Sabres Top 20 prospects, Fall 2007

By Stuart McDonald

Not much changed at the top of the Sabres prospect list with Drew Stafford, Clarke MacArthur and Andrej Sekera still leading the way. The 2007 draft put three more players into the top 20 at the expense of Alex Biega and Patrick Kaleta while Nathan Paetsch no longer qualifies as a prospect. T.J. Brennan, Buffalo’s first pick and 31st overall in the 2007 draft led the way for the newcomers, coming in at No. 5. Lanky, smooth-skating defenseman Drew Scheistel comes in at No. 15 while Michigan State bound sniper Corey Tropp comes in at No. 18. Aside from the newcomers there was very little movement in the top 20 except for Marek Zagrapan who fell to No. 9 from No. 4. Zagrapan’s drop is not drastic, as the prospects from No. 5 to No. 11 are extremely close. 
Top 20 at a glance

1. (1) Drew Stafford
2. (2) Clarke MacArthur
3. (3) Andrej Sekera
4. (6) Jhonas Enroth
5. (NR) T.J. Brennan
6. (5) Daniel Paille
7. (8) Marc-Andre Gragnani
8. (7) Michael Funk
9. (4) Marek Zagrapan
10. (9) Dennis Persson
11. (10) Nathan Gerbe
12. (12) Mike Weber
13. (13) Vyateslav Buravchikov
14. (14) Chris Butler
15. (NR) Drew Schiestel
16. (17) Tim Kennedy
17. (16) Mark Mancari
18. (NR) Corey Tropp
19. (20) Benjamin Breault
20. (15) Mike Card

1. (1) Drew Stafford, RW, 8.0 B

1st round, 13th overall, 2004

Stafford made a seamless transition to the pros in 2006-07, scoring 22 goals and 44 points in only 34 AHL contests. Stafford constantly shuffled up to Buffalo from Rochester throughout the season, appearing in 41 NHL games and scoring 27 points in the process. He finished with 22 points in his last 22 games playing on a line with Derek Roy and Thomas Vanek.

Stafford could easily start the season among the Sabres’ top six forwards. If he played on the left side, there would be no doubt of that because of the shortage at left wing. The loss of Daniel Briere and Chris Drury guarantees Stafford will make the team out of camp. He will likely spend at least part of the season in the top six and it won’t be long before he’s a big part of Buffalo’s offense. Stafford has the potential to be a star in the NHL one day.

2. (2) Clarke MacArthur, C/LW, 7.0 B

Drafted: 3rd round, 74th overall, 2003

Since the Sabres lost Dainius Zubrus, Daniel Briere and Chris Drury to free agency, expect to see MacArthur regularly in the NHL this season.

How many NHL minutes he’ll see in 2007-08 will depend on the health of Sabre forwards. Combine Tim Connolly’s injury history and the likelihood of injuries to other forwards and there’s a good chance MacArthur will spend more than half of his season in the NHL.

MacArthur had an all-star AHL campaign in 2006-07, scoring 21 goals and 63 points in only 53 games. In the AHL playoffs, he led the Amerks against the Calder Cup Champion Hamilton Bulldogs, scoring two goals and six points in the hard-fought six-game series loss. He added seven points in 19 games for the Sabres.

MacArthur projects long term as a second-line forward, but given the lack of offensive centers on the Sabres, he could make the team as a second-line center out of training camp if he dazzles.

3. (3) Andrej Sekera, D, 7.5 C

Drafted: 3rd round, 71st overall, 2004

Sekera had a great 2006 training camp. He didn’t look out of place playing 18 minutes a game in four NHL pre-season tilts. He eventually lost the seventh defenseman’s spot to Nathan Paetsch but he made his presence felt. 

Sekera will again be in the running for a spot in the NHL lineup as the seventh defenseman. He’ll have to earn it decisively though as the Sabres would prefer he stay with Rochester for his second pro season so that he can continue to get used to the pro game and earn quality ice time.

The OHL’s Top Defenseman in 2005-06, Sekera helped lead Rochester’s defensive resurgence in 2006-07 with a +14 in 54 games. Sekera scored 19 points for Rochester in 2006-07 and is a skilled, two-way puck possession defenseman like so many in the Sabres system. Not a physically punishing defenseman, he would much rather use his stick and his smarts to break up plays.

