2018 Buffalo Sabres Prospect Pyramid

Sabres Development Camp has come to an end and that means that it’s time for the third annual prospect pyramid ranking. If you’re not familiar with the prospect pyramid, it’s a prospect ranking in tiers rather than just compiling a huge list. Credit goes to Steve Dangle of Sports Net for this idea so go check out his Toronto ranking here.

Additions:

D Rasmus Dahlin, D Mattias Samuelsson, F Matej Pekar, D Linus Lindstrand-Cronholm, D Miska Kukkonen, D William Worge-Kreu, D Lawrence Pilut, F Andrew Oglevie, and D Brandon Hickey

Subtractions:

F Hudson Fasching, F Brandon Hagel, D Austin Osmanski, and D Vojtech Budik

F Judd Peterson and F Max Willman’s rights will be lost on Aug 15th if they aren’t signed.

Graduates:

G Linus Ullmark, F Justin Bailey, F Nick Baptiste, F Sean Malone, F C.J. Smith, and F Danny O’Regan

Just want to quickly touch on Bailey and Baptiste before we get into the other prospects. It’s gotten to the point where it’s now or never for these two players. They aren’t prospects anymore and they should be making an impact in the NHL next season. If they can’t do that, it’s probably time to start thinking about moving on from them. They were drafted six years ago, yes six years ago. It’s time to make the next step.

Tier 1

Rasmus Dahlin
LD

2018 round 1 #1 overall
Frolunda HC (SHL)
41GP 7G 13A 20PTS

No surprise here but Rasmus Dahlin sits at the very top of the pyramid as he is the only Sabres prospect in the organization that has the potential to be a franchise player. Dahlin will step right into Buffalo’s lineup in October and I think by season’s end he will be their best defenseman. They’re probably going to protect him by not playing him 20 plus minutes a night but it really wouldn’t surprise me at all if he’s playing over 25 minutes a night by the end of the season. I want to preach this, you have to remember that Rasmus Dahlin is still only 18 years old. There will be nights where he’s going turn the puck over and will have some defensive hiccups but that happens for young defensemen breaking into the league. He’s not going to be perfect every night and it might take some time for him to get used to playing in the NHL. I think he can make the adjustment pretty quickly though. It’s reasonable to expect that Dahlin will have 30-45 points and compete for the Calder Trophy in his rookie season. The Sabres finally won the lottery and now have their franchise defenseman to go along with their franchise centerman in Jack Eichel that they can build around for the next 15 years.

Tier 2

Casey Mittelstadt
C/LW
2017 round 1 #8 overall
University of Minnesota (NCAA)
34GP 11G 19A 30PTS

Mittelstadt had a great season after being drafted by the Sabres. He put up very respectable numbers for a pretty mediocre Minnesota Gophers team this season. But he really put on a show at the WJC in Buffalo. Casey Mittelstadt had all the pressure in the world on the biggest stage at the WJC. Playing an important role on team USA who were defending their gold medal and on top of that, the tournament was in Buffalo. That’s certainly a situation where a young player would crumble under that pressure but he came up big and was the best player in the tournament. Mittelstadt showed this season that he’s a big game player. He also scored some big goals in the Big Ten playoffs for the Gophers and it was really a shame that they couldn’t make it to the NCAA tournament. Mittelstadt stepped right into Buffalo’s lineup at the very end of the season and I don’t think he looked out of place at all. He’s expected to be Buffalo’s third line center for the upcoming season and I think he will exceed expectations. I think 55 plus points is definitely a possibility for Casey Mittelstadt in his rookie season. He will be in the Calder Trophy conversation along with Rasmus Dahlin.

Tier 3

Brendan Guhle
D
2015 round 2 #51 overall
Rochester Americans (AHL)
50GP 8G 18A 26PTS

The Sabres made the right decision to not rush Guhle into the NHL at the start of last season. Although it was probably difficult for the Sabres to have a player who is capable of playing in their top four in Rochester, it was the best for Guhle’s development as a player. Guhle is one of the best skaters in the organization and after a pretty good showing in the AHL for his first year pro, I think he’s ready to make the step into the NHL full time. He got a chance to play a bit for Buffalo at the end of last season and didn’t look out of place at all. Like with most young defensemen, he made some mistakes but like I said with Dahlin, that just happens with developing defensemen. Guhle wasn’t very good for Rochester in the Calder Cup Playoffs but I don’t think that means much as far as him being able to contribute in Buffalo next year. Guhle is an exciting young player and fans should look forward to a blueline that has Rasmus Dahlin, Rasmus Ristolainen, and Brendan Guhle on it for a long time.

