Around this time a year ago, I released this article creating a lineup of Sabres prospects if there was a summer league for prospects. It was a fun article to put out last year with Mittelstadt and Dahlin included, but I enjoyed the challenge of building the lineup since there are so many different combinations that would produce a quality lineup.
I’d like to preface this with some thoughts and opinions on an “NHL Prospects Summer League” before getting into the lineup.
Prospects challenges are the closest things to an NHL Prospect Summer League with the Traverse City tournament and the 4-team tournament the Sabres host. By the time those tournaments are set to begin, a large majority of Sabres prospects will already be in college or playing professional overseas.
We’ll use the development camp roster (plus a few that weren’t there for various reasons). I know some players might have a year or even two of NA professional hockey, but we could go back and forth all day about who should and shouldn’t be considered a prospect for this.
Basically, my thoughts are, if you were brought in for development camp, you’re fair game for the summer league.
The summer league could begin after a week or so after development camp so you don’t have to regather prospects from around the world. This would give young players more reps with their respective clubs before going back to wherever they’re playing that season.
And I get it, not every team would go for this, but say half the league participates…that’s still 15-16 teams. Stream it, have three options: pay per game, pay for all games for one team and pay for all teams games. Donate the money after covering streaming expenses and you’ve easily made an impact beyond the game. I digress, but so much good can come from this it’s hard not to bring up all the benefits.
I do know the cons to this as well, it’d need to be in a location where people will show up to games in July……*cough* Buffalo *cough*. Also, there would be a lot of money spent getting teams to wherever this is being held and all the aspects of travelling with a team like food and lodging that some teams wouldn’t want to commit to, but again, I believe the positives would outweigh the negatives.
The Harbor Center would be great for this. For games that no one would really show up for, put them on the practice rink. For the bigger games or later in the day games that’ll garner more fans, put them on the main rink.
Lastly, you have to think, these are competitive hockey games, players will get injured. I’m sure the junior, college and other pro clubs won’t be too jazzed if a player goes down with a significant injury. That’s something you hope to see very little of, but it’s something to keep in mind.
So, if there was a summer league for prospects in the NHL, what would the lines for the Sabres look like? I am leaving currently injured players in the lineup since this just for fun.
Before we begin, I want to say I made up so many different combinations that I believe would fair just fine, this is just what I felt best with as each line would fill a specific role.
Weissbach – Asplund – Olofsson
I know what you’re thinking, Weissbach on the first line? Yup, Weissbach on the first line. I have a history of being a Weissbach fan. “Don’t sleep on Linus Weissbach” has been my mantra for about a year now.
He plays with a lot of speed and skill as a playmaker, which I believe would translate well with Asplund’s 200-foot, playmaking abilities and Olofsson’s finishing ability.
A fun tidbit: Weissbach will be playing with Cole Caufield and I won’t be surprised to see them on the same line in Wisconsin for this very reason. Weissbach can use his feet, hands and vision to make the plays, Caufield will make pucks hit nets like Olofsson.
I know many want to see something like Olofsson – Cozens – Thompson, but if I’m Coach Taylor, I’m distributing the wealth of talent a bit. No reason to overly stack one line that’ll realistically only play 25-30% of a game if you’re rolling four lines.
Oh and if you don’t want Olofsson on his off wing, after trading away Nylander, they’re not very deep on the right side. I feel more comfortable playing Olofsson on his off wing over everyone else on the roster.
Ruotsalainen – Cozens – Thompson
There are a few reasons for this line coming together the way it did. First, you’re flanking Cozens with two veterans of professional hockey. Would he get that with Asplund and Olofsson? Yes, he would, but with that speed and skill line, I like to see a different dynamic with this one.
For me, I think Thompson can carry this line from the right wing. Sound familiar? He won’t necessarily have to with Cozens’ speed in open space and Ruotsalainen quick cuts and vision, but he’ll push the pace with an attacking, shooting mentality while hopefully using his reach to disrupt plays on the defensive end.
Even though Ruotsalainen is only 5’8″, he faired very well against grown men last season in Liiga, so I’m more comfortable to put him on a big boy line (Cozens 6’3″, Thompson 6’5″) over someone like Weissbach or Pekar.
I know the dynamic of Cozens and Thompson might not be the very best use of each player, but my hope is they’d overpower opposing defenses and buzz around the net causing havoc. Overwhelming their opponents would be the bread and butter of this line as they have two really big bodies that skate and shoot the puck very well.
Pekar – Davidsson – Oglevie
To preface this, Davidsson and Pekar can switch spots, either way work for me, but I really like this line. One might think, “These are just the leftovers after the top two lines.”
You may be right, but that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t be effective. This line would be my sleeper as the most productive on the team. They wouldn’t face the other teams best lines and/or best defensemen and they still have an abundance of skill.
