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Buffalo Sabres: 2008-09 Top 12 Prospects

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Shane Malloy, Prospect Insider
3/31/2009 3:33:21 PM
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The Buffalo Sabres had savvy drafting from 1997 to 2003, with the patience needed to develop their prospects into a deep talent pool. Compared to other organizations, the Sabres' success in that time frame was erring on the side of caution when it came to young prospects. Buffalo produced 22 NHL players in those seven years - about twice the league average. It will be interesting to see if they can continue that success.

Their group of prospects is not that much different than past Sabres prospects in the sense that the majority of them are projected to be safe, slower developing role players. That allows the organization to continue to roll four lines in their NHL lineup and have five players on the backend that can play 15-18 minutes each. As a result, this group will learn and grow together in the AHL and that chemistry should be valuable in the future.

On the offensive side, the future will come from Tyler Ennis, Nate Gerbe, Marek Zagrapan or Luke Adam. The offensive talent starts to wane after that. The lack of depth is not surprising, as the Sabres had only drafted those four forwards in the first couple of rounds over the last four years. Also considered is the fact that Patrick Kaleta, Clarke MacArthur, Mark Mancari and Dylan Hunter have graduated off this list. Zagrapan has not developed as expected after three seasons in the AHL, so now the onus is on Gerbe and Ennis - who are highly skilled but undersized. Hometown kid Tim Kennedy is playing well in Portland, as is AHL rookie Felix Schutz. The Sabres also have Luke Adam and Corey Tropp in the mix, but they are a few years away.

Buffalo has talent and great depth on defence, with six legitimate prospects that can play in the NHL full time some day. Of the eight defencemen on this list, Mike Weber, Chris Butler, Mike Funk, Mike Card and Marc-Andre Gragnani have all played games in the NHL already and are expected to push for roster spots soon. The other defencemen are first round picks Tyler Myers and Dennis Persson, along with second rounder T.J. Brennan. Although the Sabres drafted Jhonas Enroth in the 2006 (and he looks capable of playing at the NHL level some day), they could use another elite netminder to groom.

Over the next couple of drafts, the Sabres must focus up front, as they are now lacking serious depth and talent at the forward position.

1. Tyler Ennis – Centre, 19 (1st round 26th overall 2008)
Currently with Medicine Hat (WHL)

When you first look at Ennis off the ice, he does not look like a hockey player at 5 foot 9 and 165 pounds. But once he steps on the ice, that perception melts away. He's a quick, agile darting skater who can burst into seams and open ice to cause mismatches. Ennis has the ability to process information on the ice like a pro and has the puck skills to match. His vision and stickhandling ability allows him to create time and space for himself while changing the pace to his preference. Ennis can thread passes through traffic while showing the poise under duress to wait for the right moment. He is equally dangerous shooting the puck as he is at his passing and he releases all his shots very quickly. His ability to score clutch goals when his team needs it the most shows he can handle the pressure and finds a way to make things happen. Away from the puck, he is reliable and smart. As long as he is consistent in using his quickness while maintaining good body position, Ennis could develop into a valued penalty killer. The down side is obviously his lack of size and his ability to be effective against larger, stronger opposition. But if he can continue to get stronger and prove he can be an asset, he should be a very good NHL player.

2. Jhonas Enroth – Goalie, 20 (2nd round, 46th overall, 2006)
Currently with Portland (AHL)

Enroth made many people take notice after his performance at the U18 in 2006 and the WJC in 2007. Being the starting goalie at the WJC in Sweden was a good developmental experience for him, as he continued to learn to be a pro at the Swedish Elite level. He is a consistent goalie that remains calm under fire and shows good composure at his age. He shows good fundamentals and generally controls rebounds well. His blocker side is solid, but his glove leaves something to be desired. This season in Portland, Enroth posted excellent numbers as a rookie and adjusted quickly to a new tempo and different angles. It will important for Enroth to continue to get stronger physically and maintain good habits. He has the potential to play at the NHL level and it's a matter of whether he can develop into a legitimate No. 1 goalie after a couple of more years in the minors.

