravchikov, D
16. Bradley Eidsness, G
17. Alex Biega, D
18. Marc-Andre Gragnani, D
19. Dennis Persson, D
20. Felix Schutz, C

1. Tyler Ennis, Center
   5’9" 164lbs
   1st Round, 26th selection 2008
   October 6, 1989

With the recent graduation of Tyler Myers to the Sabres, the more diminutive Tyler takes over the No. 1 spot on Buffalo’s Top 20 list. Ennis leads the AHL in rookie scoring and could be the second player in as many years in the Sabres organization to win AHL Rookie of the Year honors. Ennis has put up big numbers at every level.

His biggest obstacle will be adding strength to his 5’9", 163 lb frame, but there is no denying the offensive talent that he brings to the Sabres organization. He has great vision moving up the ice and is renowned for his playmaking abilities. If he continues at this pace, he should get a call-up soon.

2. Jhonas Enroth, Goalie
   5’10" 174lbs
   2nd Round, 46th selection 2006
   October 25, 1988

Enroth is in the unenviable position of "goalie of the future" on a team with Ryan Miller as its starting goalie. In 45 games this year with the Pirates, Enroth is putting together a pretty good season, with a 2.42 GAA which is near the top of the AHL. For him to make the jump, he needs to show that he can play consistently every night.

Typically the learning curve for goalies is long and Enroth is no exception. He should gain some valuable playoff experience in the AHL this year and will continue to be a valuable asset in the Sabres system.

3. Zack Kassian, Right Wing
   6’2" 212lbs
   1st Round, 13th selection 2009
   January 24, 1991

It has been a tough year for Kassian. In the midst of a somewhat disappointing season, he was traded from Peterborough to Windsor on January 10th. Four days later, in his debut game with the Spitfires he scored a goal and delivered a thunderous blow to Matt Kennedy of the Barrie Colts, which resulted in a 20-game suspension. In his first game back, Kassian did not miss a beat, racking up nine penalty minutes including a spirited fight with Sault Ste. Marie forward Dylan King.

While the season hasn’t been what was hoped for in the young power forward, it hasn’t been all bad. Kassian’s offensive numbers have slipped a little, but his physical presence has really been felt. In a sense he is a man among boys. He has one year left of junior eligibility, but based on his physical acumen, expect a good push from him to make the big club next year.

4. Luke Adam, Center

   6’1" 210lbs
   2nd Round, 44th selection 2008
   June 18, 1990

Adam is absolutely tearing up the QMJHL right now, with 49 goals in 55 games. He rang up an impressive 10-game goal-scoring streak in February and is a +32 on the year.

When the Sabres drafted him 44th overall in 2008, they knew they were getting a player with a great set of hands and a lot of grit in front of the net. The knock on him was his skating, which he has made great improvements in this year. More than likely, Adam will make a push in training camp next year but ultimately end up being a big contributor in the AHL for the 2010-11 season.

5. Mike Weber, Defense

   6’2" 199lbs
   2nd Round, 56th selection 2006
   December 16, 1987

Weber has spent this season re-establishing his place as the most NHL-ready defenseman in the Sabres system. He leads the Sabres AHL affiliate in penalty minutes and has provided some nice veteran leadership to the blue line this year. He also contributed four goals and 14 assists in 63 games.

He has managed to stay healthy despite his physical style of play and has quieted his critics in the process. Weber will be a great addition to the Sabres probably as early as next year with some spots likely opening up on the blue line. Look for him to be a solid middle pairing defenseman in the NHL.

6. Brayden McNabb, Defense

   6’3" 200lbs
   3rd Round, 66th selection 2009
   January 21, 1991

McNabb’s draft stock had dropped due to a very poor showing at the U-18 tournament last year in which his poor skating ability was showcased against tougher opponents on the world stage. However, Buffalo loved his physical style of play and were willing to gamble that the rest of his game would catch up to him.

This year McNabb has steadily improved his skating and is chipping in offensively with 17 goals from the blue line while still maintaining an intimidating presence and dropping the gloves with regularity. Expect McNabb to spend another year in the WHL.

