2006 Draft infused Buffalo Sabres with solid defensive talent

By Tony Musso
Photo: Second-rounder Mike Weber has so far seen the most time in the NHL of all of the Sabres’ 2006 draft class. (Photo courtesy of NHL)

The 2006 Entry Draft was the final year that the Sabres used the traditional scouting method of physically sending out scouts to watch players across the world. It also marked the last time the Sabres drafted a player outside of North America, with the additions of Dennis Persson and Jhonas Enroth Buffalo dipped into the always stocked Swedish prospect pool.

Buffalo gave up their third round pick in 2006 for Toni Lydman but they acquired an extra second rounder in a deal with the Vancouver that sent former goaltending prospect Mika Noronen to the Canucks.

Dennis Persson, D, VIK Västerås (Sweden) – 1st round, 24th overall
Status: Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

The argument could be made that Dennis Persson can now be labeled a bust as he still hasn’t made the jump to the Sabres after five years of development and other defenseman drafted lower and later than him have already surpassed him on the organizational depth chart. Touted as a good all-around defenseman with a solid body frame coming into the draft, Persson has really done nothing but disappoint from day one as a Sabre.

However in this his sophomore season in the AHL, Persson has started to finally show signs of improvement in his North American game. He showed flashes in training camp this year of being able to handle the speed and intensity of the NHL for the first time in his tenure and has already shattered his point totals from a year ago with four goals and seven assists in 44 games compared to his rookie year when he tallied a goal and six assists over a full season. The 2010-11 campaign will be important for Persson’s development. It will be an uphill battle for him as most of his contemporaries have already surpassed him on the Sabres prospect depth chart.

Jhonas Enroth, G, Södertälje (Sweden) – 2nd round, 46th overall
Status: Prospect
NHL Games Played: 6

Since he was drafted, Jhonas Enroth has been known as the top goaltending prospect in the Sabres organization. In the five years since then not much has changed, Enroth has progressed at slow and steady pace and Buffalo has afforded him the ability to take his time in development as superstar goaltender Ryan Miller tackles the bulk of the goaltending duties in Buffalo.

Coming into the draft, Enroth was touted as the best Swedish goaltending prospect since Henrick Lundquivst. There were some concerns over his small stature, but no denying his quick reflexes and sound lateral technique. It could be argued that though Enroth has really done nothing to disappoint in his development, he also has really not displayed top end goaltending numbers in the AHL to reinforce the hype that he is a future number one goalie in the NHL someday.

Enroth is likely to be Ryan Miller’s backup next season and could help to lessen the load on the Sabres superstar for years to come. With Buffalo’s goaltending situation set through the 2013-14 season, Enroth will have to take a backseat for now and try to capitalize on the playing time he is likely to get in the coming seasons.

Mike Weber, D, Windsor (OHL) – 2nd round, 57th overall
Status: NHL Player
NHL Games Played: 51

This rugged blueliner came into the 2006 draft as one of the hardest hitting defensive defenseman available. Over the course of his development with the Sabres he has gone through some up and downs due to injuries, inconsistent play and bad timing. Though he represents a type of defenseman that the Sabres have needed for years, with his toughness on the back end, he has not been able to stick in the lineup and has spent the past three seasons in the AHL trying to gain consistency in his game.

Beginning in the 2009-10 season, everything started to turn around as Weber earned AHL all star honors and was the Pirates number one shutdown defenseman. This season has been no different as Weber has been a revelation with not only his physicality but also in his puck movement. He has been one of the better breakout defenseman in Buffalo this year and made it near impossible for Sabres coach Lindy Ruff to take him out of the lineup.

Weber is a restricted free agent after this season but the expectation based on his seemingly breakout season in 2010-11 is that he will sign a long term deal over the summer.

Felix Schutz, C, Saint John(QMJHL) – 4th round, 117th overall
Status: Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

The Sabres drafted Schutz in 2006 as a project player that they hoped would someday develop into a scoring center in the NHL. Schutz never really materialized into the scoring threat that his on ice vision and skating ability hinted he might be. After playing three seasons in the QMJHL, the Sabres wanted Schutz to gain some experience in the DEL, in Germany where he played one season for Ingolstadt ERC before returning to North America to suit up for Portland in the AHL.

In Schutz’s first season in Portland, he showed the promise that Buffalo had hoped for by posting 42 points as a rookie. It was in his sophomore season that things began to fall apart as he was give every opportunity to succeed but somehow managed to regress and become disinterested. His play last season then led the Sabres to release him over the summer and he returned to Germany and is currently playing for Ingolstadt ERC.

Alex Biega, D, Salisbury (USHS) – 5th round, 147th overall
Status: Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

Biega has the potential to develop into the best of the three defenseman drafted by Buffalo in 2006. The sturdy blueliner has very good skating skills and above average speed and was known as a vocal leader as the captain of the Harvard Crimson. Biega is a hard worker and fierce competitor who already started to turn heads in his rookie season in Portland. Playing a lot of quality minutes, Biega leads the team with a plus-18 rating and he has gained the trust of coach Kevin Dineen with his play.

While he is not as physical as Weber and doesn’t have as high of a talent ceiling as Persson, Biega possesses the potential to be the most complete defenseman of the three. He needs to continue playing well defensively while injecting some more offense into his game by using his speed to jump into the rush consistently. Though the Sabres blue line depth is obviously stacked, it should not take long for Alex Biega to begin his climb to the top of the list.

Benjamin Breault, C, Baie-Comeau (QMJHL) – 7th round, 207th overall
Status: Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

Breault never materialized into the player the Sabres envisioned and five years after he was taken in the seventh round, he is out of professional hockey. He was touted as a good two-way player with a nose
for the net but he couldn’t seem to make the transition out of junior hockey. He played five seasons in the QMJHL where he posted very good numbers before moving onto stints with Dalhousie University in Canada and the Florida Everblades of the ECHL.