The next group of player grades for the Sabres is comprised of young talent and new faces. This group either arrived in Buffalo this season, or are part of the burgeoning youth movement on the depth chart.
Tyler Ennis – A-
This might seem like a high grade to some, it may even look like a low grade for some. I say it is adequate with the understanding that Ennis still has room to grow, especially as a center. The ankle injury that sidelined him for 34 games was a devastating blow to his progress and the Sabres in general.
While he was sniffing at a point per game pace, it was basically just in the second half. That bodes quite well for a player that is looking like he could be a major weapon for the Sabres in the coming seasons. I still think Ennis needs to add a little size, but he certainly doesn’t need to change anything on the offensive side of his game.
Cody Hodgson- C+
I like Hodgson’s game. His numbers weren’t ideal, but he showed some traits that should make him a dangerous piece of the puzzle moving forward. His brief time here was highlighted by a few nice goals and assists, obviously putting him with scorers will be a necessity. Depending on what kind of summer he has could mean that he comes to camp has the incumbent number two center (behind Ennis) with the chance to be a key contributor for next year.
Ville Leino – C-
Leino’s debut in Buffalo was nothing short of disappointing. His point output was down, his goals were down and he spent long parts of the season bouncing around every line in Lindy Ruff’s arsenal. Obviously thinking Leino was a center was a major mistake. That is ok considering he is very well suited to play the wing with an adequate center and winger on the other side. Putting him on the fourth line or in a checking role wasn’t a very useful decision and likely stunted his adjustment to Buffalo.
The key to getting Leino going is finding a consistent line to skate with and to ensure his center is going to be productive. Leino’s puck skills may be the best on the team and he is nearly impossible to knock off the puck in the corner or on the boards. Giving him an honest opportunity to produce is an important step that needs to be taken next fall.
Marcus Foligno – A
Foligno has a very brief debut with the Sabres. However, he was a force in nearly every game. His skating continues to improve and his physicality is unparalleled compared to his teammates. One thing I’m weary of is that Foligno’s grit and toughness will be coached out of him in favor of “the system”.
Foligno is exactly the type of player that Sabres fans have been waiting to see. I have no doubt that he will enjoy his first full season in the NHL when the 2012-13 season begins.
Cory Tropp – B-
The energy that Tropp creates is a thing of beauty. He has that agitator mentality and can throw bombs to back it up. His stick skills are strong and he has the ability to be a fairly consistent contributor as he matures. I think that Tropp has some room for improvement based on his play this year. Regardless, there is a better than good chance that he is a permanent fixture next season.
Nathan Gerbe – C-
Gerbe was a revelation last year as he exploded in the second half and was equally dangerous in the playoffs. However, Gerbe all but disappeared this season as he was easily neutralized by most of his opponents. Gerbe needs to continue playing with the same energy he brought on a nightly basis. What needs to change is his production. He fits well in a third line role, but he needs the right linemates in order to score at a regular clip.