7. Nathan Gerbe, Left Wing

   5’6" 160lbs
   5th Round, 142nd selection 2005
   July 24, 1987

After winning AHL rookie of the year honors last year, great things were expected of Gerbe coming into 2009-10. By all accounts it has been a tough year for the Boston College alum, tallying only nine goals in a so far injury-plagued season in Portland. There is no question that aside from Ennis he is the most offensively talented player in the Sabres system, but he has yet to translate that to the NHL ranks.

The true test for Gerbe will be how he finishes the year in the AHL. If he puts up good numbers and shows why he was chosen as the AHL’s most outstanding rookie, then he could get recalled to Buffalo for the 2010 stretch run. 

8. Corey Tropp, Right Wing
   6’0" 185lbs
   3rd Round, 89th selection 2007
   July 25, 1989

Tropp has had quite a resurgence with Michigan State this year, after being suspended for the remainder of the 2008-09 season for a slash to the neck of a Michigan player. He finished the regular season 14th in scoring in all of college hockey with 20 goals and 22 assists in 36 games. Moving forward he will be an integral part of Michigan State’s playoff run and an important part of their leadership group heading into next year.

Tropp will probably finish out his college career next year and after that he could find himself a spot as a solid checking-line forward with the Sabres in the future.

9. Philippe Gogulla, Left Wing
   6’2" 176lbs
   2nd Round, 48th selection 2005
   July 31, 1987

Gogulla was the last cut on the German Olympic team this year to make room for current Sabres forward Jochen Hecht. It is a quiet testament to how far Gogulla has come. The biggest knock on Gogulla has been his size. At 6’2" and only 175 lbs, most thought he would not be able to handle the North American game. However, in his rookie year in the AHL he put up a solid 12 goals and 29 points in 62 games.

Gogulla is still probably another year away from really challenging for a spot on the Sabres roster. He needs to add weight to his frame and improve his consistency, but his potential is there.

10. T.J. Brennan, Defense
   6’0" 204lbs
   2nd Round, 31st selection 2007
   April 3, 1989

It has been a good development year for Brennan in Portland. He is showcasing his booming point shot and is getting better in his own end. With four goals and 15 points in 50 games this year, Brennan is quietly having a solid rookie year in the American League.

His elevation to Buffalo will be directly influenced by his continued improvement defensively. Brennan will look to be a solid second-pairing defenseman and power-play specialist when he gets to Buffalo. Until then he continues to be an intriguing player to watch on the back end.

11. Drew Schiestel, Defense
    6’2" 193lbs
    2nd Round, 59th selection 2007
    March 9, 1989

There is no doubt that Schiestel is a very talented defenseman, chosen in the second round of the 2007 draft. The problem for Schiestel is his inconsistent play; he has been dynamic on some nights and awful on others.

He skates very well and enjoys jumping into the rush, but is prone to give the puck away in his own end. Schiestel will need at least another year of seasoning in the AHL before he can really push for a regular spot with the Sabres.

12. Jacob Lagace, Left Wing
    5’11" 195lbs
    5th Round, 134th selection 2008
    January 9, 1990

When Lagace was traded in early January from Chicoutimi to Cape Breton in the QMJHL, he became the third Sabres prospect on the Eagles. His offensive production has slowed a little bit since then but he is getting some quality time playing with Luke Adam on Cape Breton’s top line. Lagace is a hard-working winger who plays an aggressive game and has a little scoring touch.

Lagace could be a great value pick for the Sabres (135th overall). He will most likely be in the AHL next year and with some time could develop into a good hard-nosed third-line winger in Buffalo.

13. Connor Knapp, Goalie

    6’5" 215lbs
    6th Round, 164th selection 2009
    May 1, 1990

For the second year, Connor Knapp is splitting the goaltending duties at Miami University with Cody Reichard. As a tandem they are the best in college hockey. Of course it helps when your team is ranked #2 in the nation. Knapp is a big goalie at 6’5” and 225 lbs who uses his size to his advantage in the net. He has great lateral movement and doesn’t give up the big rebounds that many other big goalies do. In 15 games this season he has a 2.02 GAA and a .918 save percentage.

Knapp is a sophomore this year so he has some time to develop. With high upside and plenty of time to realize it, he could be another late-round steal for the Sabres.