3. Chris Butler – Defence, 22 (4th round, 96th overall, 2005)
Currently with Portland/Buffalo (AHL/NHL)

After three good seasons at the University of Denver, Butler improved in all aspects of his game and made the jump to the pros look seamless. This season challenged his willingness to sacrifice for his team and was an indicator on his character and potential development. This smart, two-way puck-moving defenceman moved up the list quickly this year, as he proved he had the hockey sense to handle the AHL and NHL tempo. He will need to add strength to his frame but he is a smart and hard working defenceman who has shown a knack for being consistent. His overall defensive game is solid for a rookie and he shows good habits away from the puck. He has the potential to be a solid top four defenceman – a player who does not do one thing great, but makes smart plays that the coaches like.

4. Marc-Andre Gragnani – Defence, 21 (3rd round, 87th overall, 2005)
Currently with Portland (AHL)

He's a slick puck-moving defenceman with the hockey sense and instincts to run an NHL power play and has made a quick transition to the AHL. After putting up over a point a game with his QMJHL team two seasons ago, Gragnani has not missed a beat transferring his offensive skills to the AHL. As a rookie last year, he posted 47 points in 67 games in Rochester, followed up by similar numbers this season. He has the size and the skating ability for NHL's high tempo game, but his defensive game still needs some work. He can get caught thinking offence too much and needs to make sure his own end is taken care of first. His ability to make that outlet pass, get the puck on net and spark the transition game makes him a valuable prospect. He has the potential to be a valuable NHL defenceman, but needs some time to refine his game.

5. Mike Weber – Defence, 21 (2nd round, 57th overall, 2006)
Currently with Portland/Buffalo (AHL/NHL)

Weber has made a quick transition to the AHL, picked up some NHL games due to injuries and did not look out of place. He will not be a two-way defenceman, but a solid in-your-face blueliner who likes to mix it up. He is a decent skater and is not usually exposed by speed rushers. Sometimes he gets a little hot-headed and will need to have better control of his emotions. The coaching staff and his teammates appreciate his willingness to battle down low and pay the price physically. Like all young defencemen, needs to be consistent on a nightly basis and learn the little nuances of playing a shutdown role against NHL skilled forwards.

6. Nate Gerbe – Center, 21 (5th round 142nd overall 2005)
Currently with Portland (AHL)

The diminutive 5-foot-6 and 175 pound forward continues to make everyone judge him on his production and not his size. After three years and 123 games at Boston College, Gerbe needed a new challenge and turned pro. He has not disappointed, as Gerbe is on a point a game pace in the AHL as a rookie and earned a 10-game stint in the NHL. He makes quick decisions with the puck and shows good vision by using all his options. He has very good puck skills and has the agility and lateral movement to cause mismatches. Gerbe can be an effective defensive player if he keeps his feet moving. The million dollar question will be whether he can handle the physical rigors consistently over an 80 game schedule for multiple years without breaking down.

7. Tyler Myers – Defence, 19 (1st round 12th overall 2008)
Currently with Kelowna (WHL)

Myers is a monster-sized defenceman with the potential to be a valuable asset in the NHL one day. He has decent enough hockey sense, but must read the developing play quicker. He has the ability to make a nice crisp hard pass out of his zone to start the play but sometimes does not see the entire ice, especially if there is intersecting traffic. He has the skating ability of a smaller defenceman and has the lateral movement, agility and quickness to handle speed on the outside. His shots have power and he is used on the power play to unleash a low, heavy slap shot. Away from the puck, he does not always break to the right position but his speed and wing span make up for it. He is very effective down low, where he can box out players and move them out of the crease with relative ease. Physically, he can be a dominating force if he wants to be and has the ability to hurt when he body checks. If a team is patient and corrects some of the nuances of his defensive game he could develop into a valuable penalty killer and shutdown defenceman with his size and mobility.

