Sabres junior prospects season review

By Stuart McDonald

The Buffalo Sabres have four CHL prospects, three of which are based in the QMJHL.

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

For the second year in a row, Gragnani finished fifth among QMJHL defensemen in points, scoring 68 in 2006-07. He finished fifth on the high-scoring PEI Rocket. He also moved from 12th among defensemen with 16 goals last year to second with 22 goals this year.

The 6’2, 190-pound blueliner’s real improvement came in the defensive zone, however, as he moved from a -10 in 2005-06 to a better +8 in 2006-07, helping the Rocket finish eighth, up from 15th the year before. Gragnani played on team QMJHL for the ADT Canada-Russia Challenge in November 2006.

Gragnani bumped up his offensive contributions in the 2006-07 playoffs, scoring 13 points in a seven-game series loss to the Acadie-Bathurst Titan. The Rocket lost two games in overtime including a seventh game heart-breaker at home. The highlight of the series for Gragnani came in Game 5 with the Rocket down three games to one. The Ile-Bizard, Quebec native scored twice including the game winner in a 4-3, first-star performance to keep the Rocket alive in the series.

Mike Weber, D – Barrie Colts (OHL)
Drafted: 2nd round, 57th overall, 2006

Weber’s PIMs give a good indication as to what kind of game he plays. The 6’2, 205-pound Pittsburgh native led Barrie with 172 PIMs in 60 games in 2006-07, just a bit less than his 181 minutes in 68 games last year. Weber’s 34 points were a nice bonus, but the big defenseman’s future is not bound to his point totals.  His +11 this year and +17 last year, mostly for a weak Windsor Spitfire team, show Weber can look after his own end.

Weber was traded on Jan. 3, along with left wing Thomas Battani and a 2007 fifth-round pick to the Barrie Colts for defenseman Blake Parlett, a second-round pick in 2008 and another second rounder in 2010. The high-scoring Colts had the fourth-best record in the 20-team OHL, but they were willing to sacrifice some youth to acquire Weber’s defensive toughness for the playoffs.

Unfortunately for the Colts, their luck ran out in the second round as they were swept by the Sudbury Wolves after sweeping the Brampton Battalion in the first round.

Weber supplied some offense in both series, scoring six assists in seven playoff games. He managed three assists in each series and provided some toughness with 10 PIMs. He was +3 in the last three games of the series.

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

Despite the fact the Baie-Comeau Drakkar had the second most power-play goals in the QMJHL, it didn’t help their top scorers pad their goal totals much. The league’s leading scorer in 2006-07, Francois Bouchard, finished third in power-play goals on the Drakkar while Breault, the 13th leading goal scorer in the league, finished only sixth on the team in power-play goals. Breault’s 32 even-strength goals were third in the entire QMJHL and first on the Drakkar making his season appear a lot better than at first glance.

Breault, a slight, 5’11, 185-pound center has great quickness and a nice pair of hands that help him put the puck in the net regularly. He finished 2006-07 with 40 goals and 80 points, good for 25th in league scoring. Scoring aside though, it was his defensive improvement in 2006-07 that really deserves notice. At one point Breault was a potential third-round pick going into the 2006 NHL amateur draft. When he fell to the seventh round in the draft, most scouts felt it was due to his defensive deficiencies. To his credit, Breault got the message and finished 2006-07 at +27 for 11th overall in the QMJHL. A remarkable plus/minus turnaround of in one year (up 47) along with a 10-goal and 12-point increase shows Breault is on the right track.

Breault scored two goals and five points in a four games to two first-round series victory over the Victoriaville Tigres. He really ramped up his game in the second series, scoring the opening goal and assisting on the third period winner in Baie-Comeau’s first and only victory against Val d’Or. In Game 2 Breault scored the go-ahead goal midway through the first period but Val d’Or managed to tie it up and win in overtime. Breault had three more assists in the next three losses to the Foreurs who advanced to the QMJHL quarterfinals.

Felix Schutz, C – Val d’Or Foreurs (QMJHL)
Drafted: 4th round, 117th overall, 2006

After a Dec. 19 trade from Saint John to Val d’Or, Schutz turned his slowly fading season around. Playing with the third-place Foreurs instead of the low-scoring, second-year Sea Dogs, Schutz ended the 2006-07 season averaging a point per game.

Schutz, the first Sea Dog ever drafted by an NHL team, started the season with only four goals and 11 points in his first 18 games. Added to his early-season woes was a leg injury that cost him 17 games. With 17 goals and 38 points in the 33 games since his injury, the 5’11, 190-pound Schutz has rebounded nicely to finish with 17 goals and 44 points in 45 games.

He has carried his solid play into the playoffs with four goals and 12 points in 14 games including an overtime winner in a second-round victory over Baie-Comeau. In a largely two-way role, Schutz has helped Val d’Or reach the 2006-07 QMJHL semi-finals where they trail Cape Breton three games to two.

The critical trade for Schutz sent the young German from Saint John to Val d’Or for 18-year-old left wing Bruno Desjardins and 17-year-old center Alexandre Leduc.

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