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Future Watch – Buffalo Sabres: Doing it his way

GM Jason Botterill has been on the job for just two years, but he’s already done an extreme makeover – with more to come.

B+ / 7th overall

The Sabres possessa stable of prospects assembled from different regimes, having changed GMs in 2017. GM Jason Botterill has jettisoned many of the players and youngsters acquired by his predecessor, Tim Murray. Still, assets Botterill inherited – he drafted five of the organization’s top 10 prospects – remain. With no investment in so many youngsters, Botterill may be willing to trade some leftovers. In Botterill’s first two drafts, an interesting theme has developed. He hasn’t taken any prospects from major junior. Every selection has been a college kid or European prospect. Botterill likes having four years to evaluate his picks instead of two.

BUF_Trend

1. Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen (21st overall)
G, 19, 6-5, 214 – Sudbury (OHL)
34–9–2, 2.54, .918
2017 draft, 54th overall
Many have anointed Luukkonen the Sabres’ goalie of the future. He has been stellar from the get-go in his first North American campaign,morphing into Sudbury’s backbone. Backstopping Finland to gold at the WJC – he was the tournament’s top goalie – solidified his place among the best netminding prospects in the world. Luukkonen could be Rochester’s starter next year. Less than two years after getting drafted in Round 2, he’s performed like a first-rounder.
FW18| nr – NHL | 2021-22

2. Alexander Nylander (54th overall)
RW, 20, 6-1, 192 – Rochester (AHL)
47–10–18–28–12
2016 draft, 8th overall
This could be a make-or-break year for Nylander, who was drafted by the team’s old regime. One scout said Nylander’s development has stalled and his value is declining. “He has not been consistent enough in his effort and attention to play without the puck,” the scout said. The Sabres challenged Nylander in the summer, calling his off-season “critical.” He enjoyed his best camp as a pro and parlayed that into a hot start in Rochester, but his production cooled off. Trade time?
FW18| No. 2 – NHL | 2019-20

3. Mattias Samuelsson
D, 19, 6-4, 221 – Western Michigan (NCHC)
30–5–7–12–33
2018 draft, 32nd overall
Western Michigan has given Samuelsson regular duty against the opposition’s top lines and more ice time than any other defenseman. Considering that coach Andy Murray has 16 underclassmen, he must utilize Samuelsson in key situations. Still, Murray, who coached Samuelsson’s father Kjell in Philadelphia, trusts the freshman. What could Samuelsson develop into? “I’d say a 24-minute-a-night guy in the NHL,” Murray said. “He can skate, he’s got good mobility, real smart with the puck, raw physical strength.”
FW18| n/a – NHL | 2021-22

4. Rasmus Asplund
C, 21, 5-11, 176 – Rochester (AHL)
58–3–19–22–24
2016 draft, 33rd overall
Asplund has acclimated to the North American game nicely, spending most of the season centering Victor Olofsson and Danny O’Regan in Rochester. While the rookie hasn’t compiled eye-popping numbers, he plays a mature, sturdy game that Amerks coach Chris Taylor has praised. Asplund’s experience – he played three pro seasons in Sweden – is evident. He needs to improve his offensive production to become a third- or fourth-line NHL center and will need at least one more season in the minors.
FW18| No. 3 – NHL | 2020-21

5. Marcus Davidsson
C, 20, 5-11, 191 – Djurgarden (Swe.)
47–8–15–23–12
2017 draft, 37th overall
Like Asplund, Davidsson is another Swedish center who has gained valuable experience competing against men in his home country. “He’s a very responsible 200-foot player,” said assistant GM Steve Greeley. “He does not cheat in any direction. He takes care of his own end. He doesn’t force plays with the puck coming through the neutral zone.” Greeley also said Davidsson is an offensive player who possesses “some creative juices.” The Sabres haven’t decided when they’ll bring him to North America.
FW18| No. 5 – NHL | 2021-22

6. Will Borgen
D, 22, 6-2, 187 – Rochester (AHL)
57–2–6–8–41
2015 draft, 92nd overall
Strong. Looks comfortable in pro hockey. Made 2018 U.S. Olympic team but didn’t play.

7. Victor Olofsson
RW, 23, 5-11, 181 – Rochester (AHL)
55–21–27–48–12
2014 draft, 181st overall
Unheralded prospect led top Swedish league in goals last season.

8. Oskari Laaksonen
D, 19, 6-0, 154 – Ilves (Fin.)
43–3–19–22–34
2017 draft, 89th overall
Rising Finnish prospect won gold medal at 2019 WJC. Great skater and passer.

9. Matej Pekar
C, 19, 6-0, 175 – Barrie (OHL)
33–14–22–36–38
2018 draft, 94th overall
Talented Czech pest tries to emulate Brad Marchand. Point-per-gamer for Colts.

10. C.J. Smith
LW, 24, 5-11, 181 – Rochester (AHL)
45–20–25–45–18
Free agent, March 30, 2017
Mature energy winger from UMass-Lowell a decent source of offense from bottom line.

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