2019 Buffalo Sabres Prospect Pyramid

If you’re not familiar with this style of ranking, Steve Dangle of SportsNet came up with this concept a few years back where as opposed to straight up ranking players, you place them in tiers. I like the idea so over the past few years I’ve put out my own pyramid for Buffalo’s prospects. So without further ado, here’s Buffalo’s prospect pyramid for 2019.

Additions: F Dylan Cozens, D Ryan Johnson, G Erik Portillo, F Aaron Huglen, F Filip Cederqvist, F Lukas Rousek, F Arttu Ruotsalainen and D Henri Jokiharju

Subtractions: F Alex Nylander, D Brendan Guhle, F Chris Brown, D Ivan Chukarov, and F Max Willman

Graduates: D Rasmus Dahlin, F Casey Mittelstadt, C.J. Smith, and F Tage Thompson

Tier 1 – Special prospects

Nobody

Rasmus Dahlin was the only Sabres prospect to occupy tier one last year, and for good reason. Although I believe that the Sabres have a very strong pipeline of prospects after a few good drafts under Jason Botterill, they don’t have anyone who I would classify as a special prospect.

Tier 2 – Elite prospects

Dylan Cozens
C
2019 round 1 #7 overall
Lethbridge Hurricanes (WHL)
68GP 34G 50A 84PTS
NHL arrival – 2020-2021

Dylan Cozens was a somewhat controversial selection with the seventh overall pick in this year’s NHL draft. Sabres fans wanted Cole Caufield or Trevor Zegras which was understandable as they are both fantastic prospects. But the Sabres opted to go for the big two way centerman in Cozens, which was a massive need after the departure of Ryan O’Reilly.

Cozens is far and away the best prospect in the organization and that’s why he’s the only one to sit in the “elite prospect” category. After suffering a hand injury in development camp, he wasn’t able to participate in the World Junior Summer Showcase which was very disappointing, but I expect that he’ll play in a big role for team Canada at the upcoming World Junior Championship.

With the acquisitions of Marcus Johansson and Jimmy Vesey coupled with the fact that Jason Botterill has yet to trim the fat off the roster up front, the odds are pretty low that Cozens would crack the opening night roster. He probably wouldn’t look out of place if he made the team out of camp but staying in Lethbridge for another year and dominating the WHL and possibly winning a World Junior gold medal would be best for his development in the long run.

Cozens likely will step in as Buffalo’s third line center for the 2020-2021 season, I could also see a scenario where they ease him into the NHL on the wing as well though. I’m a big believer in Cozens, and fans should be excited about him.

Tier 3 – High end prospects

Ryan Johnson
D
2019 round 1 #31 overall
Sioux Falls Stampede (USHL)
54GP 6G 19A 25PTS

NHL arrival – 2021-2022

Ryan Johnson was a player who really impressed me at development camp last month. He’s a fantastic skater who is going to be able to move the puck well and will play in all situations at the next level.

Johnson was viewed as a safe pick by some after the pick was announced but I disagree with that idea. People will look at his stat line from the USHL which is underwhelming for sure but when you watch him play, you can see that he has more to give offensively. It’s pretty clear that Johnson has a lot of skill, coupled with his skating and passing ability, the points should come.

Johnson will play for the University of Minnesota next season and I expect that he will play a big role for them as they’re trying to get back to the level that you’d expect Minnesota to be after the past couple years of disappointment for them. He’s also expected to be on the U.S. World Junior team, where I think he will also play a big role for them after an impressive showing at the World Junior Summer Showcase.

Johnson is probably two years away from playing in the NHL. Expect that he’ll play two years in college, or one year at Minnesota and then a year in Rochester. I really think that Johnson will be a player that Sabres fans will fall in love with once he reaches the NHL.

Henri Jokiharju
D
2017 round 1 #29 overall (CHI)
Chicago Blackhawks (NHL)
38GP 0G 12A 12PTS
NHL arrival – 2019-2020

Henri Jokiharju was arguably the biggest acquisition by the Sabres this offseason as they acquired the Finnish defenseman from the Chicago Blackhawks for Alex Nylander.

For whatever reason, Jokiharju fell out of favor in the Blackhawks organization after an impressive stint in the NHL at the beginning of last season. Joel Quenneville was a huge fan of Jokiharju and when he was fired, Jokiharju’s role with the team was reduced and eventually ended up in Rockford of the AHL.

Jokiharju also won a gold medal at the World Junior Championship with Finland with fellow Sabres prospects Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen and Oskari Laaksonen.

Now you would expect that Jokiharju would play with the Sabres to start the season but that may not happen just because they just have way too many defensemen. On the right side alone they have Colin Miller, Brandon Montour, Rasmus Ristolainen, Zach Bogosian, and Casey Nelson, all of which would have to pass through waivers. Jokiharju is waiver exempt and would be able to be sent to Rochester until there is room for him. So unless Rasmus Ristolainen is dealt before the start of the season, it looks like Jokiharju will be spending a little time in Rochester.

Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen
G
2017 round 2 #54 overall
Sudbury Wolves (OHL)
53GP .932 SVS% 1.80 GAA
NHL arrival – 2021-2022

Sabres fans are starving for a franchise goaltender as the goaltending position has been pretty mediocre since Ryan Miller was traded in 2014. Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen has given Sabres fans hope that he could be the starting goalie if the future after his terrific season with the Sudbury Wolves last season, as he was named the OHL’s top player which is a huge honor for a goaltender.

Luukkonen had offseason hip surgery which will more likely than not keep him out of training camp and a small chunk of the beginning of Rochester’s season. I’m not really sure what their plan is for Luukkonen in Rochester. I don’t think they’re going to make him the starter right off the bat as they have Andrew Hammond there as his mentor. But by season’s end, it would be ideal if he would be able to take the starting job from the veteran goaltender.

There is a ton of hype for UPL but I really think fans need to pump the brakes a little bit, he’s undoubtedly a great prospect but we all need to be reminded that goalies take time to develop. It could be 3-4 years before he competes for the starting job in Buffalo, so it’s important in the mean time to put him in a good situation in Rochester and put him in a situation to succeed. And it already looks like they’re doing that by bolstering their defense and bringing in a veteran in Hammond to compete with him.

Luukkonen has all of the tools to be an elite goalie at the NHL level but it’ll just take time to see if he can live up to that potential.

Tier 4 – Very good prospects

Victor Olofsson
LW/RW
2014 round 7 #181 overall
Rochester Americans (AHL)
66GP 30G 33A 63PTS
NHL arrival – 2019-2020

Victor Olofsson somehow exceeded extremely high expectations in his first pro season in North America in 2018-29. Putting up 30 goals in the AHL is a big accomplishment and it looks like he’s going to get a legitimate chance to be in Buffalo on a full time basis this season. Olofsson played a handful of games with the Sabres at the end of last season and didn’t look out of place at all. He even scored a couple cince goals, showcasing his elite shot. Hopefully it’s a sign of things to come. Olofsson could get an opportunity to play in the top six, him and Jack Eichel could make some noise this year. If that’s the case, I could see Olofsson getting 20-25 goals.

Lawrence Pilut
D
Undrafted
Rochester Americans (AHL)
30GP 4G 22A 26PTS
NHL Arrival – 2019-2020

Lawrence Pilut will too likely be affected by the logjam on defense, similarly to Henri Jokiharju. Pilut split time in Buffalo and Rochester last season and when he was with the Sabres, I thought he was one of their best defensemen. But he quickly fell into Phil Housley’s dog house and got a fat demotion to Rochester. But with the amount of defensemen on the team like Rasmus Dahlin, Jake McCabe, Marco Scandella, and even Matt Hunwick, coupled with the fact that he’s recovering from surgery and could miss the start of the season, odds are pretty good he starts out in Rochester.

If they decide to hold onto Rasmus Ristolainen, I’d like to see Pilut paired with him. They got a little time together last season and I thought that Pilut may have been the best partner for Ristolainen throughout his entire career. So if they hold onto him, that’s a pair that I would like to see if they can make room for Pilut down the road.

Mattias Samuelsson
D
2018 round 2 #32 overall
Western Michiagn Univ. (NCAA)
35GP 5G 7A 12PTS
NHL arrival – 2021-2022

I have been very critical of the pick of Mattias Samuelsson. There were better players on the board for sure like Bode Wilde, but I do think Samuelsson is a very safe bet to be an NHL player. He had a pretty horrendous showing at the World Juniors last year, he needs to have a better showing this Winter. Samuelsson is not a good skater and he’s just very slow.

Watching him and Ryan Johnson on the ice at the same time at development camp, there was just a night and day difference between the two players. With the addition of Johnson in the system, Samuelsson should absolutely become a trade chip to bring in some help on the roster. The Sabres have spent the last three years stacking up their defense prospects and they obviously can’t keep all of them, so why not trade Samuelsson who has the most value in a trade besides Johnson? Seems like a no brainer to me but I know the Sabres really like him.

Samuelsson does offer a physical presence and is pretty sound defensively though. I will say this, I don’t think he’s that far off from playing in the NHL, just because he is so physically mature. But he is setting himself up to be the next Marco Scandella.

Oskari Laaksonen
D
2017 round 3 #89 overall
Ilves (Liiga)
46GP 3G 21A 24PTS
NHL arrival – 2021-2022

Oskari Laaksonen was a complete mystery player when he was selected in the third round of the 2017 NHL draft. Since then, Laaksonen has proven that he’s a real NHL prospect. He played with Luukkonen and Jokiharju on the Finnish World Junior team that won the gold medal and he along with Jokiharju, were probably the two best defensemen on that team. Laaksonen has the speed, skill, and smarts to play in the NHL sooner rather than later but he recently signed a two year contract with Ilves in Finland, so it’ll be a few years until we see him in Buffalo, as he could possibly play a year in Rochester before making the jump to the NHL. For Laaksonen, I’d like to see him continue to get stronger and work on his shot, he has the tools to be a really nice defenseman at the NHL level.

