Navigating a shallow prospect pool has been a chore for no fewer than two of Buffalo’s recent general managers. Both Kevyn Adams and Jason Botterill had to manage the situation and you could argue Tim Murray dealt with it as well. A cumulation of light drafts and below average development stripped the Sabres of almost any success outside the first round of the draft. They even have had their fair share of struggles in the first round. All of that led to a thin prospect pool in terms of quantity and quality.
The Sabres made 11 picks in the 2021 draft, the same number of selections over the two prior drafts combined. We’ll see how valuable the picks become down the line, but in the short term the draft was valuable in filling out Buffalo’s pipeline. That depth may be a bit of an illusion with most of Buffalo’s top prospects on the verge of NHL promotions, or already there. But there’s no question that the 2021 draft went a long way to refilling Buffalo’s prospect cupboard.
Despite their overall record, the early returns have been positive for Adams as his first two draft classes have a handful of bright spots. Thanks to some of the strong play from the likes of Jack Quinn and JJ Peterka, it felt appropriate to revisit the club’s prospect pool using the pyramid ranking style.
As a refresher, using the pyramid style over a strict numerical ranking lets you place players in tiers as opposed to having to choose one over the other. It’s especially useful in cases like this where ranking Jack Quinn over Peyton Krebs, for example, paints a different picture than simply putting them in the same overall group. Keep that in mind as you sift through the tiers below.
Owen Power – I didn’t qualify any of Buffalo’s players as elite as I don’t think any of them rise to the level of a truly elite prospect. Power probably has the runway to climb to that top rung thanks to the impending Olympic tournament and the opportunity to wrap up a successful campaign with Michigan. His production has been excellent for the Wolverines this year and he started the World Junior Championship with a bang. You can count on him to sign his first contract and spend the remainder of the spring in Buffalo, which is something to look forward to.
Dylan Cozens – As Cozens won’t play his 82nd NHL game until January 30 against Colorado, I decided it was fair to keep him as a prospect for this exercise. Cozens’ second season has been steady and somewhat unspectacular. He’s taken strides from his abbreviated rookie season and is pacing toward a solid sophomore campaign. I feel that his offense has been better than it’s looked at times and as more talent is infused in the coming seasons, I expect you’ll see him take another notable step.
Peyton Krebs – Krebs arrived in the Jack Eichel trade and played at nearly a point per game pace for the Amerks before getting what looks to be a permanent recall to the big club. His vision and passing has been on full display since getting called up and his two-goal game against the Flyers has punctuated an impressive debut. He adds another dimension to Buffalo’s attack, particularly on the powerplay, which will meld nicely with some of the Sabres’ other exciting offensive players.
Jack Quinn – Quinn was a tier lower in the preseason but his season has been eye opening for just about everyone with any sort of stakes in Buffalo’s outlook. Even with a month absence due to mono and now a lower body injury putting him on the shelf for another four-to-six weeks, his goal scoring pace in Rochester was stunning and he wasn’t out of place in either of the two games he’s appeared in so far. The growth he’s shown this year is far and away the most notable prospect story for the Sabres.
Jacob Bryson, Alexander Kisakov, Ryan Johnson, JJ Peterka, Prokhor Poltapov, Mattias Samuelsson
Isak Rosen – Rosen is maybe the most frustrating Sabres prospect to track so far this season. He’s stuck in the limbo where his senior team doesn’t give him enough of a role to make a notable impact, while he’s too good to simply play for his junior club. As a result, he has nine points in nine games for his J20 side but only four in 28 for Leksands SHL club. Rosen has the ability to add more high-end offense to the other young offensively-minded prospect in Buffalo’s pipeline. But it’s hard to see when and how that will come given his current role in Sweden. Next year will likely be the season when he has the chance to truly take a big step, which means a bit more patience for the Sabres and fans.
Jakub Konecny, Oskari Laaksonen, Devon Levi, Olivier Nadeau, Nikita Novikov, Erik Portillo, Lukas Rousek, Stiven Sardaryan,
Josh Bloom – Bloom and Olivier Nadeau have been mid-round bright spots as they’ve put up impressive numbers in the CHL. They’ve both dealt with dry spells, which is to be expected given where they were picked. Neither is going to be knocking on the door for an NHL job any time soon. They’ll likely spend at least one more year in the CHL before arriving in Rochester. But both have enjoyed the type of early production that is encouraging for their future growth.
Brett Murray – Murray’s path has been unconventional and probably unexpected but he didn’t look out of place during his extended look earlier in the year and I suspect he’s going to have a chance to lock down a bottom six role as early as 2022-23. That’s a win for a 4th round pick who went back to the USHL after starting his collegiate career.
Ukko Pekka Luukkonen – All three goalies are in this tier due to the ups and downs that accompany goaltending development. Levi is having the strongest season of the trio so far, but that doesn’t mean he’ll have immediate pro success. Hence, all three are in the same tier until their results prove otherwise.
UPL had a difficult start in Rochester, raising questions about his long term outlook. But he righted the ship for the Sabres at a time they were in desperate need of steady goaltending. I don’t expect him to go back to Rochester once he’s healthy and he’ll have an NHL job for 22-23 as well. Despite the struggles created by COVID and his recovery from surgery, I think he remains on track with his development.
William von Barnekow, Brandon Biro, Filip Cederqvist, Matteo Costantini, Viljami Marjala, Matej Pekar, Linus Weissbach
Aaron Huglen – I’m always game to see how an offensively gifted collegian can grow and that especially applies to Huglen and even Matteo Costantini. They’ll have time to grow over the next few seasons, so there’s no reason to fret over their results at least until spring of 2023. The one caveat here is Huglen’s age. He turns 21 in March and could be 23 by the time he gets an NHL deal. That narrows the window for him to pop for the Sabres from a prospect perspective, which is something to keep in mind as he works through his first year with the Gophers.
Linus Cronholm, Tyson Kozak, Miska Kukkonen, Albert Lyckasen, William Worge Kreu