With the Sabres season going…well to be brutally honest it is a complete disaster, but there are a lot of bright spots for Sabres fans. The World Juniors was held in Buffalo and Sabres prospects put on a show, with two of them capturing Silver and one Bronze.
CJ Smith was named to the AHL all-star game along with Linus Ullmark, Will Borgen was named to the US Olympic roster, and the Rochester Americans continue to impress as they’ve done all season long.
While the Sabres season is going off the rails, the prospects in the Sabres organization continue to give fans hope as the abysmal 2017-18 season inches closer to the end.
So, here is another prospects update for all the fans wondering what the future looks like:
Casey Mittelstadt, C/W, University of Minnesota (NCAA)
If no one knew about him before…well they sure do now, Mittelstadt used the World Juniors to put the entire hockey world on notice. Time and time again TSN anaylsts referred to Mittelstadt as the most dynamic player in the tournament, and James Duthie said he is wondering if some GMs are regretting letting
Mittelstadt fall to eighth overall.
At the WJC in his future NHL city Mittelstadt put on a show, scoring four goals and adding seven assists for 11 total points in seven total games. He won a bronze medal, was named one of USA’s top three players, the best forward in the tournament and tournament MVP. This showing was just a preview of what Sabres fans can expect to see in the future, and it looks very bright with the likes of Mittelstadt at the forefront.
C.J Smith, LW, Rochester Americans (AHL)
Smith has continued to be extremely impressive in his rookie AHL season, while his scoring has cooled off just a touch he still managed to be named to the AHL all-star game. Smith has 10 goals and 20 assists for 30 points in 35 games in Rochester. He remains one of the best scoring rookies in the entire league and will be a big factor going forward for the Amerks. If his stellar play continues Sabres fans can look forward to hopefully seeing him crack the NHL roster next season.
Alexander Nylander, W, Rochester Americans (AHL)
Nylander was loaned to Team Sweden after a bit of a shaky return to the Rochester Americans. The tournament was seen as a great developmental opportunity, a chance to gain some confidence while playing against Junior level players.
Nylander didn’t disappoint, he only scored once but added six assists for a total of seven points in seven games helping the Swedes win silver.
While he didn’t dominate like many Sabres fans wanted to, he did show his flashes of brilliance. He is an excellent offensive player, his speed, puck handling, passing and shooting abilities make him a force when the puck is on his stick.
He needs to use this tournament to help kick start his AHL season once he’s back with the Amerks, if Nylander can command the puck more and work on his ability to play without the puck he will be a top six forward in the NHL.
Fans need to remember he is only 19 and has had two straight injury riddled seasons to start his career, there is still time for him to reach his full potential.
Cliff Pu, W/C, Kingston Frontenacs (OHL)
Pu has been very impressive in the OHL so far this season, scoring 16 goals in 29 assists for 45 points with the London Knights before being traded to Kingston. The trade could be a big motivator for Pu as the Frontenacs are loading up for a deep Memorial Cup run, with Pu being a big center piece.
The 3rd round pick has a lot of speed and smarts to his game to go along with his offensive capabilities and it’s obvious the Sabres really like him (he was the last cut this season). He fits in nicely in the top nine going into the future and should be seeing some form of pro action next season whether it be the NHL or with Rochester.
Brendan Guhle, D, Rochester Americans (AHL)
The 20-year-old defenceman has been very good for the Amerks this season, amassing seven goals and 13 assists for 20 points in 34 games. When you watch Guhle play you can see his strengths, his skating ability and offensive tools are very good and just what the Sabres are lacking on the back end. He is an anchor on the Rochester blueline and will be key as the Amerks gear up for their run to the playoffs.
If Guhle stays the course and continues to play as well as he is in the AHL all he will need to do is bulk up, and he will be in Buffalo next season, which is exciting for Sabres fans because next year is all we have to look forward too.
Marcus Davidsson, C, Djurgardens IF (SHL)
Davidsson was as advertised at the World Juniors, he was a third line center who was responsible for shutting down opposing teams top players, and charged with wining key defensive zone face-offs.
Davidsson also managed to chip in on offense for Team Sweden, he scored once and added two assists for three total points in seven games en route to a silver medal.
He is a speedy skater with excellent hockey IQ and in the future, will be a nice addition to the Sabres bottom six because of his reliability on defence and his ability to kill penalties all while being able to produce some offence.
Victor Olofsson, W, Frolunda (SHL)
Olofsson is the best pure goal scorer the Sabres have in their prospect pool, he continues to light up the Swedish Elite League. Through 31 SHL games Olofsson has scored 18 goals and added nine assists for a total of 27 points.
At 22, Olofsson is putting the Sabres on notice, his play this season is giving Botterill no choice but to sign this kid to his entry-level deal and bring him to North America. I would love to see Olofsson in Rochester to see if his scoring capabilities can translate to North American pro hockey. He is one of the most intriguing prospects the Sabres have because of his ability to light the lamp.
Rasmus Asplund, C, Farjestad BK (SHL)
Asplund has been as advertised in the Swedish Elite League this season. He continues to put up some offensive numbers while eating up big minutes and playing smart in his defensive zone. IN 31 games he has scored four goals and added 16 assists for 20 total points. He has eclipsed his point total from last season when he put up 19 points in 39 games, so he has improved his offensive abilities.
Asplund should make the jump to North America next season if everything goes as planned, and he should be able to compete for a bottom six role on the Sabres as a 20-year-old next season. However, we know Botterill likes his development so I would bet my money on Asplund at least starting next year in Rochester if he comes to North America.
Ukka Pekka-Luukkonen, G, LeKi (Mestis)
Luukkonen has been very good in the second tier pro league in Finland, sporting a 0.914 SV% and a 2.78 GAA in 18 appearances.
In Buffalo for the World Juniors was a bit of a different story, Luukkonen struggled in his five starts sporting a 3.13 GAA and 0.879 GAA and resulted in a quarter final elimination for his country of Finland.
When examining Luukkonen’s game there is a lot to like, he is big, has great movement in the crease and is very athletic. He has all the tools to develop into a nice goalie prospect.
Luukkonen does need to learn how to make saves easier for himself, he needs to read the play better and work on his ability to take away angles from opposing shooters. He’s still very young and there is a lot of time for him to develop, fans can get a better read on UPL at next year’s World Junior as he will likely return for Finland.
Will Borgen, D, St. Cloud State (NCAA)
Borgen is having a great season in the NCAA, he is on one of the better teams in the country and has recorded eight points in 17 games. Borgen’s play has not gone unnoticed as USA Hockey has named him to the United States Olympic roster which is a huge honor for the Sabres prospect.
The Olympics will be a good way to guage how Borgen can play against some pro competition, and hopefully once his NCAA season is over he will sign with the Sabres organization so we can start developing what I believe is a solid defensive prospect.