Sabres 2005 draft evaluation

By Tony Musso

The Sabres had high hopes for a solid showing in their first post-lockout draft. Holding the 13th pick in the first round they were poised to make an important selection for the future. With nine picks in all, GM Darcy Regier had plenty of ammunition to help the club for years to come.

Out of the nine picks that the Sabres had, four of them can be legitimately labeled as a bust, including first-round pick Marek Zagrapan. Only one player has a regular spot with Buffalo and in total all of the players drafted have produced just 132 games played. While there was a little redemption in the middle rounds with the selection of Marc-Andre Gragnani, Chris Butler, and Nathan Gerbe, 2005 is definitely a draft year that they would like to have back.

Marek Zagrapan, C, Chicoutimi (QMJHL) — 1st round, 13th overall 
Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

Touted as a smooth-skating, creative centerman out of the QMJHL, Zagrapan appeared to be just what the Sabres needed going into the first year in the “new” NHL. After making solid first-round selections in 2003 (Thomas Vanek) and 2004 (Drew Stafford), Regier was in a position with the 13th pick to add to the Sabres solid prospect base.

Zagrapan has shown that all the talent in the world means nothing without the desire to go with it. His inconsistent play and failure to play a defensively responsible game were his ultimate downfall. After making some progress in the final year of his entry-level contract, with 21 goals and 49 points in 80 games, Zagrapan decided to skip out of North America after the 2008-09 season and he signed a two-year deal with Severstal Cherepovets in the KHL.

While the Sabres still own his NHL rights, Zagrapan appears to be more comfortable in the KHL. He has voiced his disappointment in the Sabres organization, citing the lack of opportunities as the reason why he was never able to crack the lineup in Buffalo. While it is possible that Zagrapan could return to North America, the window for that to happen is rapidly closing.

Philip Gogulla, LW, Koln (GERMANY) – 2nd round, 48th overall
Status: NHL Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

In the second round, the Sabres opted for the only German drafted in 2005 selecting Gogulla with the 48th pick. Gogulla was touted as good all-around winger who had good board skills and a good passing touch. His offensive skills were modest, but it was his two-way play and dedication to the game that the Sabres liked.

So far, Gogulla has steadily developed and had a very good rookie year in Portland in 2009-10 with 15 goals and 35 points in 76 games. He has been tapped by the German national team to play in this year’s World Championships, which are in his home country, and was the last cut for the Germans in the Olympics this year. All of Gogulla’s international experience has definitely helped him develop against better competition.

The outlook is good for Gogulla. His progression is right on schedule and he could be on the Sabres roster by the 2011-12 season.

Marc-Andre Gragnani, D, P.E.I. (QMJHL) – 3rd round, 87th overall
Status: NHL Prospect
NHL Games Played: 6

The Sabres went with an Offensive defenseman from the QMJHL with their third-round pick in 2005. His tremendous skating ability and good vision made him the logical pick for the Sabres who were without a bona fide offensive defenseman prospect in the system at that time.

Gragnani just completed his third full season in the AHL and his consistency has been very good. Averaging about 11 goals and 50 points during that time has solidified his status as a player to watch in the coming years. His versatility has shown through as well, taking shifts as a winger several times this year in Portland. In Gragnani, the Sabres know what they have. The question is: Will his AHL offensive numbers translate in the NHL?

Gragnani was called to Buffalo in the 2007-08 season for two games and in the 2008-09 season for four games; in both instances he showed great poise. The Sabres hope that he can do it as a regular, possibly as early as the 2010-11 season. Besides Mike Weber, Gragnani is the most NHL-ready defenseman the Sabres have and he could have a real shot at becoming a regular in Buffalo this year.

Chris Butler, D, Sioux City (USHL) — 4th round, 96th overall
Status: NHL Player
NHL Games Played: 106

The Sabres went with another defenseman in the fourth by selecting Sioux City’s Chris Butler with the 96th pick. In Butler the Sabres hoped that they had a good, steady defenseman with offensive ability. His commitment to the University of Denver meant that he would have plenty of time to develop.