8. Dennis Persson – Defence, 20 (1st round, 24th overall, 2006)
Currently with Timra/Portland (SWE/AHL)

A defenceman molded for the new NHL as he is a smart puck mover and has the vision to get the play started from his own zone. His skating ability will be his asset has he displays agility and good speed. At 187 pounds, he could use more weight and needs to continue to get stronger before he begins playing in the NHL. Like most young defencemen, he struggles with consistency and he could use some work on his defensive game. He has made the jump over to the AHL recently so it will be interesting to see how quickly Persson adjusts to the tempo and speed. He is a potential top four defenceman, but may need a couple years in the AHL before making the jump to the NHL.

9. Mike Funk – Defence, 22 (2nd round, 43rd overall, 2004)
Currently with Portland (AHL)

He has the size to bang bodies and control the zone down low. He can play in all situations, but most likely will be a defensive defenceman in the NHL after another year in the AHL. He should get decent opportunity in the NHL next season and will see some penalty killing time as well. After a breakout offensive year in the WHL in 2005-06 (where he accumulated 47 points in 70 games) he quickly became a defensive player in the AHL. In 132 games in the AHL he has registered 20 points and has worked hard at the defensive game. The Sabres are in no rush to push his development, so they can let him learn and gain experience at the same pace he had in junior. He has gone unnoticed by most around the league and is a solid defenceman in all aspects. Some injuries have set him back a little, so the next season will be important for his long term development.

10. T.J. Brennan – Defence, 20 (2nd round, 31st overall, 2007)
Currently with Montreal (QMJHL)
He has shown potential on the offensive side of the rink and has the size to develop into a two-way defenceman. Over the past three seasons, he has produced 116 points in 192 games and has learned to make more safe decisions with the puck. On the defensive side, he has the hockey sense but still needs some work on his gap control and positioning. He is a solid overall skater and does not show any deficiencies in this area. He can take his game to another level in the playoffs, which shows his ability to be clutch. He has good long term potential and with the quality of depth on defence in the system, Brennan can develop at a slower rate.

11. Marek Zagrapan – Center, 22 (1st round, 13th overall, 2005)
Currently with Portland (AHL)

After combining for 169 points in 118 games in two seasons in the QMJHL, Zagrapan looked like he was ready to turn pro. But his offensive talents have not transferred over to the pro ranks, as Zagrapan has averaged about 40 points over the past three seasons in the AHL. The skilled pivot has the puck skills and vision to potentially be a top three centre, but seems to lack the intangibles needed. He has good quickness and decent overall speed, which should increase when he adds some additional strength. He has the size to compete but will need to continue to work on his defensive play. Unfortunately, Zagrapan has not taken his game to another level and perhaps lacks the ability to process information. Many thought it would take some time for him to adjust to the tempo, pace and physical play of the AHL but he was expected to develop at a quicker rate. After three seasons in the AHL, the Sabres will have to make a decision soon whether it's worth putting more time and money into his development.

12. Mike Card – Defence, 23 (8th round, 241st overall, 2004)
Currently with Portland (AHL)

Injuries have pushed Card back in his development and he must continue adjust to a higher calibre of talent and tempo. He is a slow developing prospect, which will be an advantage as the Sabres are loaded on the blue line. His offensive potential and style of play is suited to the new NHL and he comes from a well-coached team in Kelowna with a solid grasp of fundamentals. However, Card has not been able to exploit his skills at the AHL level and will be soon overtaken by other prospects in the system. His playoff experience at the WHL level and some physical maturity should have helped him take the next step, but it has not happened. It seems unlikely Card will play consistently at the NHL and might only develop into an AHL journeyman.

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Buffalo Sabres - NHL Entry Draft Record (1997 - 2003)

When looking at the drafting and developing record of a NHL organization it becomes an interesting blend of statistics and circumstances with perhaps some luck thrown in for good measure. Most of the time the General Manager receives kudos for a teams fortunes at the draft table when in reality it is usually never the case in today's NHL. For the most part there are three aspects that make the whole process work; first is the amateur scouting department's ability to evaluate and project talent which may be the most challenging of all. Next the organizations player development department must attempt to mold the prospects by giving the players tools to enhance his talents. Perhaps most importantly is the prospects responsibility to pay the price and sacrifice which generally requires a tremendous work ethic. If one of these aspects fails then the likelihood of a prospect turning into an asset to his organization and having a NHL career becomes remote.

