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More depth added as Sabres ink Knapp and Catenacci

April 3, 2012

Two more Sabres prospects were signed to entry-level contracts today, further stocking the rich cupboards they already boast. Dan Catenacci and Connor Knapp were signed to three and two-year enrty-level deals, respectively. According to the Sabres, they will each report to Rochester under amateur tryout offers.

They join Brian Flynn, Kevin Sundher and Phil Varone as newly inked prospects this season. Sundher was signed earlier in the year while Flynn signed a one-year ELC last week and is also with the Amerks on an ATO. By having these players join Rochester on an amateur basis, they save a year of their contract from burning up, an especially important detail regarding Knapp and Flynn.

Knapp probably won’t do much more than practice with the team and possibly sit as a backup to David Leggio for the remainder of the season. Catenacci will see some playing time down the line – along with Flynn – for an Amerks squad who could use some additional depth down the middle.

Catenacci, however, will only provide temporary relief for the Amerks. His age only permits him to play in the NHL or junior for next season. With the assumed lineup the Sabres will be looking at in 2012-13, Catenacci’s ELC won’t start working for him until his first professional season in the fall of 2013. That being said, getting Catenacci under contract is a step in the right direction for the Sabres. Joining Flynn, Sundher and Varone; Catenacci is another skilled center capable of producing at a point-per-game clip. His size is somewhat prohibitive and I wonder where he fits in the big picture, especially with Tyler Ennis establishing himself as a formidable talent as a center. With Ennis already on the roster and Sundher in the pipeline, there won’t be much room for too many undersized forwards – especially at center.

Looking at this year’s roster, the trio of mini-mites (Ennis, Gerbe and Roy) may be a little bit of two’s company and three’s a crowd in terms of assembling a complete roster. If that is indeed the case, I wonder where Catenacci ultimately will fit in the grand scheme. Of course, if Lindy Ruff is still coaching he will probably just end up playing wing. Truthfully, that may not necessarily be the worst case scenario for his skillset, either.

As for Knapp, I would pencil him in as the backup goaltender in Rochester for next season. He had a stellar senior season for Miami and finally managed to wrestle the starting job away after three years of platooning with Cody Reichard. While not a Hobey Baker finalist, he did finish his senior season with an impressive 15-8-0 record, 1.69 GAA and .938 SV%. Pretty similar numbers (fewer games played) to that of a former fifth round pick (Knapp is a sixth round pick) of the Sabres currently enjoying an impressive NHL career. Ryan Miller is that former fifth round pick whose collegiate success translated to the NHL. And for those of you unfamiliar with goaltenders, if Knapp is anywhere close to Miller regarding his development, the Sabres will have a fine goaltender on their hands.

There is little doubt that David Leggio will be Rochester’s starter next season, he has forged a good spot in the organization and may be looking at the chance of a call up if there are any injuries next season. Knapp should have the inside track at the backup spot since he will get at least a month of action against professional shooters at practice and possibly in a game or two. He plays much more of a blocking style versus the athletic reactionary game that Miller plays. In fact, his style is very similar to Leggio’s. Both are very technical in their movements and positioning, but don’t just simply block shots like some butterfly goalies (Giguere, Enroth, Remier etc).

Knapp will have a tough battle with Nathan Lieuwen when he is signed. Lieuwen has just ended his junior career and enjoyed a strong, injury-free season with Kootenay. I would expect Lieuwen to get a contract in the coming weeks, or perhaps as the summer begins. Both Knapp and Lieuwen will see action in the AHL at some point next season, but they will also get time in the Coast given the depth Buffalo currently has in goal.

Both have impressive size and had fine swan songs this year. However, I feel that Knapp is a bit more polished in terms of technique. He also has had more time with the Buffalo organization. Since his ELC is only for two years, the Sabres will need to find out what they have right away. As Knapp’s game began to round into form over the past year or two, I began wondering if he may be the goalie of the future for the Sabres. Given his current trajectory, I’d say he could be right on pace to supplant Miller in the next three seasons. Keep a close eye on Knapp, he has so many attributes that elite goalies possess.

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