The puck has dropped for regular season action in Sweden’s professional leagues, and a trio of Buffalo Sabres prospects played a role last week in keying their teams to victories.
Victor Olofsson (2014, seventh round) got his sophomore Swedish Hockey League season off on the right foot Thursday, racing to fill a lane and finishing off a pretty passing play for his team’s only goal as MODO was defeated by Orebro HK 4-1. Olofsson kept at it on Saturday, darting beneath the goal line to win a puck battle with the goaltender and sliding a pass to the crease to create for a third-period tally as MODO held on for a 5-4 victory over Karlskrona HK.
Olofsson will be relied upon to bring speed and shooting skill down the right side of MODO’s top scoring line. The 20-year-old trigger man scored 10 times last season for MODO, including a team-best four while on the power play, before finishing the year with a loan to Timra IK of the second tier HockeyAllsvenskan and a stint with MODO’s J20 SuperElit squad.
Gustav Possler (2013, fifth round) kicked off another tour of duty with MODO, skating without a point in Thursday’s opening night loss to Orebro HK before notching one assist in Saturday’s triumph over Karlskrona HK. Possler’s game continues to evolve with the historic MODO program, with the hard-working winger being used in a checking line capacity to start on the heels of a nine-goal, 21-point output a season ago.
Goaltender Jonas Johansson (2014, third round) won both of his starts last week, capped with a 29-save performance Saturday to guide Almtuna IS to a 3-1 victory over VIK Vasteras HK. On Tuesday, Johansson made 20 saves for his first win of the year in a 2-1 decision over Leksands IF. Johansson, who has been loaned by Brynas IF to the Hockey Allsvenskan club for the entire 2015-16 season, has amassed a 1.68 GAA and .934 save% through his first three starts.
CANADIAN HOCKEY LEAGUE PREVIEW
With the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League already in full gear and regular season play set to begin Thursday for both the Ontario Hockey League and Western Hockey League, the Sabres’ six Canadian junior prospects could soon be re-assigned to their home clubs following their stay in NHL training camp.
|(Photo Credit: Bill Wippert) |
Brendan Guhle (2015, second round) has made waves with his superior skating game, and many believe it’ll be that dominant trait that will propel him to a different level in 2015-16. Despite signing his entry-level contract with the Sabres in July, the 18-year-old rearguard cannot be assigned to the American Hockey League, so he’ll be back with the WHL’s Prince Albert Raiders if he does not make the Sabres roster.
Guhle, who executed excellently en route to collecting one assist at the Prospects Challenge, scored five goals and 32 points last season while appearing in all 72 games for the Raiders. Guhle was overlooked for Hockey Canada’s World Junior Showcase in August, but the tools are in place that could see him quickly emerge as an elite backend workhorse, and ultimately earn consideration for December’s Selection Camp for the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship in Helsinki, Finland.
Like Guhle, fellow defenseman Brycen Martin (2014, third round) will be charged to play a leading role for an up-and-coming WHL squad. Unlike Guhle, Martin has yet to secure a contract with the Sabres.
Martin came to life last season with the re-building Saskatoon Blades following a January trade from Swift Current, notching five goals and 22 points in 30 games with his new club while earning top-pair minutes with his simple, well-rounded style.
The Blades coaching staff has demonstrated a high rate of confidence in Martin. He’ll again be counted on to lead the way in all situations and eclipse his career high of 38 points in what could be his final year of junior hockey.
Defenseman Devante Stephens (2015, fifth round) will return to Kelowna following a solid developmental campaign that culminated with the Rockets’ ride to the Memorial Cup. A year ago, Stephens was eased into an important role playing on the top defensive pair alongside standout Madison Bowey (WAS).
This season, Stephens will be the most experienced member of a young Rockets blue line corps. Expectations will certainly be elevated at both ends of the rink for the still somewhat raw Stephens, who posted four goals, 11 points and a plus-17 rating a season ago.
Following the completion of his first NHL training camp, crafty centerman Giorgio Estephan (2015, sixth round) will target a hot start to his third WHL season with the Lethbridge Hurricanes.
Estephan made quite a New Year’s resolution last season, scoring 19 of his 23 goals in 34 games after Jan. 1 to cement his place on the NHL scouting radar. Full recovery from foot surgery, a change behind the bench and juggled linemates fueled Estephan’s second-half production.
This year, he’ll arrive with added quickness and experience that should lead to a significant uptick from his 51-point total for a Hurricanes squad looking to qualify for the Eastern Conference playoffs for the first time since 2008-09.
Vaclav Karabacek (2014, second round) is slated to return to the Baie-Comeau Drakkar, where he’ll be expected to provide an immediate, consistent impact as the team’s top line right-winger. The coming season provides plenty of motivation for Karabacek.
Not only is he vying for his first NHL contract from the Sabres, but Karabacek is also eyeing a spot on the Czech Republic’s roster for the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship.
Karabacek fell short of his prior year’s statistics in all offensive categories last season, finishing with 17 goals and 40 points in 59 appearances between the Drakkar and the Gatineau Olympiques, so he’ll need to leverage his blend of soft hands, straight-line speed and grit on a nightly basis to achieve all of his personal goals.
Peterborough Petes forward Eric Cornel (2014, second round) will resume his Ontario Hockey League career with eyes on a rebound after an uneven 2014-15 campaign.
Cornel, who last season collected 52 points (14+38) and a minus-22 rating for the struggling Petes, will be counted on for veteran leadership and a return to form that saw him collect 25 goals in his draft year.
The Petes will ice a roster with an inexperienced group of forwards, giving Cornel every opportunity to show that he can be a consistent prime time player in his pursuit of earning an entry-level NHL contract from the Sabres.
Check back Thursday for a preview of what to expect from the NCAA players in the Sabres system.
For more on all the youngsters in the Sabres pipeline, check out Kris Baker’s website, SabresProspects.com. You can also follow him on Twitter (@SabresProspects) for in-game updates throughout the week on any Buffalo prospects that are in action.