NCAA Rooting Guide for Sabres Reinforcements

The last few months haven’t been kind to the Sabres. Injuries have plagued the roster as losses keep stacking up. They’re flirting with winning only 10 of their last 50 games and another lost season has fans wondering when the reinforcements might arrive.

Unlike previous seasons, the Sabres prospect pipeline is a bit richer these days. Meaning there’s more than just one or two prospects worth looking forward to seeing. Jack Quinn was just returned to Rochester after recovering from injury. He joins JJ Peterka, who is steaming along at a point per game pace and Ukko Pekka Luukkonen, who is working back from an injury of his own. Mattias Samuelsson and Peyton Krebs are already in Buffalo and there’s an opportunity for Ryan Johnson, Devon Levi and Owen Power to arrive once their respective NCAA seasons wrap up.

Some of Buffalo’s Buffalo’s CHL prospects could even see action in Rochester on ATOs when their seasons end.

There ought to be space on the Sabres roster for some of those prospects to fill out after the trade deadline. There could be upwards of four-to-six openings depending on how many deals the Sabres swing and who they move on from. Thanks to the later start to the NHL season, NCAA prospects can play in far more games than they would under normal circumstances, which is a great sign for the ability of Johnson, Levi and Power to impact the Sabres lineup.

Exactly when those three could arrive is still up in the air. A few well-placed losses could get the trio to Buffalo sooner, which is what this rooting guide is for.

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Sabres Prospect Pyramid – January 2022

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.

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Sabres Goaltending Depth Chart Aided by Taxi Squad

Under normal circumstances the Sabres goaltending depth chart would have been difficult to navigate this year. Prior to the confirmation that teams would be operating with a taxi squad it was looking like it could be a problem.

While Carter Hutton and Linus Ullmark are effectively locked in as the top two goalies, finding appropriate playing time for Jonas Johansson, Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen and Dustin Tokarski was going to require creativity. In a typical regular season the Sabres would have the ability to split their minor league goaltenders between Rochester and Cincinnati, easing the burden on the Amerks’ coaching staff to get the right players enough playing time. With Cincinnati not participating this season, the potential for a three-headed monster in the Rochester crease could have been cause for concern.

Aside from finding the right tandem in Buffalo to give the Sabres the best opportunity to end their playoff drought, the most important task with Buffalo’s goaltenders is the development of Luukkonen. It seems unlikely that he would have been destined for Cincinnati given the strides he took last year, though the Cyclones would have been a vital relief valve for the organization to utilize to prevent any one goalie from sitting too long. Continue reading

The Instigator Podcast 8.16 – World Junior Preview with Kris Baker

Kris Baker joins this week’s show as we look ahead to the World Junior Championship and the various Sabres prospects who will be participating in this year’s tournament. Also on tap is a look at the decision to send Casey Mittelstadt to Rochester and how Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen has looked since returning from injury.

You can listen to The Instigator Podcast on most podcast streaming services, including large providers such as iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, iHeartRadio and TuneIn and most other third-party podcast streaming apps. You can find links to subscribe and rate the show below:

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The Instigator Podcast 8.2 – Prospect Pipeline Update featuring Kris Baker

This week I’m joined by Kris Baker to run through the Buffalo Sabres’ prospect pipeline and look ahead to this weekend’s Prospects Challenge. We touch on the usual suspects while also highlighting a few names on the Prospects Challenge roster who aren’t focused on as much by the fanbase as a whole. Kris and I also take a deeper dive on a few prospects who are in unique situations (players like Brett Murray and Casey Fitzgerald) while also satiating anyone’s desire for some soundbites on Dylan Cozens.

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The Instigator Podcast 7.34 – Draft Breakdown with Joe Yerdon of The Athletic

Good friend of the podcast, Joe Yerdon stopped by Resurgence Brewing to chat with Tyler and I about the Buffalo Sabres draft class, the UFA class and more. We run down the fortunate selections that brought Dylan Cozens to Buffalo, breakdown the pros and cons of the Ryan Johnson pick and ruminate on the later selections the Sabres made. We also reflect on the Sabres pipeline after the draft while attempting to handicap destinations for the biggest names in the UFA class.

