I will try to project when each player will have a chance of making the roster, what they specialize in and what role they might fill. For a more in depth analysis of each prospect try Sabres Prospects as Kris Baker has the most complete knowledge of the future Sabres and I frequently rely on his site for information that I can’t gather on my own.
Nathan Gerbe: A tiny sniper, Gerbe has all the skills to be an NHL player but not the height. He gets into space well and works his tail off. He will also fire from anywhere and has a great release on his shots. He played on the wing with Luke Adam and Corey Tropp in what was a really clever line.
This is the type of line to look for him on. He would work well with a power forward and a bigger playmaker. Players like Drew Stafford (if he gets his act together), Zack Kassian and Luke Adam will work well with him.
He is feisty and will check and mix it up which you have to love from a guy who weighs 160 lbs. in his equipment soaking wet. Gerbe should make the team this year, but he is the victim of a traffic jam at left wing and his size. He was also passed on the depth chart by Tim Kennedy and Tyler Ennis. He’ll make a push this year and will ultimately be on the roster by this season or next.
Tyler Ennis: Anther smallish player, he plays left wing and center although he hasn’t proved himself in the NHL as a center. He can hold on the the puck for what seems like forever and makes things happen where it seems impossible. He will be a game changer at the NHL level. He’s also tough, checks and plays defense; he’s every coaches’ dream. The issue he has with the current roster is that he will, for the foreseeable future, play left wing in the top 6. He has similar skill sets to both Derek Roy and Tim Connolly so he may have to alter his game a bit to fit in for now. He will play for the Sabres this year.
Mike Weber: Is exactly what the Sabres need on their blueline. Blue collar, rough and tumble, stay at home defenseman. He has been solid at the AHL level for many years and spent almost half a season with the Sabres a couple of seasons ago.
Hopefully he can fit with one of the Sabres’ offensive d-men the way he did with Andrej Sekera a few years ago. Weber should make the team this year but may get left out like Gerbe. This year or next for the big man.
Jhonas Enroth: Fared much better in the NHL this year than his numbers indicate. He is very athletic and has superb reflexes. His form is very good and he plays the angles very maturely. He could back up Ryan Miller this year but he will not be getting that chance.
He will get a few starts this season and if it works out he may get the job as the season progresses. He has never been a backup before and one thing that worries me is that he may jump ship to the KHL if he doesn’t like it. He looks like the goalie of the future, expect him in Buffalo in 2011-12.
Zack Kassian: The feared tough guy has gotten himself into trouble. Many Sabres fans are upset with the big power forward for his suspension and his arrest. I can safely say that isn’t what will keep him out of the lineup.
If a kid like him hadn’t been suspended for a dirty hit and hadn’t been in a bar fight I would start to ask questions. His lack of offensive development will keep him in juniors one more season. Look for him in “the show” in 2011-12 or 2012-13.
Luke Adam: The big playmaking center is coming off a huge year in juniors and will hope to carry that to the AHL this year. He scores from in front of the net with his big body but also possesses a vicious shot. He is everything the Sabres are looking for in a center but,like Ennis, he also plays left wing. It will be interesting to see where he plays in the future. A 1-2 punch of Ennis-Adam would be devastating. Look for him in 2011-2012.
Corey Tropp: After some problems in college he really found his scoring touch for Michigan State. Preordained to make the team like his fellow Michigan alums Ryan Miller and Tim Kennedy he has all the tools of an NHL power forward he just needs to put them together. He is a little small but makes up for it with sheer battle. He has a great shot and controls the puck along the boards very well. He is 2-3 years away from the Sabres’ roster.
Jacob Legace: The gritty, undersized winger will be a useful tool for the Sabres. His offense is enticing at times but depends solely on his situation. He is automatic with his shot inside the dots and moves through space well. He doesn’t back-check hard enough and needs the correct linemates to make plays. Could play with a Tyler Ennis and a Zack Kassian in the future. 2-3 years out.
T.J. Brennan: The 2-way defenseman has made huge strides that past few years and looks to be a contender for the roster going into training camp this season. His skating has improved and he uses his body much better.
He has also improved his defensive play although his offensive game has suffered somewhat. His rookie camp this year leads me to believe that now that his defense is sound, he will gain the confidence to jump into plays again. He should make the team in 2011-2012 and could fill a Henrik Tallinder type role with a bit more grit, possibly a future partner for Tyler Myers.