4. (6) Jhonas Enroth, G, 8.0 C

Drafted: 2nd round, 46th overall, 2006

The top Swedish goalie selected in the 2006 NHL draft, Enroth is considered by many to be the best goalie prospect from Sweden since Henrik Lundqvist. Although undersized at 5’10, 175 pounds, Enroth is a quick butterfly goalie with an exceptional glove hand and an even temperament.

The sixth goalie selected in the 2006 NHL draft played a huge role in the promotion of Sodertalje to the Swedish first division for 2007-08. Starting nine of 10 games in the critical six-team promotional tournament (Kvalserien), Enroth registered a 2.14 GAA and .921 save percentage in the tourney. Sodertalje finished with 19 points, second to Skelleftea and only two points ahead of third-place Malmo.

Enroth played solidly for Sodertalje throughout 2006-07 earning a .937 save percentage and a 1.61 GAA in 24 games for the Stockholm-based team who finished second in the Allsvenskan (second division). Second was good enough to advance to the promotional tournament which helped lead to the eventual promotion.    

Enroth, the youngest player on the fourth-place Swedes at the 2007 WJCs, also shared goaltending duties with Joel Gistedt throughout the junior tournament in January. If Enroth continues to play like he did in 2006-07, he will be Buffalo’s goalie of the future.

5. (NR) T.J. Brennan, D, 7.5 C

Drafted: 2nd round, 31st overall, 2007          

With their first pick in 2007, the Sabres grabbed Brennan who only a year ago played minor hockey for the relatively obscure Philadelphia Little Flyers. Last summer, despite numerous lacrosse scholarship offers, Brennan decided he wanted to play hockey at the best level possible. His Little Flyers coach secured him a free-agent tryout with the expansion St. John’s Fog Devils in Newfoundland and he made the team. 

Brennan ended the season with 16 goals and 41 points in 68 games and won the Raymond-Legace Trophy as the QMJHL‘s Top Rookie Defenseman in the 2006-07 season. Brennan impressed at the Sabres rookie camp, hitting anyone who was unfortunate enough to get near him.

Awards aside, Brennan would like to add more speed and explosiveness to his game and admits he needs to work on his defensive skills.  

6. (5) Daniel Paille, LW, 6.5 A

Drafted: 1st round, 20th overall, 2002

A character player with leadership qualities, Paille had 11 points in 29 NHL games in 2006-07 and 21 points in the same number of AHL games. 

Paille was one of the last cuts at the 2006 training camp. After starting out with Rochester, he was recalled by the Sabres and broke his finger against Philadelphia on Feb. 20. He is already responsible enough defensively that the Sabres dressed him for a May 1 playoff game against the New York Rangers.

The loss of three free agent forwards gives Paille, a defensive forward, a serious chance to stick with Buffalo this season. 

7. (8) Marc-Andre Gragnani, D, 7.5 C

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 also finished fifth on the high-scoring PEI Rocket. He improved his goal totals substantially finishing second among QMJHL defensemen with 22 goals.

The 6’2, 190-pound blue liner’s real improvement came in the defensive zone, however, as he moved from a -10 in 2005-06 to a +8 in 2006-07, helping the Rocket finish eighth, up from 15th the year before.

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.

Gragnani is a heart and soul type player with offensive gifts that could make him a power-play quarterback in the pros. He has little left to prove in junior.

8. (7) Michael Funk, D, 7.5 C

Drafted: 2nd round, 43rd overall, 2004

Twenty-one-year-old Sabres defensive prospect Michael Funk continued to improve in 2006-07. Funk scored seven points in 61 games, finishing with a -4.

The 6’4, 210-pound Funk had a decent first pro season after three solid years playing in Portland of the WHL. Funk is a smooth-skating puck-possession defenseman who needs to bulk up and play more physically to make a serious contribution in the pros. If he ever decides to use his body more, he’ll be an extremely valuable pro defenseman and even a potential star.