Alex Nylander
RW/LW
2016 round 1 #8 overall
Rochester Americans (AHL)
51GP 8G 19A 27PTS

Alex Nylander has been the most polarizing prospect in the organization since being drafted by Buffalo in 2016. The expectations were high for him coming into Rochester as an 18-year-old and it’s pretty clear that he has yet to live up to those expectations. Hindsight 20-20 of course but looking back on it, Nylander wasn’t ready for the AHL and probably should have either gone back to Mississauga or go over to play in Sweden for a year. Now, remember, Nylander is still only 20 years old and there’s still plenty of time for him to develop into an impact NHL player. I’m not so sure that he’ll be able to live up to that elite potential that we all saw when he was drafted out of Mississauga but I still envision Nylander as a contributor to Buffalo’s top six if he pans out. This upcoming season is the most important season for Nylander’s development. He’ll probably start out in Rochester and if he plays well, he will get more games in Buffalo. In the two stretches that he had in Buffalo over the last couple seasons, I thought that he didn’t look out of place. He even scored his first NHL goal during his last stint with the team. It’s a shame that he couldn’t play in development camp but it’s no secret that he needs to show up to training camp healthy and ready to compete for a roster spot. We need to see complete and utter domination out of Nylander at the prospects challenge in the fall.

There’s Still Hope For Alex Nylander

Tage Thompson
C/RW
2016 round 1 #26 overall
San Antonio Rampage (AHL)
30GP 8G 10A 18PTS

Tage Thompson was a huge pickup for Buffalo in the Ryan O’Reilly trade. I’ve been a huge fan of Thompson going back to his days with the NTDP. He was a player that I was hoping that Buffalo would somehow draft in the second round or trade up for in 2016 and I’m glad that he was apart of the O’Reilly deal. He’s not an elite level skater but I think that he moves very well for a player who is 6’5″. Thompson’s best attribute is his shot and his release is absolutely crazy.

 

He’s a shoot first player and Buffalo certainly doesn’t have many of those. Phil Housley was preaching a shooting mentality all of last season so I’d assume that he will be happy to have a player like Thompson in Buffalo at the start of the season. Yes, he will be in Buffalo to start in my opinion and Jason Botterill’s comments after the O’Reilly trade just reaffirm that. I’d love to see him alongside Eichel or Mittelstadt.

Tier 4

Victor Olofsson
RW/LW
2014 round 7 #181 overall
Frolunda HC (SHL)
50GP 27G 16A 43PTS

Olofsson has the potential to be Buffalo’s biggest draft steal in a long time. When was the last time Buffalo drafted a potential top six winger in the 7th round? I cant think of anyone off the top of my head. Olofsson led the SHL in goals last season and has a lethal shot which he showcased at development camp this week. Rasmus Dahlin played with Olofsson in Frolunda the past two seasons and described him as having one of the best shots in the world. That’s very high praise and I think Rasmus might be right on this one.

Olofsson signed his ELC a couple months ago and will be in Rochester for the start of the season but I firmly believe that Victor Olofsson will be one of the first call-ups when an injury happens.

Mattias Samuelsson
LD
2018 round 2 #32 overall
U.S. National Team Development Program
58GP 11G 20A 31PTS

I thought that there were better options than Samuelsson with the 32nd pick but he’s still a good prospect in that range of the draft. I wouldn’t call him a bad skater at all but he’s pretty average as far as skating goes. But for a big defenseman he can get around the ice pretty well. He plays a solid two-way game and he has a little offensive upside. The good thing about Samuelsson is that he’s probably not that far from being NHL ready. He’s going to Western Michigan in the NCAA for this season and he might be ready to turn pro after a year in college. Also look for Samuelsson to compete for a spot on Team USA for the WJC.