You can listen to The Instigator Podcast on most podcast streaming services, including large providers such as iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, iHeartRadio and TuneIn and most other third-party podcast streaming apps. You can find links to subscribe and rate the show below:

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The Instigator Podcast 7.1 – Talking Sabres Prospects with Kris Baker of The Athletic

We’re kicking off season seven of The Instigator Podcast with a very special guest; Kris Baker of The Athletic. Kris joined the show to offer up a preview of this weekend’s Sabres Prospects Challenge and to assess a number of the prospects throughout Buffalo’s pipeline.

Thanks Kris for joining the show. Be sure to read his stuff on The Athletic, you won’t find better coverage anywhere else.

You can listen to The Instigator Podcast on most podcast streaming services, including large providers such as iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, iHeartRadio and TuneIn and most other third-party podcast streaming apps. You can find links to subscribe and rate the show below:

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“Vets” Steal the Show at Development Camp

It’s easy to get overly excited about development camp. Any group of highly skilled, largely NHL-caliber hockey players will typically look pretty good working through drills. Especially small-area skill drills with minimal defensive challenge. There’s plenty to glean from the week as fans, media and coaches have the opportunity to see players perform in a variety of settings but crowning greatness from the endeavor can be tricky.

I’ve been guilty of taking too much away from the camp myself. Back in 2012 I was convinced that Judd Peterson was sure to be a late-round gem due to his development camp performance. Since then I’ve tried to avoid falling into the same trap. I’ve found it helpful to focus on individual growth and skills rather than trying to project any sort of impact onto the Buffalo Sabres roster. In other words, I’m not trying to name an MVP based on the stickhandling drills they did on Friday.

There are some obvious caveats to this. Casey Mittlestadt’s coming out party last year helped to erase some of the doubts people had about him heading into the draft. Even just a few weeks removed from his draft Mittelstadt was among the most skilled players at the camp and his play certainly inspired confidence in the fanbase, and perhaps the organization as well. But there are just as many cases where an impressive camp performance won’t accurately reflect where a player stands organizationally. So I try to keep that in mind when attending camp.

With that in mind, I’m going to try something a little different with my round up. This will be more of a notebook, touching on players who showed either growth or intriguing upside based on their play. Continue reading

Quick Thoughts on Alex Nylander’s Recall

Alex Nylander will be making his season debut this evening against the Ottawa Senators and his recall has drummed up quite a bit of debate from fans of the Sabres and their AHL affiliate.

Nylander’s year has been quite forgettable. A groin injury during the Prospects Challenge wound up costing him the early months of the campaign and he was still hobbled upon returning. His performance at the World Junior Championship was deemed pedestrian despite averaging a point per game. It wasn’t until the spring that his game seemed to round into form, seeing him register a stretch in which he registered 15 points in 15 games. That still leaves his numbers well below what you’d expect of a top-10 selection with plenty of questions about his status with the organization moving forward.

His 28 point (10+18) season in 2016-17 wasn’t met with celebration or concern as it ranked square in the middle of U20 players playing in the AHL. However, the lack of a step forward this season has raised red flags. Prompting questions to be asked about the logic of his recall for the final three games of the Sabres season.

While he may not have earned his recall, the decision to do so offers management the opportunity to add to their evaluation of his developmental arc. Continue reading

The Instigator Podcast 6.25 – Mittlestadt, College Signings and Expectations

Casey Mittelstadt is under contract. So is Will Borgen while Judd Peterson signed a minor league deal. Good thing the Sabres have trouble signing college players.

On this episode of the podcast we discuss the impact of Mittelstadt’s signing and what type of expectations we should have for the rookie over his first six games. We also touch on how Borgen’s signing has the potential to turn the pipeline in a positive direction and, most importantly, Mittelstadt’s choice of number.