Sabres junior prospect update

By Ken McKenna

While it is possible to find many former CHL players on the pro rosters in the Buffalo Sabres organization, the club currently has just four prospects skating in those junior leagues. This may well be the fewest number of prospects the club has developed in the CHL in many years.

In addition to those four prospects, the Sabres also sport one quasi-prospect playing in the NAHL. Goaltender Thomas Tragust took part in the Sabres prospect camp this past summer, so they at least have some interest in seeing how this player develops.

Marc-Andre Gragnani, D — PEI Rocket (QMJHL)
Drafted: 2005, 3rd round, 87th overall

Defenseman Marc-Andre Gragnani is hoping to build on a strong month of November in which he totaled 12 points on 2 goals and 10 assists. Through 25 games, the Ile-Bizard, Quebec native has tallied 9 goals and 23 assists for the Rocket, which places him third in scoring on his club and sixth in points among QMJHL defensemen. Four of Gragnani’s goals have come on the power play, while two markers have been scored in shorthanded situations.

The book on the 6’2, 192-pound Gragnani has changed little since his draft year. He is an excellent skater with a good shot who is not afraid to start or join a rush up the ice. Indeed, the tag “offensive defenseman” seems to fit Gragnani perfectly. Gragnani’s defensive game has improved some, in part because the club around him has improved. In addition, the fleet-footed rearguard has added some weight to his frame, which will come in handy when he turns pro next season. Overall, Gragnani has maintained his status as a solid prospect despite playing with various defensive partners and fighting through a recent ankle injury.

Mike Weber, D — Windsor Spitfires (OHL)
Drafted: 2006, 2nd round, 57th overall

If Gragnani were the very definition of an offensive defenseman, then Mike Weber would appear to be the polar opposite. The solidly-built Weber is a defensive defenseman whose toughness and defensive work are his best assets. Although his skating ability is more than adequate, Weber instead keeps his game simple by making the safe pass and playing a smart game in his own zone.

The 2006-07 season has so far been a difficult one for the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania native. Weber has just returned from a shoulder injury that kept him out of six games in November. His presence was clearly missed, as the Spitfires won just one game in his absence. Even with Weber in the lineup, the Spitfires remain one of the worst clubs in the OHL, as they currently sit at the bottom of that league’s West Division. The 6’2, 205-pound Weber has scored just 1 goal and 10 assists in 21 games while racking up 64 penalty minutes.

Benjamin Breault, C — Baie-Comeau Drakkar (QMJHL)
Drafted: 2006, 7th round, 207th overall

Center Benjamin Breault is one of a trio of small players that the Sabres selected in the 2006 NHL Draft. The 5’10, 183-pound Breault plays for Baie-Comeau, currently the highest scoring club in the QMJHL. Breault fits the mold of other smallish players the Sabres have drafted in recent years, in that he is a fast skater with good playmaking skills and a good work ethic.

Through 30 games, Breault has netted 17 goals while adding 20 helpers. Five of Breault’s goals have come on the power play, with one being a shorthanded effort. The Pembroke, Ontario native’s point total currently places him 29th in scoring in the QMJHL and third on the Drakkar.

Felix Schutz, C — Saint John Sea Dogs (QMJHL)
Drafted: 2006, 4th round, 117th overall

Prior to the 2006 NHL Draft, center Felix Schutz was regarded by many draft watchers as a bit of a sleeper pick. Right now, though, Schutz is an unknown quantity due to limited playing time caused by a leg injury. The 5’11, 181-pound Schutz has just returned to the Sea Dogs lineup after missing 17 games. In the 12 games he has played in, he has just 2 goals and 4 assists.

Like Breault, Schutz has the speed and playmaking ability the Sabres seem to like in their smaller forwards. He also has shown a willingness to go into traffic, which may be a contributing factor to some of the injury problems he has experienced in the past two QMJHL seasons. Adding some bulk to his slight frame could help Schutz to better handle the tougher going, a fact that isn’t lost on the Erding, Germany native.

Thomas Tragust, G — Texas Tornado (NAHL)
Unsigned Free Agent

Goaltender Thomas Tragust is not officially a Sabres prospect despite spending time at the club’s rookie camp this past summer. The 20-year-old netminder earned the invite largely on the strength of his performance at the 2006 World Championships in Riga, Latvia. Tragust, a native of Silandro, Italy, helped save the Italian squad the ignominy of being demoted from “Group A” with some spectacular work in relief of starter Jason Muzzatti. His handiwork helped Italy come back from a 3-0 deficit to tie Slovenia, thereby avoiding a fall to “Group B”.

After taking part in the rookie camp, Tragust joined the Texas Tornado of the NAHL for the 2006-07 season. He is the starter for the Tornado, having appeared in 21 of the club’s 27 games. The 5’11, 165-pound Tragust sports a 2.53 goals-against average and a .896 save percentage. After a slow start to their season, Tragust and his Tornado teammates are working their way back to the top of a league they have dominated in recent years. Tragust has been spectacular in certain games and ordinary in others, but overall has shown improvement as the season has progressed.

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