Looking back at the 2010-11 season for the Buffalo Sabres, it almost seems like an entire era ago. The team not only made the playoffs, but they finished second in the then-Northeast Division with 96 points, sporting a 43-29-10 record.
Coached by Lindy Ruff, the team was led in scoring by Thomas Vanek with 73 points, followed by Jason Pominville and Drew Stafford who each posted 52 points. Despite making the playoffs that season, the Sabres didn’t make it out of the first round, eliminated by the Philadelphia Flyers in seven games.
The 2011 NHL Draft was a quiet one for the Sabres. They made no moves on the day and wound up making just six selections. They were without their second round pick as a result of a trade with the St. Louis Blues in February that saw them acquired forward Brad Boyes.
Coming out of the 2011 NHL Draft, Sabres brass and fans alike were excited about Joel Armia’s potential. The Finnish winger boasted excellent size and had all the makings of a future power forward with a good finishing touch.
After two years with Rochester of the AHL, it looked as though Armia was developing nicely, posting 10 goals and 25 points in 35 games with the Americans in 2014-15. He was well on pace to top the 27 points he had managed in 54 games with the Americans the year prior. Ultimately, Armia was part of General Manager Tim Murray’s aggressive plan to acquire talent. Armia was included in the blockbuster trade that sent defenseman Tyler Myers to the Winnipeg Jets for winger Evander Kane and defenseman Zach Bogosian.
Armia spent 43 games with the Jets in 2015-16, managing four goals and six assists.
After selecting Daniel Catenacci in the third round of the 2011 NHL Draft, it looked as though the Sabres had an undersized, though offensively talented prospect on their hands. He had come off a pair of quality seasons with Owen Sound that saw him post back-to-back 30-goal, 70-point seasons.
At times, thanks to his stature and quick hands, he reminded Sabres fans of fellow diminutive forward Tyler Ennis. It became quickly apparent that he was nothing more than the poor man’s version, unfortunately, not approaching the latter’s huge talent.
Catenacci has spent the past three seasons with Rochester of the AHL, hitting a career-best in goals (15), assists (14) and points (29) in 2014-15 before sliding back a bit the following season. He did see his first NHL action in the 2015-16 season, however, seeing action in 11 games with the Sabres but failing to register a point.
Blessed with power forward size at 6’2, Colin Jacobs was very much a project when the Sabres tabbed him with their fourth round selection in 2011. He had a promising season with Seattle in 2010-11, posting 22 goals and 44 points. Though his following season was immensely disappointing and hampered by injuries, he had a fine season in 2012-13, hitting career-highs across the board.
Unfortunately for Jacobs, that was his last taste of success. In the three seasons since his last in the WHL, he has tried to find a regular spot in the AHL and failed, topping out at 24 games in 2012-13 with the Americans. He appeared in just 11 games collectively over the last two seasons, primarily playing for the Elmira Jackals for the ECHL where his scoring touch has diminished.
Jacobs has established himself as a decent two-way player that seems destined to be a career minor-leaguer.
Alex Lepkowski, D, Barrie Colts (OHL), 5th Round, 137th overall
NHL Games: 0
The Sabres took a flyer on the 6’3 defenseman out of the OHL in the fifth round of the 2011 NHL Draft, hoping that Alex Lepkowski’s stay-at-home, physical skills would translate to the next level.
During his time with Barrie, Lepkowski played that role well and exclusively, not posting much in the way of offense during his time there. His 23 career points with Barrie attests to that assessment. Still, his size and physical abilities were enough to earn a draft selection.
Since his final season with Barrie in 2012-13, Lepkowski has bounced around. He is no longer with the Sabres organization, currently playing for the Missouri Mavericks of the ECHL, where he is in his second season.
Nathan Lieuwen, G, Kootenay Ice (WHL), 6th Round, 167th overall
NHL Games: 7
Nathan Lieuwen clearly enticed the Sabres with his 6’5 frame when they took him with the 167th pick in 2011, fresh off of his best season of three with the Kootenay Ice of the WHL. In 57 games with the Ice, he posted a career-best 2.50 goals against average and .914 save percentage that season.
Lieuwen has been well traveled since playing his final season with the Ice in 2011-12. He has seen the majority of his action with the Rochester Americans over parts of the last four seasons, had a stop with Greenville of the ECHL and even saw action as a backup in Buffalo on seven occasions.
Though his size and determination have taken him a long way so far, there is a bit of a logjam between the pipes in the Buffalo system, so Lieuwen’s opportunity to shine may come elsewhere.
Brad Navin, F, Waupaca H.S. (Wisconsin), 7th Round, 197th overall
NHL Games: 0
The Sabres took a flyer on a high school standout from Wisconsin, who posted 29 goals and 52 points for Waupaca High in 14 games in 2010-11. It is clear that the Sabres had an eye on his 6’3″ frame, but the rest remained a blank slate.
Brad Navin spent four uneventful years with the University of Wisconsin. He would suit up in 141 games for the Badgers over four seasons, tallying a total of 11 goals and 27 points in that time.
No longer with the Sabres organization, Navin spent the 2015-16 season with the ECHL’s Atlanta Gladiators. In 47 games, he posted three goals and two assists and seems as though his career may top out at the ECHL level.
Video of third round pick Catenacci can be viewed below in HF’s look back at the Buffalo Sabres 2011 NHL Draft.
Notable Playoff Performances
Not many of the Sabres prospects made the playoffs, and those who did belonged to teams that were not long for them. Despite just seven games of playoff action, center Eric Cornel acquitted himself well with a goal and four assists for the OHL’s Peterborough Petes. Vaclav Karabacek posted nine points in 17 games for Moncton Wildcats, six of which were goals.
Though he posted just one assist in playoff action, defenseman Devante Stephens was a solid stay-at-home presence for the Kelowna Rockets. He helped lead them to the Conference Finals, where they were swept by the Seattle Thunderbirds.
Prospect of the Month
His numbers don’t jump off the page, but Brendan Guhle capped off a fantastic 2015-16 season with a great month of hockey. After hitting a career high with 10 goals for the Prince Albert Raiders, he chipped in another three assists in five games come playoff time.
To cap that all off, the WHL all-star made his professional hockey debut, playing in six games for the Rochester Americans. Despite his age and inexperience, Guhle looked like he more than fit in, chipping in a goal and three assists. Though it seems obvious he would start 2016-17 in the AHL, Guhle’s poise and smarts could propel him to the NHL sooner rather than later.
Follow Ryan Womeldorf on Twitter via @kindofawriter