The reason for the analyzing the years from 1997 to 2003 is to first give each NHL organization five years to develop their prospects as players from different leagues evolve differently. Secondly the years from 1997-2003 are the players that should be the building blocks of the core of your team as they will be in the 23-29 year old age range. What makes each organization unique is what they do with the picks they have as management will often trade draft choices for immediate help on their NHL and AHL teams. Now some players may be real late bloomers and eventually make the criteria set in this analysis down the road but at this stage it is fascinating to see the results.

Criteria of NHL games played that deem a player has been drafted and developed successfully.

 

  Forwards - Defenceman Goaltenders
1997-2001 125-200 NHL Games required 51-100 NHL Games Played
2002-2003 100 NHL Games required 25-50 NHL Games Played
Pending Player - Represents a player who has a legitimate chance to make criteria

Buffalo Sabres 1997-2003

Year Draft Picks NHL Players Produced (Round/Pick)
1997 10 (4) (G) Mika Noronen, (D) Henrik Tallinder (2/48), (RW) Maxim Afinogenov (3/69), (D) Brian Campbell (6/156)
1998 10 (3) (D) Dmitri Kalinin (1/18), (LW) Andrew Peters (2/34), (RW) Ales Kotalik (6/164)
1999 12 (3) (C) Mike Zigomanis (2/64), (D) Doug Janik (2/55), (G) Ryan Miller (5/138)
2000 8 (1) (RW) Paul Gaustad (7/220)
2001 8 (4) (C) Jiri Novotny (1/22), (C) Derek Roy (2/32), (C) Chris Thorburn (2/50), (RW) Jason Pominville (2/55)
2002 10 (3) (D) Keith Ballard (1/11), (RW) Daniel Paille (1/20), (D) Dennis Wideman (8/241)
2003 10 (4) (LW) Tomas Vanek (1/5), (LW) Clarke MacArthur (3/74), (D) Jan Hejda (4/106), (D) Nathan Paetsch (7/202)

Total: 7yrs – 68 draft picks – 22 NHL Players = 32.3% success rate

Success in the first three rounds (1997-2003)

1st rnd Draft Choices: 8 total picks
Artem Kryukov, Barrett Heisten
7 yrs –8 draft picks – 6 NHL Players = 75.0% success rate

2nd rnd Draft Choices: 12 total picks
Branislav Fabry, Gerard Dicaire, Milan Bartovic, Norm Milley, Jaroslav Kristek
7 yrs 12 draft picks – 7 NHL Players = 58.3% success rate

3rd rnd Choices: 7 total picks
Jeff Martin, Mike Pandolfo, Tim Preston, John Adams, Michael Tessier
7 yrs – 7 draft picks –2 NHL Players = 28.5% success rate

Total: 7yrs – 27 draft picks -15 NHL Players = 55.5% success rate in first 3 rounds

First Three Rounds - Developed vs. Prospects/NA vs. Euro
Developed players: (13) North American, (7) European
Undeveloped Prospects: (7) North American, (4) European

Success in the last six round (1997-2003)

4th rnd to 9th rnd Choices: 41 total picks
7 yrs – 41 draft picks – 7 NHL Players = 17.1% success rate

Shane Malloy provides hockey prospect insight and analysis on his Prospect Insider feature on TSN.ca, Canada's leading sports website. Many sports networks, hockey magazines and major newspapers have drawn upon his expertise and knowledge. His passion for the game and involvement in grass roots hockey from the junior hockey to the National Hockey League is evident. He is currently a host and hockey event reporter on XM Sirius Satellite Radio (Home Ice 204) where he co-hosts a hockey radio show on Hockey Prospects and the Business of Hockey.

Prior to joining TSN, Malloy was the columnist-covering prospects for NHL.com for two years and a NHL and prospect columnist Fox Sports.com for six years.

This document is the intellectual property of Shane Malloy and cannot be used or duplicated in anyway without expressed written consent. Any use of this document without the expressed written consent of Shane Malloy will result in public exposure and legal prosecution.

Hockey Prospect Radio

Nathan Gerbe (Photo: Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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