Sabres NCAA prospects update

By Kristofer Baker

The Buffalo Sabres have a total of seven prospects honing their skills in the four major conferences of the NCAA in 2005-06, highlighted by a former first-round pick at forward and a talented crop of freshmen.

Faribault, Minnesota native Drew Stafford entered his junior season at North Dakota as a key leader on a team loaded with young talent. Counted on for leadership and scoring as a first-line winger, Stafford has succeeded by potting a career-best 18 goals, which rank fourth in the nation. Second-year coach Dave Hakstol has laid challenges out at various times this season, trying to motivate his leading scorer by taking him off the top line when more effort was expected. Stafford has done a good job of responding with a “worker bee” approach that has resulted in four short-handed goals, which is tops in the country.

Stafford is a veteran of two World Junior Championships and an NCAA championship game. A good showing this season had led to speculation that the Sabres might be inclined to pluck him from the collegiate ranks when the season ends for the Sioux, placing him in Rochester (AHL) to get his skates wet as a professional. Regardless of when he leaves North Dakota, the Sabres have fortified their forward stable with a hard-working winger with a scoring touch.

Chris Butler has turned many a head in his first season on the Denver Pioneers blue line. A product of the St. Louis junior hockey circles and the Sioux City Musketeers of the USHL, the fleet-footed defenseman has quickly developed into a complete player in his brief WCHA career. Known as an excellent passer with power play quarterbacking vision coming into college, Butler has also displayed shot blocking skills, and the ability to effectively take the body. Playing side-by-side with All-American and Hobey Baker hopeful Matt Carle (SJ) has certainly been a positive influence on the burgeoning rearguard. His 16 points rank him fifth on the Pioneers, and tops among WCHA freshmen defensemen.

The same day that he was named Red Baron WCHA Rookie of the Week for the week of Dec. 5-12, Butler was awarded a spot on Team USA for the World Junior Championships. Playing in four games before suffering a separated shoulder in the quarterfinal, Butler notched a team-best +4 in the tourney.

Joining Butler on Team USA was diminutive Boston College winger, Nathan Gerbe. Standing at 5’6, the feisty freshman has made an immediate impact on the Eagles second line with good vision and solid, determined play at both ends of the rink. His eight goals in 19 games played are good for third on the team, and his .63 points per game rank fifth among Hockey East’s freshmen class.

Don’t let the small frame fool you. Gerbe’s game fires on all cylinders for 60 minutes a night, and he doesn’t back down from traffic, or even one-on-one situations with much larger foes. The Oxford, Michigan native and product of the U.S. Junior Development Program earned himself a game disqualification from a fight with 6’1, 205-pound Jordan Hart in the final minute of a game against Merrimack on Jan. 14. Overall, his endless effort and timely scoring have been a contributing factor to the Eagles first place standing in Hockey East.

After being shelved with an ankle injury for the first six games of the season, New Englander Matt Generous snapped out of the gate quickly with St. Lawrence of the ECACHL. While being the benefactor of a thumb injury to All-American candidate Drew Bagnall (FLA), the rangy defenseman assumed the left side on the Saints top pairing with Mike Madill and posted eight points in eight November games.

The 6’3, 195-pounder is a smooth, swift skater with great reach and a booming shot, and has looked as good as the Saints staff had advertised coming into the season. With Bagnall fully healthy, Generous currently is on the third pairing while seeing second-unit power play time. To date, he has three goals and 11 points in 18 games.

Buffalo native Tim Kennedy has shown offensive flashes in his brief showing for Michigan State. Playing just 12 games due to a broken hand suffered in a late-October outing against the U.S. Under-18 team, the nifty left winger has notched a pair of goals and eight total points for the Spartans while skating on the third line. With a quick release and the knack for finding holes in opposing defense, Kennedy is expected to compile impressive numbers as he matures in Lansing.

After playing two seasons at with prestigious New England prep school Thayer Academy, Andrew Orpik has been a fixture on Boston College’s third line this season. The East Amherst, New York native can play both wing and defense, but has shown his two–way versatility with the Eagles exclusively at right wing. The younger brother of Pittsburgh Penguins blueliner Brooks Orpik, Andrew has scored two goals and six points in 20 games.

Junior defenseman Tom Morrow has yet to register a point in 16 games this season for the Boston University Terriers. A native of Afton, Minnesota, the 6’7, 213-pound stay-at home defender hasn’t progressed as hoped when he was drafted in the fifth round of the 2003 draft after a nice run in the USHL. With Terriers coach Jack Parker known to show loyalty to upperclassmen, Morrow is expected to dress in a fair share of regular season contests, but it is unlikely the Sabres will offer him a contract when his collegiate career winds down in 2007.

Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.