9. (4) Marek Zagrapan, C, 7.0 C

Drafted: 1st round, 13th overall, 2005

Zagrapan has fallen again in the Sabres Top 20, moving from No. 4 to No. 9. It wasn’t an awful year for the young Slovak, but with 21 goals and 38 points in 71 games it was a modest pro debut.

Zagrapan, a playmaker with superb hands, needs to work on his defensive game before he’ll see NHL action. Zagrapan turns 21 in December 2007 and has plenty of time on his side. He can expect at least one more year of professional experience in Rochester before getting a serious look from Buffalo.

10. (9) Dennis Persson, D, 7.0 C

Drafted: 1st round, 24th overall, 2006

After a promising 2005-06 with Vasteras Juniors in Sweden, Persson played on four different teams in 2006-07 which slowed his development.

He signed with Swedish Elite League team Djurgardens IF for the year.  He played nine games with Djurgardens, 11 with Djurgardens’ junior team, three with Almtuna in the Allsvenskan (Swedish men’s second division) and finished the season playing for Nykopings HK in the Allsvenskan. Of those stops, he played most with Nykopings, scoring eight points and earning a -7 in 29 games.

Yet another in the long line of Sabres smooth-skating, puck-possession defensemen, Persson’s key attribute is his great hockey sense. He is not a physical defenseman and will use his brain rather than brawn when he can. At 6’1, 185 pounds, Persson must fill out considerably and improve his upper body strength before he can make the jump to North American pro hockey.

11. (10) Nathan Gerbe, C, 7.0 C

Drafted: 5th round, 142nd overall, 2005

As a sophomore, Gerbe set the NCAA on fire, leading Hockey East in goals with 25 and finishing second in points with 47 in only 41 games. Questions remain about his small size, but there are no questions about his heart or his ability to score. 

Gerbe’s improvement from his freshman year was significant as he managed only 10 goals and 17 points in 37 games in 2005-06. A big fan of New Jersey’s pint-sized Brian Gionta, Gerbe doesn’t let his size prevent him from playing an aggressive game as he consistently racks up penalty minutes. He had 67 PIMs in 37 games in 2005-06 and had the Eagles’ third most PIMs in 2006-07 with 76. 

In January 2007, Gerbe helped Team USA capture the bronze medal in the 2007 WJCs. Gerbe led all American forwards in assists, scoring six in seven games and finished tied for 12th overall in tournament scoring.

12. (12) Mike Weber, D, 6.5 C

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.

Weber, the only bruising defenseman in the entire Sabres organization, was signed by the Sabres to a three-year entry level contract on August 15th 2007.

13. (13) Vyateslav Buravchikov, D, 7.0 C

Drafted: 6th round, 191st overall, 2005

Buravchikov signed with perennial Russian Super League favorites Ak Bars Kazan for 2006-07. Ak Bars won the RSL’s regular season handily and Buravchikov was a big part of it despite being the team’s second youngest member at 19 (now 20). An excellent skater, Buravchikov played 35 of his team’s 54 games finishing with a +5.

The captain of Russia’s 2007 WJC squad, Buravchikov will likely stay put in Russia because there is no NHL-IIHF transfer agreement in place with Russia. Although he has the potential to be a power-play quarterback at the pro level, the Sabres are loaded with defensemen who own similar skill sets.

14. (14) Chris Butler, D, 7.0 C

Drafted: 4th round, 96th overall, 2005

A St. Louis native, Butler improved his numbers slightly over 2005-06 going from 22 points in 35 games to 27 points in 39 games in 2006-07. Butler’s 27 points are seventh among WCHA defensemen and third among WCHA sophomore defensemen. He’s the fifth leading scorer on his team.

Butler hopes to follow in the footsteps of Matt Carle, a Pioneer defenseman he played with in the 2005-06 season who is now a rising star for the San Jose Sharks.  Butler is seeing plenty of ice time, including time on the team’s No. 1 power-play unit.

Despite his solid offensive numbers, Butler is considered more of a defensive defenseman due to his excellent positioning and because he makes very few mistakes.

