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Prospect Pool Overview: Buffalo Sabres

With names like Owen Power and Jack Quinn leading the way, the Buffalo Sabres have a bright future ahead of them. Tony Ferrari takes a deep dive look at the team's prospect pool.
Jack Quinn

It might be time to start taking the Buffalo Sabres seriously. The commonly ridiculed franchise has been building quite the pipeline of prospects and young players over the last couple of years. General manager Kevyn Adams has done quite a good job of making the best out of bad situations such as the Jack Eichel saga or finishing near the bottom of the standings because of a subpar on-ice product when he came into the role of general manager.

The Sabres are on the brink of taking the next step towards challenging for the playoffs and being a more competitive team on a nightly basis. They expect to have young talent at every position on their NHL roster, from Rasmus Dahlin and Owen Power on the blueline to Peyton Krebs, Dylan Cozens, and Tage Thompson up front. The Sabres project to be one of the youngest - and one of the most entertaining - teams, and that's exciting.

The next wave features defensemen like Ryan Johnson and Mats Lindgren and forwards such as JJ Peterka, Jack Quinn, Matthew Savoie, Noah Östlund and Jiri Kulich. Their goaltending pipeline is as deep as it gets in the NHL with Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, Topias Leinonen, Erik Portillo, and Devon Levi all having NHL upside.

To say that the Sabres have a strong prospect pool would be an understatement. They have quickly built up one of the strongest prospect pools from top to bottom, both in terms of star power and depth. Year after year finishes in the basement of the league will do that, but it also requires sound drafting and development, both areas that have recently improved.

2022 NHL Draft Class

Round 1 (9 Overall) - Matthew Savoie, C, Winnipeg Ice [WHL]
Round 1 (16 Overall) - Noah Östlund, C, Djurgardens U20 [J20 Nationell]
Round 1 (28 Overall) - Jiri Kulich, C, Karlovy Vary HC [Czech]
Round 2 (41 Overall) - Topias Leinonen, G, JYP (U20 SM-sarja)
Round 3 (74 Overall) - Viktor Neuchev, L, Yekaterinburg Auto Jr. [MHL]
Round 4 (106 Overall) - Mats Lindgren, D, Kamloops Blazers [WHL]
Round 5 (134 Overall) - Vsevolod Komarov, D, Quebec Remparts [QMJHL]
Round 6 (170 Overall) - Jake Richard, F, Muskegon Lumberjacks [USHL]
Round 6 (187 Overall) - Gustav Karlsson, C, Orebro HK U20 [J20 Nationell]
Round 7 (202 Overall) - Joel Ratkovic-Berndtsson, L, Vastra Frolunda U20 [J20 Nationell]
Round 7 (211 Overall) - Linus Sjodin, R, Rogle BK Angelholm [SHL]

The Buffalo Sabres had one of the most universally praised draft classes this year. They grabbed three high-end centers in the first round, arguably the top goaltender and then took some intriguing swings from there on out. Collecting draft picks and stocking up their prospect pool with this 2022 NHL draft class was exactly what they wanted to do this year and they certainly pulled it off.

Matthew Savoie plays with pace and agility, looking to attack the play with the puck on his stick and create an offensive chance from nothing at times. His ability to cut one way and make a pass across his body or through levels of traffic was impressive. Savoie’s ability to find the back of the net should also translate with a quick release and willingness to go to the slot for his own chances. His defensive game was underrated, especially as a puck thief in transition and play disruptor in his own zone, baiting players into making passes before jumping them. Savoie’s effort levels in all three zones rarely waned, making him a realistic option to stick at the center position despite his 5-foot-9 frame.

At 16th overall, the Sabres drafted Noah Östlund. The highly skilled center is a true play driver from the middle of the ice. He excels in space and uses his speed and puck skill to push the pace of play. Östlund makes those around him better at his best and should stick down the middle assuming he can fill out physically because strength is his biggest issue right now. Rounding out the first round for the Sabres, Jiri Kulich was selected 28th overall, giving the team a wicked sniper who plays an intelligent game positionally at both ends of the ice. He works hard and understands where to be and when to be there to get his opportunities.