As the only player listed as an NHL regular on this list, Butler represents good value for where the Sabres picked him. While he regressed a bit in his second season in Buffalo, there is no reason to believe that it was anything more than the dreaded sophomore slump. When Butler is playing his game he is a very good puckmover who is not afraid to be physical in his own end. However, towards the end of last season, he split time with Andrej Sekera as the Sabres sixth defenseman because of his poor play and was in Lindy Ruff’s doghouse for much of the second half of 2009-10.

The Sabres hope he can continue next year where he left off in his rookie campaign and improve on his point totals while showing the tenacity that garnered him praise as a rookie.

Nathan Gerbe, C, U.S. National U-18 (USA) — 5th round, 142nd overall
Status: NHL Prospect
NHL Games Played: 20

If Gerbe was of average NHL size, there is no way he would have lasted until the fifth round of the 2005 draft. Other teams were scared away by his stature so the Sabres have reaped the benefits of their gamble. Coming out of the USNTDP, Gerbe was known for his offensive creativity and his fearless forecheck, despite his size.

Listed at a generous 5’6, Gerbe has great offensive skill. After winning the AHL Rookie of the Year award for the 2008-09 season, it was thought that Gerbe was a lock coming into Sabres training camp last year. However, it was not to be, as he was the last cut on the Sabres roster and was relegated to another year in Portland.

Still, the outlook for Gerbe is very good, having been a huge contributor in the 2009-10 playoffs for Buffalo and showing why he was such a fan favorite at Boston College as he wears his heart on his sleeve night after night. Also, Gerbe is not afraid of anybody, which will go a long way in training camp next year. It is safe to say that he is a virtual lock to make the Sabres in 2010-11 and could be in the conversation for the Calder Trophy next year.

Adam Dennis, G, London (OHL) — 6th round, 182nd overall
Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

Dennis was drafted as a project pick in 2005 to add to a depleted goaltending farm system in Buffalo. He was named the OHL Goalie of the Year in 2006.

In his rookie year in the AHL with Rochester, Dennis split time with Craig Anderson and had his best year as a North American pro. However his talent never really came to fruition and he was relegated to backup status for the Sabres AHL affiliate until his contract expired at the end of the 2008-09 season. Last season he signed with Fassa HC in Italy and he seems to have found his groove, posting good numbers with a 2.23 GAA and 935 save percentage.

Dennis was claimed on waivers at the end of the 2009-10 season by Florida but was not offered a contract and currently is a free agent.

Vyacheslav Buravchikov, D, Krylja (RUSSIA) — 6th round, 191st overall
Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

The Sabres knew they were taking a risk by drafting Buravchikov with no transfer agreement in place with the KHL, but they thought he was worth the risk in the sixth round. Rated as a second-round talent, Buravchikov has developed into a decent two-way defender.

Buravchikov has not put up the offensive numbers that were expected of him coming out of the draft, but has developed his defensive game nicely.

Unfortunately for the Sabres, their repeated attempts to sign him and bring him to North America have not worked. While his rights are still owned by the Sabres, it would seem that Buravchikov is content with playing in the KHL.

Matt Generous, D, New England Jr. Falcons (EJHL) — 7th round, 208th overall
Status: NHL Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

The Sabres drafted Generous with the idea that he might be a depth defenseman in the future. He had great intangibles coming out of the draft and his inexperience against better competition was the biggest knock on him coming out of the EJHL.

Generous had a very good career at St. Lawrence University where he was named ECAC Defenseman of the Year in the 2008-09 season. He was then signed by the Sabres to a one-year contract before the 2009-10 season. As of right now he has yet to be re-signed by Buffalo after putting up 13 points in 61 games last year. The Sabres are faced with some difficult decisions this offseason and Generous will be part of that as the Sabres figure out if he fits into their future plans.

Andrew Orpik, LW, Thayer Academy (USHSE) — 7th round, 227th overall
Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

The Sabres went local with their last pick of the 2005 draft selecting Andrew Orpik. Considering the pedigree of his brother, Orpik could have possibly been a steal. With a nasty streak and very good size, the Sabres envisioned a strong third line, penalty-killing forward. 

Unfortunately, his skating ability and offensive prowess never caught up to his physical stature and familial NHL pedigree. After four years at Boston College, the Sabres opted not to sign him to two-way deal, paving the way for his release and subsequent signing with the San Antonio Rampage in the AHL. After 22 games, he was reassigned to the Las Vegas Wranglers of the ECHL and that is where he played out the 2009-10 season.