Say they do get the other teams best line, all three of these guys are responsible in their own end. Pekar is a pest with the tenacity to be able to disrupt plays in the defensive zone. Davidsson is like Asplund as a two way forward, responsible in his own end, with more offensive upside (in my opinion), just less physical maturity. Oglevie would fair just fine in his own end in this tournament/league and brings a scoring touch to the line with a couple playmakers.
Cederqvist – Huglen – Murray
This line I’d put out specifically to hound opposing defensemen and cause turnovers. Cederqvist and Huglen can provide energy getting after defensemen below the dots, causing turnovers. Then, use Murray’s size and touch in front when you get the puck to the net off those turnovers.
I know everyone is moving away from the dump and chase to carrying the puck into the offensive zone, which is fine I support that, but you can’t completely abandon chipping the puck in and generating chances off of turnovers.
That should not be your bread and butter as a team, but if a line can excel at this, that’s just another element to this lineup that would frustrate opponents.
I think Sabres fans soured on this concept because over the past 8 years, when a Sabre would dump a puck, they’d never retrieve it. It was a free pass to the other team to start their breakout.
That shouldn’t happen against this line. Cederqvist isn’t shy about getting in on the forecheck for what limited video and live action I’ve seen him in. Huglen can contribute on the forecheck as well as hounding loose pucks. Shoutout to Austin for getting these clips that show Huglen can really hound the puck.
I’ve had some issues with the GIFs playing, so if you’re having trouble playing it, click anywhere on the text of the tweet and it’ll pull up a new page. My hope is it’ll work when a webpage is opened and if not, I apologize for the technical issues. Just know Huglen is a puck hound on the forecheck, forcing defenseman to get rid of the puck.
Pilut – Jokiharju
The Pilot and The Joker. That’s all I have to say about this pairing.
No, but seriously, watching these two would be a treat. They’re both crafty puck movers and use their feet well to get themselves into adventageous positions. As two guys that both played over 500 minutes of NHL minutes last season, you know what that means: Charts!
As you can see, Pilut faired average at the very least in all facets and while Jokiharju had a few falters, he was part of a whole bunch more shots for than against.
Jacob Bryson – Will Borgen
Here’s a pairing I could see together in Rochester this season. Bryson is an undersized, puck moving defenseman and Will Borgen is a smooth skating, physical defensive defenseman. He moves the puck just fine and has the skating ability to recover for a partner who could get caught trying to create offense. He looks more and more like the prototypical modern-day defensive defenseman with each passing season.
A stay at home defender while the other roams a bit, that’s what we saw when Dahlin – Borgen was a pair last year and they faired very well. That being said, it’s Rasmus Dahlin. I’d be more surprised if those two struggled rather than exceeded expectations.
Oh and if anyone wants to take any liberties on a smaller defenseman like Bryson, I have a feeling Borgen won’t have an issue throwing hands. Here’s last year’s whooping of Al MacInnis’ son, Ryan.
Johnson – Laaksonen
This is probably the most intriguing pairing of the three, mostly because there are plenty of options. Casey Fitzgerald could slot in here, so could Mattias Samuelsson even though I’m not as high on him. Heck, Miska Kukkonen could make an apperance too, but there is something specific I’m going for with these two:
Breakup offensive chances for the other team and get the puck out of the defensive zone cleanly.
Sabres fans have become more in tune with the abilities of Oskari Laaksonen after GM Jason Botterill went off most, if not all, draft boards to pick the Finn in the 3rd round of the 2017 draft.
He’s a poised puck mover who will use his legs to get himself in a position to make a crisp outlet pass. He’s crafty and agile, which makes getting pucks up to your forwards easier.
As for Johnson, I highly recommend watching the video below. This deep dive shows he excels at breaking up breakouts and rushes, while his skating and breakout passes are part of the better facets of his game.
Both Johnson and Laaksonen are pace controlling, calm demeanor defenseman that can be the 3rd or 4th assists on goals. Things like that don’t show up on the score sheet, but it’s vitally important to creating and keeping an attacking flow against opposing defenses.
Not much of a surprise, right? To me, Ukko-Pekka Lukkonen is the best goalie prospect that hasn’t played in the NA pros yet (NHL or AHL). This title will likely be taken over by Spencer Knight once UPL joins Rochester, or Elmira if they want to get him more starts than backing up Andrew Hammond. He was the best goalie in the OHL and lead the Sudbury Wolves to the biggest year-to-year turn around in Wolves history.
This isn’t a shot at Jonas Johansson as much as it’s wanting to see Portillo play games before he goes back overseas for a couple years. He’s even bigger than UPL (6’6″ compared to 6’4″) and he absolutely torched the SuperElit, the top junior league in Sweden.
Portillo was drafted a year after he became draft eligible, but his 1.99 GAA and .931 save percentage speak for themselves. He’ll head to Dubuque in the USHL before heading to the University of Michigan for the 2020-2021 season.
Below you can see a little mashup of highlights where Portillo looks pretty good. JT has all the prospects in the chain if watching all of the 2019 draft picks highlights is up your alley.
As always, we greatly appreciate the support and look forward to a fantastic year of hockey and content!