Topias Leinonen was regarded as the top goaltender by many in the scouting world and he wound up being the first netminder taken off the board. Buffalo’s 41st overall pick stands 6-foot-5 so he has the size that NHL teams covet in the crease and his athleticism at that size is admirable. He joins a fairly stocked-up goalie pipeline in Buffalo so there won’t be a rush to come over from Finland.

Third-rounder Victor Nuechev is a winger who brings “main character” energy. He wants to be the star of the show every play, using his impressive puck skill and high-end shot to rack up goals. There is some worry that his game may not translate but if he can become a bit less self-focused, the risk is worth it. Mats Lindgren was drafted in the fourth round and could be the sneakiest pick in the Sabres draft class. The shifty defenseman is one of the most entertaining blueliners to watch in transition, using head fakes and skate manipulation to evade traffic and move the puck up ice. There’s some risk to his game as he will need to round out his play in the defensive zone, but the upside is worth it.

The Sabres took some swings on a few players with intriguing tools despite glaring flaws elsewhere in their games such as Vsevolod Komarov, Jake Richard, and Gustav Karlsson. Joel Ratkovic Berndtsson produced a ton in the Swedish junior league but didn’t stand out on his own all that often. Linus Sjödin was an overage player who produced at a decent clip at the SHL level this year, showing some promise that with a bit of physical development, he could be a highly skilled player to add to the lineup.

Strengths

With Power set to graduate from the prospect pool to the NHL roster, the clear strength of the Sabres pipeline is their sheer offensive firepower upfront. Even with names such as Dylan Cozens and Peyton Krebs on the roster - both of which will be 21 years old to start the season - and half of six of their twelve projected forwards 25 or under, the Sabres still have the likes of Jack Quinn and John-Jason Peterka coming at some point this year in all likelihood.

The list doesn’t end there, though. Olivier Nadeau and Isak Rosen both had fantastic seasons, and all three first-round picks from this year’s draft are highly skilled. Russian forwards Alexander Kisakov and Prokhor Poltapov are also impressive talents in their own rights and may be the club's eighth and ninth-best forward prospects. Buffalo could have some incredible firepower in a couple of years.

Weaknesses

There aren't many big weaknesses in a prospect pool as deep and strong as Buffalo’s. The one area that sticks out is a lack of right-shot defenders. Oskari Laaksonen is the most notable name; beyond that, it’s a bit bleak. Chase Priskie seems like a quality AHLer and Miska Kukkonen has some very nice tools to be something at the NHL level possibly with some pro experience in the Liiga under his belt. With that said, Dahlin and Henri Jokiharju are 22 and 23 respectively and are the future of the right-side of the Buffalo blueline.

Next Man Up: RW Jack Quinn

The eighth overall pick in the 2020 NHL draft had an incredible season in the AHL last year, putting up 61 points in 45 games with the Rochester Americans. Quinn is a lethal dual-threat offensive threat. His playmaking ability isn’t overly dynamic but has excellent vision and pinpoint passing when distributing the puck in the offensive zone. Quinn's shot is his biggest strength, with a clear ability to score from just about any side of the ice.

Quinn's game outside of the offensive zone has improved greatly as well. He may never be a true difference maker as a transition player, but he displayed much more confidence with the puck on his stick and moving through the neutral zone as a transporter. The former Ottawa 67s star has shown more engagement in his end, forcing the issue and creating turnovers by simply putting in more effort. The Sabres have room for him to take a spot on the right wing in training camp and it’s Jack Quinn’s spot to lose.

Prospect Depth Chart Notables

LW: John-Jason Peterka, Isak Rosén, Alexander Kisakov, Prokhor Poltapov
C: Matthew Savoie, Noah Östlund, Jiri Kulich, Matěj Pekař
RW: Jack Quinn, Olivier Nadeau
LD: Owen Power, Ryan Johnson, Mats Lindgren
RD: Oskari Laaksonen
G: Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, Topias Leinonen, Erik Portillo, Devon Levi

For a deeper dive into the prospect pool with player rankings, check out the Yearbook and Future Watch editions of the Hockey News print edition

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