Buffalo Sabres Top Prospects 2020
Top 10 prospects in the organization
Lots has changed in the Sabres top prospect rankings, the team added 18 prospects to their pool at the last draft. This year I ranked the prospects in tiers, there were no players in tier 1 which is reserved for franchise level prospects. There were 3 players ranked in the next category and 6 players in the next tier. That left me with a large list to choose from for the 10th spot, for that spot I've highlighted one player but it could have easily been a handful of others in that spot like D+1 standouts Mattias Norlinder or Zachary Jones.
Let's get to the top 10:
1. Alex Turcotte C 5’11” 185 lbs age 19 – University of Wisconsin Badgers (NCAA)
Turcotte has signed his ELC with the Kings in the NHL after a lackluster freshman season with the Badgers in the NCAA. He started & ended his season strong, with a nagging injury in between that may have affected his game. It was also reported the locker room had some issues with player personalities and a player friendly coach who couldn’t get the players to buy into his system. The list of strengths is long which includes his playmaking ability, strong skating despite an awkward stride, and attention to details when defending. He could use some polishing on his skating stride, and he needs to work on his zone exits.
Potential: 1st line two-way center / NHL style comparison: Ryan O’Reilly
Acquired: 7th overall 2020 BRHL Draft
2. Gabriel Vilardi C 6’3” 201 lbs age 21 – Los Angeles Kings (NHL)
Vilardi hadn’t played a meaningful hockey game since 2018 when he flashed his skills in the OHL playoffs, taking a mediocre Kingston team deep. After this past season, we can stop wondering what a healthy Vilardi looks like at the next level. He put up 0.78 PPG in the AHL and when called up for 10 NHL games, put up 0.70 PPG including scoring his first NHL goal, on his first shift on his first shot. He regularly looked like the best player on the ice in those games, showing off his creative stick work, playmaking skills and causing the defenders to have fits trying to handle him down low. The Kings have had him working with their skating coach to try and improve his first steps, that’s the biggest weakness in his game currently. I've seen John Tavares listed as a style comparison, but that seems to make fans of JT angry, remember this is style only.
Potential: 1st line playmaking power center / NHL style comparison: Mark Stone/Marian Hossa
Acquired: 8th overall 2018 BRHL Draft
3. Evan Bouchard D 6’3” 194 lbs age 20 – Bakersfield Condors (AHL)
Some people had penciled Bouchard into the Oilers defensive pairings this past season, then were shocked by the demotion to the AHL. It’s probably a smart move for his development, he has great offensive instincts and an NHL ready shot from the point but needs to work on his defensive play in his own end and his skating needs improvement. He looked good as promised in the AHL as he tied for the 2nd most points on his team. His skating didn’t seem to improve too much but it didn’t hold him back any as he produced just fine. One thing that sticks out a lot is his decision making, he’s great at picking his moments to pinch or retreat.
Potential: Top 4 offensive Dman, #1 PP QB / NHL style comparison: Brent Burns
Acquired: 11th overall 2019 BRHL Draft
4. Joseph Veleno C 6’1” 194 lbs age 20 – Grand Rapids Griffins (AHL)
Veleno struggled early in the AHL adjusting to the pro game, he struggled with his defensive game and wasn’t given much from the coaching staff until that side of his game came around. That appeared to be the case when he returned from his loan to Team Canada in the WJC this past year. He’s a strong skater who shows a good commitment defensive play. He’ll need to show he has the offensive upside to play in a big role in the NHL.
Potential: 2nd line two-way center / NHL style comparison: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
Acquired: 19th overall 2018 BRHL Draft
5. Nils Hoglander LW 5’9” 190 lbs age 19 – Rogle BK (SHL)
Nils was poised to make the journey to North America for this upcoming season, but with no AHL season in sight he was loaned back to Rogle BK in the SHL. He’ll continue to give competition fits in Sweden as he is an aggressive player despite his small stature. He was also viewed as one of the more skilled players in his draft class with good skating, slick hands in traffic, and good playmaking vision. This is a good opportunity for him to further round out his game.