Mark Pysyk: Another possible partner for Myers in 2-way D-man Mark Pysyk. This kid can skate and has a great sense of calm with the puck, he is also an extremely smart hockey player . I haven’t seen too much of his play but he will be a solid top 4 defenseman for the Sabres 2-4 years from now.
Brayden McNabb: Is big and tough and will be a great rock for the Sabres’ backline in a couple of years. He has some offense too and could be a similar player to Myers. I like to think of him as a future Chris Pronger. His footwork has improved but could get better. Some more time maturing in juniors will help him. Look for him to make a push next year but ultimately play for the Sabres in 2012-13.
Felix Schutz: Is a hero in his home country of Germany. His heroics in this years IIHF tournament are legendary. He has a nonstop motor and great defensive skills like many of his countrymen. He faces the tall task of beating out established vets like Paul Gaustad and Rob Neidermayer for a spot on the roster. He may get a shot at the lineup as a callup in the next few years. If he plays well enough he could turn it into a permanent gig.
Kevin Sundher: The big, gritty forward was a great pickup for the Sabres in the 3rd round. He will project to be a great 3rd line pivot in the line of a Jordan Staal. Good defense and toughness while adding quite a bit of offense as well. Look for him in 2013-14.
Maxime Legault: An often overlooked prospect. Legault was an over-ager in the 7th round last year. He played juniors again and is a good 3rd-4th line option for Portland this year. He fills a role and is a good checker. He also has leadership experience. He’s another player to look for in 2013-14. He like Schutz will have to essentially sneak onto the roster.
Nick Crawford: Named the best defenseman in the OHL this year he looks to be a solid 2-way player. He put up huge offensive numbers this year and has a good first pass. He makes good reads and decisions with the puck and, like Pysyk, he has great hockey smarts. A 2012-13 hopeful.
Marcus Foligno: Son of a former Sabre and a Buffalo boy. He got his toughness from his dad and his hometown. This kid is big and hits like a train! He also is never afraid to drop the gloves with the heavyweights. He is what the Sabres have lacked on their 4th line for some time because he can also play offense. He will never be a big point producer but he also isn’t an enforcer. He would mesh well with players like Legault, Kassian or current Sabre and Buffalo boy Pat Kaleta. He too is a ways off 2012-13 at the earliest.
Marc-Andre Gragnani: The offensive-defenseman in the pipeline. He is expected to make a push this year. He has really improved his defensive game but looks to be the odd man out this year. He must make the team in the next 2 years or he will risk being a career AHLer (see Mark Mancari). Could be a 7th defenseman option or a callup guy this upcoming season.
Drew Schiestel: Probably the best skater in the Sabres’ organization. He too has developed his defensive game under Kevin Dineen. His offense needs to come back if he wants to make the Sabres. He could make the team as early as 2012.
Connor Knapp: The lanky goaltender played great in Miami this season. He is big and has great positioning but he needs to work on his reflexes, especially in his glove hand. Could see the lineup when Miller and Enroth move on.
Brad Eidness: He is the opposite of Knapp. Not a big guy with not great positioning and mechanics. Makes up for it with reflexes. Same time frame as Knapp.
Paul Byron: An interesting player. Shifty and quick with a good shot. He is very small, which is the last thing the Sabres need. He makes up for it with heart. His first season in the AHL didn’t produce enough offensively to merit a look so he will look to improve this season. At least 2 years out.
After all of this take a look at what the Sabres could look like in a few years:
Nathan Gerbe – Luke Adam – Corey Tropp
Jacob Legace – Tyler Ennis – Zach Kassian
Tim Kennedy – Kevin Sudher – Patrick Kaleta
Marcus Foligno – Felix Schutz – Maxime Legault
Tyler Myers – Mark Pysyk
T.J. Brennan – Mike Weber
Brayden Mcnabb – Nick Crawford
M.A. Gragnani, Drew Schiestel
Connor Knapp, Brad Eidsness
What do you think? Finally I leave you with this thought my friend came up with: “They should replace the All-Star game with one where they put the worst players in the NHL against the best players in the AHL, and call it the ‘How do you still have a job game?’.”