Top 20 Buffalo Sabres prospects led by rookies Eichel and Reinhart

By Kristopher Bras

Photo: Although Nick Baptiste played with Connor McDavid last season for the Erie Otters, it is Eichel that he is more likely to end up on a line with in the NHL. (Courtesy of Dennis Pajot/Getty Images)

Photo: Although Nick Baptiste played with Connor McDavid last season for the Erie Otters, it is Eichel that he is more likely to end up on a line with in the NHL. (Courtesy of Dennis Pajot/Getty Images)

 

10. (11) Chad Ruhwedel, D, 7.0 C
Signed as free agent, April 13th, 2013

Ruhwedel might never be a top-pairing defenceman in the NHL, but he is a steady, mobile presence in the backend who makes smart plays up-ice. Ruhwedel had 36 points for the Americans last season, but like fellow high-scoring AHL defenceman Chris Wideman (OTT), lacks the size to ensure that his abilities will translate over to the next level. He struggled to produce offense in two trips to Buffalo over the last few seasons, and it is uncertain if he will again get the chance this season—though he stood out at times in exhibition play this September.

9. (NR) Cal Petersen, G, 7.0 C
Drafted 5th round, 129th overall, 2013

Cal Peterson’s freshman season with the University of Notre Dame was a resounding success. Although he had a losing record of 13-16-3 on the frequently outmatched Fighting Irish team, his .919 save percentage ensured that the team always had a ‘fighting’ chance. In the opening round of the Hockey East playoffs, Petersen starred in the longest collegiate hockey game ever recorded, making an NCAA Division I record 87 saves in a losing effort. Although the Sabres currently have their money on Robin Lehner and Chad Johnson, they must be ecstatic to have this ace-in-the-hole developing in the meantime.

8. (16) William Carrier, LW, 7.0 C
Trade with St. Louis Blues, February 28th, 2015

Although Carrier has suffered from injuries throughout his career, he had no trouble establishing himself as a tough forward to play against with the Rochester Americans last season—his first as a professional. He also showed that he has some offensive upside, scoring 21 points in 63 games. As a primary left winger, his path to the NHL isn’t as clear as perhaps Bailey or Baptiste since the big club is weaker on the right—but Carrier will need the extra years of development before he is ready to contribute.

7. (NR) Brendan Guhle, D, 7.0 C
Drafted 2nd round, 51st overall, 2015

Brendan Guhle has been turning heads in camp, and with the Sabres weakest at defense, he could be on the fast track to the NHL. Part of an unusually talented second round (52nd overall) in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, Guhle was one of the bright spots on a below average Prince Albert Raiders (WHL) squad that failed to make the playoffs in 2015. And although he wasn’t invited to Team Canada’s U20 Summer Development Camp, he wouldn’t have looked at all out of place if he were. Guhle will have a great shot to make the Sabres as a 20-year-old, but he will play out his junior eligibility first.

6. (8) Hudson Fasching, RW, 7.0 C
Trade with Los Angeles Kings, March 5th, 2015

One of many skilled right wingers in the system, Fasching might not have quite the offensive upside that some of the players who are higher on this list do, but his stock has risen significantly since he was taken in the fourth round (118th overall) of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. He also has experience playing with Eichel—the two were a part of Team USA at the 2015 World Junior Championships. They could have a brilliant future together.

5. (7) Nick Baptiste, RW, 7.5 C
Drafted 3rd round, 69th overall, 2013

One day, Baptiste will provide the Sabres with another deadly set of hands on the right wing. With so much skill in the middle of the ice, it almost doesn’t matter which line Baptiste ends up on—he’ll get his looks regardless. His above average hockey IQ will give him a boost with the AHL’s Rochester Americans this season, and after playing with Connor McDavid last season, he has experience playing with high-end talent as well—which will come in handy when he eventually graduates to the big club.

4. (6) Justin Bailey, RW, 7.5 C
Drafted 2nd round, 52nd overall, 2013

With so many smart centres in the system, the Sabres will need plenty of scoring wingers to complement them—and Bailey is a good bet to be the best of them. Although his offensive production has never been overwhelming in the OHL, his fearsome release was never paired with a truly great playmaker, and there are a few of those developing in Buffalo right now. Bailey could wind up being a top-line power forward, but he is more likely to find himself on the second line in due time.

3. (4) Jake McCabe, D, 7.5 B
Drafted 2nd round, 44th overall, 2012

Jake McCabe is a solid puck-moving defenseman who may be ready to make the jump to the NHL after getting a cup of coffee with the big club in both of the last two seasons. He was one of the best defenceman in the AHL with Rochester in 2014-15, and his impressive international resume includes his captaining Team USA to a gold medal in the 2013 World Junior Championships.

2. (1) Sam Reinhart, C, 8.0 B
Drafted 1st round, 2nd overall, 2014

Sam Reinhart might not have quite the offensive upside that some of his peers do, but he is almost a sure-bet to become one of the most effective second-line centres in the NHL. He is a steady, intelligent player with immense maturity and a smooth stride. Not only does he bring out the best in his teammates, but he also knows when to look up at the net ands shoot the puck—and his deceptive release finds the net often enough to make him a consistent threat.

Although Reinhart was returned to Kootenay last season, he was instrumental in Canada’s gold-medal win at the 2015 World Junior Championships. He led the tournament offensively with 11 points (5 goals, 6 assists) on an exciting, game-breaking line with Max Domi.

1. (NR) Jack Eichel, C, 9.0 B
Drafted 1st round, 2nd overall, 2015

Eichel needs no introduction, and was the obvious choice for the Sabres at second overall in the 2015 draft. Eichel is ahead of his peers in almost every skill category, and his physical talent is enhanced by a tenacious mind for the sport. He is the top defensive priority from the moment he steps on the ice, and he has the size and speed to leave his checkers behind and make big plays at crucial moments. During any other draft year since Crosby he would have been taken first overall.

Eichel dominated the NCAA as an 18-year-old among men last season, scoring a collegiate-best 71 points in 40 games. Consequently, he took home a vast double-digit stack of awards, including the Hobey Baker Award for NCAA Top Collegiate Player. Eichel is assured of stepping into the Sabres lineup immediately this fall, and has put on a show in training camp.

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