After several years of cellar dwelling in the NHL standings, the Sabres have enjoyed several early first round draft picks which they have parlayed into future star players and current roster players in Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart, Zemgus Girgensons to name a few.
Beyond some slam dunk top five overall picks the past few years, the Sabres prospect depth is surprisingly shallow. They lost some depth in the Evander Kane deal losing Joel Armia and Brendan Lemieux and their top prospect would be Jimmy Vesey if they were able to sign him.
Top 10 Buffalo Sabres Prospects
1. Alex Nylander – Left Wing
2015-16: Mississauga Steelheads (OHL)
Drafted: Eighth overall in the first round of the 2016 draft by Buffalo
Nylander possesses off the chart offensive skills and vision. He is every bit as talented as the top players in any draft, but lacks the consistency and at times competitiveness that the elite players demonstrate. Nylander was outstanding at the WJC, picking up the slack from older brother William after he went down to a concussion in the first game. He hit the wall later in the season and was a shadow of his WJC self at the U-18 tournament at the end of the season. His future is full of options, he could return to the OHL for a second season, but it’s more likely the he plays most of his year in the AHL with some spot NHL duty as he is eligible for AHL.
2. Hudson Fasching – Right Wing
2015-16: Minnesota (Big 10)
Drafted: 118th overall in the fourth round of the 2013 draft by LA Kings
Traded to Buffalo March 2014
Fasching completed his four years of college hockey with a strong senior season where he dominated physically, developed his overall game and leadership ability as an alternate Captain. Fasching made his NHL debut at the end of last season – recording two points in seven games before playing for USA at the World Championships. Fasching plays a physical style the Sabres top forwards lack outside of Evander Kane (who is quickly wearing out his welcome) and is poised to play a top six role as a power forward and net front presence as soon as this season.
3. Brendan Guhle – Defense
2015-16: Prince Albert Raiders (WHL)
Drafted: 5125 overall in the second round of the 2015 draft by Buffalo
The Sabres top defensive prospect turned heads last summer at development camp and skated in four preseason games before being sent back to the WHL. At the end of the season he was given a pro debut playing in six AHL games – posting a goal and four points. Despite his impressive performance, expect Buffalo to be patient with Guhle and allow him to further develop in his final season of junior. Guhle is noted for his skating ability and two-way game. He has size, skill, skating and smarts; all the attributes to be a top four defenceman in the NHL.
4. Nick Baptiste – Right Wing
2015-16: Rochester Americans (AHL)
Drafted: 69th overall in the third round of the 2013 draft by Buffalo
His rookie pro season was a tale of two seasons. After a slow start posting only one goal in the first 14 games Baptiste made the adjustment to pro scoring six in the next 19. His momentum was cut short by an injury that cost him to miss a month. Baptiste has all the tools to be an effective NHL player with size, competitiveness, skill and physicality. He needs more time and development in the AHL before he competes for a NHL job. Look for him to get a brief NHL look at some point this year.
5. Justin Bailey – Right Wing
2015-16: Rochester Americans (AHL)
Drafted: 52nd overall in the second round of the 2013 draft by Buffalo
Bailey, Baptiste and Fasching are all in competition for a power forward role with the Sabres. Bailey had a NHL look last year, playing eight games and posted 45 points in 70 AHL games as a rookie. The Buffalo native uses his size well as he is aggressive physically; he skates well and has a skill set that has produced at the pro level. He needs to find some consistency before he becomes a NHL regular and should be given another year in the AHL to establish that.
6. Casey Nelson – Defense
2015-16: Minnesota State (NCAA)
Acquired: Free agent signing
After three seasons in NCAA, Nelson signed as a free agent with Buffalo and played the final seven games of the regular season. It was an impressive debut as he posted four assists in that span. He is an offensive defenceman who should see time on the second power play unit for Buffalo as soon as this year. The 24-year-old does not play a physically aggressive game and is average defensively so he may need some AHL seasoning before joining the big club.
7. Rasmus Asplund – Center
2015-16: Farjestad (SHL)
Drafted: 33rd overall in the second round of the 2016 draft by Buffalo
Asplund has been a regular playing for Sweden internationally and was a key player for Sweden at the WJC where he scored five points in seven games. He played a full season in the SHL against men much older and physically stronger and he was not over-matched. While he did not produce impressive offensive numbers, he impressed in his two-way game, face off skills and puck retrieval ability. Asplund will continue to develop in the SHL before coming to North America, and playing in the pro league should mean he will require less to no AHL time before competing for a NHL job, likely on the wing.
8. Will Borgen – Defense
2015-16: St. Cloud State (NCHC)
Drafted: 92nd overall in the fourth round of the 2015 draft by Buffalo
After failing to get an invite to the USA National Evaluation Camp last summer, his play as a freshman forced USA to take another look and he eventually made the WJC roster. Borgen is a prospect on the rise and will look to improve on his freshman season of 14 points in 37 games this year as a sophomore.
9. Giorgio Estephan – Center
2015-16: Lethbridge Hurricanes (WHL)
Drafted: 152nd overall in the sixth round of the 2015 draft by Buffalo
Estephan is another prospect trending in the right direction. His offensive totals continue to improve, but his physical and defensive game are areas that need to improve to play in the NHL. Estephan signed an amateur tryout after last season and made his pro debut in the AHL, playing in six games and recorded his first career point. Estephan will return for his final year of junior where he should eclipse the point per game pace again and possibly challenge for the scoring lead. More importantly, he needs to breakout his physical and defensive game.
10. Linus Ullmark – Goaltender
So15-16: Buffalo (NHL), Rochester (AHL)
Drafted: 163rd overall in the sixth round in the 2012 draft by Buffalo
Buffalo has several promising goalie prospects and none of them are over 25, including Robin Lehner, who if healthy will be the starting goalie. With the departure of Andrey Makarov, Chad Johnson and Nathan Liewen, the competition for playing time should be very interesting in the Buffalo organization. Lehner has a history of injury and the addition of Anders Nilsson will push both Ullmark and Jason Kasdorf. Ullmark is a big goalie and he posted strong numbers in his 20 NHL games on a poor Buffalo team. This will be an important year for him and he could play his way into a full-time NHL job.