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Sabres hope top 10 prospects lead successful rebuild

by Adam Kimelman

Buffalo Sabres general manager Tim Murray was a busy man the first week of August, with top prospects taking part in national junior evaluation camps in Montreal and Lake Placid, N.Y.

Those camps had teams from six nations and featured nine potential future Sabres with opportunities to play for their respective countries at the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship.

"It's the future," Murray told "It shows you the depth we have in the organization. If they all do the right things going forward, they have the chance to be National Hockey League players. It's exciting. It shows that we do have some high-end young talent in the organization."

Here's a look at the Sabres' top 10 prospects, according to

1. Sam Reinhart, C

How acquired: 1st round (No. 2), 2014 draft

Last season: 60 GP, 36-69-105, Kootenay, WHL

The Sabres certainly like the skill shown by the 6-foot-1, 185-pound forward who finished fourth in the Western Hockey League in points last season, averaged nearly two points per game in 13 games during the WHL playoffs, played for Canada at the 2014 IIHF World Junior Championship and also was invited to training camp for Canada for the 2014 IIHF World Championship. But what they really like is the off-the-chart hockey sense shown by the 18-year-old.

"He's a high-end talent and also extremely intelligent," Murray said. "That's what you see shift to shift, the intelligence. Some shifts it doesn't work with the puck, other shifts it does. But you see he's always on the right side of the puck. He's always around the puck. That's why he has the puck so much; not because of his high-end skill, but he knows where to go to get the puck, he knows where to go when he has the puck. He's an extremely intelligent hockey player."

Projected NHL arrival: 2014-15

2. Nikita Zadorov, D

How acquired: 1st round (No. 16), 2013 draft

Last season: 36 GP, 11-19-30, plus-30, London, OHL

Zadorov started last season with the Sabres, but after scoring one goal in seven games while averaging 17:10 of ice time he was returned to his junior team for another season of development. An imposing 6-5 and 220 pounds, the 19-year-old still needs to improve his defensive-zone play if he wants to stick in Buffalo this season.

"He just keeps getting bigger and stronger, that's the obvious thing," Murray said. "His offensive game is tremendous. He can really shoot the puck, he can lug the puck up the ice. He can do a lot of things offensively. We just have to get him maybe a little more responsible defensively. When you make mistakes at the NHL level defensively you see the bench. When you do that in junior hockey and you're a dominant player in junior, you're going to be reminded of the mistake but you'll be out there the next shift. Offensively he's got all the tools. I have no doubt that defensively he's going to be a real good player down the road. As with most young defensemen, the defensive side of the game is hard. That's coaching, that's taking some pride defensively than offensively, and then it all comes together at some point."

Projected NHL arrival: 2014-15

3. Hudson Fasching, RW

How acquired: Trade (Los Angeles Kings), March 5, 2014

Last season: 40 GP, 14-16-30, Minnesota, BIG TEN

The 6-2, 213-pound power forward had a strong start to his college career, which also included an impressive stint for the United States at the 2014 WJC with two goals and four points in five games. He'll return for another season with the Gophers and again likely play for the U.S. at the 2015 WJC.

Murray, who traded defenseman Brayden McNabb to the Los Angeles Kings for Fasching and forward Nicolas Deslauriers, said what impresses him most about the 19-year-old is his work ethic.

"It's hard to work hard for some people," Murray said. "It's not hard for him to work hard. … He's a huge net presence at all times in the offensive zone. He can be more than that, but that's what he is. He knows where to go. Where are you going to score goals in the National Hockey League? You're going to score them around the net. He's a big net presence. He gets there; he doesn't get denied going there. He's big and strong and only going to get bigger and stronger. I love his work ethic and I love how when his team gets possession of the puck he's going right to the net and he's causing problems for the [defense] and the goaltending. That's really important in our League at this time.

"We can talk about the talent level, we all know he has that, but he's got a high drive and that's what we're looking for."

Projected NHL arrival: 2017-18

4. Joel Armia, RW

How acquired: 1st round (No. 16), 2011 draft

Last season: 54 GP, 7-20-27, Rochester, AHL

Armia, 21, made his debut in North America last season. He missed time in November with a broken wrist and never found consistency, but he finished strong and was among Rochester's best players in the Calder Cup Playoffs. He led the Sabres' American Hockey League affiliate with six points in five games and tied for the team lead with three goals.

Now the 6-3, 192-pound forward needs to produce in similar fashion for an entire season. Armia most likely will start the season in the AHL, but a strong start could earn him a spot in Buffalo at some point this season.

Projected NHL arrival: 2015-16

5. Jake McCabe, D

How acquired: 2nd round (No. 44), 2012 draft

Last season: 36 GP, 8-17-25, Wisconsin, BIG TEN

The Sabres signed the 6-0, 175-pound defenseman after he finished his third college season and the 20-year-old got into seven games with the Sabres late in the season. He had one assist while averaging 15:12 of ice time per game, and finished his season by playing eight games for the U.S. at the 2014 World Championship.

