Mikhail Grigorenko looks to explode onto the scene in his second year
Though the Buffalo Sabres appear to be in for a rough year, that doesn't mean that the future is all grim.
Over the past few years, Darcy Regier and company have built up a stable of very talented prospects through the NHL Entry Draft. It's the hope of both the organization and the fans that these players turn around the franchise's misfortunes and bring a Stanley Cup to Buffalo.
Because the team just held its annual prospect development camp, it seems appropriate to take a look at which of these youngsters will be making the biggest impact in the future. It may take some time, but look for guys like Mikhail Grigorenko and Rasmus Ristolainen to usher in a new era of success in Buffalo.
Jake McCabe may be the next great Wisconsin defenseman
After a big sophomore year at the University of Wisconsin and captaining the US World Junior Squad to a gold medal, McCabe has made a name for himself in scouting circles. Among his best traits are his skating, his stick skills and his mind for the game. In his junior season, McCabe will look to improve on his decision making, which is the only thing that may hold him back from being a top-four defenseman in Buffalo.
Sabres fans know the deal with Pysyk after his 19-game stint with the big club in 2013. He is an extremely smooth skater, a smart passer and a cerebral hockey player. He won't make too many highlight reels, but Pysyk should be a reliable second pairing defenseman for years to come.
With the 16th selection in the 2013 Draft, the Sabres picked this mean Russian defenseman with a huge upside. In his first year with the London Knights, the 6'5", 229-pounder recorded 25 points and made a big impact on the team's run to the Memorial Cup.
In the video above, you can see a few clips showing his physicality and offensive skill. What doesn't get much attention, though, is his skating ability. He moves well for a big man, and consequently has a big ceiling.
We likely won't see Zadorov in Buffalo for at least one, if not two years. Hockeysfuture.com offers this analysis on his future as an NHL-er:
He has a solid shot, but doesn’t project as a number-one blueliner. However, he should fit very nicely on a top pairing as the defensively responsible, crease-clearer for whom so many teams are looking.
It's this potential that separates him from more proven guys like Pysyk and McCabe.
Joel Armia celebrates a goal at the World Junior Championships
Selected in 2011 with the 16th overall pick, this Finn is the best pure goal scorer that the Sabres have had since Thomas Vanek. Though he isn't the greatest of skaters, Armia has fantastic stick skills and a laser of a wrist shot which he can release at a moment's notice.
After three years in the Finnish Elite League, Armia won a championship and has nothing left to prove. He'll cross the pond this year with the goal of making the Sabres roster, but may require a bit of seasoning in Rochester. Either way, this young winger brings the pure offensive talent that is missing from Buffalo's roster.
Though high-quality videos of Finnish hockey are few and far between, check out this link to see some highlight reel moves that will put people in the First Niagara Center seats. Armia beats out Zadorov thanks to a combination of his potential and high probability of becoming an impact player at the NHL level.
Sometimes, prospects shouldn't be judged just by pure offensive potential. Though we all would love to have the superstars of the league, guys like Dustin Brown are just as important in winning the Stanley Cup.
Girgensons was drafted 14th overall in the 2012 Draft and played for the Rochester Americans last year. His offensive talent isn't highly touted, but it came along at the end of the year, as he showed with his three goals in four playoff games.
Hockeysfuture.com gives this as a talent analysis:
A two-way player who is a tenacious fore-checker with good speed, scouts rave more about Girgensons’ defense than offense. A hard worker without a standout skill, Girgensons projects to be a second-line center in the future and the perfect complement to Buffalo’s more offensively-oriented forwards.
Girgensons is the kind of player who will make an impact on the game even if he doesn't make a mark on the score sheet. His natural leadership puts him ahead of Armia and should give him a great chance at a roster spot come training camp.
Rasmus Ristolainen is a 6'3", 210-pound defenseman taken with the eighth selection in this year's draft. While the organization has plenty of defenseman in the stable, none project to be as complete as this one. Ristolainen is physical, has a booming shot and has been playing with grown men for two years.
Hockeysfuture.com gives this analysis for the young Finn:
Rasmus Ristolainen has the size, skating ability and shooting and stick handling skills that make him an outstanding offensive defenseman prospect. Plays with a physical component to his game and has become more disciplined as he's gained more experience. Still developing in terms of positional play and defensive responsibilities - his calling card is his willingness to be involved in the play and to push the envelope at times.
In the above video, B/R Contributor Casey Demarco refers to two different videos that can be checked out on Youtube. Follow this link to see the bone-crushing hit and this one to see a nifty move that Ristolainen makes in the shootout.
Though he could use some seasoning in the AHL, don't be surprised if he makes the big club out of training camp. His all-around game and superior potential to Girgensons make Ristolainen the second-best prospect in the Buffalo system.
Though his first season in the NHL was one to forget, Mikhail Grigorenko remains a tantalizing talent who should make a much bigger impact in his sophomore campaign. Lauded for his elite offensive talent coming out of the QMJHL, "Grigo" could be the first-line center that the Sabres have been longing for.
Hockeysfuture.com offers this analysis of the Russian playmaker:
A big man in the pivot position, Grigorenko is still adjusting to the North American game. Offensively, he displays great patience with the puck and the ability to find open ice or feed a pass to an open man. Although he has been criticized for his consistency and intensity, Grigorenko played through a handful of injuries during the year and his talent level is undeniable. A smooth skater with great hands, he made strides during the season to play a more all-around game.
In the above video (from a year ago), B/R Contributor Ryan O'Leary likens Grigorenko to Ryan Getzlaf of the Anaheim Ducks. However, due to his pass-first mentality and penchant for staying away from physical play, I would compare him to Jason Spezza of the Ottawa Senators. Either way, the Sabres should be excited about the possibilities.
Thanks to the fact that No. 1 centers come at such a premium, Grigorenko reaching his potential would leave the Sabres with a true superstar. None of the other prospects have that kind of ceiling, making Grigorenko the top man in the Sabres system.