Potential: Top 6 agitating winger / NHL style comparison: Brad Marchand
Acquired: 25th overall 2020 BRHL Draft
6. Ian Mitchell D 5’11” 174 lbs age 21 – University of Denver Pioneers
The small defender has been honing his craft the last 3 seasons in the NCAA for the Pioneers prior to signing his ELC this season with the NHL’s Blackhawks. He’s improved his shot from the point this season as evidenced by his career high of 10 goals, he’s also been fantastic at moving the puck this year too. He’s really shown a commitment this year to making smarter decisions without the puck and keeping his stick active and in the lanes. He won’t be relied on to shutdown competition, but he has shown he isn’t a liability on the back end.
Potential: Top 4 offensive dman / NHL style comparison: Jared Spurgeon
Acquired: Traded from Oilers – Ian Mitchell, WPG 1st 2020 (Nils Hoglander) & EDM 7th 2020 (Trent Miner) for Rasmus Ristolainen & Cash
7. Lassi Thomson D 6’0” 190 lbs age 19 – Ilves (Liiga)
Some damn fine Dmen have been drafted out of Kelowna, the Sabres are hoping they have another to add to the list in Thomson. He spent last season back in Finland playing against men, where he more than held his own. He’s a great puck mover, makes smart choices on the breakout and is great at holding/walking the line in the offensive zone. He has a booming point shot but he’ll need to hone that to continue his offensive production into the NHL.
Potential: Top 4 two-way dman / NHL style comparison: Filip Hronek
Acquired: Traded from Ottawa – Matt Duchene, D’Artagnan Joly, Jonathan Dahlen, OTT 1st 2020 (Lassi Thomson) & OTT 7th 2020 (Axel Bergkvist) for Sidney Crosby
8. John Beecher C/LW 6’3” 209 lbs age 19 – University of Michigan Wolverines (NCAA)
The Wolverines were a tire fire this past season, but that shouldn’t last long with the injection of talent headed their way. That means we should get to see Beecher on a much improved team. He skates very well for a big guy, is great at utilizing his teammates, and uses his size well to protect the puck. He’s been a mixed bag defensively, he was viewed as a two-way player in his draft year but then showed a lack of commitment to the defensive side of the game in his first season in the NCAA. He’s definitely a project the Sabres love to have in their system.
Potential: Middle 6 offensive winger / NHL style comparison: David Backes
Acquired: 39th overall 2020 BRHL Draft
9. Alexander Khovanov C 5’11” 198 lbs age 20 – Moncton Wildcats (QMJHL)
Khovanov was loaned to AK Bars Kazan in the KHL since the AHL is currently in limbo. There is an out clause to come back for the next NHL season but that will be a wait and see situation, it may be smart to let him stay in the KHL the full year. Khovanov has the ability to slow the game down to his pace, he has a quick & accurate shot and has fantastic playmaking ability. There was a knock on his skating during his draft year, which scared away some teams, but his skating doesn’t appear to be holding him back.
Potential: Middle 6 playmaking center / NHL style comparison: Evgeny Kuznetsov
Acquired: 80th overall 2019 BRHL Draft
10. Jesse Ylonen RW 6’1” 172 lbs age 20 – Pelicans (Liiga)
Ylonen only seems to have 1 gear, and that’s all out. He plays the game with speed and thrives on a transition game. He was drafted for his goal scoring abilities but has been rounding out his playmaking against men in Finland. He was set to make his way to North America this off-season but due to the current circumstances he’ll probably be back in Finland where he’ll continue to fill out his lanky frame and hone his offensive game.
Potential: Top 9 speedy winger / NHL style comparison: Oliver Bjorkstrand
Acquired: 23rd overall 2019 BRHL Draft