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Young Guns Showing Strength of Sabres Future

At the beginning of the season, was there any thought that 35 games into the season the Sabres would have played a total of twelve rookies? On top of that, seven making an NHL debut? Not me. Lets take a look at the contributions made to this point which have helped the Sabres Keep afloat.

When the Sabres took off for the beginning of the season in Europe, the current consensus top prospect in the Buffalo organization was sent with the team due to the recurring concussion issues with Jochen Hecht.

Luke Adam made his presence known for the Sabres immediately in the lineup logging 2 assists in the opener against Anaheim, and scoring his first two goals of the season against Los Angeles in the second game of the year.

Looking at Adam’s production for the year to this time through 35 games, he has had ups and downs regarding his point production. Adam tends to have lulls in scoring including a five game pointless streak in early December, and three stretches of three game pointless streaks.

As Adam still qualifies as a rookie in the NHL, to this point in 54 career games (as of 12-27-11) has logged a total of 24 points (13G 11A). With the number of line changes that he has had to endure to this point in the season, he has maintained poise and played hard throughout.

Luke Adam is not a liability on the ice, and being a -2 on the year with all the different line combinations to this point is a testament to the possible ability waiting to explode out of this young Center and reigning AHL rookie of the year.

Jhonas Enroth was supposed to be the answer to the question, “What will happen when Ryan Miller cannot play 70 games in a year?”. We found out pretty early in the season when Ryan Miller went down with a concussion injury.

Sabres fan clamored for Enroth after the slow start by Miller and were greeted with a strong run, winning five of his first six starts. Since this time, Enroth has been worse then average losing five of his last six starts.

So far this season Jhonas has posted a 8-7-1 record with 1 shutout, and many people questioning if he could be a number one in the league with the Sabres or any other team.

At times recently, his positioning and reflexes have been sub par at best. Weak goals have become common place in Enroth’s starts of late, with games against the NY Rangers on December 12th and his contributions in the Penguins game on December 17th coming to mind.

At this point, Enroth has the ability to be Ryan Miller’s backup and a emergency fall back plan if Miller becomes injury prone with age. What he does with his opportunities during his next 2 seasons with the Sabres could shape his remaining career in the NHL.

Marc Andre-Gragnani would to me be the player who had the most upside coming into the year. Grags was given a contract and basically given a spot on the roster for opening day after a stellar performance in the 2010-11 playoff series against the Flyers scoring seven points in as many games, including five on the power play.

I think we all can agree that the young D-man has had his ups and downs this season to this point. He has at times lead the NHL in rookie plus/minus at +11, however has been directly responsible for some very questionable play of late.

The glaring give away against the Flyers to Claude Giroux for the overtime winner still sticks in my mind. I do believe that Gragnani has major potential in being the offensive minded point man the Sabres think he can be.

With a small sample set to this point in his career (45 games as of 12-27-11), he has room to develop even as a 24-year-old rookie.

He also can play wing at times when needed in time of injuries, of which he has done this season. The issue that the Sabres and Gragnani may find soon, is the pressure from recent call up Brayden McNabb and the remaining offensive minded defenseman in Rochester in the AHL Drew Schiestel and T.J. Brennan.

Marc Andre-Gragnani may find himself part of a package deal in a trade come March if he cannot make his way back into the lineup as a starter on defense, as when healthy the Sabres are overstocked with talented wingers on both the Left and Right.

Former first round pick (2009 13th OA) Zack Kassian has been a pleasant surprise for the most part to this point. Kassian was called up with the rash of injuries suffered by the Sabres to Ennis, Boyes, Hecht, Kaleta, Gerbe, McCormick and Gaustad.

I was one of the people who was extremely critical of Sabres management on bringing this kid up this early in his professional career. Being a Rochester Americans season ticket holder, I had watched Kassian turn it on of late in the American league.

Kassian had posted 14 points (7 g 7 a) and had become a mainstay on the second power play unit and was killing penalties with the top PK line for the Amerks. For a player with the history of disciplinary problems in Juniors and the World Junior Championships, I felt that a full season in the AHL would do him well to learn the pro game on this level.

With the amount of injuries at the NHL level, there was really limited options at that point outside of calling up Kassian to make his NHL debut. Kassian has shown flashes of power forward greatness we all hope the 6’3 210 pounder can produce for a decade or more in a Sabres uniform.

The two plays that come to mind are the unbelievable goal he scored on a ridiculous deke over the Nashville goaltender to score, and the great individual effort against the Leafs where he stick checked the puck off the Leafs defender and fed Tomas Vanek for a goal in front of the net.

His defense has improved, of late without becoming a liability on the ice. Along with that has come the physicality, of which was missing during his playing time with the Amerks. I may eat crow on this one yet, however I do not see him finishing the year with the Sabres as the roster gets healthy or he takes off on a hot scoring pace.

Corey Tropp was called up from Rochester for his NHL debut with the injuries to Cody McCormick and Patrick Kaleta leaving the Sabres without a good portion of the little grit and toughness they had to begin with.

Tropp is not known a a playmaker, and at times been known to throw his 6’0 195 frame around like he is 6’5 250. Watching him play in AHL the first month of the season, I saw a player who was struggling to find himself a niche on a team with a lot of expectations with how deep it was.

Last year with Portland, Tropp did tally 40 points with 113 penalty minutes. Tropp is not afraid to drop the gloves at any level, and was know to have a short fuse in college. Tropp has fought a few times in the AHL, and has also dropped the gloves with Zac Rinaldo in a game against the Flyers on December 7th. Corey Tropp scored his first NHL goal this year on 11-8-11 against the Winnipeg Jets.

I see Tropp as a Pat Kaleta type down the road for the franchise. A player that can give you 35-40 points a season, throw his body around the rink and fight if needed. With the recurring hand and upper body injuries for Kaleta over the last 2 seasons, Tropp may see his chances increase. Unfortunately, Tropp did suffer an injury himself and is out indefinitely as of 12-17-11.

Lastly, there is a need to mention the young diesel d-man Brayden McNabb. This young man was called up with the injuries to Jordan Leopold, Tyler Myers and Mike Weber. If I was a fly on the wall at the First Niagara Center I would bet that this was the last kid they wanted to call up to Buffalo this year, based on the sole raw talent that he possesses physically that needed to be fine tuned at the NHL level.

While in the WHL playing for the Kootenay Ice, McNabb posted penalty minute counts of 140 in 2008-09 and 121 in 2009-10 respectively. McNabb also has shown in the past that he can step up into the play on the offensive side with point total of 72 (22g 50a) last season with the Ice.

McNabb made an impact with the body checks from the beginning after his call up to the Sabres, notching major bone jarring hits on some veteran forwards. The likes of Frans Neilson for the Islanders, Jason Chimera of the Capitals and Mikhail Grobovski of the Toronto Maple Leafs all will be looking closely for #81 next time around when playing Buffalo.

McNabb is a serviceable defenseman for the Sabres during Myers absence. He can hit, he can play fundamentally on defense, and has recently started to step up into the slot to take more shots on net.

This was evident when McNabb scored his first NHL goal on 12-26-11 against the Washington Capitals. With the Sabres looking to get healthy on defense soon with the return of Tyler Myers in the next couple of weeks, a tough decision will need to be made regarding McNabb.

In my opinion, McNabb may fall into the similar arena as Kassian. Send McNabb back to Rochester to fine tune some things and round his game out, in preparation for becoming a mainstay on the blue line for many years to come starting next season.

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