14. Nick Crawford, Defense

    6’0" 183lbs
    6th Round, 164th selection 2008
    February 23, 1990

With 11 goals and 68 points in 65 games this year, Nick Crawford is starting to really turn up his game. He is leading OHL defensemen in scoring and is really finishing his junior hockey career on a high note, having steadily progressed throughout.

Crawford has definitely proved his value this year and can be counted as another defensive asset in the Sabres system. While conventional wisdom would suggest that Crawford will be an AHLer next year, do not discount the possibility of him pushing one of the other young defensemen for call-up time in Buffalo.

15. Vyateslav Buravchikov, Defense
    6’2" 189lbs
    6th Round, 191st selection 2005
    May 22, 1987 

Coming into the 2005 NHL Entry draft Buravchikov was rated somewhere in the second to early third round. However, because he was drafted in the first year after the collapse of the transfer agreement between Russia and the NHL, his stock dropped dramatically. Buravchikov currently plays for Kazan Ak-Bars in the KHL, where he is having a solid year.

He was originally projected as an offensive minded defenseman because of his smooth skating and quick shot. He has three goals and three assists in 35 games this year in the low-scoring KHL. He is gaining a reputation for his solid defensive play.

16. Bradley Eidsness, Goalie

    6’0" 173lbs
    5th Round, 139th selection 2007
    June 2, 1989

Eidsness is having a very good season for the UND Fighting Sioux. In his sophomore year, he is second in all of college hockey in games played and seventh in save percentage with a .914. On March 12, in the first game of the WCHA playoffs, Eidsness made 27 saves to record his second shutout of the season against Minnesota.

Eidsness is proving to be another great value goaltender for the Sabres. Between he and Knapp, the Sabres look to have a solid stable of young goalie talent for years to come.

17. Alex Biega, Defense

    5’11" 195lbs
    5th Round, 147th selection 2006
    April 4, 1988

As the captain of the Harvard Crimson, Biega has shown his leadership skills to be one of his many strengths. He was named as a third-team all-American this year and has not disappointed, leading Harvard to the quarterfinals of the ECAC tournament.

Known for his steady defensive play and strong skating skills, Biega is sure to be an asset to the Sabres already crowded minor-league stable of defensemen. Biega will most likely suit up in the AHL next year.

18. Marc-Andre Gragnani, Defense

    6’2" 200lbs
    3rd Round, 87th selection 2005
    March 11, 1987

Gragnani, along with Mike Weber, has taken charge on the Portland blue line this year. Leading all Portland defensemen in scoring with 10 goals and 34 points in just 51 games, Gragnani continues to show his offensive prowess. Criticized early in his career for his lack of defensive responsibility, he has worked hard to change that perception by posting a respectable +4 this year.

Besides his obvious value as a puck-moving defenseman, Gragnani gives the Sabres versatility as well. He has played forward in the AHL and even for Buffalo in a call-up last year, so that will obviously help his cause in the Sabres 2010-11 training camp. Expect Gragnani to battle with Weber for the last couple of spots on the blue line in Buffalo next year.

19. Dennis Persson, Defense

    6’1" 187lbs
    1st Round, 24th selection 2006
    June 2, 1988

Persson has had a tough season in the AHL this year. Posting a -7 rating and one goal in 47 games, he has a long way to go to live up to the potential that made him the Sabres first-round selection in 2006. Touted as a playmaking defenseman coming out of Sweden, he has had a hard time translating his game in North America.

However underachieving Persson may be, there is no arguing that he is a very good talent. With the time and maturity he could still develop into the player the Sabres hoped he be.

20. Felix Schutz, Center

    5’11" 187lbs
    4th Round, 117th selection 2006
    November 3, 1987

Offensively, Schutz is having a down year in 2009-10 for the Sabres AHL affiliate. In his rookie campaign last year he posted 15 goals and 42 points in 78 games; this year he has managed just 24 points in 58 games. With a quick wrist shot and a smooth, compact skating style, Schutz has the ability to play at the next level.

Schutz is known for being an extremely hard worker. The question is does he have enough skill to play consistently in the NHL? Time will tell, but for now Schutz will continue to be a solid contributor in the AHL.