McCabe will have a chance to play an entire season in Buffalo in 2014-15.

"He shows a lot of poise," Murray said. "He's got a lot of ability with the puck. The defensive game, as every young kid … it's refining that part of the game. It's not taking offensive chances until you know that everything behind you is ready if you do turn the puck over; that's a defenseman maturing. But I like his poise, I like his skill set. He's going to play on the power play someday at the big-league level. He's a talented kid."

Projected NHL arrival: 2014-15

6. J.T. Compher, LW

How acquired: 2nd round (No. 35), 2013 draft

Last season: 35 GP, 11-20-31, Michigan, BIG TEN

The 19-year-old left wing has gone from a child model to a model pest and top prospect. The 6-0, 182-pound forward had an outstanding freshman collegiate season and likely would have played for the United States at the 2014 WJC had he not been injured blocking a shot during the team's final training camp.

Barring injury he'll be on the U.S. team for the 2015 tournament, and could be captain; he took a leadership role during the evaluation camp in early August. He also displayed a pesky attitude on the ice that has the Sabres intrigued by his potential.

"He's got a high-end work ethic," Murray said. "He's a pest to play against. He likes to get under the other team's skin. He feels that's his niche, and that's nothing but positive. I like the fact that he's involved in every scrum. I like the fact that guys get [angry] at him, guys are chasing him around the ice a little bit because of the way he treats them on the ice and the way he plays. He's a very driven guy also."

Projected NHL arrival: 2016-17

7. Nicholas Baptiste, RW

How acquired: 3rd round (No. 69), 2013 draft

Last season: 65 GP, 45-44-89, Sudbury, OHL

The 6-0, 196-pound forward has raised his offensive numbers each of the past two seasons, and in 2013-14 he led Sudbury in goals and points and had a team-best five points in five Ontario Hockey League playoff games. Baptiste also earned an invitation to a Hockey Canada summer junior evaluation camp in Montreal, putting him in the running for a spot with Canada at the 2015 WJC.

"Talented kid, he can skate," Murray said. "He's got a high-end skill set. He can really shoot the puck. He's an opportunist on the ice; when he sees an opening or a loose puck, he pounces on it. He can pounce on a puck and take it to the net and produce points. There are parts of his game he needs to get better at, defensively … [but] you can't teach talent, you can't teach offensive ability to some degree. He's an opportunist, he loves to score, he's athletic, and that's what we're looking for in our organization."

Projected NHL arrival: 2017-18

8. Linus Ullmark, G

How acquired: 6th round (No. 163), 2012 draft

Last season: 35 GP, 2.08 GAA, .931 save percentage, Modo, SWE

The 6-3, 200-pound goaltender had a tremendous season in Sweden, his first as a full-time player in the Swedish Hockey League. The 21-year-old led the league with a .931 save percentage and was named its best goaltender. He was on the roster for Sweden's run to a bronze medal at the 2014 World Championship, but did not play in a game.

Murray said the plan for Ullmark is to play one more season in Sweden and then come to North America.

"He was tremendous in our development camp," Murray said. "Big goalie, very sound technically. Good athleticism, good skill set. He was very impressive."

Projected NHL arrival: 2017-18

9. Jonas Johansson, G

How acquired: 3rd round (No. 61), 2014 draft

Last season: 23 GP, 2.32 GAA, .911 save percentage, Brynas Jr., SWE-JR

The 6-foot-4, 198-pound goaltender had a strong season in Sweden's junior league and earned a promotion to Brynas' team in the SHL; in four games he had a 2.96 goals-against average and .914 save percentage. Johansson won a silver medal with Sweden at the 2014 WJC, but was the third goalie and did not get into a game. He could be the starter for the team for the 2015 WJC.

Like Ullmark, the Sabres will be patient with Johansson, including having him stay for at least one more season in Sweden.

"I can't guarantee that either one of them [Ullmark or Johansson] are going to be starters, but they are on the right path that a lot of goalies I've seen become starters," Murray said. "They're on that path; they just have to continue to work hard, and play at a high level, which they do."

Projected NHL arrival: 2018-19

10. Brendan Lemieux, LW

How acquired: 2nd round (No. 31), 2014 draft

Last season: 65 GP, 27-26-53, 145 penalty minutes, Barrie, OHL

The Sabres picked the 6-0, 206-pound son of four-time Stanley Cup champion Claude Lemieux for his mix of skill and feistiness. He was second on his team in goals and third in points during the regular season, and then the 18-year-old had a team-best seven goals in 11 Ontario Hockey League playoff games.

"We like the style of game he plays," Murray said. "He plays a chippy, intimidating style, but in saying that he's not a one-dimensional player. He can score goals, he can shoot the puck. He goes to the net, he goes to the dirty areas. We like the whole package. He's probably a unique player in this draft and he's unique a player out of the guys we drafted. He's got a lot of jam, but he can play the game."

Projected NHL arrival: 2017-18


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