15. (NR) Drew Schiestel, D, 7.0 D 

Drafted: 2nd round, 59th overall, 2007

Schiestel (rhymes with pistol) was a surprise second-round pick by the Sabres in the 2007 NHL entry draft. He caught attention for his excellent showing in the OHL playoffs. Against Sudbury, Schiestel assisted on all four Mississauga goals in their 4-3 win. He tallied two assists in the other four playoff games and finished the series +3, a considerable upgrade from scoring 21 points in 66 games during the regular season.

Schiestel needs to fill out and his puck skills need to improve before he can make the jump to the pro level. He needs to develop a mean streak and is often too passive in his own zone. He is an exceptional skater with a long stride and has a good hockey frame.

16. (17) Tim Kennedy, LW, 6.5 C

Drafted: 6th round, 181st overall by Washington, 2005 

Kennedy was a force at the 2007 Division I tournament this spring. Playing on a line with Tournament MVP Justin Abdelkader (DET) and Tim Crowder (PIT), Kennedy led the tournament in goals (three) and points (six), scoring points in every single game. Not only did he score the game winner against Notre Dame in Game 2, Kennedy scored the crucial opener in Game 1 against Boston University and did the same in the final against Boston College.

During the regular season the 5’11, 185-pound playmaker finished tied for 16th in 2006-07 CCHA scoring with 15 goals and 37 points in 38 games. That’s a significant improvement from his 2005-06 season.

Despite his small frame, Kennedy is not shy on the ice and finished with the fourth most PIMs on the Spartans with 43. He has consistently racked up penalty minutes throughout his career and is an extremely hard hitter for a player his size.

Once he fills out, there is no reason to believe he can’t have a decent pro career. The good thing about Kennedy is that he has the skills to play in the top six and the checking ability to play on a shutdown line.  

17. (16) Mark Mancari, RW, 6.5  C

Drafted: 7th round, 207th overall, 2004

The 6’4, 225-pound Mancari is a little too mild mannered for the Sabres at this point in his development. The Sabres organization would like a little more grit and some improved skating from the hulking winger before he earns an extended trip to Buffalo. Mancari is improving, however, judging by his 2006-07 point totals. He had 23 goals and 57 points in 64 games compared to 18 goals and 42 points in 71 games last year. He also chipped in six points in six games against Hamilton in the first round of the AHL playoffs.

Mancari finished second in scoring among the depleted Americans and earned two brief trips to Buffalo in February. In his first two games, Mancari saw the ice for eight minutes each time but was limited to two shifts in his third game. If Mancari continues to improve you can pencil him in for NHL fourth line duty in 2008-09.

18. (NR) Corey Tropp, RW, 7.0 D

Drafted: 3rd round, 89th overall, 2007

Tropp played the last two years with the Sioux Falls Stampede of the USHL, helping the club win the USHL Championship in 2007.

Tropp led Sioux Falls in scoring last year with 26 goals and 62 points in 54 games finishing tied for 14th in points and finishing sixth in goals per game in the USHL. Tropp, a gifted goal scorer, led the Stampede to their first ever Clark Cup Championship, scoring four goals and 13 points in eight games.

A pure sniper, Tropp always looks to shoot. He needs to play with a physical edge to be effective and has the tools and mentality to play physically on a consistent basis. With balance to stay on his feet on the boards and in front of the net, Tropp and his long stick can wreak havoc within 15 feet of the goal. He’ll attend Michigan State in the fall.

19. (20) Benjamin Breault, C, 6.5 D

Drafted: 7th round, 207th overall, 2006

Breault’s 32 even-strength goals were third in the 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.

20. (15) Mike Card, D, 6.0 C

Drafted: 8th round, 241st overall, 2004

Card is the sixth ranked "smooth-skating, puck possession defenseman" among the Sabres top 20 prospects. Like Funk and Sekera, Card at least had an opportunity to test his skating against the pros and seemed to hold his own. Finishing with nine points and +1 in 50 games, Card can hold his own physically but seems to lose his confidence easily.

The Sabres liked him enough to sign him to a three-year deal in 2006 and brought him up to the NHL for four games last season. If Card can improve his mental game, there is no reason why he can’t be at least a top six defenseman at the NHL level.  

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