An In-Depth Look at Mattias Samuelsson

Evaluating the Sabres 2018 Draft Class

Rasmus Asplund
C/LW
2016 round 2 #33 overall
Farjestad BK (SHL)
50GP 8G 20A 28PTS

Like Victor Olofsson, Rasmus Asplund is also coming over to play in North America this season. Asplund has been playing against men in Sweden since he was 16 years old which is pretty impressive in my opinion. Asplund plays a good two-way game. He’s very reliable defensively and also has the ability to contribute offensively. I don’t think Asplund has the potential to be in the top six here like some thought when he was drafted but he has the opportunity to be a very good third line center that can kill penalties in a couple years. Asplund will start in Rochester but he’s definitely a candidate to be called up in case of injuries.

Marcus Davidsson
C/LW
2017 round 2 #37 overall
Djurgardens IF (SHL)
39GP 9G 12A 21PTS

Davidsson reminds me of Rasmus Asplund but I think he’s a better skater. Davidsson was a standout for me in a bottom six role at the WJC the last two seasons for team Sweden. He will be back in Sweden with Djurgardens this season but after that, I wouldn’t be surprised if he signs his ELC with Buffalo and makes the jump to play in Rochester.

Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen
G
2017 round 2 #54 overall
LeKi (Mestis)
24GP .909% 2.92 gaa

Luukkonen really impressed me at development camp last season. His performance at for Team Finland at the WJC in Buffalo was pretty disappointing to say the least and his stats in the Mestis league aren’t all that great either. But he’s a very technically sound and an athletic goaltender. Goaltenders take a longer time to develop than other players so it might be three to four years to get to the NHL. He has a very good chance of being the starting goaltender for HPK in the Liiga next season so possibly playing on a better team with increase his individual stats after playing on a pretty mediocre team in LeKi. He was recently drafted by the Sudbury Wolves in the CHL Import Draft with the third overall pick so there might be a chance that he comes to North America early. I have very high hopes for Luukkonen but it’s going to take some time for him to develop.

Lawrence Pilut
LD
Undrafted
HV71 (SHL)
52GP 8G 30A 38PTS

At the age of 22, I wouldn’t really call Lawrence Pilut a prospect but he was at development camp so I’ll include him. Pilut was signed after the Sabres won the draft lottery so I feel like there hasn’t been much hype surrounding him because of Dahlin overshadowing him but Sabres fans should be really excited about Pilut. He won the award that goes to the best defenseman in Sweden last year and that is a huge accomplishment for the offensive defenseman. In 2016-2017, Pilut’s team won the SHL championship as well. Buffalo had their eye on Pilut all season and it sounds like because they showed interest in him before his production really increased, he had more interest in signing here because of that. Pilut is an exceptional skater and has great hands.

It sounds like he’s pencilled into starting out in Rochester but he will play games in Buffalo in 2019 for sure. He’s going to surprise some people.

Tier 5

Cliff Pu
RW 
2016 round 3 #69 overall
Kingston Frontenacs (OHL)
65GP 29G 55A 84PTS

Pu had another very productive season in the OHL. He was traded away from London to Kingston and his production really took off playing on a better team. Pu is a dynamic skater who has some high offensive upside. Cliff really impressed in training camp last year so I’m excited to see if he can potentially earn a spot out of camp. That’s very unlikely but you never know. Pu is turning pro and will more likely than not be in Rochester to start.

Will Borgen
RD
2015 round 4 #92 overall
St. Cloud State Univ. (NCAA)
36GP 2G 13A 15PTS

Like Pu, Borgen is also going to turn pro this season. Borgen did get some games in Rochester at the end of last season but he should have a bigger role this year. He is really good defensively and likes to make big hits. I don’t think he’s that far away from being able to compete for an NHL roster spot in Buffalo.

Jacob Bryson
LD
2017 round 4 #99 overall
Providence College (NCAA)
40GP 4G 21A 25PTS

Jacob Bryson is probably one of the most underrated prospects in Buffalo’s system. He was passed over in the 2016 draft and Buffalo selected him in the 2017 draft as an overager. Bryson has produced very well in his two seasons at Providence and when watching the Fryers last year, Bryson was a huge standout for me. He’s a fast puck moving defenseman that has pretty good vision. He’s pretty undersized which might get in his way but I’d like to see Buffalo try to sign him at the end of the season and get him in Rochester.

