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Ranking the Buffalo Sabres' Top 10 Prospects

Jonathan WillisNHL National ColumnistJuly 28, 2014

Ranking the Buffalo Sabres' Top 10 Prospects

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    Dave Sandford/Getty Images

    The Buffalo Sabres have a ridiculously stocked prospect system. 

    When we ranked the prospect systems of the NHL's 30 teams after the trade deadline, Buffalo finished first overall, with a ridiculous array of both top-end talent and depth. Getting No. 2 overall pick Sam Reinhart at the 2014 draft just made that group better. 

    It's a positive that the following slideshow considers only Calder-eligible prospects, because the list balloons even further if players just over that line are included. This list of 10 is excellent even without including Rasmus Ristolainen, Mark Pysyk, Zemgus Girgensons, Mikhail Grigorenko, Matt Hackett, Johan Larsson, Luke Adam and others. 

    Prospects are ranked based on their potential NHL ceiling and the amount of risk involved in reaching it, and a number of very good players didn't make the cut. 

10. Connor Hurley

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    Bill Wippert/Getty Images

    Profile: One thing that people forget about Connor Hurley is that if he were just a single day younger, he would have been drafted in 2014 instead of 2013. He's exceptionally young (18) and boasts impressive physical tools, including high-end skating. He's confident and decisive with the puck and has good work ethic. 

     

    Risk factor: Hurley's still playing in the USHL; he combines significant upside with significant risk. 

     

    NHL projection: Middle-six forward.

9. Brendan Lemieux

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    Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images

    Profile: Claude Lemieux's kid is almost invariably compared to his father. He's a nasty piece of work who plays a power game despite a somewhat undersized frame, and he has good speed and some goal-scoring ability. 

     

    Risk factor: Age is a factor, but so too is the fact that he's listed at 6'0", 186 poundsplaying the style he does with that frame dramatically increases his risk of getting hurt. 

     

    NHL projection: Middle-six forward.

8. Linus Ullmark

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    Profile: The massive (6'3", 220 pound) goalie was taken in the sixth round of the 2012 NHL draft, a flyer pick that just might pay off in a big way. Linus Ullmark was the best goalie in Sweden last year, posting a 0.931 save percentage over 35 games in Sweden's top league. He's only 20 years old, and that's a remarkable number

     

    Risk factor: Goalies are always risky, and this was Ullmark's first SHL season. The risk factor is why he's ranked so low here.

     

    NHL projection: No. 1 goaltender. 

7. Hudson Fasching

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    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    Profile: Red Line Report described him as a "big block of granite" in its 2013 draft issue, and it was pretty clearly a backhanded compliment. Hudson Fasching is massive and has the ability to establish himself immovably in front of the net or to absolutely destroy an opponent on the forecheck. The flip side is that his skating wasn't good at all, though The Hockey News indicated it had improved significantly in its 2014 edition of Future Watch. Fasching is a late birthday (July 28), and his numbers spiked in a big way at the college level. 

     

    Risk factor: Fasching is one of those rare players whose physical gifts make him even more intriguing in the pro ranks than he is in junior; if his skating has developed as indicated, he's a pretty low-risk prospect. 

     

    NHL projection: Middle-six forward.

6. Nick Baptiste

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    Bill Wippert/Getty Images

    Profile: In its 2013 draft edition, Red Line Report called Nick Baptiste "one of the draft's big wild cards" and a "real Jekyll-and-Hyde" and said that he had "big upside if the light bulb clicks on." Red Line Report liked his size, his speed and his offensive instincts but worried about his ability to get the most out of his tools. A year later, he's gone from 21 goals to 45 in the OHL, and the question is how he made it to the third round in 2013. It's also worth noting that as an August birthday, he's one of the youngest players in that draft class.  

     

    Risk factor: The risk has been greatly alleviated after the season Baptiste just had. 

     

    NHL projection: Middle-six forward. 

     

5. JT Compher

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    Bill Wippert/Getty Images

    Profile: A good skater with the versatility to play all three forward positions, JT Compher has posted pretty good scoring numbers everywhere he's gone, but that's not really what sets him apart as a prospect. Compher's willingness to play a two-way game at a young age makes him unique, and he gets rave reviews in terms of character and work ethic too. 

     

    Risk factor: A driven, versatile forward who can impact the game in multiple ways? Even if the offence doesn't come along, he should play in the NHL. 

     

    NHL projection: Middle-six forward.

4. Joel Armia

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    Claus Andersen/Getty Images

    Profile: Big and gifted offensively, Joel Armia has posted excellent numbers in Finland's top league for years now, but his adjustment to North America did not go as hoped. He scored just seven times in 54 AHL games and finished with 27 points. 

     

    Risk factor: Armia's slow adjustment to smaller rinks has added some risk to the equation, but he's still blessed with all the tools and has a long record of producing against men.

     

    NHL projection: Top-six forward.

3. Jake McCabe

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    Bill Wippert/Getty Images

    Profile:  Jake McCabe was drafted in the hopes that he'd develop into the ultimate shutdown defenceman—big, tough, mobile and capable of dealing with the puck. So his offensive progression in college has been encouraging for the Sabres, and there's a decent chance he ends up as a legitimate two-way defender in the majors.

     

    Risk factor: He's already played seven NHL games, so there is less risk with McCabe than with some other prospects. 

     

    NHL projection: Top-four defenceman. 

2. Nikita Zadorov

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    Bill Wippert/Getty Images

    Profile: Nikita Zadorov was drafted a year ago based more on his incredible physical gifts and projectable upside than his OHL results. Every team in the league wants a 6'5" defenceman who can skate, and Zadorov fit the bill. The problem was that he was still seen as raw, and his offensive numbers were mediocre. He's since progressed by leaps and bounds, scoring at nearly a point-per-game pace in the OHL last season, and he led all World Junior defenders in goals.   

     

    Risk factor: How risky is a 6'5" defenceman who can skate and has piled up big numbers? 

     

    NHL projection: Top-pairing defenceman. 

1. Sam Reinhart

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    Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images

    Profile: Sam Reinhart was touted as the smartest player in the 2014 draft, a brilliant player on the ice with exceptional offensive instincts and the skill to execute. His skating is just OK, but other than that, he's everything a team wants at the centre position. 

     

    Risk factor: Not a lot of risk here. 

     

    NHL projection: First-line forward. 

     

    Jonathan Willis covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter for more of his work.

    Statistics courtesy of EliteProspects.com or NHL.com unless otherwise noted. Scouting reports from McKeen's HockeyRed Line ReportThe Hockey News (subscription required) and HockeyProspectus.com were consulted in writing profiles.

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