Top Shelf Prospects: Buffalo Sabres

Earlier this week I launched “Top Shelf Prospects” a look at the top prospects for all teams in the NHL. Monday we started with the Anaheim Ducks. And Tuesday we  moved on to the Boston Bruins. Today’s team is of course the Buffalo Sabres.  Since we had an extensive NHL Draft preview, I will not be reviewing the players who were drafted in the 2012 draft, as there have been no games since the draft, and my reports on them will not have changed. What I will be doing is linking you to those articles, as well as taking a look at prospects that were acquired before this year’s draft; their progress, and their chances of making the 2012-13 roster of the NHL team in question. I will also bring you one sleeper pick. A player who was either drafted in the 4th round or later, or was an undrafted free agent signing who I pick as my darkhorse to make the NHL.

2012 Draft Picks Reviewed in our Preview:
Mikhail Grigorenko, Zemgus Girgensons, Jake McCabe,


Top Prospect: Joel Armia, Right Wing
Born May 31 1993 — Pori, Finland
Height 6.03 — Weight 187 — Shoots Right
Drafted 16th Overall in 2011 NHL Draft

 Joel Armia is a natural goal scorer, pure and simple.  He just craves goals, and putting on a show, such as when the young Finn rode his stick on his way past the Swedish bench at the 2012 World Juniors.  Armia is an outstanding stickhandler.  His hands are quick and he is able to dangle past opposing defenders and goalies.  We combine this with a hard accurate shot and quick release, and he is a nightmare for opposing goalies.  It is very hard to tell if he will let the shot go, or make one more move, and before a goalie knows it, the puck is in the back of the net.  He is absolutely lethal on breakaways and shootouts.  Armia does have other offensive talents and can sometimes make good passes to teammates, but his main skill is as a goal scorer.

At 6’3″ Armia has ideal size, but we’d like to see him use it more often.  He’s not overly physical in the corners either in the offensive zone or the defensive end of the ice.  That said he doesn’t shy away from contact, and he is willing to get to the dirty areas of the ice, he just isn’t the type of player who will initiate that contact.   Defensively he is a willing and involved backchecker, and capable two way player.

Armia has good straight line speed, and very good top end speed.  He also has the agility and balance to make the fancy dekes that work so well for him off the rush.  He does however lack a little in first step quickness and acceleration.  This is not to say he is bad in those areas, it just isn’t up to par with the rest of his skating which is excellent.

Armia is still at least a full season away from the NHL, and is likely to play in Finland again next year.  Even if he comes over for the 2013-14 season, he might need some AHL time.  He’s a player the Sabres will be patient with, as his skills will make him worth the wait.


Marcus Foligno, LW,
Born Aug 10 1991 — Buffalo, NY
Height 6.02 — Weight 215 — Shoots Left
Selected by Buffalo Sabres round 4 #104 overall 2009 NHL Entry Draft

As a former fourth round pick, Marcus Foligno could have qualified under my sleeper category.  However after being called up for 14 games for the Sabres last year and scoring 13 points and being named the NHL rookie of the month, he is a sleeper no more.  He also made a name for himself as a very impressive forward with Team Canada at the 2011 World Junior Championships, held in Buffalo.  Marcus is the son of former NHL, and former Sabre, Mike Foligno, and the brother of former Senator turned Columbus Blue Jacket Nick Foligno.

Marcus plays a hard nosed gritty style of two way game that makes his father proud.  He is a tremendous forechecker, and a force along the boards.  He also brings this tenacity and ferocious hitting to the defensive end of the ice.

Offensively he is difficult to handle off the cycle and plays at his best protecting the puck down low.  He has a good shot and release, and is willing to get himself to the dirty areas of the ice to make use of it.  He is adept at getting scoring chances in prime scoring areas.  Foligno also possesses good vision and moves the puck well in the offensive zone.  That said, I don’t expect him to be a near PPG player in the NHL as he was in his first 14 games.

Foligno will probably settles into a role as a physical force, and good two way player on the Sabres second line one day.  For now though he has a good chance to make the team with  a strong training camp, and would form an excellent tandem with newly acquired Steve Ott.


Sleeper Special
Logan Nelson, Centre
Born Sep 9 1993 — Rogers, MN
Height 6.01 — Weight 178 — Shoots Right
Selected by Buffalo Sabres round 5 #133 overall 2012 NHL Entry Draft

Yes, I know, I’m cheating by including a 2012 Draft pick, but Foligno would have been the sleeper if he didn’t go and make a name for himself in the NHL last season.  Plus I didn’t review Nelson in the draft preview, and he was a player who just missed the cut.  As a September 1993 Birthday he was also passed over in the 2011 Draft.

So who is Logan Nelson?  In his draft year, Nelson played for Des Moines in the  USHL and really struggled.  He was a fourth line player with limited ice time and really didn’t stand out.  As such he was not drafted in 2011.  In 2011-12, Nelson moved to the WHL, and played a key role for the Victoria Royals and helped the franchise make the  playoffs in their first season on Vancouver Island.  The young Nelson was an effective 2 way centre and the team’s number 1 pivot down the stretch, playing in all situations.

Nelson is one of those players who is good at everything.  He is an above average skater, has offensive skill to score goals and make plays, is a decent backchecker, has decent size and is willing to play a physical game.  However Nelson does not possess any elite skills that blow you away either.  What he does have is a great work ethic, and a desire to continue to improve and make it to the NHL.  I believe he will continue to work hard at improving his game, and as such, I choose Nelson as my sleeper candidate to exceed expectations and one day make the NHL.  I see him as a potential bottom six centre who can add a few points while providing tenacious defence on the bottom lines.


As we can see, the Sabres have good young wingers in the pipeline and on the team.  They also have a good stable of young defencemen in Mark Pysek, Tyler Myers, Mike Weber, and now Jake McCabe.   They also have a Vezina Candidate in Miller, and a great young prospect in Jhonas Enroth.  However the Sabres were lacking at the centre position in January.  However a trade dealine deal for Cody Hodgson, and an excellent 2012 Draft haul with Mikhail Grigorenko and Zemgus Girgensons, they have established the core of a good young team going forward.

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