Tier 5 – Legit NHL prospects

Jacob Bryson
D
2017 round 4 #99 overall
Providence College (NCAA)
42G 4G 24A 28PTS
NHL arrival – 2021-2022

I’m very excited to watch Jacob Bryson play for Rochester next season. He was one of if not the best players to play at Providence College over the last couple of seasons and it was a goo thing that the Sabres were able to sign him to avoid potentially losing him as an unrestricted free agent next year, which would’ve been his senior season. One comparison that is brought up for Bryson is Torey Krug and I don’t think it’s that cray to compare those two. Bryson reminds me a lot of Krug when he was in college and I don’t think he’s really that far away from being ready for the NHL, it’s just a matter of getting a chance when there’s already so many players ahead of him in the organization on defense. Nate Leaman, who is the head coach at Providence, even called Bryson the best defenseman that he’s ever coached which is very high praise.

Check out a piece I wrote on Bryson for WGR550.Com at the link below

https://wgr550.radio.com/articles/news/bryson-ready-compete-ncaa-title-buffalo

Rasmus Asplund
C
2016 round 2 #33 overall
Rochester Americans (AHL)
75GP 10G 31A 41PTS
NHL arrival – 2020-2021

Rasmus Asplund had an impressive first season in Rochester last year, more so in the second half of the season. Watching Rochester, you could see the chemistry that Asplund and Olofsson had together so I think it would be nice to see them on a line together in the NHL at some point. Asplund could probably step into the Sabres lineup this season but because players like Larsson and Girgensons were brought back for another year, it’s nearly impossible for Asplund to make the team out of camp. But I do believe that Asplund will get some NHL games this year as one of the first call ups, and he should be a full time player in Buffalo after another year in Rochester. Look for Asplund to be a replacement for Larsson and Girgensons who can play on the penalty kill and be a good bottom six centerman.

Marcus Davidsson
C
2017 round 2 #37 overall
Djurgardens IF (SHL)
52GP 10G 17A 27PTS
NHL arrival – 2021-2022

Marcus Davidsson unfortunately will be spending another year in Sweden but at the end of the day, it may be best for his development. Davidsson will be leaving Djurgardens for Vaxjo where he is expected to be taking on a bigger role and maybe even play in the top six. Davidsson will most likely sign an ELC at the end of the season and then play a year or two in Rochester after that.

He reminds me of Rasmus Asplund a lot, but I really think that Davidsson has more speed and maybe even a higher ceiling. But Davidsson strikes me as a potential trade chip to add a roster player down the road, similarly to Samuelsson.

Like Asplund, I think Davidsson when it’s all said and done, could be a nice bottom six player for the Sabres. He’s another eventual replacement for Girgensons and Larsson.

Will Borgen
D
2015 round 4 #92 overall
Rochester Americans (AHL)
71GP 3G 11A 14PTS
NHL arrival – 2020-2021

Will Borgen got a chance in Buffalo at the end of last season and I thought he didn’t really look out of place but he’s not exactly NHL ready. I believe that another full year in Rochester is best for his development. He can be one of the top defensemen on the Amerks and be one of the first call ups when there’s an injury. As a right handed shot, it’ll be hard for him to get up to Buffalo this season with so many right handed defensemen ahead of him, similar to Jokiharju. Borgen doesn’t really have a lot of offensive upside as he’s more of a stay at home defenseman. His upside is more of a bottom pairing player.

Tier 6 – Has a chance

Linus Cronholm
D
2018 round 4 #117 overall
IK Pantern (Allsvenskan)
36GP 2G 9A 11PTS
NHL arrival – 2022-2023

(Thought about putting him in tier 5 but I just haven’t seen enough of him)

Matej Pekar
C
2018 round 4 #94 overall
Barrie Colts (OHL)
33GP 14G 22A 36PTS
NHL arrival – 2022-2023

Arttu Ruostalainen
LW
Undrafted
Ilves (Liiga)
59GP 21G 21A 42PTS
NHL arrival – 2020-2021

Linus Weissbach
LW
2017 round 7 #192 overall
Univ. of Wisconsin (NCAA)
27GP 8G 17A 25PTS
NHL arrival – 2022-2023

Tier 7 – Everyone else

For this tier, the book is either closed on them ever becoming an NHL player, or they were just drafted and I know next to nothing about them to even put them in a real tier.

F Filip Cederqvist
G Erik Portillo
F Andrew Oglevie
D Brandon Hickey
D Casey Fitzgerald
F Aaron Huglen
D Miska Kukkonen
F Brett Murray
F Lukas Rousek
D Will Worge-Kreu

Follow for more

@TheChargingBUF

@JoeTCBNHL

  1. I disagree with your word choice for the title of these tiers, also with the number of tiers (7?). I think that you could achieve the same level of explanation and offer the same very detailed insights without out fatiguing your reader and belaboring the idea of prospect stratification. Could be as simple as:

    “Top”- projected to be a top 6 forward top four d

    “Mid Range”- projected to be bottom 6 forward bottom pair d

    “Bubble” excellent player for the AHL affiliate and long term call up for injuries

    “Depth” likely to round out AHL roster

    Why over think it?

    Like

    Reply

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