Casey Fitzgerald
RD
2016 round 3 #86 overall
Boston College (NCAA)
36GP 6G 13A 19PTS

Casey Fitzgerald is entering his senior year at Boston College so I can already envision the Sabres fan base freaking out for him potentially leaving the organization in August of 2019. But it sounds like Buffalo is very high on Fitzgerald and will do whatever they can do to get him signed when BC’s season is finished. Like Bryson, Fitzgerald was also passed over in his first draft eligible season in 2015. Fitzgerald was the captain of BC last season and is a puck moving defenseman that can really skate well. He had an injury last season as well and it may have still been lingering for him so that’s probably why he didn’t skate at development camp last week. He also won gold at the WJC for Team USA in 2016 with Tage Thompson.

Oskari Laaksonen
RD 
2017 round 3 #89 overall
Ilves (Liiga)
21GP 0G 4A 4PTS

The Sabres went completely off the board with their third round pick in 2017 by drafting Finnish defenseman, Oskari Laaksonen. He really wasn’t ranked by any of the big scouting services and was a surprise pick at #89 overall. Watching Laaksonen at development camp last year, I was very impressed by him. He looked very fast and could move the puck very well. He looked like he could definitely improve his shot but that will come in time. He did get some time with Ilves in the Liiga and from what I hear, he played well. It’s unfortunate that he couldn’t play in development camp last week but he was included on Finland’s preliminary roster for the WJC so Sabres fans may get to see him this Winter if he makes the team.

Linus Weissbach
LW/RW
2017 round 7 #192 overall
Univ. of Wisconsin (NCAA)
34GP 10G 16A 26PTS

It might be a little early to call Linus Weissbach a steal in the 2017 draft but it certainly looks like there’s a good chance of that happening. I don’t understand how Weissbach was passed over in 2016 let alone slipping all the way to the 7th round to Buffalo in 2017. He put up great numbers in 2016 for Frolunda in the SuperElit League (48 pts in 44 games). And he was near a point per game in 2017 for the Tri-City Storm in the USHL. Weissbach is an undersized speedy winger who took his talents to the University of Wisconsin this year and to no surprise, he just kept producing. He put up 26 points in 34 games as a freshman and was pretty close in production to Casey Mittelstadt. I like Weissbach a lot and I look forward to seeing what he does in his sophomore season.

Matej Pekar
C/RW
2018 round 4 #94 overall
Muskegon Lumberjacks (USHL)
56GP 14G 40A 54PTS

The Matej Pekar pick kind of reminds me of the Weissbach pick in the sense that Buffalo drafted a European player who is kind of undersized out of the USHL that is NCAA bound. Pekar won rookie of the year in the USHL last season with the Lumberjacks. Andrei Svechnikov also won that award when he played for Muskegon in 2016-2017. Pekar wasted no time in becoming a fan favorite at development camp last week. He was going at it with Casey Mittelstadt throughout the 3 on 3 tournament and showed a lot of skill. He’s set to go to Miami University but there’s a rumor going around that he won’t be able to start until the second semester. He was recently selected by the Barrie Colts in the CHL import draft as well. So if the rumors are true, he will have to either play a chunk of the season in the USHL again or make the jump to the OHL and play in Barrie.

Brandon Hickey
LD
2014 round 3 #64 overall
Boston Univ. (NCAA)
35GP 6G 8A 14PTS

I wouldn’t really say that Brandon Hickey is a prospect at this point considering that he’s 22 but he was at development camp so I’ll include him. Hickey was drafted by Calgary back in 2014 and was part of the Mike Smith trade that was completed before the expansion draft last year. It was rumored that Hickey wasn’t going to sign with Calgary and that seems like it was also the case when he was moved to Arizona. So the Coyotes shipped his rights to Buffalo for a disappointing prospect in Hudson Fasching. Hickey signed a two year  deal with Buffalo on July first. Hickey is more of a defensive minded defenseman who isn’t going to put up a lot of points but he is a fantastic skater and fits into what Buffalo is trying to build. Expect him to play the full season in Rochester.

Tier 6- Everyone Else

-G Jonas Johansson
-D Philip Nyberg
-D Devante Stephens
-D Ivan Chukarov
-D Brycen Martin
-D Linus Lindstrand-Cronholm
-D Miska Kukkonen
-D William Worge-Kreu
-RW Cristopher Brown
-RW Vaclav Karabacek
-LW Brett Murray
-C Andrew Ogilvie
-C Eric Cornel
-C Vasily Glotov

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