The Jack Eichel trade speculation has finally been put to rest as the Buffalo Sabres sent their former savior packing last week. Eichel and a 2023 third-round pick were shipped to the Vegas Golden Knights for a package of Alex Tuch, Peyton Krebs, a top-10 protected 2022 first-round pick, and a 2023 second-round pick.
So where does that leave this surprisingly decent Sabres team? When you look at the team’s young talent that is already on the roster and the wealth of prospects across the globe, the Sabres seem like they are in pretty good shape. Thanks to a decade of mediocrity – and even a few years of outright dreadful play – they have accumulated a massive prospect pool with some really nice talent throughout.
Can this truly be the turning point in the neverending rebuild that has been the Buffalo Sabres?
Buffalo's AHL affiliate, the Rochester Americans, has been as entertaining as just about any team in the league thanks to hot starts by players like Jack Quinn and John-Jason Peterka. Adding the newly acquired Krebs to that group will only make them even better. Krebs is a natural fit with both Peterka and Quinn – a playmaker to go with a couple of natural goal-scorers.
The truly intriguing thing about the Amerks is the young depth they have in the lineup. Mattias Samuelsson is a big stout defenseman who projects as a solid defensive piece for their backend. He had a short stint with the big club last year, playing a dozen games. The 6-foot-4 blueliner looked like he still had some work to do to refine his game but there was plenty of promise shown. Samuelsson is just getting his season started with Rochester and we will likely see him back with the Sabres soon enough.
Matěj Pekař is another intriguing player, even if he isn't among the top big names. The former Sudbury Wolves forward has some versatility having played both center and wing at times in junior. Pekař plays a heavy and defensive game upfront and could provide some valuable shutdown minutes in the bottom-six at the NHL level. His offensive game may never truly pop, but he has the ability to flash some nice moves from time to time.
The team's goalie of the future, Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, has struggled a bit to start the season but his development to this point and track record indicates that it likely isn’t a long-term thing. The 6-foot-4 netminder looked ready for a taste of NHL action last year and did well in his short time with Buffalo posting a .906 save percentage on a depleted Sabres club.
Add in players such as puck-moving blueliner Oskari Laaksonen, firecracker forward Lukáš Rousek, and the offensively creative Linus Weissbach and the Sabres' AHL team is going to be well worth the price of admission.
The Sabres aren’t devoid of talent overseas either. Snagging Isak Rosén at 14th overall at this past entry draft may have seemed like a reach to some. To others, myself included, the Sabres made an outstanding pick with his combination of speed, elusiveness, and a dual-threat offensive arsenal. Rosén has looked dominant at the U-20 level in Sweden and has looked more comfortable at the SHL level as well. He needs to bulk up a bit, but the talent level is very high.
The Sabres also have a pair of highly touted Russians in Alexander Kisakov and Prokhor Poltapov, two forwards who play quite different games. Kisakov is a highly-skilled forward who cuts and weaves through the ice, making defenders look silly with his ability to abruptly change directions at any speed. He has worked his way into a few KHL games but still needs time to adjust to playing men.
Poltapov plays a power game. He goes through defenders and carries them to the net-front with him. Poltapov will lower his shoulder, shield defenders and make a play from high-danger more often than not. He won’t always make the highlight reels but he will consistently push defenders to their limit physically. Finding some success in the VHL (Russian second-level men’s league), he has six points in nine games.
If you think that a certain NCAA defender is missing from all of this, you would be correct. Ryan Johnson from the University of Minnesota has been developing soundly. His skating and hockey IQ are the trademarks of his game. Posting seven points through ten games this season thus far has been a nice step but it’s the steps defensively that he’s taken that will make him an NHLer. He won’t throw his body around but he will gladly close gaps and finesse the puck off the attacker’s stick, turning play around with ease.
There's also Devon Levi, who has been nothing short of outstanding this season. He helped carry Team Canada to a silver medal at last year's World Junior Championship with a stellar 0.75 GAA and .964 SP. This year with Northeastern University, Levi has carried his play over with .954 save-percentage through 10 games. Between Levi and Luukkonen, the Sabres’ future looks great in net.
The NCAA also features last year's first overall pick in Owen Power. The massive blueliner made the best decision for his development to head back to the University of Michigan to chase a national title. His season to this point has been exactly what he had hoped for. Playing at over a point-per-game level and improving his positioning and rush defense in his own zone, Power looks great. He will be a pillar on the back end for years to come in Buffalo.
The Sabres lost a true franchise talent in Eichel and that will likely burn for some time, especially if he has success in Vegas when he gets healthy. The future looks bright, though. Their prospect pool has a boatload of talent, both high-end and depth pieces. They have young talent on the NHL roster in the likes of Dylan Cozens, Tage Thompson, Rasmus Asplund, and Casey Mittelstadt. They have young veterans such as newly acquired Alex Tuch and Victor Olofsson, too.
The key will be ensuring that they avoid another misstep with a franchise talent. Rasmus Dahlin hasn’t looked like himself this season but he is still one of the best young defensemen in the game. Dahlin set the record for most points by a European defender before the age of 21. He has all of the tools that are required to get to that elite level. Whether it happens in Buffalo will be the question. The Sabres need to ensure that his development stays on track. A back end powered by Dahlin and Power could be a sight to behold, and then the rest would be just gravy.